Mental Illness Series: Depression at Wesleyan, Part Two
( taken during the summer I’m about to describe. he captured where I was back then. perfectly.)
There is physical pain. Broken tissue and screaming nerve endings. Prolonged and visceral, embodied and instant. Raw.
But then, there is depression.
The emotional torture of depression is worse. There is a reason humans are more likely to commit suicide to stop the pain within before they’d do it to stop the pain without.
By the time I arrived at college in the Fall of 2010, it wasn’t new for me. Some people don’t experience a clear cut beginning, there is no definitive ‘episode’….it doesn’t start, last ‘at least two weeks’, and then taper off, it doesn’t match the diagnostic criteria in the DSM. It’s not so cut and dry. For some of us, those experiences referred to as ‘depression’ began at some distant point in the hazy home movies that play and replay on screens in our minds, in our pasts. For some, it is as much a part of us as our personalities, as our names, we know it like we know our faces in mirrors. We know it in a way that makes impossible any separation from ‘I’.
That’s for another time though. I’m not going to get into the causes/context right now. Instead, I’ll try to put words to the visceral experience, not of the moderate introspective depression that I had dealt with on and off for years, but the very worst if it, what doctors would call ‘severe clinical depression’. I will bring you inside and get more honest than ever about something I KNOW is an epidemic that is far more silent and hidden than it has to be. However, words can never do experience justice. I’ll put music up with future posts. It gets closer to the essence of what I’m about to say. After I explain, I’ll talk about what it was like dealing with this and trying desperately to hide it while at Wesleyan, I’ll describe my behavior from the outside, explain how I got by and what interaction with people at Wes was like. (Trigger Warning: I get into talking about intense suffering/bring up suicide. Keep in mind that this was years ago and I’m doing well today.)
Part One, Summer 2011
I tread water in the core of an ocean whirlpool. This body of water is mine and mine only. It lay at the center of a planet no one has ever heard about, population, 1. This planet exists only in my mind, but as I sink deeper, it becomes the only ‘real’ thing I can see and feel. I’m way past exhausted and worn out. But my heart keeps fucking beating for some reason, it hasn’t realized that I’m dead already. So I keep on treading. I begin to resent it, to resent life.
As time goes on I get to a point where nothing else is real. Only this. Every day. Every night. Every day, in the water, I forget I ever knew land. No. Now I know I never knew land. What is land?
At a certain point I stop wondering.
And then, I forget I ever wondered at all.
(Everyone hates you. You are not loved.)
Drowning is painful especially when it’s a prolonged process. Imagine drowning, except for a month. Arms broken, legs broken. Treading. Failing myself, failing everyone else. When it gets bad, real bad, I can’t even rest in my sleep. There are nightmares in it, waiting like predators. I start waking up to run from them, at 3. Again at 5:30, then again at 7 am. Smoking weed to calm down. It makes me feel paranoid but it’s a minor distraction, like an anesthetic for my broken bones that keep flailing. The exhaustion makes me trip over myself when I drag my aching body to the shower, if I even do. I stop caring how I look. I stop caring how I smell. (You are completely alone in the world and you always have been and you always will be.) Late again for work at 8:30, bills to pay (I was 19 at the time, it was the summer, I stayed at Wes, worked 9-5 in Middletown, rented in Beta.)
As usual, I write and write and write, but I now begin making music every day. All I have is this confusing Garageband shit which I do not understand at all yet, but I push myself. Every night after work. It helps. It’s all that helps. For a little while, I can channel the pain. I think about the family I did not go back to. I think about the friends who are off living their lives around the country, summer internships and friends and joy. I will not burden them with my emotions, I decide. (No one wants to hear your shit, Coral. Nobody cares about you. All you do is hurt them. Let them alone.)
I tell my therapist at Davidson where I meet him every Tuesday, I tell him, I feel like I’m in a hole Dr. X, I can’t get out. There aren’t any colors here. Why is my life a gray lack? These waves crashing down on me make it hard to breathe. He’s concerned.
It worsens. Being alive remains a chore. I am wondering, now, if it’s a chore I want to keep partaking in.
(It’s not. This will never end. Ever.)
(I am starting to believe you.)
(I wouldn’t lie to you would I? Is life not unbearable?)
(It is. But…music. And…one day…I wanna…help others with the things I know… Somehow. One day. I still have dreams. What if I can make it?)
(You don’t have any solutions though. Just that dull, throbbing pain you know so well. Every day is the just like the one before it and the one coming. You don’t even know anything different than me. Not only are you are a poor and black and female and too sensitive in this fucked up world, but look at you. Look at your past. Your life is a void. You’ve failed. Nobody knows who you are. You don’t even know who you are. You aren’t worth the effort. You’re a burden. Everything you want to be, you aren’t. You confuse and disgust yourself. You deserved everything that happened. You’re lost. Your dreams are dying in the water and floating to the bottom to rot. You’ve been struggling for so long, Coral.)
