Last year, I emerged from a lengthy, protracted torpor and opened my eyes to a world I no longer recognized… and to a face in the mirror that appeared as alien to me as the face of a foreigner from faraway realms. This was my reintroduction to the world I live in, but it was also my reintroduction to myself: blinking, starry-eyed confusion mixed with dread and instinctual fear.
I nearly flew right back into my cave to shut my eyes and ears as tightly as I could and return to torpor.
Coping with major depressive disorder — or rather, sinking deep into it with the abyssal plain nowhere in sight — without succumbing to suicidal thoughts or intrusive impulses is tremendously difficult. Putting up with it, and being smothered by it, for over twenty years is far, far worse, particularly for someone who would be branded “neurodivergent” in modern parlance. Yet, sink I did, with no way out detectable.
On my worst days, I would lay around, possessing no energy reserves to draw upon for any activity or conversation, and wish I were dead. I’ve had suicidal thoughts before, and I recall having a blade at my wrist thrice before, cutting only once. I never had the nerve to make that telltale slice, though, and the guilt I would feel for causing my family and friends emotional pain — to say nothing of the unspeakable dread that Hell just might be real — is what kept me alive when my thoughts drowned in the black mire I know so well. One of my cousins once spoke of his fear that one of his children would one day walk into my domicile and find a bloated, soulless corpse where my spirit once resided… and instead of drawing me forth from the grave my thoughts had unearthed for me, some twisted imp within me began plotting ways to die at a hotel room where no family member or friend could stumble upon my earthly remains unprepared. Once my train of thought eventually stopped at the part where I had to plan out a quick and painless way to die, however, my thoughts derailed with the force of a freight train hitting the side of a mountain, and I lay there thinking about how utterly worthless and selfish I was. I was causing my loved ones pain by my continued existence, I was an active drain on the world’s resources while contributing nothing in return… and I couldn’t even plan how to die properly.
Most days, however, I just laid on whatever I was used to laying on — a couch, a bed, a chair, whatever was nearby when all mental and physical energy in my earthly form had been depleted by fighting with the depressive thoughts all day — and sank into the nothingness within. When I think back to all those who tried to help pull me out, shame perches atop my shoulders anew.
They tried so damn hard to save me…
I barely listened, and I turned so many of them away with the usual “I’m fine” platitudes.
While the effects of depression are well known and documented, I must ask: how well known are the thought processes behind it — the thoughts that depression originates in, and the ideas and symbols that form the mental nests to which it descends? Those are different for every person that experiences depression, so how well understood have they become in the years since the disorder was first recognized? How long has someone suffering from depression had it before discernable signs and symptoms are recognized by a patient’s close compatriots? Is something causing the depression, or is it causing something far worse elsewhere in the mind?
I cannot speak of the thought processes of others, but I can tell you what depression felt like for me. Imagine: during your normal day-to-day activities, you — or the spark of inner conscious thought that represents you within the cavernous spaces inside your mind — are flying or hovering over a landscape of thought, a never-ending battlefield of urges and impulses warring with conscious restrictions and suppressors, disturbed on occasion by plains and plateaus of calm thought. Betwixt you and the mental geography below you, however, lies thick, murky, syrupy black clouds that hang low over your mental landscape. If you pause to rest at a branch below, those clouds may seep toward you to swallow your foot, so you try to keep ahead of the gloom by remaining in mental flight as long as you can, always flitting from one thought to another to keep aloft until your mind exhausts itself and you’ve no choice but to stop and rest… but the tree you thought you were descending into is just another black cloud. Soon you are caught and suffocating, and you cannot focus on any of the thoughts you briefly spied below the cloud layer from above. You try to swim downward through the clouds only to find yourself drowning in the deep black waters of an ocean you hadn’t seen, as you were so busy trying to avoid the gloom. You can try to fly up into the cloud layer, but you will be caught and stuck, soon forgetting which way was up or down, then forgetting other things: the names of new acquaintances, words you commonly used back when you spoke to other people more often, how to speak to people for that matter, current events, day-to-day happenings that occurred only days or even mere hours before, your hobbies and interests, your own birthday, your own name at times. These dark waves erode away everything you once considered intrinsic parts of your personality, and you eventually stop recognizing your own face in the mirror. You can try to swim out of the waters (if you can find the horizon), but the surface of those murky waters is what evaporated to form those black clouds above, and the depths of that ocean is where the worst of the depressive thoughts reside. You can try to press forward, but by that point, you’ve forgotten what the words “forward”, “backward”, or “side” even mean, so why bother? You lose sight of solutions, so you either stay stuck in the clouds or sink down into the waves. Concentration rapidly becomes difficult, memory damn near impossible.
