Care of: the void

TW: mention of suicide, overdose

I’m writing this post as part cathartic time filler, part explanation. It seems easier to write about personal topics when it’s aimed at the void rather than at any one person. This is probably similar to being able to speak to a crowd of 1000 with ease, but struggling when in a conversation with one other person.

For the past couple months, I’ve been dealing with a relapse of depression. I say “relapse” because it’s not that I was ever 100% healed, but because certain periods of time are easier to live with than others. I’ve already come to accept that this is something I’ll deal with for my entire life. In my experience, mental health is a constant balancing act, back and forth between waves of clarity and fog that I can’t control, but can sometimes anticipate if I’m careful, observant, and gentle enough with myself. I think I am just coming out of a particularly dark period, and I’ve been stable for about a week, but after this morning, I am a bit doubtful that it’s over.

After sleeping for 10 hours two nights in a row, I woke up today, bright and early – I showered efficiently, dressed neatly, and did one of the best jobs of grooming my eyebrows in recent memory. Unfortunately, the eyebrows went to waste because after putting on my boots, coat, scarf, and mittens, I sat down on my bed for a minute. Three hours later, I was still sitting on my bed, slumped over, skimming Hegel After Derrida, fully dressed. (It takes me awhile to admit when I’ve been defeated, okay?)


(image via soundness)

I’ve been hospitalized a few times in the past month and put on suicide watch, which is a funny-sounding term for a funny process, in a dark way. It’s absurd to think about having to drag oneself out of bed, get dressed, and walk over to the hospital, and in the moment when the nurse asks “and the reason you’re here?”, force oneself to say “Uh yeah hey, I kind of want to kill myself right now, can I just chill out for awhile so I don’t?”

(I’m trying to stifle my sarcastic tone but it just comes so naturally to me, and additionally, I am very aware of how exhausting it is to non-depressed people to hear about depressed peoples Daily Adventures in The Depths of Despair, so I’m trying to make this shit readable for you, Void.)

Mental illness is often near-invisible, so no matter how desperate I am, there is usually a bit of fear when I go in that they will reject me. Imagine a nurse saying “You, missy, are clearly not missing any limbs or organs and you just need to stop feeling sorry for yourself! Go home! There are people with real problems in the world!”

Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet.

The first time I was put on suicide watch was in grade 8, and then, most recently (before this month), in my third year of university, which is a clearer memory in my head.

Part of my mental illness has involved becoming irrationally irritated with small things in my daily life – missing the bus, sleeping through my alarm, having to walk into a classroom late (which I touched on in an earlier post) – these things feel like unacceptable failures, and it takes a lot of work to not let one ruin my day.

I missed my bus one morning and had an anxiety attack and decided to go back to bed (anxiety attacks are exhausting) and try to make my second class in a few hours. When I woke up, I wasn’t feeling any better, so I decided to take some Dilaudid (very strong opioid painkillers) to relax and make the experience a bit “easier” on myself.

This wouldn’t have been a horrible decision on its own, except that over the course of that week, I had doubled my dose of Wellbutrin (antidepressant) because it wasn’t working, so I was taking (2 x 300) 600mg a day. This day I had taken an extra pill on top of that. (For anyone keeping score, the max daily dosage is about 450mg.)

Even this probably wouldn’t have been a horrible decision on its own, except that these drugs build up in your system.

Within about 10 minutes this cocktail took effect, and the room began to spin. I was lying on the bed, and when I tried to move to stand up, I couldn’t. My body felt so heavy. I didn’t feel peaceful though – this wasn’t the feeling I was used to from Dilaudid, and I could tell something was wrong. I remember thinking “I will die if I stay in this room” (I’m sure I wouldn’t have, but the thought was pretty traumatic), so I rolled myself off the bed and collapsed on the floor. I could hear my mom watching TV in the living room, but it sounded like she was at the end of a long tunnel.

At the hospital, I was given activated charcoal and a saline drip was put in my arm because on top of everything else, I was dehydrated and hadn’t eaten anything substantial in days. I was kept under surveillance for 24 hours and then released.

I remember walking into class the next day, and the professor, an amazing Cree woman, poked my side and said “well where have you been!” I responded that I had slept in. I wonder if she saw through it, and if not, I wish that she had.

