I don’t recall much about the night I was diagnosed with depression — just the fuzzy outlines of a threat to commit suicide. I thought I’d be dead by morning. My time felt near while on the phone with my father’s then-girlfriend, a psychologist who spoke to me in a soft, cathartic tone, that volume which both soothes and condescends. I was in Georgia, she was in Philadelphia, and she talked to me until 1 a.m.: long-distance diagnosis and prescription (“Go see a therapist”).
Before that night — or the curvature of that night, those fuzzy outlines once again — I cared. I cared about my family; I cared about my friends; I cared (too much) about my ex-lovers; I cared about the future. To care is to step outside of oneself, to face the cold blade of another human on guard because some other human hurt her years ago.
That’s life, isn’t it? The dance we do with swords and shields, striking each other because we’re so afraid, oh so afraid, to get hurt? If this isn’t life, then it is certainly “love” in its most humanistic form, based and terrified. And I was a willing participant. I loved. I lived. I cared.
Presumably, depression, like any other illness, forces one to take stock of his life, to turn inward as a form of reassessment. The flaws and bad habits left to rot inside me — the affairs, the chain-smoking — must be addressed now, now, someone told me over the phone that I was depressed. Which, at the time, didn’t mean that much to me.
I knew of depression as any layman understands it: the blues, sad days, gray days, tears and slow music. A frozen moment in time, yes? Like mourning a death, sooner or later, I’d snap out of it. I just couldn’t understand why I felt so tortured, why my brain seemed to turn on me. Everything I wanted to forget — all the mistakes and sins and embarrassments — released like wolves panting and sprinting in the lightless night toward carrion. The mammal ensnared in the trap was me. The wolves ripped me apart day and night.
The next day, after my impromptu phone consultation, I met my first therapist. Dr. Elizabeth. A sweet, southern lady with a thick accent which accentuated her freakishly tall body.
(In the craft of memoir or personal essay, one is allowed to skip forward in time or condense conversations or “blend” multiple conversations into one or two paragraphs to save space and the reader’s time. Let it be known, then, that Dr. Elizabeth diagnosed me with dysthymia*, and concluded that I suffered from depression for most, if not all, of my life. She recommended medication; I declined; I was an idiot who paid a heavy price years later.)
Since, I’ve been meaning to research (i.e. Google) post-major-depression trauma. One can’t really be the same after being devoured by imaginary wolves. I’m no longer the same, for I don’t care as much as I did before. When your body and mind decide, almost on a whim, to become your worst enemies, really who gives a shit about Presidential elections or weddings or birthdays or terrorist bombings? There’s little time for the outside world. I became, and remain, vigilant with respect to my moods, my immediate condition.
I don’t pay attention as much as I did before. I hear, but I’m never really listening — not completely — and forget about my surroundings. Trees and buildings all look the same when viewed from the peripheral, if viewed at all, so a street in downtown Chicago is no different to me than an alleyway in Philadelphia; I couldn’t care less about their actual differences.
This makes the so-called “writing life” difficult, and it is why my work has become so solipsistic over the years. I am my favorite subject, I am the mystery which confuses and seduces me, I am that which I know nothing about, and so I must write about it — me — to get to the answers of unknown questions.
I am so fearful now, six years and three major depressions later, of myself, of some deep flaw within me that I might’ve missed or neglected. And the advice from friends and family and lovers is, typically, to live and let live. Enjoy life. The answers will come. Their kind words come from the belief that I’m on a spiritual quest when, in fact, I’m sort of like Bruce Banner: I’m trying to find a goddamn cure before my depression destroys my life yet again.
Because ironically, depression is not a solipsistic disease; it is not a self-inflicted gunshot but, rather, a bomb detonated in the middle of a family function or, in my case, a very quiet explosion as I read my second set of vows, as I wondered if it was happening again, as I knew everyone in the room was about to be wiped out by my disease — they just didn’t know it at the time.
Morbid, but sometimes, I wish I was a cutter or a drug abuser. Something, anything, that’ll turn the depressive violence inward. But no. Friendships and marriages are lost; family ties are strained; job performance decreases; drivers on the highway blow their horns as I race by them at 100 mph, indifferent about everything, every one. Like a true a-hole.
Post-major-depression trauma resulting in chronic a-holery. I’m certain I’ve discovered a new wrinkle to the treatment of depression. Because after the storm subsides, after the wolves slink away sated and ready for sleep, after the antidepressants circulate in my blood, blunting the blows, it’s a challenge to look outward again, to remember that it isn’t all about you, to again understand the connection between all people. But I try. I try.