I have had approximately one and a half nervous breakdowns in my 28 years.
I say “approximately” and “half” because the first one was a definite break with reality, following a physical attack by an abusive boyfriend, invasive surgery, and basically a complete loss of all of my money, friends, and means of support, due to the black hole of bad circumstances that tend to surround tragedy.
It was nine months of lying in bed, rising only to work, once I did have a job.
The rest of the time—I don’t really remember it, to be honest. In my mind, I saw dark gray fog and black shadows, and my bedroom wall—there was a crack in the plaster, and I would stare at it, wishing I could slide into it. I stared at that crack from morning when the wall around it grew light until it got dark, and then again until it grew light.
I was empty. Scooped out. All of my feelings, gone. I had had a break one night where all of my rage and anger and sadness and betrayal poured out of me, and I realized that my mind was attached by a thin thread. I cowered in the bathroom, clutching my knees and vomiting, terrified of my own self, until dawn.
And then, nothing.
For nine months.
And then, following as with a proper gestation, a whole new person was born.
She was quieter. Darker. More reserved. She still laughed, but not as freely. It would take years before her light shone brightly again.
But she was smarter. More thoughtful. Less likely to throw caution, and her heart, to the wind.
She became me.
And I grew up.
My family changed. We scattered, quite literally, to the four winds. I found myself alone with a new job, but in a completely new city without a boyfriend, or many friends, and struggling to make ends meet. With a raging, rampant eating disorder, a slipped disc, and an endless winter. A disappointing break up. A hormonal imbalance, triggered by things meant to help with the effects of the eating disorder.
And I felt the threads of my mind begin to fray, again.
And the world began to go gray.
Depression is a funny thing. In my experience, at least, it is not extreme sadness. I would love to be extremely sad, and watch Legends of the Fall, and the Notebook, and ugly-cry, and feel my heart rip into seven distinct, wretched pieces in my bruised, bloody, damaged chest.
I would even love to feel devastated. Let me feel loss, and grief, and tear at my clothes and hair in an all-consuming rage of anguish.
I would welcome the feelings.
But for me, to be depressed has been to lose it all.
All of the feelings.
All of the expressions.
All of the needs.
All of the wants.
It hasn’t even been a desire to harm myself, exactly—more of a vague thought to simply not be alive, anymore. Like, maybe if I just lay here long enough, will I evaporate? Or, maybe if I were to fall down the steps, would it really be so bad?
Expressions were hopeless. My face was silly putty, but not silly. People would smile at me, when I had to see them, and I would think, “Oh, right, the one where I have to lift the corners of my mouth.” I’m sure my attempt at “smile” looked more like “Freddy Krueger gets a prostate exam.” Or, my mom would call me with a no-good, terrible, bad day, and I would think, “Sympathy. Sympathy is the emotion you need to compute.”
Work the arms, Puppet Master.
It wasn’t upsetting. And it wasn’t the opposite of upsetting. It was… bleh.
After three days of barely moving from my bed, I realized that my intense apathy for my own life was probably going to be upsetting for my mother.
I didn’t want to upset her.
Yes—that is why my nervous breakdown only became a half, instead of a whole.
Because I knew it would be upsetting for my mother.
Not because I had feelings about it, myself.
It was like I was driving past a garbage pit, and I saw that it was on fire, and there was no impact on me, because I lived far away, but I knew that someone, and possibly many people, were going to be affected if no one put out the flames.
So I called the fire department.
In this case, my mum.
And I said, very calmly (or, if we’re being honest, robotically, and without intonation), “I think I am in trouble. I haven’t gotten out of bed for three days. You need to come down. I think it’s pretty bad,” as if I were observing a traffic jam.
To which my heroic mother said, “I will be there tomorrow.”
And I went back to bed.
The fire department was on its way.
No need to break out a garden hose.
So, the breakdown became an interruption. Yes, I had a nervous interruption. It was quite difficult, but not really, because I didn’t have any feelings anymore.
It was, I’m sure, very difficult for the people around me, because I bet I scared the crap out of a bunch of them with my, “I don’t want to die, but I’m just not sure I want to be alive, that much.” Ok, so hide the scissors, and the butter knives, and the bleach, everyone, and smile big, because we have a depressed person in our midst.
But, for some people, it was not so difficult, because relationships are an opt-in system after all, and like before, some people chose to opt out. I get it. Depression is depressing. Nervous interruptions are intense. And eating issues? Scary stuff, indeed. No one wants to hear about your electrolytes, thankyouverymuchdon’tcallback.
We all have thresholds for shit we can deal with. And we all have prior baggage that skews our perception of reality, and shapes our experiences.
My nervous interruption taught me, among many other things, that the people who will stick with me through that stuff will always stick with me. Through all of the stuff, and all of the things, and all of the fires. They were not the ones who got me a gift, or wrote me a check, or tried to cheer me up with drinks, or with clothes, or presents, or with tough love speeches.
Giving someone with depression a tough love speech is like trying to resuscitate a ventriloquist’s dummy. It may look like a person. It may move like a person. It may even sometimes sound like a person. But the thing is pretty much lifeless, and only semi-interesting to look at.
Depression is not something you buy someone a souvenir for, or mail them a card with a check inside.
The people who stuck it out with me, who saved me, who saw me, didn’t take my nervous interruption as personal reflections on themselves, or the state of the world, or my circumstances, or anything else.
They saw it as a fire.
And they brought buckets.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman