Noun: The ‘too numb to do anything’ stage of an MDD cycle.
Writing is my life. It literally keeps me breathing. So one of the first signs of a depressive cycle is when I can no longer write. It comes in bits and pieces, because I work at an ad agency, so I’m generally word-ing every day. Body copy, taglines, radio spots, TV scripts, website blurb, strategy for client decks. I get through them by rote. It’s when I don’t blog that I know something is wrong.
Also, skipping showers. I can blame it on a lot of things. Like living in Lang’ata, where too much traffic and too little water is standard. It’s never that though. It’s that I wake up in the morning too tired to get out of bed, so I give myself five more minutes of sleep. And then five more. And then five more. And then it’s time to take my baby to school, so I drown myself in perfume and leave the house unwashed.
Other times it’s more blatant. I feel ugly and unworthy, so I wear my least attractive clothes and go to work. Or I wear yellow. I tell myself that since my spirits are so low, I’d better wear something sunny. I have this yellow hoody with sparkly headphones on it, and whenever I wear it, my boss calls me a lemon. Or a pineapple. Or asks why I have drumsticks on my chest. And I smile and walk away because those sparkly drumsticks are hiding a dangerously dark mood.
When I started therapy, I thought I would be psycho-analysed. I though my therapist would dig into my head, ask about my childhood, draw out the demons that cause this depression. Instead she said we don’t quite know the reasons for depression. It’s just a thing that some people have, and that artsy types are more susceptible (writers, painters, photographers, musicians, creatives etc).
Some say the gifts that make us artistic – the ability to see, feel, and express things with such profound beauty – could be part of the source. We have such a connection with emotion that it can easily turn on us and hurt us. We soar to heights and sink to depths in ways that others don’t, and that leaves us open to the hellish spaces of suicide, bipolar, and depression.
So … while therapy wasn’t what I expected, I learned coping skills. I learned to recognise the pattern of depression. To spot it when it showed up. To acknowledge it, speak to it, engage it before it dragged me to places I didn’t want to be in. To ride it when it needed to be ridden. To let it hang around for a bit, and when I felt ready, to ward it off. To deal with it when it eventually came back, because this thing, it always comes back. It’s part of who I am, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
During this depressive cycle, I’ve thought a lot about death, and about being dead, but I haven’t reached the point of being suicidal. I’ve felt lost, desperate, bereaved, but I haven’t been to that place where death is better than life.
It’s not all about him though. A few months ago, I begun to slip into the dark. So I went to the beach. By myself. For a week. I figured sunshine, sand, and solitude would pull me from the edge. And it did. But then I came back to a fiancé that no longer wanted me, and that pushed me over the egde.
I thought knowing the cause of depression would make it easier to bear, but it doesn’t hurt any less when you know what’s behind it. Though in fairness, he didn’t cause it. He just aggravated it. And it’s entirely possible that it’s the depression that pushed him away in the first place, that maybe while I was away, he noticed he felt lighter, and realised my black dog just wasn’t something he could handle.
When you’re living with depression, you have to pick your partners carefully. Both your lives depend on your choice. You need someone that can sit with you in the dark, listen when you’re close to the edge, hold you when you’re teetering over, wait until you’re ready to pull back, keep you sane in good times and in bad … all without losing themselves. It’s way harder than it sounds.
I understand suicide, because I’ve been there. I’ve handled it, attempted more than once. I got past it though, and if you’re in that space, I’d like you to know there’s hope. You can’t see it, but it’s there. So distract yourself. Play something mindless, like Tetris or Candy Crush. It seems like silly advice, but it works. It takes your mind off the pain for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days. It gives your soul a break, let’s you disappear into mundanity. And when you rejoin the waking world, you might find another tiny reason to stay here. Like a sunrise, or ice cream, or bacon.
Living with depression is a moment by moment thing. I’m a long-term thinker, so this annoys me. I rejected the ‘distract yourself’ advice for the longest time, because it didn’t solve the underlying problem. I wanted solution for months, not moments. But this thing, it takes you down a moment at a time, and it never really goes away. It’s not something you can cure, or solve, or fix. You’re stuck with it. So you learn to live your moments, one at a time. And eventually, you find yourself willing to go on, a little less eager to die.
For me, there’s one very scary thing about depression. I call it the lift. Just before you reach the point of active suicide, you’re numb. You feel nothing. No pain, no pleasure, no hope. You’re dead inside. For a person that’s used to intense emotion, feeling dead is hell itself. It’s at that point you decide that since you already ‘feel’ dead, you might as well be dead. And once you make that decision, it’s almost a relief. You get to stop the madness once. and. for. all.
Wanting to die is not the scary part. The scary part is coming down from that edge. Because suddenly, you FEEL. You regain access to all the emotions your soul had shut out, and it’s overwhelming, because what you feel the most is sadness. Heavy, sagging sadness that seems to drown you, and it makes you long for the numbness.
When I was in therapy, we had several measures for the levels of depression. We would judge them on a 1 to 10 scale to see how I was doing. We would check suicidal feelings. How badly do I want to die? Have I written a goodbye letter? Do I have a solid plan? We would check ability to function day to day. Am I eating, cooking, showering? We would check sleep patterns. How much or how little am I snoozing? We would check mood. How good or bad do I feel?
Right now, I’m falling back from the edge. Which means while I’m no longer thinking about being dead, I’m back to feeling low. Very low. Lower than I was when I felt numb. And I’m functioning poorly. I can tell by the levels of my perfume. And water. And soap. And the unread emails in my work-box.
“The tragedy of suicide is not the actual dying. It’s being in so much pain that death is preferable to life.” – Sian Ferguson.
Depression sucks. But it passes. Then it comes back. Then it passes. Bit by bit, moment by moment, it passes. So do what you need to do. Go to the beach, not into the ocean. Sit on the grass, not on a tree branch. Play Bungoma Hangman, or Flappy Bird, or Snake, or Pinball. Sit in your bed and do nothing. Just don’t give up yet.
Me, I listen. I play Sia over and over and over. I neglect my chores and feed my child with take-away pilau. I read. I bake. I watch endless hours of Murder TV. I take myself to dinner. I sit in the sun. I stare at goldfish. I have a few guaranas. I shop for pretty watches. I wear fabric flowers in my hair. I get some fresh ink.
I go to iMax, watch anything with Hemsworths in it. I indulge in Kaldis fries and battered fish. I stockpile Wholenut. I gorge on Vienetta and Baileys ice cream. I get through it a moment at a time. And when I feel the fog is barely lifting, I blog.
♫ Elastic Heart ♫ Sia ft Weeknd and Diplo ♫
PS: I’ve heard people say it’s stupid to kill yourself because you got dumped. You know … no one ever actually does that. Not really. You don’t want to die because the one you love left you. You want to die because you had a low image of yourself. And this person came into your life and made you feel special, beautiful, wantable… worthy. And now that they’re gone, you’re lower than you’ve ever been, worse than you were before they even met you. And that pain, it feels like it’s better to be dead.
It’s not though. It’s never better to be dead. I know no one has come back to tell us all about it, so it’s easy to believe things are better over there in Deathland. And anyway, anything is better than living with this pain, right?
Well … I don’t know what’s on the other side, but I know that leaving doesn’t help. That pain you’re feeling, that conviction that you’re dragging everyone down with your hurt, that people would be better without you? It doesn’t last forever. It feels like it will, but trust me, it won’t. I’ve been there, and it passes. So play Candy Crush, and hold on just a little bit longer. It’s going to pass. I promise. Hugs and love.
♫ Bird set free ♫ Sia ♫