“Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” – Toni Morrison
I died a long time ago. I know that may sound crazy, but it’s kinda true. Not fully true, obviously, since I’m currently writing this post, and I’m not a ghost. And if I were a ghost, I don’t think I’d be able to type cause my fingers would go right through the keyboard. I guess I could be a zombie, but ZOMBIES AREN’T REAL! (If you say it loud enough, it makes it true). Okay, I’m losing focus. It was a metaphor guys. Or hyperbole. Or both; I don’t even know. Either way, I’m not a zombie. And I’m not dead. But I kinda am.
That’s what depression feels like to me. My body is a coffin, and the person I used to be is just rotting away inside, slowly being devoured by predators and scavengers and things too small to see. Every once in a while I forget that I’m dead. I peak back out through my eyes at the world, like I’m waking up from hibernation. Sometimes the world is too bright and I crawl immediately back inside again. Other times something beautiful catches my eye, and I can’t close my eyes because I am too busy appreciating the beauty and magic around me. I feel happy to be alive. I feel like I can sparkle again. Then something pulls me back under. I shut my eyes and shut out the world back inside my coffin.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Sparkling. I had hope. I saw beauty in the world, and I was excited by endless possibilities. Not so much anymore. Instead I’m fearful, afraid, and immobilized. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I keep going back to this one moment in time when I saw the darkness ahead, and I chose to walk toward it.
I was in law school in Boston in my late twenties. My boyfriend and I were tripping on mushrooms in the arboretum. We had fallen in love exploring New England together, soaking in breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, riding our bikes to bars to drink beer and eat greasy pizza, having coffee and mimosas on the porch with my roommates, listening to live music and sharing vomit-worthy smiles across the table at each other. It was glorious. But it wasn’t perfect. Something I said got under his skin, and it never ceased to be an issue in our relationship. He grew more and more distant. I grew more and more anxious. Instead of letting the relationship unravel, we both held on tighter and tighter. We were determined to force something broken to work. Until I met someone else. And then I just let go and let him fall.
But back to the thing I said that got under his skin and ruined everything. It was about a year into our relationship. He couldn’t let it go. He told me not to tell anyone what was going on. He’d grill me for hours and hours and hours trying to sort out exactly what I had meant. Weird things started happening, like he would start saying words that weren’t real words and made no sense. He’d go into this sort of trance where he’d be totally absent for several seconds or minutes. I could tell he hated me for what I said yet still loved me. I had no idea how to handle it. So I told someone. I told someone else. And someone else. And someone else. Then it wasn’t just the thing I originally said that was the problem. It was also the fact that I’d said it to other people after he told me not to. It shattered our relationship, and we never recovered.
In the midst of this, we decided that it would be a really good idea to spend some one-on-one time together in the park and eat some mushrooms (not the healthy, good-for-you kind, but the we’re-going-on-an-adventure, who-knows-what-will-happen kind). And just for extra measure, we decided to eat a lot of them.
At first we were laying in the grass watching the clouds, and I was off in my own little world surrounded by cute animals and fairies. It was awesome. Then he started getting all paranoid about this person on a lawnmower, which filtered into what was going on with me, and I watched a movie of our relationship in my head, and in the end my soul was sucked from me and all that was left was my skeleton. And then the trip ended, and I pushed the image of the skeleton from my mind and went back to telling myself that I was happy.
How crazy is that? Like, in my brain, I saw that our relationship ended with me being this sucked-dry, curled up skeleton, and I was like, “you know, it’s fine. Who needs a soul? It probably won’t happen.” That seems like a really unhealthy decision, looking back. I could have seen the image of the skeleton and said, “you know, this is some dark shit. I’m outta here.” But I didn’t. (And I know I was cognitively altered when the skeleton thing happened, but does it really sound like it was a healthy relationship?)
And that’s what I mean when I say I died a long time ago, even though I only died in my mushroom-enhanced mind. Somewhere in me I believed that staying in that relationship would suck my soul dry, and I stayed in it anyways. I felt myself falling to pieces, and I stayed. I saw the path down which I was heading, and I chose death.
Why would I do that??
One of the hardest things about mental illness for me has been trying to explain it to people I’m close to. People are always (very good-naturedly) making suggestions for me to feel better, like “you just need to go to a dance class” or “you just need to spend more time outside, or… whatever… fill in the blank. I want to scream back “DON’T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT?! DON’T YOU THINK I KNOW I’D FEEL BETTER IF I MADE HEALTHIER CHOICES?? THE PROBLEM IS THAT I KNOW I SHOULD BUT I CAN’T AND NOW I FEEL EVEN WORSE FOR NOT JUST FAILING MYSELF BUT FAILING YOU TOO THANKS”.
Mental illness doesn’t make sense.
I keep trying to wake up, but it hurts, so I stay dead. But I keep trying. Is that not the definition of insanity?