I want to talk about the lazy stereotype

I want to talk briefly about something hugely common among depressives but which is almost impossible to accurately describe, though as soon as you begin, the people around you who have been depressed themselves automatically connect the sensation you are clumsily attempting to explain with what they themselves are experiencing on a daily basis. Doctors have an easy time discussing it, because it sounds so simple and matter-of fact. Loss of energy. Loss of focus. Loss of motivation. Classic symptoms, boxes to check off.

But when you open your eyes and stare at the dust motes in your room and think how difficult it is going to be to walk down the stairs and brush your teeth, or worse leave the house and be in the world and walk and take the bus and talk to people and attempt to be sweet and lovely as you hold this fragile image of yourself up to the world and ask them to love you. That is an astonishing amount of work, and for a lot of people it is impossible. This is not something we discuss with those outside of the community, because frankly, to those unfamiliar with the symptoms, we come off sounding lazy. And part of me thinks we always will. There is no way to understand how difficult it is for some people to do the simple necessary daily things that everyone else takes for granted, if, for you, those things are part of an easy and ordinary dance you perform naturally every day. I won’t even talk about cooking meals; that is one regular, routine thing with which I particularly struggle, and at the moment, can only do in the simplest form.

It’s such a simple thing. Lack of energy. But massively difficult to communicate to the people in your life who are wondering why you are not fighting harder. I’m lucky in a sense (mixed blessings) that anxiety and BDD symptoms often drive me to do those simple things like brush  my teeth and wash my face and make sure I am not falling even more in my own estimation. But a lot of people who suffer from major depressive disorder have trouble even getting out of bed. You hear this said so often, it’s almost a cliché, but when was the last time you thought about what that would be like, to be unable to move because the fog surrounding you and occupying your body is so dense and thick and heady that your body instinctively, biologically, surrenders.

I am not advocating for lethargy or for simply giving in to every negative sensation. I am simply advocating for greater compassion for this particular symptom of many mood disorders, especially depression. Your 21-year-old son may not be a “lazy shit” who is addicted to video games. Lack of energy, lack of motivation, can be biological, something they cannot control nor have chosen. Care for them and teach them to care for themselves. Ask them to meet you in the middle instead of doing the entire task themselves, NO MATTER HOW SIMPLE AND EASY IT SEEMS TO YOU. Do not give up on them and do not expect miracles. The steps they are taking may seem hopelessly small and basic but that is their fight and often what defines the beginning of recovery.

The BDD before I knew what it was

I won’t write what I became afraid of in the summer and fall of 2011, what parts of me I considered repugnant, but I will say I did not see a way out. Before they started me on Seroquel, I could not stop crying. It wasn’t mournful crying, it wasn’t grief, it wasn’t a thousand emotions I didn’t understand; in other words, it wasn’t the way the sirens made me feel. It was hysterical crying, pure panic like an animal that has been shot. It frightened J. and my parents. I wished desperately, hatefully, to be pretty, not to be ugly anymore, not to be ugly anymore, and I was reminded every time I looked in a mirror, accidentally or on purpose, every time I even contemplated my own face without looking at it, contemplated my body, that I was. Disgusting was my thought, and repulsive, and my heart started racing when I could not think of an argument to counter this. Monstrous. Too monstrous to even share with my doctors, except in broad strokes. The BDD is what made me think I would have to kill myself.

The funny thing is, the BDD quieted. After the Seroquel, it was only intermittent, painful but manageable, sometimes even dormant. A few years later, it came back, raging like a fever, and I think this is the period of time I came closest to suicide. In my mind, there really was no other alternative. Every day I fought, every day I survived was simply the postponement of the inevitable. This is why I am so aggravated by the philosophy that happiness is a decision. At 20, I was braiding my hair in a crown around my head before going to work my shift as a grocery store cashier, singing to myself in the mirror, thinking myself sweetly pretty; at 24 I was caving in, despairing, crying in that way that is almost shouting. I was so scared of death, terrified of nothingness, terrified of blankness, a void, but in my own mind, I knew I could not live. I knew I was an aberration. I think this is what inspired the most desperate and unrelenting of the crying jags, lasting hours, days, the knowledge that my “only option” (as I saw it) was terrifying, and I wished so fervently it didn’t have to be like this.

Suicidal ideation (trigger warning)

Suicidal ideation is more complex a concept than suicide. It is defined as “the contemplation of ending one’s own life” that can “vary greatly from fleeting thoughts to preoccupation to detailed planning” (from A Site on The Internet). This is one of the reasons it’s so fascinating: a person can possess whole internal narratives in which they prepare their suicide, perhaps write notes, live their final moments and experience their own death, without ever actually acting on these thoughts or bringing them into concrete existence. On the other side of this, a person can have the most fleeting thought of suicide and in an impulsive moment act on it.

