[I actually wrote this one a few months ago. I sometimes wonder why I hit “publish,” but then I remember that I need to look at myself in a mirror and this is it. And I wonder if by others looking at me looking at myself in the mirror, I can find some usefulness for my own struggles. By challenging my reality, I can shrug, and push past it into a new one? Anyway…]
Out Beyond the Break, Part Two: From the Depths
I want to paint a picture, need to paint a picture, but I am not having much luck. I want it to be a mural, high on a wall for all to see, to explain, confer, and educate. It needs to be a mirror as well, to remind me what I know to be true. But all that I have so far, after 30 years, is the title: Depression.
I am now thinking that it has to be a series of pictures. The first is “Out of the Depths.”
I have often wrote that there are times that I wish I could be like my mother. Manic depression is an easy picture to paint. A depression so debilitating that the person cannot get out of bed, crushed beneath the weigh of their thoughts and deeds. And then a mania so explosive that it detonates through a life, ripping apart families and neighborhoods and futures and pasts. The picture paints itself. The mural high on a wall that people can see, point at, and say, “there is something very wrong.”
My depression is different. I have always been able to press myself beyond that last stage, the debilitating crushing weight. Or maybe I have always been able to carry it, just enough, push through, until it becomes lighter, more manageable? I’ve met depression with a resiliency and adaptability, a ferocious counter to the miasma in my life. Which makes it even harder to articulate and explain.
Out beyond the break, where it is easier to swim, where I can bob on the surface of thoughts, I need to explain it. So maybe I can get a handle on it.
This a text I wrote to my wife: “Do you know what is like to be a failure in every facet of your life?”
In that moment I wrote the text, I did know what it is like to be a total failure in every facet of my life. I was bobbing on the surface of thoughts and a great predator rose from the depths, swallowed me whole, and carried me down into darkness. Reality shifted. Perception skewed. Perspective was lost. And I was that failure. I failed as a business owner, a husband and as a father. I failed as a brother, a cousin, a friend. I failed as an uncle and teacher. I failed as a student and as a writer. And I was just a lost and broken thing, lying in the mud of the depths of my consciousness, choking on the self-pity.
Depression, at its root, is an insidious illusion, a powerful illusion. I’ve read this series of books, fantasy fiction, where members of a royal family possess a magic called the “Skill.” A part of the magic is to force their thoughts on others, make them believe something that is not true. That is depression.
Am I an utter failure? No, of course not. I know this to be true. I know this to be fact. I am not a stupid man, nor am I unaccomplished. As each accusation floats in front of me, I can counter with a defense and response. Failed as a business owner? Are you kidding me? Yes, it’s been a tough year, a year of change, but it is far from failing. Failed as a husband? I have my bad moments, where I cannot be the man I want to be, but I am far from a failure. Etc.
But there are always fragments of truths. Those are the tiny little failures in our lives, the normal everyday things that makes us human. It is the nature of depression to accentuate these failures, build upon them, interconnect them and trap the little floating bits in my subconscious to make them all into wholes, chum for the predator to rise from the depths and grasp onto. In the moment I sent the text, the chum was bobbing on the surface next to me and the words were undeniable and without defense. The reality of my failures flooded through me, drug me down, and became my reality.
For a moment. Or maybe two.
I wonder if this is what people with major depression see so regularly? For me, it was my reality for a short time. But is this what they see for an extended time? Days into weeks? Is this what crushes them? The illusion becomes so powerful that it becomes their reality?
Perception is 9/10ths reality. As we perceive, so it becomes.
This is the quick lightning strike, being drug to the depths. It happens from time to time. Thinking about it, clinically detached, remembering, I know that my body alters. Standing, sitting or walking, it is as if a weight presses down on me and I hunch over. My shoulders turn inward, my head bows and I lose a spring in my step. I trudge instead of walk. I collapse instead of sit. I crumble into the bed instead of laying down.
The depression becomes a physical weight, something real, and I have found that the more I give into it, the more real it becomes. The heavier it becomes.
My mind alters as well. The depths don’t have to be as deep as that? I have heard stories of people drowning in three feet of water. Instead of merely standing up, they panic and drown.
My mind compresses inward, tightens and becomes a very small thing. I panic. Fight or flight? And I scream to do both. Thrashing at the illusion, the reality. Struggling at the uselessness, the hopelessness, the truth of failures. Rage builds. And the desire, need, compulsion to run.
And then I stop.
Because I know where it has taken me in the past. It happened during my second semester of college, at the very beginning of it, and the next thing I knew I was on a northbound train with my life in tatters, a promising collegiate career put on hold, arriving back in Maryland with my shoulders hunched over and my mind screaming at me “what the hell did you just do?”
Repeated. A half dozen times throughout my life. A dozen. This altered reality pushing me into a path that I knew was wrong, wrong, wrong. So awfully wrong. So terribly wrong. Rushed to what I believed was a point of no return, and then surrendering to it. And then having to face the consequences. Escape, run, hide. Retreat.
As soon as I sent the text, as soon as I hit send, I wanted to take it back.
Just as I feel sometimes when I post these blogs. The enormity of the illusion slaps at me. Flight? No, not anymore. Fight? In a way.
In the midst of a flurry of texts from my wife, stating the reality I know to be true, I shrug. I square my shoulders. Lift my head. And do what needs to be done at work. I allow truth to slowly bring me back to the surface, and drift once again on the tides.
In a life filled with hardships and triumphs and accomplishments, I sometimes think that my greatest accomplishment is regaining perspective. It is the simple act of facing down the illusions and squaring my shoulders and lifting my head.
The depression still kicks my ass. The sucker punches can send me reeling. It even puts me down from time to time. It will not defeat me.
I would, however, like to be on dry land.