One of the most painful things about depression for me is when it renders me unable to write, read, and concentrate. Since I was very young, I’ve always kept journals, and generally, I have write constantly throughout my life. I have binders and boxes full of writing on scraps of paper and in notebooks. When I try to write while I am depressed, my thoughts come out incomplete and unclear, not at all, or all at once, like a sputtering fountain pen. This post is an example of the latter. When I have a window of clarity, it usually lasts 30 min to half a day, where I try to accomplish as much as possible before I lose it again.

I’m trying to think of a way to end this positively, or with some sense of closure, but there’s not really a moral to the story. I could say, “Don’t Take Drugs, kids!” but that would be disingenuous. Since that episode, I have a mark on my record that means I can’t have potentially addictive drugs; this means that I have to cope with anxiety attacks as best as I can on my own. Usually, trying to sleep is the only option, next to reaching out to my amazing partner of 6 years, who is such a bright and unconquerable beam of light that he usually has me laughing within 10 minutes. But it’s not fair or healthy to rely on him to stabilize me every time.

Generally, I try to avoid talking openly about my struggles with mental health too much, because I don’t want it to define me in the eyes of my friends and colleagues. Over the past weeks, however, as I’ve found myself returning to my friend Jae’s online journals chronicling a chapter of his journey, and reaching out to friends who have been vocal about their depression, it reminds me how important it is to be open about how many of us struggle daily, for the sake of ourselves and countless others who face the exact same thing.

I talked to a good friend about my hesitation in posting this, and she reminded me that “a lot of the time, we don’t talk about it until it’s too late”. So talk about it. Write about it. Scream about it. Any embarrassment or awkwardness you feel is nothing compared to the cost of staying silent.

I hope the next time the fog creeps in, I remember to read this. Maybe I wasn’t really writing to the void, after all.

7 thoughts on “Care of: the void”

  1. Hi Erica, i cried a little when i read your post. i never experienced such deep depressions but my grilfriend does, on and off. i knew not how it was until i passed through one in the winter 2012-2013. I was struggling with my master degree, we had a pretty savage strike (i’m in montreal, in 2012, there was a big struggle by the students against the governement), i had problems with an ex and with my girlfriend (we broke up and came back together). i really understand when you say that it never leaves you anymore, i have been down for 2 months now, but i manage to keep my head above the water. it’s true that most people don’t understand what we go through. i know that we don’t know each other, but if you ever need a friendly ear/eye you’re welcome to email me. emmanuel.chair@gmail.com
    keep on fighting 😉

  2. Hey Erica,

    I appreciate this post sooo soo much. I’ve needed help and have always been afraid of going to the hospital for it. but when you are in the moment of choosing whether or not to do it. The decision always seems so clear. I’ve recently self harmed and it scares me.

  3. Hey Erica, Once again I am humbled by listening to your wise words. You are a woman wise beyond your years, and always have been. There is much to be admired in that. Please know you don’t carry the world’s weight on your shoulders alone. Even your own heaviness is shared. In an unfair and sadly cruel world, depression is not an unhealthy response. It speaks to a sensitive person noticing her shared humanity. Please just be kind to yourself, as, and how, and whenever you can. The many people you touch in an everyday way, by your words and actions are there for you and with you, too. Thank you for sharing this. It only deepens my respect for you. take care.

  4. As a non sufferer of Depression, I would like to give the point of view of the outsider. Of course I have felt bad some days in my life, I felt down many times and sad many more times, and scared, and anxious, and upset, and angry, and disappointed, and many more uncomfortable feelings, but never suffered from depression. Thus, I cannot talk about what is to suffer from that. But, I can give a point of view from the non sufferer.

    The non sufferer, if it is a male, will find it very difficult to be around the sufferer and not being able to do anything. He will feel that it is his fault, that he has done something wrong, that it is his responsibility to make sure that that person is OK, and if his friend or relative is not, then he failed. But there is also the fear of contagion. Not because the other person thinks it is caused by a virus or bacterium, but because he/she is afraid that maybe, the sufferer of depression is not the sick person, but the non sufferer is. When the world is filled with violence, and the environment is being polluted, who in his/her right mind can not feel depressed? When Henry David Thoreau was sent to prison for refusing to pay taxes used to finance pay the military invasion of Mexico, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson went to visit him in jail and asked him “Why are you here?” at which Thoureau replied: “Why are you NOT here?” That, in essence is the main fear that the non sufferer of depression has: to be asked “why are you not depressed?” What if the depressed person is right? What if not being depressed is a symptom of having adapted quite well to this world?

    Anyway, just my thoughts.

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