A lot of fantasies of suicide remain just that, fantasies. It’s been seven years since I could honestly answer the question “do you have thoughts of suicide?” with the word “no.” These thoughts can be inspired by desperation, helplessness, anguish, a seeming total lack of other options, or they can stem from exhaustion, a longing for quiet, or poetic ideas of being remembered in death. I have imagined that I might look almost pretty lying in a coffin with my eyelids closed. I have waited patiently for my skin to clear and my hair to lengthen before beginning to plan seriously and with intent. I once planned my suicide via freezing to death in the snow because I thought it was aesthetically pleasing. Even in death I am vain and terrified of ugliness, as desperate to capture prettiness as a wounded animal is to avoid the jaws of a predator.

I have told myself repeatedly that it will be necessary to perform the act of suicide within the next ten or fifteen years, before my looks deteriorate even further. (I am not crying for help, I am simply explaining the contents of my own suicidal ideation; a lot of it is and has been related to the body dysmorphia). This is my customary state of mind; oftentimes, especially lately, it gets worse and I start thinking in the short-term (not even thinking, really; it is a horrible, amorphous and awkwardly heavy sensation like being smothered in your sleep or having your limbs chained with weights).

Today I’m trapped. To be perfectly frank about it, I know I need inpatient or residential treatment but it’s out of my reach. The mental health system in Ontario is failing a lot of people, and I’m no one special, I’m no one who deserves preferential treatment. I do know this. But when I look in the mirror I see a disgusting creature, not a woman. When I sit through the minutes of each day and count my heartbeats or recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary (the repetition of memorized words seems more effective than benzos, these days) I feel terrified, out of my own control. People sometimes say they feel they have a “void” in their life, that something is missing. In those moments I feel I AM the void, I am the absence of meaning. Suicidal ideation is perhaps my brain trying to rectify that, to correct the aberration that I feel is my own face, my own form, my own internal substance (or, as I perceive it, lack thereof). I feel I am trying to right a wrong, correct a mistake.

 

I am depression’s bitch.

I’m at the public library in T.’s hometown. It’s near the pier and the water, which is definitely the town’s best angle. There are long windows in the library and I can see a huge stretch of sky, blue but thickly clouded, oppressive angry clouds. There’s a weeping willow outside the window closest to me.

I’m definitely beginning to experience that phenomenon they describe in self-help books of being able to run away but not being able to “escape from yourself”. As much as I hate that phrasing and all similar clichés of the self-help industry (being your “best self” for instance, or “finding” yourself as though you are a lost child in a grocery store), I’ve been a whining, cringing, hand-wringing, inactive, indecisive, uncertain mess for the past week and even here, with the boats (white, shiny boats, rich people boats) and the distant shoreline and the books and the quiet voices (the quality of the light, too, is beautiful, despite the humidity) I feel terrified, anxious, tremulous. I feel ugly (more than ugly, so thoroughly plain, nothing there, nothing to see). There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe complex and antagonistic emotions, because “sad” and “depressed” won’t do it. The depression feels like someone is trying to perform dangerous surgery on my body without my permission. Or rather, it feels like they did perform it, and it went very badly (so much internal bleeding, and I think they left a watch or a wedding ring in my brain before they stitched me up). Inside my head, I hear a small, sharp scream like the shriek of a microphone’s feedback and it won’t let up or lessen. I don’t want to write about this on Facebook because describing mental illness can sound so much like complaining, and the inability to communicate this rampage of feeling and thought makes me ashamed.

Treated depression feels like untreated depression

And isn’t that funny? They should have led with that. Every flower-scented moment you pay for, with interest. For every day I see myself in a mirror’s reflection and think, “what a pretty girl”, there will be ten thousand days I shrink from the image as though from a monster in a fairy story.

Welcome, anyone who has stumbled upon my ramblings. This blog will chronicle my own experiences – I haven’t the heart to call them adventures – with anxiety disorders, major depression and body dysmorphia.

My brain is full of cotton balls

They blot out everything and crowd my fragile skull, soft, white, pressed tightly down between my surface – blonde hair, weary skin, red lips – and everything else. I have only my features and a bland sedated thought process. I am a doll – plain-faced, simple, ubiquitous – the doll-people, we are – with hurt I feel but cannot touch to mend.