Written on December 21, 2017.
I have been bugged all night and all day about our conversation last night, and the fact that I couldn’t find the right words to express the workings of my brain. I want to try again, with the added benefit of writing it down, so I can organize my thoughts properly before you read them.
So here we go. Round two.
Concerning my depression:
I have to specify my depression, because I can only try to communicate what I went through. It seems like most people have had a similar experience, but I can’t take that to mean all depression is exactly the same, therefore I am a depression expert. If only.
I mixed metaphors so much last night. I know you were trying hard to understand what I was trying to say, but I did a crap job making sense. So I’m going to try again, this time using only one metaphor.
Take a second and notice your eyes. Look around a bit. Look at your nose, as much as you can. Blink a few times. These are your eyes. Physical, tangible creations that show you the world in front of you.
Now feel your fingertips. Rub your hands together as if you were washing them. Feel your feet on the ground. The clothes on your skin. Your glasses on the bridge of your nose and behind your ears. You can feel. Another way to perceive the world. There are textures that you like and don’t like. This sensation is part of your life.
Lay your hands flat—on the table, on your lap, wherever. Move just your thumbs. Now just your index fingers. Now just your pinky fingers. You send a command to your hands and they obey. You can make them move. You can lift your arms, wiggle your toes, turn your head from side to side; you’ve even gotten so good at moving your body that you can run, figure out how to put on a shirt, and eat with utensils.
With these sensations and so many more, you’ve learned how to not just experience the world but participate in it. Most of the time, you do it without even noticing.
A few months ago, I had none of these things.
A lot of people describe the feeling as “trapped in my own mind.” The scriptures call it a “pit of despair.” I experienced it as a long, black hallway, with a tiny television at the end. The world moved along on the itty bitty screen at the end of this hallway. I wasn’t in it—I was observing it.
At the beginning, I was just a foot or so from the screen, and it felt like a video game: I could play my part, go through the actions. It wasn’t immersive, but I was still a participant. After a while, I was about six feet from the screen. Too far to do much of anything, but I could see it pretty well. Then I was ten feet away. Twenty feet. Fifty. I was so far removed from the world that most of the time I hardly knew what was going on. People kept talking to Tiana like everything was fine, and somehow Tiana talked back, like she was being controlled by someone else—I sure wasn’t the one doing it. Tiana drove to work. Tiana played board games. Tiana smiled and said don’t worry, she was just tired.
I didn’t know what was going on. I was desperate to get back. To run to the end of the hallway, leap through the screen and be me again. I tried everything I could think of, anything to make me feel the tiniest bit better for just a moment. I got drunk (once—it was horrible). I had sex. I binged on “comfort food” and gained over 150 pounds. Each attempt worked for seconds, maybe minutes at a time, then made everything so much worse.
After years of no improvement—quite the opposite—I slowly gave up on the idea that things could get better. By this point the screen was black and white (maybe it was always black and white), and nothing was beautiful anymore. I didn’t have access to taste, smell, touch. The speakers worked maybe half the time; I had to strain my ears to hear, and the crackling noises made most of what I could hear unintelligible. What was the point of watching anymore, of even trying? I was so tired of working so hard and getting nowhere. Surely darkness and silence would be better than this. I should just turn it off. I almost did.
Somehow, after being struck by lightning 13 times (ECT), I’m here. I’m not an observer six feet back. I’m me. Every day I relish in the act of seeing, of moving my own eyes and blinking them at will. I wash my hands and I feel my hands, getting slick from soap and then turning back into clean, soft skin under the warm water. At work I rub the hem of my shirt between my fingers, feeling the fabric, the thread, the even stitching. I play with my fingernails, noticing the curve of the nail and the tiny ridges where the curve isn’t perfect. I love the imperfections.
I love drinking water. It is tasteless and yet delicious. I love the feel of it pouring into my mouth and down my throat. I play with my hair. I listen to music. I read books. All these sensations are familiar and welcome like old friends, ones I have missed for a long time.
So many things are beautiful, Scott.