So here’s the thing about my depression.
Yeah, this is about that. I understand if it’s dull and you don’t want to read about it. I review lots of TV shows and movies on here—they are, I guarantee, more interesting, and I don’t intend to make a habit of this sort of thing. Honestly, there’s nothing I find more self-indulgently boring than someone talking about their problems as if they’re interesting, or unique.
The thing is, I’ve shut all this in for so long as part of some instinctual self-preservation strategy, and I’ve come to realize that that’s part of the problem. It’s choking me, this need to hide what I’m so ashamed of so—and here’s where hope comes in—I’m choosing not to do that this time. I don’t know who on earth would want to read about this, but—well, I don’t have a good ending for that sentence. I’m obviously of two minds (at least) about doing so, so if you don’t want to read this, then I’m fine with you bailing. Here’s an exit to a classic Simpsons review I’m quite happy with. Honestly, it’ll be more fun.
[Whistles tunelessly for a full minute]
Well, you asked for it.
(Since you’re going to go with it, here’s a playlist I made. It’s called “Old Sad Bastard Music”—the perfect song cycle for reading about Dennis’ depression!)
I’ve been dealing with depression since, well, there’s no since. It’s called just “how Dennis thinks.” I’ve been in therapy at times (like now, for instance) and we’ve pretty much pinned down that I do not have a “time before Dennis thought like this,” so that’s helpful. As to what that thinking entails, I’ll go metaphorical.
I remember a time when I was young—let’s say six or so—when I was playing with these plastic building blocks. Only they’re not blocks, they’re these plastic ring things. With legs. I don’t know what they’re called. Some sort of off-brand, overthought Lego knockoff that, no doubt, my mom bought somewhere. I don’t recall liking them much, but this one day, I was content putting them together into a wall—their structure made them ideal for building sort of a curvy, wavy, roller coaster-looking wall that I found pleasing. Especially since I had, at the time, this also off-brand Rodan-type monster toy that shot little plastic missiles (this was before projectile-shooting toys got neutered—thanks, Ralph Nader), and I wanted to spend the afternoon contentedly making Rodan knock the walls down.
It’s not a secret to anyone who knows me that I’m not a good grown up. Sure, I pay my taxes and have a job (or jobs, or a lot of scattered writing gigs that I now hope will add up to a job). I have a wife, and she loves me, and I try to make her happy. She says I do so, so that’s nice. But I’m pretty confident at this point that I’ll never feel like an adult. I’m a pretender, a faker. I bluff my way through well enough, but I’m that kid in that room, and I’m sure I’ll always be there. It’s unseemly to be as old as I am and think this way, but feeling unseemly is all part of the deal.
Anyway, back to metaphor. I remember feeling self-conscious at one point, and the theretofore fun little fantasy I was building snap to a stop. Nothing happened, Nelson Muntz didn’t burst in with a Ha-Ha at my innocent little dreamy-dream. I think I just remember thinking (or realizing, as I think of it in hindsight), “Oh, this is a stupid thing to do.” And so I stopped playing.
No big deal—kids get bored. And maybe what happened then was just that, a kid getting bored with being alone playing with knockoff toys in his room. Except that that image—those unnameable plastic things (don’t bother to find their name, it’s not that important to the story) has stuck in my head and gotten incorporated in the bigger metaphor we’re going for here. It’s not always those plastic rings. Sometimes it’s toothpicks. Or sandcastles. Maybe a house of cards. You get the common theme.
My depression (and, really, I wish there were a less-precious term I could use here, but I can’t think of one) takes the form of something black and absolute. Like the first time someone really impressed upon the young me that the universe had no end. No end. Nothing like an ending. The not having of an ending. The not-ending-having in the sense of young me asking:
“But when you come to the end…”
“Nope. There isn’t.”
“Look, that question doesn’t apply—there’s no end.”
“I don’t understand—when it, when you come to…”
“The inevitable fact that everything in life has an end? That’s not so much how it is. Like, at all.”
It’s like that.
For shorthand sake, the few people (my therapist, my lovely wife) who know about this understand what I mean when I say, “When I go there…” It’s where I go, or what overtakes me, or floods my brain. I genuinely lose light then. Not tunnel vision so much as darkness leeching the light, the reality of my life, my surroundings. When I go there, it is. It has me. I fall into it, or it pulls me in like a black hole, the blackest hole. It’s not cartoon spaceman in a black hole (for some reason I picture Fry from Futurama in a space suit, although I don’t recall that ever happening to Fry). It’s swallowing, being swallowed. Except it’s not, because that would indicate that there’s a way in—and a way out. It is. It is.
It is certainty. It is the dark, implacable kernel of every negative thought I’ve ever had about myself not just growing, but escaping. Bursting, inky and endless, from the tiny, puny walls I’d managed to pen it inside. It is. It has me. I fall in. I fall under it, before it. And then I’m inside it. It’s got me.
[Yes, this is melodramatic, but you didn’t bail out before, so cope.]
And the little plastic blocks (or sandcastles, or matchstick houses) are everything I ever strove to accomplish, every little, childlike hope or dream or aspiration I’ve ever had. All—I realize only as it’s crushed and shaken down and swept away by the black—built on top of that nothingness. The nothingness is the certitude that I am, and have always been, and will always be completely worthless and I realize in that yawning horror of certitude just before it takes me over completely—it is what all of those bright, plastic, positive thoughts and dreams were actually built on. It is the ground. It is the earth. It is all that is real and true—my complete and total worthlessness is the rolling, tarry foundation. And I was building my pathetic little tottering hopes on top of it, as if it wouldn’t just swallow it up.
What a fucking idiot, I think, in the second right before the reality takes over for good. You goddamned little fool. And then I disappear until it recedes, spitting me out, shaking and wept out and heaving, when it’s done with me. For the moment. What’s left of me takes time to gather up—and, yes, sometimes that’s when it’s tempting to simply…not.
I know others have it worse. I’ve never actually tried suicide. I’ve resisted medication, even when, unlike now, I “went there” with deadening regularity. I’m better now, or for now. I hope it’s the former—I’m not, and suspect I’ll never be, a happy person. But I’m better than any time I can remember. Maybe I found the right therapist. Or that the fact that I’m (for the moment) making it, scraping out a living as a professional writer (all I’ve ever wanted to be) provides just enough self-esteem to hold it at bay. I know my wife is a reason. But I also know that it’s out there. Or in there—it is. That’s the point.
(Movie clip inserted to deflect from potentially embarrassing revelation. But the 1 minute mark does make a lot of sense to me.)
I get childishly weepy when I find myself trying to find something to bargain with so it doesn’t return. “Please let me have this,” I think, at no one. “Please—just let it stay away.” I never beg it—it is. It has no concept of what I want, except when it sweeps over all that and reminds me of how real it is.
But, for now, here I am. Building toy walls and trying not to think them just childish and fragile and destined to be wiped out on a whim I can’t see coming.