On a dreary November Saturday I’m lying in bed, watching Bojack Horseman on Netflix. I’m lying on my side embracing a human-sized pillow and tousling a pug’s tail. Life’s not bad. Maybe it is the body position, the memory of all the many waking hours I have spent in bed triggered by the positioning of my arms and legs, but I start to think about the times I have been very very depressed.
I roll over and enter my istock photo account information. I type “girl in bed” into the search box. I need a picture to go along with the blog post I am planning to write. Even when I replace the word ‘girl’ with ‘woman’, all the images that appear show women curled onto one side with their hands angelically positioned beneath their head in the prayer-position, smiling even as they sleep. Other images show women stretching, also smiling, also with eyes closed, a shaft of glowing light breaking through the window. There are also images of women with furrowed brows, presumably they can’t sleep or have worries preying on their mind. But none of these people is me, and none of these women looks anything like the me I was in bed, the depressed me.
According to the psychiatrist(s) I have treatment resistant major depressive disorder. I’ll save the discussions about the accuracy of diagnosis capital D for another day, but just say the following: Treatment resistant depression is officially reserved for those of us sad sacs who fail to respond to at least two antidepressants. I have tried Zooloft, Celexa, Effexor, Paxil, and have settled on Cymbalta. By official standards, that makes me treatment resistant two times over.
But what this all means, is another matter entirely. Today, I am thinking about my last major depressive episode, which took place four years ago. When I look back on this time, I see myself lying in bed. I am not like the happy angelic smiley sleepers, but nor am I like those women of the furrowed brow. For me, depression has surfaced, not like an angst, but rather like a lukewarm despair. It doesn’t hurt so much as it dulls. It doesn’t stab so much as it blunts. It’s not nails on a chalkboard so much as white noise.
Here I am four years ago. I am lying in the guest bed at my mom’s house, having just quit both my jobs and taken time off school. I am very skinny, but not in a sexy way. Maybe I actually look kind of sexy, but the reasons I am so skinny are distinctly un-sexy. Right now, I don’t understand them. My doctor says my metabolism has changed and I’ve even come to feel a little haughty about my weight loss. I eat whatever I want whenever I want and can’t seem to gain weight. The flip side, I’m quite concerned that I might have a brain tumour. WebMd tells me that weight loss is one of the first , and most commonly ignored, symptoms of cancer. But now that I have sunken into a full fledged depression, the acute fear of brain tumours has dissipated nicely, like cotton candy dissolving in my mouth. For me, depression comes as a salve, a relief, a respite from many long months of unbearable anxiety.
The real reason I am so skinny, is because I have explosive diarrhea every time I leave the house. I carry perfume with me wherever I go, and find myself discarding pairs of underwear in public garbage receptacles all over the city. You might think that this could not possibly explain weight loss of over 25 lbs, but you haven’t seen the daily decimation of toilet bowls I am describing. The diarrhea comes from anxiety and the relationship between depression and anxiety is far from having been fleshed out. Experts know very little about the brain-based connections between depression and anxiety, but we do know that the same medications that treat anxiety, treat depression. General Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder have a very high comorbidity; both are characterized by ‘general distress’ .
I wake up and I lie in bed for an hour, perhaps two. I haven’t showered in almost a week. I roll over and reach my arm over the edge of the bed, feeling around for a purple velour robe without a tie which I’ve come to refer to as my ‘uniform’ (in my head, that is. Externally no vestiges of humour or emotion are visible). My body feels heavy, like I’ve been engaged in repetitive motion for months on end–in some ways I have. My head feels foggy, full of some kind of asbestos-like substance that is holding space so that no more evil or painful thoughts can get in. It’s a relief not to think. I love not thinking. Scratch that. I love not worrying, and things got to the point where in order to stop worrying I had to stop thinking. It got to the point where I was willing to make that trade off. And so I’m grateful for the asbestos in my head.
I love watching paint dry. Watching paint dry is like the fucking Olympics for anhedonics like me. In fact, I was planning to walk downstairs and lie on the couch, but now I’ve instead decided to collapse onto the floor ten feet outside my bedroom door and watch the dew evaporate off the deck. For me, there is something incredibly mindful about being this depressed. The world slows down, there is nothing to do nowhere to go, the asbestos is keeping the thoughts out, and so my brain is empty like a bowl. I’m lucky. I have a safety net. A big one. I have a mom who will make me grilled cheese sandwiches, and wash my uniform and my sheets, and walk my dog, and a dad who will pay my rent and pay my phone bill. For people without a safety net, being this depressed would be an entirely different kind of agony.
I fall asleep on the floor like that and wake up to the smell of my mom making lunch downstairs. For a second I think I might be hungry, but then I remember that all food tastes like cardboard. I pull myself off the ground and heave my heavy body downstairs like quasimodo on Oxy. I’m like a patient being transferred from one ward of the hospital to another, except I transfer myself. I move from being prone in one part of the house, to being prone in another. Once downstairs, I lie down on the living room couch and turn on Netflix. I watch ‘The Office’ on repeat all day, moving in and out of a coma-like sleep. I amaze myself at my capacity to sleep all day and still be tired at night.
Tomorrow I will go to my mom’s art studio. She wants to paint me. I will have to sit still on a stool for two hours, and not lying down like that-for even five minutes-will be fucking agonizing. The picture she paints of me will be impressionistic, and it will show me in my orange puffy jacket zipped up to my chin. My hair will be knotted and the look in my eyes will be at once haunted and vacant. I will keep that painting on my wall to this day, as an ever-present reminder of the dark places I’ve visited. But for now, I have a whole night of lying down to look forward to.
In the middle of the night I wake up. My heart is beating fast and I feel slightly panicked. It feels strange to feel something, but I am more annoyed than alarmed. A thought, sharp and jagged, presses through the asbestos to the surface of consciousness. The thought says: “This is bad. This is okay for now, but what if the medication doesn’t work? What if things don’t get better? If things don’t get better, I would not want to live”. I sit cradling this thought for a while. It scares me. Luckily my inside are coated in a thick numbing agent, and the fear is dulled as if in a dream. Eventually I fall back to sleep, fall back into my love of lying down, turn back into the girl in the bed.