In Prozac Nation Elizabeth Wurtzel talks about depression as something that happens gradually and then suddenly:
“Some catastrophic moments invite clarity, explode in split moments: You smash your hand through a windowpane and then there is blood and shattered glass stained with red all over the place; you fall out a window and break some bones and scrape some skin. Stitches and casts and bandages and antiseptic solve and salve the wounds. But depression is not a sudden disaster. It is more like a cancer: At first its tumorous mass is not even noticeable to the careful eye, and then one day — wham! — there is a huge, deadly seven-pound lump lodged in your brain or your stomach or your shoulder blade, and this thing that your own body has produced is actually trying to kill you. Depression is a lot like that: Slowly, over the years, the data will accumulate in your heart and mind, a computer program for total negativity will build into your system, making life feel more and more unbearable. But you won’t even notice it coming on, thinking that it is somehow normal, something about getting older, about turning eight or turning twelve or turning fifteen, and then one day you realize that your entire life is just awful, not worth living, a horror and a black blot on the white terrain of human existence. One morning you wake up afraid you are going to live.
In my case, I was not frightened in the least bit at the thought that I might live because I was certain, quite certain, that I was already dead. The actual dying part, the withering away of my physical body, was a mere formality. My spirit, my emotional being, whatever you want to call all that inner turmoil that has nothing to do with physical existence, were long gone, dead and gone, and only a mass of the most fucking god-awful excruciating pain like a pair of boiling hot tongs clamped tight around my spine and pressing on all my nerves was left in its wake.
That’s the thing I want to make clear about depression: It’s got nothing at all to do with life. In the course of life, there is sadness and pain and sorrow, all of which, in their right time and season, are normal — unpleasant, but normal. Depression is an altogether different zone because it involves a complete absence: absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest. The pain you feel in the course of a major clinical depression is an attempt on nature’s part (nature, after all, abhors a vacuum) to fill up the empty space. But for all intents and purposes, the deeply depressed are just the walking, waking dead.
And the scariest part is that if you ask anyone in the throes of depression how he got there, to pin down the turning point, he’ll never know. There is a classic moment in The Sun Also Rises when someone asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt, and all he can say in response is, ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’ When someone asks how I lost my mind, that is all I can say too.”
I was 19 when a switch flicked in my brain and I became clinically depressed. Yet I suspect it had been building all my life, fed by things such as family violence, bullying right through school, and having no emotional support or friends who understood me. I did my best to deal with what was later diagnosed as “complex trauma”: I escaped into video games and later I became a workaholic. I still felt depressed while I was at school, but when I left school the depression went away. But when I was 19 I experienced a very traumatic loss. I lost the one person who really got me. A person I wished was in my life much earlier. I guess at this point my mind and body gave up. I became severely depressed and it has stayed with me right through my 20s.
It feels like a degenerative illness. A slow, drawn out, agonising death. Life has got emptier and emptier. I dropped from full time study to part time. I withdrew from my family and friends. Then I stopped studying altogether. The more I withdrew from the world, the more difficult it became to climb back into it again. I began to sleep all day, and when I was awake I’d just waste time on the computer. I rarely left my bedroom. The lack of activity and distraction marinated my depression even further. Maybe I would have been better off keeping life as normal as possible and pushing on with my study, I don’t know. But after I was sectioned and confined to a mental hospital when I was 23, I never returned to my Psychology honours course.
My whole 20s is a blur. A counsellor encouraged me to take up badminton again, something I enjoyed when I was a kid. It was extremely difficult at first, but it got easier and became one of the few things I enjoyed in my week. It became like a form of mindfulness; while on the court, the only thing that occupied my mind was returning the shuttle. I started playing twice a week. But then covid hit, and badminton stopped. Now it has resumed, but I’m not allowed to play as I’m not vaccinated. This has taken a huge toll on my mental health. Being excluded from badminton has taken me back to the trauma of my school days as well where I was constantly left out by my peers.
My weeks are just so stark now and I’m in a really dark place. To make things worse, both my parents are unwell. My dad recons he’s forgetting things and going gaa gaa. He wants my sister, my mum and I to talk about attorney stuff. My mum’s having tests to see if her cancer has spread. Life is just fucking shit! I feel very stressed and helpless as I am not able to care for them as much as I want to. I see no light at the end of the tunnel… I just see more and more pain. I see my parents going downhill and eventually dying. And I do not see myself ever getting out of this rut. A human being can survive almost anything, as long as they see the end in sight. I do not see an end in sight and that is making me think about all kinds of things: hanging myself, jumping in front of a train, swallowing every goddamn pill there is in this house, going to The Netherlands where people can be euthanised for mental health issues. I really do think there is worse things in life than death such as never really living and suffering all your life.
I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this for. It’s taking its toll on me physically too. Every time I go to the dentist I need more fillings. My brain is shrinking, my teeth are decaying. I’m just wasting away, and it seems to be happening more quickly now. It’s like that point where climate change really takes off as so much ice has melted it’s not reflecting the light. In turn even more ice is melting and it’s all speeding up. I’m writing more and more distressing emails to my poor psychologist. I tell her I’m too far gone to the saved, just like this planet. I tell her that I feel like a living corpse now, alive only physically (and barely that). I ask her how much longer until my body finally dies? How much longer do I have to suffer? Will I be depressed forever? I tell her it feels like the time I nearly drowned; there were people nearby but I realised I could still die and it was the loneliest, most hopeless feeling ever. “I can’t stand one more day like this. I don’t wanna wake up tomorrow. This has got to end.” I wrote in one email.
This is such a bleak post, I’m sorry. I have no answers, all I can do is offer my hand to anyone else going through this and let you know you that you are not alone. I will sit in this dark place next to you. I find music comforting, and I will finish this post with a song by Zevia. Zevia really truly understands this dark place. If I were to kill myself, either her song, “When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die” by Moby, “Asleep” by The Smiths, or “Goodbye Cruel World” by Anathema would be my suicide note. In her song she talks about how no one knows who she is, which I really relate to. The line makes me think of the way people with depression often become very good actors, so good even that no one knows they’re depressed and are confused when they suddenly kill themselves. I have a really hard time opening up to people as I fear if they knew the real me they would run a mile. I fear I am a bottomless pit of misery. Even in my blog, I carefully execute my words. They are not as raw as the emails I send my psychologist at 3am, or the person screaming in the emergency department late last year. I would never let my friends see me like that. But it is so lonely hiding these parts of you from everyone.