Today please welcome author and editor Jessica Bell to the blog. Jessica has a powerful story about depression and the pattern it takes in her life. If you are having suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Sometimes I get told that I’m not “really” depressed because I am not suicidal, or because I haven’t been officially diagnosed as such, or because I’m not taking anti-depressants, or because I haven’t ever seen a therapist. “You’re not depressed,” they say. “You’re just feeling down. We all get down now and again. You’ll get over it.”
But you know what? I don’t just get over it. And I am not just “feeling down.”
To be honest, I don’t really care whether people think I’m “depressed,” or not. I don’t talk about it often. But I do know that it’s not something that is going to go away because there is a clear pattern. And I have struggled through this pattern every single month since puberty. That’s almost 20 years. That’s 20 years of intermittently hating myself, and my life, and wanting to throw everything away to start from scratch, because I somehow think that it’s the perfect solution. Shutting everything and everyone out is always the perfect solution. Right? Of course not. But I often think it is.
The pattern goes like this:
“I am so lucky. I have such a great job. I have time to write and do the things I love. I have a great home. Oh my goodness, look what a beautiful day it is! Doesn’t the air smell amazing? I could stand out on my balcony, under the sun, smelling the air with a silly smile on my face, with my eyes closed, for hours. Because I am just so happy! So happy! I love my life. I have everything I want. I am so so lucky!”
I get the things done I have to get done. I don’t smile. I don’t care. I am. I just am. I do the dishes. I cook (maybe). I tick things off my to-do list. I don’t feel it. I see it. My life, that is. Moving at a steady pace, as I somehow watch from above, it’s all happening as it’s meant to. Because I don’t feel. I don’t really care. What was it you just said? Oh, yes, of course. I’ll do it right away. I eat. I work. I eat. I watch TV. I go to bed. I read. I kiss my husband goodnight. I get through the day without feeling very much. Thank bloody goodness for that.
I can’t lift my head off my pillow in the morning. Is it still night, or is it day? Just another half an hour and I’ll get up. Or not. It’s getting late. I really should get up. I get up. I make myself coffee. I stare at the kettle even once it’s finished boiling and consciously tell myself to snap out of my trance. I have a headache. Again. A strong one. It’s this stupid city. I’m sure of it. I need to get out of here. I need to live in a different country. Or maybe by the sea. Isolated. So I don’t have to talk to anyone. Maybe in the mountains. I could grow my own veggies and quit my job. Live off the land. What are you talking about? You can’t even stand doing the dishes! Snap out of it. Now. I hate my life. No. I am better than this. Just ride the wave. It’s coming. It’ll stay. Then it will go. But who cares? It’ll come again. That happy day will come again. Just get to work. I work. Sort of. Most of the day is spent staring and daydreaming of a better life.
The Really Bad Days
I jump in the shower first thing in the morning, despite usually showering at night. And I cry. So he doesn’t see. Then I can blame my red face on the hot water. I give myself a headache because I hold in the sound. I cry until I can’t distinguish my tears from the water. I get out of the shower and wrap the towel around me. I stand there. Dripping. Staring at my feet. Until I am almost dry. Then I force myself to get dressed. An equal amount of time is spent staring at my clothes. I just put my pyjamas back on.
Then I sit down to work. I push through it, somehow, trying to ignore the endless hollow tunnel that runs through my body, echoing the tears I shed in the shower. There’s a big ball of emptiness that tumbles through the tunnel. It divides into two. One part sits right below my ribs, and one part at the back of my throat. They both expand and expand until it hurts so badly that all I want to do is lie in bed with the light off, and the door shut, in silence, in darkness, so I can cry some more, so I can protect the balls of emptiness. Because suddenly I want to nurture them.
The trouble with the balls of emptiness is that they’re kind of addictive. I want them to go away, but at the same time, I want to succumb to the power they have over me. So I stop work early. And I give the balls of emptiness what they want: A bed. Solitude. Darkness. Silence. Now the balls of emptiness are in their element, where they thrive, and they start talking to me. They start saying things like, “If you just packed a bag, and jumped on a plane to anywhere tonight, you could pretend you never existed, and just become someone else, in another place, and start fresh.” And then I say, “But what about my family? They would be devastated. I can’t do that to them.” The balls of emptiness realize that I will not let them take over and they begin to ease the pressure. Just a bit. And I get out of bed, to make myself something to eat, because I realize I haven’t eaten anything all day and it’s already dinner time.
I eat. I sit on the couch next to my dog. And I talk to her. Whisper in her ear how much I love her. And cry. And ask her why the fuck everything has to be so hopeless. Make it go away. And I cry even more into my dog’s fur. And she licks my tears away. And I realize, that if I left, I would miss my dog too much. My dog! Because the dog is the only being in this world who truly listens to me, and doesn’t judge, and gives me unconditional love. And then the dog does something that makes me smile. And I remind myself it’s a pattern, that I have to ride the wave. It’s a wave. It’s a pattern. It’s a wave. It’s a pattern. The happy day will come.
Then the happy day does come again. And I feel great. I feel blessed, and loved, and so lucky to have such a wonderful life. Again.
But the saddest thing is, there’s always a moment, during that happy day, when I realize the “happy” is just a part of the pattern. And maybe that’s not real either.
Imagine if people said, “You’re not happy. You’re just crazy. We all get crazy now and again. You’ll get over it.”
I can’t imagine that going down very well.
I guess my point is this: You don’t know what goes on behind the scenes in other people’s lives. I certainly don’t make these feelings public at the times I am feeling them. Just keep an open mind. Someone is always struggling with something, be it depression, a terminally ill family member, or simply one of those bad hair days that makes the whole world feel like it’s conspiring against you. No matter what the problem, it means a great deal to the person experiencing it, and you have no right to say, “You’ll get over it.” Maybe they won’t. Ever.
Next time you think you are making assumptions about somebody, take a step back. Think. Listen. And try to be understanding.
Why I haven’t gotten help:
1. I don’t trust doctors. Doctors prescribed my mother Valium for a “back problem” which was caused by withdrawal symptoms of a similar drug in the first place. Then prescribed her more drugs to get rid of the side effects, because in those days, they didn’t know the truth about benzodiazepine withdrawal. There are always new and better drugs. And no-one ever really knows what kind of long-term effects they will have on people down the line until someone experiences it.
2. I believe that drugs for depression only temporarily soothe the problem, are way too addictive, and leave you in an even worse state when you stop taking them. My mother was addicted to Valium for 20 years. I saw, first hand, what those kinds of drugs do to people. Explaining the side effects of this would be a whole other post, but if you’re interested, you might like to read this.
3. I don’t need a therapist. I’ve taught myself how to ride the wave. And I am coping fine.
NOTE FROM RACHEL: Jessica asked me to let you all know that she’s reading your comments and is overwhelmed by the love and support. She’s currently at a book fair with limited wifi access, so she’ll return everyone’s comments when she returns home later in the week. Thanks for understanding!
About the Author:
Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.