Today I am a jittery 5% version of myself but I need to get on with it. I take an exaggerated breath and I think back to acting class, put one foot in front of the other, and before I know it I’m at the end of the street. Then I’m in Starbucks. Then I’m at the top of the next street. This isn’t so hard, right? I am simply going through the motions, pretending it’s all OK; it’s alright, it’s okay…
…It’s too busy, I can’t be around this many people. Keep your mind occupied, count your footsteps, you can deal with your OCD after. I don’t think I can freeze them out! You can. That’s it. Just walk, from one end to the other. Forget that there are so many eyeballs around you, maybe even on you. Nah, nah, I think I’ve got something on my face, did you see how she looked at me? Try not to pay attention to every minute detail or the body language of those passing you; they don’t hate you, they don’t even know you exist. Okay, right. Okay. That’s it. Just focus on your steps. How far should I bring my shoulders back? Keep your head high. How fast are my footsteps? It doesn’t matter just keep counting them. How heavy? Just count your steps! How is the weight transferring from the heel of my foot to the ball? It doesn’t matter, breathe and walk. Why is that group of bitches laughing at me? They aren’t! Just act like nobody is watching you, even though you’re sure everybody is.
You’ve woken up and your mind is blank white room. You don’t know what’s going on. You’re handed one crumb at a time through a crack in the door. You spend the next hour wriggling around, tossing and turning, trying to piece together what’s gone wrong and why you feel this way. Why this morning? Why today? What’s triggered it this time? Would the outside world even notice if I didn’t join them today or, for that matter, ever again?
Lying there you find yourself wrestling with the decision to take a sick day, something that comes with massive guilt and crippling doubt. You aren’t limping, or haemorrhaging; you aren’t vomiting frequently and you don’t have any fatal illnesses destroying your body. There is, in fact, no physical symptoms at all. So, why does it feel as though you can’t leave your bed? What is this magnetic force pulling you further into the mattress and further still into an ever-blackening mood? Why is every second thought one of utter despair? Why do you keep thinking about killing myself? Why can’t anybody see how much you’re hurting?
The first time is the scariest; that moment when it all tumbles on top of you and you’re left trapped, asphyxiating, feeling utterly alone and you’ve not even struggled out of bed yet. The unexpected and unseen arrival of a shadowy figure that knifed itself surgically into your day; bringing with his arrival ranting, crying, hyperventilating; pushing you to the edge of a full dissociated meltdown. You’re still you though, right? Even with this ‘thing’ latched onto you? This weak, sobbing creature its turned you into. It’s still you. It’s just the parts of yourself you try to hide, that embarrass you. But right now you are exposed and on full display.
After the first time, it’s just annoying. No, not annoying. That implies that it seldom happens, that it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience. No, annoying is not the word: I think terrifying is more apt. Waking up on peak-depression days feels like emerging slowly from an awful hangover –the difference is your memories from the previous night don’t come flooding back, because they are already there. Only now last night seems like a lifetime ago. You feel broken, agitated, perhaps even suicidal. This foggy mood you’ve awoken to comes with searing side-effects and is so far removed from how you felt yesterday that you feel foreign to yourself.
It’s easy to hate yourself anywhere in the world. But it’s especially easy to hate yourself in a world full of people that think you’re simply being moody. Some days, sure, you do just need to get on with it; but on other days it isn’t so easy. On bad days, it feels a lot like being stuck in traffic for hours but not getting anywhere; that no matter how much you care for your body, it still feels polluted. You hate yourself because everything and everyone around you is so beautiful, yet you can’t embrace it or experience it or even feel beautiful yourself.
Depression doesn’t embody an array of psychical symptoms – and that’s one of the reasons I hate living with it so much. It inhales you, exhales you, and, when you emerge it leaves your mood raggedy, and has you questioning why you’re still here. It’s emotionally abusive, it’s invisible, it’s sly and the worst part is that not a lot of people believe it’s real. It’s the fictional monster that lived under your bed when you were a child. You knew it was there, but nobody else could see it. But from the corner of your eye you saw it, wearing nothing but a sinister grin. There it will stay, lurking, waiting, unashamed. That’s depression; hiding just out of sight. Being forever present, until you regain enough strength to outrun it again – for now anyway.