Then the intrusive thoughts begin making their incursions, though they seem so much like old friends when they first appear…
This has been my experience for the past twenty years. Mild depression began when I was sixteen, then it settled upon me, shifting thoughts around in my head as it feathered its roost. Since then, depression has been my near-constant companion, and what a jackass of a houseguest it has been. While I’ve had some “up” periods of time — moments where I was able to have fun with friends or where I seemed more aware of my surroundings than my normal mental anhedonic state — none of those “ups” ever balanced out the “downs”. I initially didn’t recognize the depression for what it was or blamed it on several events that happened in my life, but in all honesty, it feels more like it’s always been there.
It took a global pandemic to finally, finally break depression’s hold on me enough for me to seek outside help.
Contrary to what you might think, the recent SARS-CoV-2 outbreak really hasn’t had the same effect on me that it’s likely had on the rest of you. I already stay inside and refrain from going anywhere I don’t have to, as I’ve been doing since at least 2014, and I already keep my distance from anyone I don’t know out of social anxieties so intrinsic that I’m almost always on the verge of panic attack anytime I set foot into a crowded place. How is staying indoors due to a pandemic any different than that?
What the COVID-19 outbreak has done for me, though, is make mental healthcare more accessible for me. I haven’t been able to leave my roost at will since I lost my primary mode of long-range transportation in 2014; getting anywhere, let alone to a psychiatrist’s or therapist’s office, has been a nearly-insurmountable challenge at times, one exacerbated by financial woes that only grew worse over the past years, thanks in part to very poor financial decisions. (Huh. People too depressed and too neurodivergent to think straight make terrible financial choices and can be active drains on the economy unless they can get easy access to treatment. Who’d have thought of that, right? Few in Washington, D.C. seem to have.)
Five years into my current job, and I discover that our insurance covers psychiatry like any other medical ailment: small copay per visit, like any visit to any MD’s clinic. Thanks to COVID-19, one of the best and most inexpensive psychiatric and psychological clinics in the area — well, okay, it’s located in another city, but it’s still only half an hour away by car — has moved to online-only visits via Zoom. Within a few weeks, I’ve started speaking with a psychiatrist and a counselor regularly, and I’ve been prescribed medications to balance out my emotional states.
It’s like the lights were turned on again, long after I’ve forgotten what electricity is or what purpose the light switch even serves.
…And good God, where the Hell did all these cockroaches come from?
When I first stumbled into the long twilight nightmare that would later claim my entire existence, the latter years of the Clinton Administration were yielding to the Bush Administration, with the Columbine massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole being the final explosive drumbeats of a fading fantasy era of so-called “peacetime”. Terrorism, both foreign and domestic, was quickly taking its place as the new bogeyman, and by the time I fully fell into torpor and succumbed to the depression that had been tugging at my loose mental threads for a couple of years prior, the Twin Towers had fallen, the invasion of Afghanistan had begun and ended, a well-intentioned American journalist had been beheaded, and the presidential administration in power at the time had taken advantage of the national anger to start a second Iraqi War… and I was so shell-shocked by all of it that I wanted to turn my conscious mind off and “go to sleep”.
I didn’t want to wake up to whatever-the-Hell else was going to hit the news headlines the following day. I wanted to give in to the mind-numbing allure of the doldrums within.
Naturally, I couldn’t recognize the brave new world I awoke to at all. I still don’t. It’s all too surreal.
Twenty years after my time in torpor began, I am rediscovering the world around me, as I am rediscovering myself.
I have been frightened, frustrated, and infuriated by what I have seen, both in the world around me and within myself… but I have also been excited, enlightened, and greatly enthused by this new world as well. I feel like I’m wandering through a strange and scary new land, one I’d only seen whispers of in fever dreams and the most intense of ethanol-induced night terrors. Even more frightening, though, is that I have no idea who the person moving my feet forward is.
I feel like I’ve awoken deep inside a mountain of someone else’s flesh, with another person’s thoughts and memories inside my head. I’m finally picking through all this human refuse to divine which thoughts are this other person’s thoughts and which thoughts are mine, or which are the thoughts I want to keep and which are thoughts I want to discard in favor of better thoughts.
It’s scary, not knowing who you are anymore. Facing the prospect of redefining yourself when you’re already old enough to have children of your own feels even more terrifying… I’ve tried to redefine myself before during a momentary break in the gloom, but this is the first time I’ve actually felt like the deed would stick.
Enough words. It’s time to start.
Hello. My name is Dunebat. I’m still trying to figure out who Dunebat is.
You’re more than welcome to figure that out with me.