Tears: A Portrait of Depression
Depression is a serious illness, with more than 3 million reported cases per year. Although I’m typically a happy person, I have experienced bouts of depression over the years, with this one from about a month ago being the worst. Those who have never experienced it doesn’t know what it looks like. Somewhere inside of me during this time, I got the gumption to get it down in writing. I felt the need to tell it as it is, because if people could really see it they’d know the truth: It is a serious illness affecting so many, and we need to not judge, but simply understand and lend a hand.
It’s 2 pm and I just got off the phone with my friend Stacy. She’s concerned, because she knows I’m not a crier, usually leaving that to more private moments. Yet I’ve been in tears half the day and I don’t know why. The sadness is beyond belief. I’m staring at one spot in my room, where the wrought iron frame of the bed meets the mattress, where it’s dark and gray. I’m lying down and can barely move. It’s as if I suddenly don’t know how.
My body is wrapped in blankets like a cocoon, strangely unable to get up, too frightened of the world outside in this immediate point in time. My back feels like there are butterfly wings, but they’re stapled to me, unable to unfurl. A sense of desperation takes over. My mind is paralyzed in the sadness, unable to function, unable to do what needs to be done.
Stacy said this isn’t like me. She’s right; my recent birth control removal has triggered this. They call it the Mirena crash, where your hormones go haywire, and amongst other things it can launch you into a serious depression. For the past week, I’ve been up and down. But this has been the worst day.
There was only one other moment in my life that I can recall where I was like this, and it was not triggered by hormones. It was on a day in late July of 2012, when I cut someone I love dearly out of my life completely. It was necessary, but his removal from my existence left me in bed for two days. That was more sorrow, though — a state of mourning, the death of something that had to be felt fully. It was a vital stage in order to recover properly. This was not like that; it went deeper, infected every sinew of my body.
The stress of the past few weeks was washing over me: Out of work a month earlier than anticipated, my mother’s health problems compounding while I was living with her because I didn’t have a steady job, a lawsuit filed against me for an accident that was ruled not my fault to target my insurance policy, bills piling up, feeling incredibly far away living apart from the city and my friends with an uncertain future and no prospects. Combine that with the hormones, and I was destined to crash. What I didn’t expect was this heap that I had become.
Somewhere in the depths of this despair I hear my father calling for me. I try to respond, my voice weak, but he can’t hear me — he probably doesn’t have his hearing aids in. He keeps repeating my name. My voice starts to scream, which seems to agitate the beast of depression inside of me. The monster holds on stronger, tightens his grip so my brain feels like it’s being strangled. I begin sobbing again, focusing on that tiny corner. For some odd reason, it’s all my mind wants to know at this moment.
The texts are coming into my phone, and I don’t see them. Or I respond to them, but it’s as if I have transformed into a robot, going through the motions as if there is no other way to do it. I give excuses: The drive is too far. I’m running low on gas with very little income. I don’t feel like it. I had become a blubbering mess and didn’t want to be near anyone, not even myself. Yet at the same time it’s hard to be alone, but no one is coming for me. It’s too far.
My head was throbbing as the crying dehydrated me. I drank small sips of water from a water bottle, grasping onto the bottle as if a baby, my body weak as a hospital patient’s. I tried to eat a little popcorn, the salt accumulating in my mouth, feeling like dirt. A couple licorice sticks follow, but it doesn’t do anything either; it’s like I can’t sense anything. In a last-ditch effort, I watched some shows on Netflix, and not even that could restore me.
My mother was in her bed, reading while her oxygen tank pumped its Darth Vader tone. Weakly, I walk in and lie next to her, a hopeless child sobbing into a pillow like I skinned my knee again or a boy pulled at my pigtails, teasing me mercilessly. She didn’t need another thing to worry about, yet she strokes my hair as my sobbing continues. It’s as if my body regressed, unable to function properly. I don’t see the world around me, just the cocoon of blankets that are keeping me safe and warm, which allows me to rest.
Waking up, it takes a bout of physical effort to get me up from the bed and be able to move into the other room. My very body felt held back from some great force of nature. Yet something inside of me is making me move forward, pushing me down into the seat at the kitchen table, taking the plate of food and putting it in the microwave, then shoving the food into my mouth with dire force.
In the physical force of ingesting that night, I was realizing that I was sick. This is what it felt like at 21 to be in the hospital fighting for my body to survive five blood clots. During this day, I’m fighting for my mind, which in turn is also disabling my human functioning. It may not be as extreme, since the Mirena crash has exacerbated the problem, but it still manifests in similar forms: Cutting myself off from the world. Not calling people. Staying away from activities and then making excuses for my absences — depression was alive inside of me, just that I found a strange way to function through it.
It took two Tylenol PM to get me to sleep through the night, to cumulate the day that I truly understood depression. I woke up the next morning feeling motivated and strong, praying that this wasn’t another ebb and flow in the Mirena crash. But there were no guarantees. Depression is an illness that was taking a hold of my body, as debilitating as a broken leg and devastating as a heart transplant. You can’t tell people to just “cheer up” — it just fuels the fire. I had to hold on, fight this, although sometimes it feels like a monster that can’t be killed.
The next day, I get a call from Stacy first thing in the morning. “You worried me to death,” she said. In the fog of the day before, I could barely see my dear friend. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone. It didn’t mean I didn’t love them; far from it. They are my rocks, my saving graces. They keep me tethered to the world.
But that’s the beast we fight: Depression makes us forget everything that we love, retreat inward against our own will. There isn’t one definitive way for a cure, but the simple request — just to be there, hang on and support — is sometimes good enough.