Author’s note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I recently experienced one of the scariest and most debilitating episodes of depression I’ve ever known. I’m grateful to be on the other side. I’m offering this piece in honor of all those who suffer from depression and those who love them. This is my experience, not a recommendation to others regarding treatment or medication.
As a person who has suffered from depression, one of the things that has helped me to see and not be my depression is to put my experience into words. The following piece helped to heal me from depression. I wrote this piece when the pain was close and raw. A month later, I’m well back in myself. Yet sharing the truth of this rawness feels important, to help someone else know they are not alone.
A word is not a cottonwood tree. Yet I grasp it in my hand because it steadies me. I hold a pen and notebook for the first time in months. My hand rushes across the page to catch the words that clamor to come forth. I’ve been at the mercy of something I couldn’t articulate. Today, something shifts and the impulse toward language takes over like a gust of wind. Each sentence brings relief, brings me closer to who I remember myself to be.
I had become someone I didn’t recognize. Who was I? A person living with a thyroid condition that caused me to have a breakdown in sleep, cognitive ability, daily functioning. The easiest label is that I have been a person living with severe depression. That label doesn’t necessarily help with understanding, treatment, or recovery, but it’s a starting place to enter this realm of writing again. Writing, I believe, can help with understanding and with recovery. Can pull me back from the brink.
A broken brain. A mind turned against itself. Toxicity. The companion I never wanted. The one I wish had gotten away. My mortal enemy. The one who wants to take me down. Me and not me. Part of me. My mirror. My evil twin. A sickness, invisible and deadly. A thief that steals my sleep and steals my life.
It’s the strangest thing. You don’t look sick. You can’t figure out why you can’t do anything. You just can’t. You forget—how to live. What human beings do in the morning. Like get out of bed. Take a shower. Get dressed.
Suddenly those are things you have to call your brother for, so he can coach you.
“I didn’t sleep. Can’t get up,” I tell him at 7 a.m.
“Have you taken a shower?” He asks.
“Call me when you do.”
“I feel so much better,” I say, after my shower.
“Most people do.” His voice is kind.
If not for that, I’d still be in bed. It’s what happens. You forget that life was ever anything else. And you forget that you ever wanted anything else.
Sleep has become your enemy. Bedtime routines? Of course you know they make sense. You know better than to be on a screen late at night. The bedtime tea. The tincture. The hot bath, magnesium, meditation, meditation, meditation.
Sleep is the monster in the bed. The scariest thing of all. It’s all I want, and exactly what I can’t have. The most elusive, unavailable lover ever.
For some people, anti-depressants help. I try one out of desperation. It makes sleep even more impossible.
Try another one—an anti-depressant that’s supposed to help with severe insomnia. I sleep an hour, then feel so drugged the next day I can’t move, can’t think. Nope.
Brains break. Lives fall apart. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a big fall. And all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again.
That’s precisely what I’m unable to do. Put Humpty together again.
At some point, in a moment of desperation, I decide to write into this mess called depression. Just to get some words down that articulate what’s happening. I am terrified about what’s happening. If I can put some of it into words, I become a little less terrified.
Still, there’s the feeling I am losing my mind. If I can write, does that mean I have not lost my mind completely? When I write, it seems I am finding my way back to the mind I lost.
I start a new thyroid medication. The tremors lessen. The hysterical feeling coursing through my veins, the feeling of an excess of thyroid hormones, starts to recede.
All those broken pieces? Out of my hands. I’m on the floor, asking for help, begging God, “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want it. Can I give it back to you? This broken brain?”
I will give the thyroid medication time. I also need time for the anti-depressants to no longer be in my system.
It’s unbearable—until a minute comes that I can bear. Phew. Breathe. It feels good. I need a few more, so I can string them together. Until they become an hour. It’s a start.
A week later, I wake up in the morning and feel like myself. I get dressed and go outside for a walk like I used to do without thinking. I remember what it feels like to be me, walking beside a stream, toward a field I used to walk across every day. I’m still here. For a few hours.
A few weeks later. Eight in the morning and I’m out the door, on my way to the bank and the grocery store. Sleep has returned to my universe, which means morning has returned. The new thyroid medication is beginning to work. I may not sleep more than a few hours but those few hours allow me to drive my car and slip into a parking spot.
Every step is conscious. Nothing is taken for granted. I stand in front of the cash register as if I’m in a yoga class. Feet on the floor below me. Awareness centered in my pelvis. Breath focused on Mula Bandha, my root. With enough awareness, I pull myself into the present moment.
From breakdown comes rising. From being cut off from human existence comes a slow return to reconnection.
My health has broken down before. The chronic illness I’ve lived with for many years leads to these interconnected breakdowns in mental and physical health. They are always devastating. This one, however, was off the charts.
I am not in that realm of hell anymore. Thyroid medication is balancing things out.
Today, as I walked, I began to hear words in my head. This is familiar. Walking, writing in my head, going back to the car for a piece of paper and pen to capture the words. That feels like a species of human I used to know, would like to know again. I trust words more than I trust medication, which is saying a lot since this thyroid medication has just saved my life. But words have saved my life too and I wonder if they will again.
I write to articulate the bridge I am standing on. This bridge back from not wanting to be alive. This bridge from feeling utterly exiled from human life. Water below me, I no longer want to dive off the bridge into the abyss. Not at all. But neither do I know how to live.
I believe there is value in finding language for our experience. I know I am not the only person whose life has ever fallen apart. So perhaps you, dear reader, will learn something simply from my own attempt at language. To articulate this bridge. To name the walk I am walking as I cross over to the land of the living.
I hold onto words like a compass, to navigate my way. I want words that open doorways. I greet the words with so much relief and gratitude. Yes, depression is something to understand, when you are living through it.
I’m a little further across that bridge, a little closer to myself. I am grateful.
I am choosing to live.