The desire to do anything has gone. Only the numbness remains; a blank, empty sheet of paper, a black hole, an abyss of despair. I don’t want to go outside; and with the onset of my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I can’t go outside. The one-step required to overcome the threshold of the door feels like a leap; I feel like Neil Armstrong on the moon, about to take his first step for mankind. And yet I can’t do it; I am so hesitant, I waiver, I place my feet back on soft carpet, where they were hovering above over the threshold. I retreat back to my bed and submerge myself underneath heavy covers.
Early afternoon, I emerge from the covers again. I scratch my back and my face, almost convulsively, in a state of high paranoia. At the same time, I feel inexplicably numb. I struggle to stand, so I sit. The emptiness in the bottom of my stomach hasn’t fled; instead it’s risen up through my throat. I feel unbearably heavy; as if a burden is weighing down on me, as if I were being pressed with the weight of a thousand stones. I go through much of life like I’m watching it on a television screen – I don’t feel present, I don’t feel connected. Just the other day, my boyfriend told me I’m a critical person; although he doesn’t realize that much of this is to do with the fact that I always feel outside a conversation, that I subconsciously take a critical viewpoint to much of what is said because I feel myself unable to connect with others in conversation, I feel like I’m not present. I’m unable to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
The exhaustion from the M.E. is sometimes hard to separate from the fatigue I feel from my depression. The aches and pains I feel in my bones are difficult to separate from the pain from my depression. The pain isn’t even comparable to the emotional pain. I was tired despite sleeping for hours and hours, and yet sometimes I wouldn’t sleep at all. My head feels like it’s pounding. Before I would think about something that I would like to do, that would make me feel better. But now, there is nothing that makes me feel better. The depression is all-consuming; it’s taken my favorite activities and transformed them into meaningless exercises.
I remember studying Sartre at university, and I remember my lecturer saying that Sartre had an example about alienation and language, something that was related to that weird phenomena whereby if you say a word too much then it loses its meaning, it sounds off, weird, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t sound like a real word anymore. Depression, to me, feels just like that – like I’m saying a word again and again until it doesn’t really sound like a real word anymore and it sounds strange – but instead of a word it’s activities, it’s things I enjoy. The world seems to me obfuscated by a filter; but it makes everything worse, not better.
Sartre’s book Nausea details this experience, whereby his protagonist contemplates the essence of existence while pondering the meaning of the roots of a tree before him. He struggles to conceptualize the tree before him; he realizes that his conception of the roots of the tree are based in the shared language he holds with others. Language was created by pointing at things that exist in the world and creating a name for them that community members understand and share. Then, there came to a point where we had to create words for concepts – things like love or trust, and so, because you can’t point at these things, because they don’t exist in the physical world, a community has to have a shared understanding of what love or trust means, so it can exist as a concept.
Depression, at least it seems to me, is primarily an experience whereby these tie to other community members is severed. Just like there are certain words that are un-translatable – moods and feelings that only one community expresses.
We don’t have a word in English for the Ancient Greek philosophical concept of eudaimonia; it’s sort of happiness, but it’s something more than that. It’s more along the lines of a deeply fulfilled life, but it isn’t able to be translated into English. We have pleasure, we have happiness, we have fulfillment – but we don’t have eudaimonia. The German word fernweh means that you feel sick for a place that you’ve never been to; something I’ve never experienced before. The Japanese word arigata-meiwaku might be foreign in more than one way to an English speaker; it refers to a situation when somebody did something for you that you didn’t really want, and indeed attempted to prevent them from doing, but they went ahead and did it anyway, trying to do you a favor, and now it has caused a lot of stress to you but you have to pretend to be grateful due to social conventions.
Language is centered around community and community living – and yet when you are isolated from community norms and social conventions when you feel a deep sense of emptiness and distance from friends and family members, you feel as if you can’t make sense of words or sayings, that you can’t understand why or how people are doing the things they do.
A depressed person experiences life with a different filter to another, or maybe they experience it with no filter at all. While someone else might ascribe certain emotions and feelings to a word, the depressed person doesn’t feel that. They see only the word. It’s like trying to describe the taste of a strawberry to someone who has never tasted, or even seen, a strawberry before. It’s like explaining the color green to someone who lives in a world of black and white. My depression, is quite simply, like a dispatch from another world entirely – a note explaining life on a totally different planet.