Monday, August 18, 2014
by Tamuira Reid
I don't like writing about depression. Because it's hard to get right in words. Because I sound like an asshole when I try. Because I am too close to it still. Because my memory of what happened feels faulty at best.
I remember light streaming through the blinds, big fat rays of sun, hitting me in the face. I remember a phone next to me, maybe in the palm of my hand, maybe wedged between the mattress and my thigh. Cold coffee on the nightstand. Cigarette ash on the sheets. I remember the sounds of kids playing on the street below, throwing rocks at a metal shop gate.
Friends told me to buck up. Pull it together. Muscle through. They said things like fake it till you make it and everything happens for a reason. They blamed it on global warming. Growing pains. Venus is in retrograde, after all.
They wanted me to will myself better and all I wanted was to write my will. I thought I was dying. I believed with every fiber left of my being that I was dying. Case closed. The party is over.
The more I needed people the more I retreated from them. How could I tell them that I couldn't feel my body? That it was completely disconnected from my mind? I was a person in parts, each part trying to function in its dysfunction. Pieces that no longer fit together in a way that made any sense.
My neighbor at the time, a well-meaning philosophy professor that only left his apartment long enough each day to teach and buy wine, told me that depression comes in waves. But that made it sound too beautiful. There was nothing good about the bad. He suffered from melancholy, a sort of condition that he became addicted to, enamored of. A powerful, deep sadness that became life-affirming for him. People broke his heart but in a pretty, poetic way. And this somehow gave him buoyancy in this world.
But my depression felt different.
Simultaneously like nothing and everything. Lightness and darkness. Mostly I felt like I was underwater and I could see everyone else floating and glimmering just above the surface but I couldn't surface. I couldn't kick up to the top, no matter what I did, I was shackled to the bottom of that ocean floor, shipwrecked.
I can't tell you how long I was glued to that bed, in that room, five flights up in that tiny Manhattan apartment. Why I climbed into bed in the first place, why I didn't, couldn't, get out. There wasn't a thing, any particular incident to point to, no valid excuse, no this is why. All I knew was that it hurt to breathe, it hurt to see. It all just suddenly and inexplicablyhurt.
And for whatever reason, that hurt eventually subsided. It might have been hours later. Days. Possibly weeks. Time has a way of sort of fading out when depression takes over. I still don't know how and why it lifted for me – luck, fate, brain chemistry – but it did. As quietly as it showed up, it left. At least the bulk of it. But what if it hadn't? What then?
A year after high school, my good friend attempted suicide. She hanged herself from a child's nylon belt in a back bedroom of her house. She was found minutes later, unconscious, both lungs collapsed. The doctors were amazed when she opened her eyes the following day, seemingly unscathed.
Our group of friends had known she was down, not herself, withdrawn. But it felt, at that age, like angst. Like a contrived state of sadness. Like a choice she was making. None of us knew that what she was experiencing was so otherworldly painful that the only relief she saw was to get the hell out.
Years after, we would talk and she would tell me that the days leading up to her attempt were some of her happiest. She had her hair done. Her nails painted. Sat outside on her front stoop and drank tea in the late afternoon light. The trees looked greener. The sky a little clearer. She had a plan to take matters into her own hands and that plan brought her peace. She knew it would all be over soon. The timing of the end of her life was the only thing she had any control over.
Robin Williams, David Foster Wallace, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. We hear their stories and we sigh. We hear their stories and we just can't believe it. All that talent and good nature and chutzpah. Why, we ask, why when they had it all?
But what about the housewife down the street? The girl with braces who bags your groceries? The old man who waves to you everyday front his porch, reading the Sunday paper before retreating inside?
Family friend. Friend of a friend. Sister. Husband. Brother.
Are their lives any less valuable, relevant?
Maybe it will take the power of celebrity to get us to a place of collective empathy. Of acceptance. Of realizing that you cannot always buck up, muscle through.
What we've yet to learn as a society is that real depression isn't a choice. Depression doesn't discriminate. The kind of depression that takes lives is a disease. And it isn't always curable, livable, doable. There will always be those that are too sick to find a way to stay. I think they would if they could.
I like to think that.
Posted by S. Abbas Raza at 12:25 AM | Permalink