Monday, May 11, 2009

The thick black paste of it

There was a period of about a month (I think) in college when I didn't get out of bed.

I had this thick polyester navy blue blanket that I used to create a type of tent. I tucked the edges into the top of my bunk, blocking out all light, and closed the blinds in my already dark room. I slept in a blank void, waking to use the restroom, not ever really knowing what time it was. When I woke up, I would watch episodes of the Sopranos. I'm not really sure how long this lasted--I do remember watching 5 1/2 seasons of the Sopranos (all that was available at the time. The second half of season 6 hadn't started on HBO yet) in one sitting, so you do the math.

It happened when I was living in the sorority. I would lock the door and disappear for hours. When I emerged to use the restroom I would shock my friends who hadn't known that I'd been in my room. When they finally caught on that I had holed myself up underneath the covers I would hear faint knocks on the door and people trying the door knob. I would sit quietly and watch the shadow under the door disappear and I'd go back to sleep.

My friends had asked me If I were depressed, and I told them I wasn't. I don't even remember feeling depressed--depression a reality that my mind didn't comprehend--I was just very very tired.

Looking back I realize I MUST have been depressed. What else can explain the crippling feeling of not being able to handle going to class, or even leaving the bed. All I could focus on was sleeping, watching the Sopranos and using the bathroom. And sleep felt so good, like falling into a warm and gentle hug. Each time I would wake up I would feel sleep begging me to come back, wishing to embrace me again.

Depression is a funny thing--I have friends I know that have suffered from it, but I honestly can't say that I understand it. I understand suicide even less.

I read this article from Daphne Merkin, writer who suffers severe depression, and she explains the depths of depression in a way that I can understand. I think anyone who has experienced some type of depression can relate on a surface level--I don't want to ever know or feel exactly what she's describing, it would be too frightening.

It's a long article--about eight pages online--but I picked out the parts that spoke to me.

DEPRESSION — THE THICK BLACK paste of it, the muck of bleakness — was nothing new to me. I had done battle with it in some way or other since childhood. It is an affliction that often starts young and goes unheeded — younger than would seem possible, as if in exiting the womb I was enveloped in a gray and itchy wool blanket instead of a soft, pastel-colored bunting.

Surely this is the worst part of being at the mercy of your own mind, especially when that mind lists toward the despondent at the first sign of gray: the fact that there is no way out of the reality of being you, a person who is forever noticing the grime on the bricks, the flaws in the friends — the sadness that runs under the skin of things, like blood, beginning as a trickle and ending up as a hemorrhage, staining everything.

In the end there is no one to intervene on your behalf when you disappear again into what feels like a psychological dungeon — a place that has a familiar musky smell, a familiar lack of light and excess of enclosure — except the people you’ve paid large sums of money to talk to over the years.

It sits in the space behind your eyes, making its presence felt even in those moments when other, lighter matters are at the forefront of your mind.

When I was awake (the few hours that I was), I felt a kind of lethal fatigue, as if I were swimming through tar.

THE ONE THING PSYCHIATRIC hospitals are supposed to be good for is to keep you safe. But I was conflicted even about so primary an issue as survival. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ambush my own downward spiral, where the light at the end of the tunnel, as the mood-disordered Robert Lowell once said, was just the light of the oncoming train.

Self-inflicted death had always held out a stark allure for me: I was fascinated by people who had the temerity to bring down the curtain on their own suffering — who didn’t hang around, moping, in hopes of a brighter day. I knew all the arguments about the cowardice and selfishness (not to mention anger) involved in committing suicide, but nothing could persuade me that the act didn’t require a perverse sort of courage, some steely embrace of self-extinction.

If you are depressed enough, it seems to me, you begin to conceive of death as a cradle, rocking you gently back to a fresh life, glistening with newness, unsullied by you.

At the same time, I recognized that, for a person who was really set on ending it all, speaking your intention aloud was an act of self-betrayal. After all, in the process of articulating your death wish you were alerting other people, ensuring that they would try to stop you.

Suicide could wait, my sister said. Why didn’t I give the hospital a chance?

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