Spend enough time under the yoke of major depressive disorder and strange things will start happening.
For example, colors might bleed out of your life until all that’s left is a uniform gray as you can no longer distinguish between black and white. Things that used to bring you joy might appear lackluster, absurd, and entirely devoid of meaning. Comforting smells and tastes might no longer register, and music might become unbearable as your brain shuts down your senses.
As for touch, all I can tell you is that I spent five years yearning for human warmth that was never forthcoming. When your illness becomes an ongoing source of resentment, it precludes friendship, intimacy, and sex.
There is no communication anymore; romantic love dies.
So you learn to live without.
Clinging to the ghost of what might have been becomes dangerous, life-threatening even.
Your relationship becomes a health hazard that could undermine your self-directed efforts to get well.
The only way I could stop obsessing about how to take my own life and start obsessing about how to rebuild it was by detaching from my marriage.
But first, I had to get to know the person staring back at me.
When depression hit, it took away my writing voice and my livelihood with it.
I lost my ability to think so I couldn’t write and therefore support myself, hence the resentment in my household as my husband saw me as lazy, not sick.
Not everyone has the intellectual or emotional capacity to accept another human as they are without judgment.
But it took me a long time to come to terms with this, and as long as I refused to, I sank deeper.
Too cash-strapped to afford the therapy I needed despite having insurance because I was living in the US and no longer in the EU, I was left to hold my own hand. To say there was scant compassion for my predicament would be apt although my husband was gracious enough not to throw me out on the street.
Or cut his losses by insisting on a divorce.
Instead, he lost his credit rating, we lost our love, and I nearly lost my mind. Depression encroached upon everything that made me me and hijacked my thought process. Instead of my own voice, all I heard on a loop day after day was self-destructive propaganda designed to convince me I no longer deserved to live.
How do you find the mental wherewithal to push back when your inner landscape matches your environment so perfectly?
First Anthony Bourdain showed me my future and then I found a stranger staring back at me in the bathroom mirror.
Not recognizing your own reflection isn’t something your brain can process easily.
After shock wore off and I understood the woman in the mirror was who I had become, I became curious about her. The longer she stared, the longer I stared back until I couldn’t take it anymore and those sad eyes threatened to drown me.
I had finally found the self-compassion that had eluded me for so long; fighting off the disease no longer meant fighting against myself.
Paradoxically, it is the stranger in the mirror who helped me reclaim a sense of self distinct from the illness I had come to identify with.
I set out to befriend this stranger, get to know her, and help her locate the pieces of her identity depression had silenced, hidden, or stolen.
I had to become a stranger to myself to figure out how to save my own life.
This is how advanced depression’s dehumanization process was.
I didn’t know I was dying until I saw her, and even then, it still took another human to point out and unpack exactly what was happening.
Thus began the long journey I’m still on, that of rewriting a life, word by word.
Returning to Europe so I could help my parents navigate the ever-changing reality of stage 4 cancer gave me my family back.
Portuguese, meanwhile, turned into the secret weapon that has the power to hold me together against all odds. Even though it is a part of my identity I attempted to bury alive, it had remained intact.
Love preserves whatever it builds.
Using my heart as a compass, I’m slowly putting the pieces of my identity back together, a process that triggers innumerable epiphanies. While many are joyous and life-affirming, others are dispiriting and a source of much confusion and pain.
“You will change in Europe,” I was told and the transformation process is accelerating now, which makes my head spin after so many years lost to inertia. And to the apathy of my household.
Although I still haven’t put down roots anywhere and am back to living out of a suitcase for the foreseeable future, I have landmarks again, old and new.
These days, the woman in the mirror smiles back, happiness speaks Portuguese, and life is an endless flow of words I use as bricks to rebuild myself.
No matter how harrowing things get, change and transformation are inevitable.
Should you end up face to face with a stranger in the mirror one day, please do not be afraid for you are your greatest ally.
Even though you may not know it yet.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.