(Aren’t you tired? It’s not like your friends really give a fuck. You can’t trust people, Coral. People hurt you. Even the ones that love you. Especially the ones that love you. You know this. Think about it. Ruminate. Ruminate. Clowns.)
(If you say so. I only have you these days. You’re probably right. Don’t with the clown not again. I’m scared. Why do you paralyze me like this. ANYTHING but that.)
(That dialog I just fell into? That was life. Constantly. That’s what depression was like for me, for a very long time. Back and forth. Back and forth. Thankfully my phobia, the recurring symbol from the last part, did not lend itself to full-blown psychosis, and I’m so glad to have finally discovered its deeper symbolic meaning. (Future post! Now, its meaningful for me to explore my own strange, murky depths, to be fascinated by the creations of the mind and the unconscious, and to study how trauma can manifest in thoughts and perceptions, especially now that I’ve got some distance from being in the thick of it. It is often the things that we are most afraid of and most disturbed by that make us all so very human. I also admitted the clown thing because we ALL have ‘disturbing’ irrational thoughts, especially during rough times. We just don’t voice them because of the pressure of normality. I don’t like this and although that might have freaked you out, it’s just honest and it’s not that scary once you understand the messages hidden within ones deepest fears.)
It wasn’t long before I moved into another state. Those of you with depression who did not identify with the previous experiences will probably identify with this: the loss of ALL emotion. No pleasure, no fear, no up, no down. No nothing. It got so bad that my body, I guess, was like FUCK THIS SHIT I CAN ONLY TAKE SO MUCH. Then, I quite literally stopped feeling emotions, and did not cry again for two and a half years. I went numb. This is another flavor of depression, an emotional straight jacket, when you become completely cut off from your soul. Away went the nightmares and the treading and the pain. There was only absence. (Hmmm, its quiet in here. This is different.)
“Im in this new thing, now Dr. So and So. I can’t feel anything at all.” I could see the motors in his brain whirring.
Well….I didn’t feel nothing. Suicidal thoughts remained. They were all that remained. I ended up in a psych ward before September rolled around, got out, and started sophomore year, still depressed. I’ll talk about what this was like and what hospitalization is like, for all those who don’t know, in a future post sometime after Part Two. This series will be non linear and non-chronological like how I think. I will also intersperse it with blog posts about other topics to keep my blog from being an endless struggle fest, lol!
Part Two (End of Summer 2011-2013/Dealing with depression for rest of my time at Wesleyan while trying to hide it from everyone and feeling ashamed about it/what it looks like to others)
Stay Tuned. This was a lot for me and I need to give myself time to write the next one. I find so much strength in doing this as an exercise in vulnerability and raw honesty for the sake of piercing the ‘everything’s OK all the time yay awesome problems are taboo’ bubble I left behind me at Wesleyan, if even in the smallest way. I can be hard to read irl, so I know some of you that knew me there are a bit shocked. I still get afraid of judgment from time to time, as it is not very often that I see the people around me expressing themselves in such a public and intense way. Not everyone supports what I’m doing and I have gotten some bad feedback. But you know what? So be it. This is something I believe in, this is about tearing down the walls I’ve built in order to truly reveal myself in a way that I wasn’t able to until now. I don’t buy the idea that the only type of healing is the private kind. This is about telling a story that I am sure will resonate with so many of you, in different ways. This is about letting go of shame and reaching out to you in solidarity, dear readers. Like I keep repeating, I’m not very good at small talk. But I am finally embracing the fact that I can jump riiiiight into the big things with ease as a good thing! And I can write about the things we do not speak of…with a vengeance. Not quite sure yet, but I think this is a gift I’m supposed to be using rather than being quiet as fuck and unsatisfied because I feel silenced by the social tendency to not be who I am say what I really want to. With the help of blogging, I am creating a comfortable niche on the other end of the spectrum of communication preferences, and I like the water over here, where I can be my true self and express what I want to. This is practice for a different kind of activism I am slowly cooking up in my mind, and to me it’s a beautiful privilege to share my experiences with you, even if I don’t know you very well, because we’re all people and we all have our shit and the tough topics are what truly make me interested in talking/writing in the first place.
If you recognized your self in my words and are not yet seeking help, be it from your homies or your family or a professional, please please do. If your friend or loved one is going through depression, allow my story to shed light on what it can be like inside, and I hope it helps you help them. Yes it is as intense as it sounds, even if it doesn’t always look like it on the surface. To an outside perspective it can seem quite ‘unintelligible’. The stupid fucking lists on all the mainstream websites barely scrape the surface of the wide range of emotions and experiences collapsed under the monolithic term depression. I’m offering you a tour through my own inner terrain if you want to explore the strange, dark lands depression reveals in a person.