You've Changed the Locks Three Times, He Still Comes Reeling Through the Door
See that picture up there? That's me. I don't remember exactly when I took it, just that it was sometime in the last year. Whenever it was, it had been a particularly rough day, a day when I couldn't stop myself from crying, when I gave away tickets to an event I had paid for weeks in advance because I didn't want to be out among polite society. I had had an idea to maybe start keeping a photo documentation of when I felt depressed, to try to put a face or image to something so many people still don't really understand, despite how common it evidently is. That lasted about two days, and then I stopped, because it seemed silly to try to make something "artistic" out of it. I don't have the kind of face or body that makes these things seem alluring, somehow. There's no beauty in my breakdown. Mostly I just spend a lot of time sleeping and neglect to brush my hair.
I'm sure I started feeling better not long after this picture was taken. I always do. I'm feeling better now, after a couple weeks "rough patch." That's what I call them, "rough patches," like it's a skin irritation I can cure with coconut oil, rather than a disorder of brain chemistry that I've been struggling with for about as long as I can remember. As I've entered middle age, I find that these rough patches hit harder and faster than they used to, often with disturbingly little triggering them, but they also move out faster too. I can't say it's much of an improvement. I don't know what causes them, so I don't know how to stop them. I don't know how long they're going to stick around, so I don't know how to treat them. It's like living in Tornado Alley, and not knowing if you should bother trying to rebuild your house after every time it gets knocked over. It might be months before it happens again. Or it might be tomorrow.
That's not to say there's nothing but blue skies when the storms don't come in. Anxiety is always with me, it's baked into my DNA along with blue eyes and big feet. There are few times in my life when I don't feel at least slightly uneasy, and my mind is almost always racing, always on, always thinking, and it doesn't take much for those thoughts to twist and corrupt themselves into something ugly. I can't say I "hear voices," per se, because if I do it's only my own, a hectoring, mocking version of me who enjoys shredding everything she can get her hands on to tiny bits. But there seems to be a presence there, standing behind my shoulder, always ready to remind me that I shouldn't get too cocky and start believing I should be allowed to feel okay and good about things or anything really insane like that.
And then there are days like yesterday, when I feel a little...not manic, exactly (though I think I fit the profile for bipolar II, I haven't been formally diagnosed as yet and thus won't apply the terminology to my behavior), but perhaps a little too good, a little too "top of the world, ma." I made a list of things I want to try to do between now and into May. Some of it is plausible. Some of it seems a bit unreasonable, mostly because they need to be broken down into smaller tasks, and even some of those will require a lot of internal pep talks and reassurances from loved ones that I can, in fact, do the thing. This list could be used as either a mantra to keep the tornado from touching down again, or a guarantee that another one will come and tear the roof off my house (if you knew me 20 years ago, you would understand why I tend to resort to destruction/natural disaster metaphors when it comes to my mental illness). What's that saying, about how man plans, and God laughs? I'm a big believer in that, especially when those plans seem a little selfish, or require me to step out of my lane a bit. It's exhilarating and it's terrifying and I don't always recognize myself when I get like this, but part of me hopes like hell that this is actually who I'm supposed to be, and the struggle, the pull I feel is Depression trying to hold me in its lovers' pose, insisting "You can't have her. She's mine."
If you've never been depressed, you don't understand how enticing it is to just give in, to fold in defeat. It feels good, like the first time you get to lay down after a long day of physical labor. Depression tells you that it loves you, that it knows who you really are, that it will always want you when no one else ever will. And it's right. If everything else in my life fails, if I push everyone who cares about me away like I'm convinced that I will someday, Depression will be there, arms open, telling me "Come home. I'm here. I love you. I love you. I love you."
And yet, here I am, writing to you, some of you who know, some of you who don't. I've convinced myself, foolishly perhaps, that there are some things I have to do before I can meet that particular lover on the moors at midnight. I'm tired a lot of the time, and sometimes I feel very old, but there are other days where I feel light and hopeful, where my body seems to all but vibrate with joy and possibility, and that is what I use to hold the urge to fold at bay. Part of me hopes that eventually Depression will get bored of waiting, or tired of fighting, and back away. I don't think it will. Sometimes I'm pretty sure I know how this will end. But I would settle for a falling back, an unspoken agreement that we are both always here, and we are both always watching.