The rain dredged heavily on the streets of my university city on that day; its citizens hurrying and scurrying left, right and center. People ran for shelter, sprinting down cobbled streets – slipping and falling, grasping onto handrails just within reach. I felt immune to the water. I hardly felt the rain on my skin; it glided off me like water off a duck’s back. I felt invincible, almost, as if I had reached the end of my tether and let go of the rope. I felt I had experienced every emotion in a hurricane of cataclysmic effect; and now nothing remained. I felt nothing but a calm serenity. I raised my face to the sky, and the drops trickled from my forehead down to my chin. Everything felt very still and silent, the way it does in horror films just before someone is killed in a rather gruesome and unfortunate way. I wondered, for the millionth time, what exactly was the matter with me. I tried to place that particular feeling; the feeling of crippling depression. But the feeling itself is elusive; like the slipperiness of eels, it evades capture, flitting and darting from my fingertips until it reaches that familiar open water. It’s odd to look back on it, now, because at the time I wasn’t really aware that it was happening.
I thought back to that heady summer that ended in me being sectioned.
“You do know that you’re not very well, don’t you?”
There is very little I remember from around that time. It seems so hazy. Term had finished, and most of the students had gone home. I had stayed. I remember my lecturer, outside the department. Walking down the cobbled streets, ebullient, towards a group of my professors. They were huddled together outside some old pub; my paranoid mind felt that there was something of the conspiratorial about them. It was as if they collectively held some secret they just could not wait to share. Excited, darting eyes. Feet tapping with gleeful agitation. In his hands, my professor held a bottle of champagne, and as he raised it over his head in some effort to catch his colleagues’ eyes, it caught the low beams of the setting sun. He shook it, and it twinkled against the sunset.
Just that day a woman had pulled her child away from me in the street. I had been clutching at my cardigan, nibbling at the sleeves, rolling them upwards to reveal ivory-white skin, and scratching it until pink patches blossomed; like flowers in spring, like red ink on a page when you push the nib too hard into the paper. Suddenly I thought that this woman could see the marks of my madness. She could see it in my burned wrists, my unwashed hair, my feet bruised from endless pacing. It was this that she was recoiling from, that she was pulling her child from.
I have always felt that the anhedonia of depression – the inability to enjoy what was once loved and adored – has been so often underestimated in its very seriousness. The loss of enjoyment, I believe, is something of a loss of self; a kind of bereavement. When the depressed person finds that she enjoys less and less, she becomes less and less herself. She is not that girl who likes drawing and art and ballet and animals. Because those things no longer interest her. And so she becomes a husk, a corpse; empty of all distinguishing features which make her distinctly herself. She is as a nebulous a being as some forgotten spirit, haunting some abandoned house. Coupled with this loss of self is the often-fatal depletion of hope, dreams for the future; other things she used to use to describe herself and the essence of herself. The crippling depression I experienced felt most keenly like a depletion of I.
And then some boy, later, in my department. Trying to tell me all about mental hospitals. Asylums, that’s what he called them. And I begged to differ, I said that they aren’t like that. It wasn’t like that.
“It’s the same thing, isn’t it?” He smiled. And then he went on and on about the type of people you find there.
“Well, I’m not like that,” I protested weakly.
“You were mad before,” he said simply, with a taunting smile. “And now you’re not.”
I felt burnt up with rage.