Writing about depression I

It was a funny thing, that winter I struggled with depression. I seemed to stumble into sufferers all over the place. Love is all around us, sang the Troggs, but down here in dreary winter Canada, mental illness seemed to be. I ran into them at the phony-abc-problem solving workshops the university’s Counselling Services sent me to, where students with a Masters in Social Work tried to fix us with progressive muscle relaxation, and effective study strategies. We shrugged at each other across the table, in mutual commiseration. Our sadness went deeper than that. I ran into them at my new home, and in new best friends who’d lowered their standards and saved their own lives. I ran into them at the play my boyfriend- patient, persevering- forced me to audition for. They stomped across the stage wearing monocles, doing an English accents and playing carnivorous sentient plants trying to take over the world with a catchphrase of ‘Pip pip!’. Later on at night, trudging through the snow to the bus stop, they told me about struggling to get out of bed, and failing grades and dashed hopes and blow after blow after blow. I thought about waiting for sleep to come, then spending all day wanting to be unconscious, going through the motions, and trying, trying, trying all the while to put on the appropriate expressions, display the appropriate interest, be appropriately charming in conversations. It was all so bloody exhausting.

“Therapy cost me 200 dollars an hour!”

“He works at Boston Pizza now. Got kicked out of school. Life, eh?”

“Oh, great. You want my grades? You can have my depression too”.

I’m not a brilliant writer, and I probably don’t have an Ariel inside me waiting to be bled onto paper. Besides, all those stories ended with someone’s head in the oven and children hanging themselves years later, infected with the sadness they forgot behind. I just wanted to get through the winter and run for shelter to the sun. Write about it, my patient boyfriend told me. I didn’t really want to bleed my demons on to paper. I didn’t particularly want to remember them or record them. I only wanted to get over them so I could carry on with the rest of my life. I’d been waiting for this bout to leave me, like it usually did, as had always happened before. This time was different though. This time I said it out loud to different people, at different times. The counsellor, trying to wrap up our appointment over my sobbing into Kleenex, my roommate as she fed my unwashed, unfed, ratty-clothed body avocado-goat cheese sandwiches while I spent entire days on the couch. A kind boy I didn’t know very well who watched episode after episode of sci-fi telly with me, and lent me his sweater, his warmth. Professors who peered at me in surprise over their desks and told me to be proud of myself. My boyfriend, while I waited for him to run away. I said it out loud and watched people’s perceptions of me shift and waver. I admitted for the first time out loud: Yes I was ill. No, I couldn’t handle it on my own anymore. I knew that I’d been a good student all this while: motivated, ambitious, hard working- taking pride even, in my maniacal schedule and the constant barrage of stress I undertook. This was the first time that I had just stopped caring. I was four months away from graduation, from spring, and I found myself unable to care even the littlest bit. 

So I sought refuge in the company of others, trying to get away from my own head, and worried my mother as I refused to study, as I refused to care. I ate chowmein, wrapped up in fluffy blankets in my best friend’s bed, and told her over and over how glad I was that she was back.

A ragtag bunch of strangers, copers I ran into on every turning, and a couple of friends, who fed me and bossed me around and tried to bring routine into my life. It was all inexplicably heartwarming and wonderful, and I should have been grateful and come around, but I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion. Nothing but indifference and calm despair.

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The crackle at the other end of the line
told me that he was still there,
despite the dead silence.
The click at the back of his teeth,
and the sudden sharp uncontrolled intake of breath,
Impatient at the rising pitch of my voice,
wavering perilously close to tears.
Tremulous and shaky,
for the third phone call this month.
I am stricken by the irritation in his voice,
and struggle to make amends.
I apologize for being irritable,
for being a bore, for being predictable
and for the lack of sparkle in our conversation.
I dredge out the same dull things each time.
The worry in my thoughts
translate to a crease in between my eyebrows,
turning into a ceaseless litany of woe on the phone.
I can imagine the mouse
hovering over a link in red
and the impatience perched at the corner of his absent smile.
I hang up feeling stupid.
That evening sitting with work,
with cats lolling on the floor,
and stray roommates behind closed doors,
I remember my grandmother,
and us children rolling our eyes, every time her voice would start to rise
about my dead grandfather,
about money, and the servants.
The crack was coming, we knew it
because it came so often.
Impatience, and irritation.
‘I love her, but why can’t she just keep her misery to herself?’
I did not think those thoughts,
I did not vocalize them,
not even to myself.
Am I a bad person,
I wonder.
Don’t think so much,
a friend told me over the phone.
Isn’t it exhausting,
she asked, bewildered, frustrated.
Yes, I said.
But not giving shape to the thought in your head,
doesn’t un-make it.
But I am a fool,
who thinks too much, and sleeps too little, and gets confused,
and cries on the phone.
Offering apologies, swallowing the knot in my stomach.
So I keep my feelings to myself,
and try to take up littler space.
I will not intrude in your world.
I will back away one half footfall at a time,
and you will not hear me leave.
You will not care.
And I will make a mental note to myself,
to be kinder to my grandmother
when she tries not to cry.

Late night reassurance

So there are these two articles of clothing I now own that have become the adult equivalent of a Blanky to me. One happens to be my Dada’s old collared shirt that has become soft and beautifully shabby with age. It is blue and has white vertical stripes and a breast pocket. The collar is still a little stiff, a remnant of the times when Dada used to wear it to office, I suppose. It’s absolutely huge for me- it comes down to a little above my knees, and my hands get swallowed up in the sleeves.
The second is this paati ganji I filched from my boyfriend on an impulse. It is literally innerwear, and I wear it at home on anxious nights, when I’m dreading looming deadlines and scary tasks ahead. Weirdly enough, it’s a snug fit, despite the fact that the aforementioned boyfriend happens to be about a foot taller than me.

Anyway, so I have this exam tomorrow, and a general tense feeling in my shoulders. I did laundry a little while ago, and the ganji came out smelling of fabric softener, and warm from the dryer. Obviously I’m now wearing the ganji underneath the shirt (yes, it’s cold enough to wear layers).
There’s just something about knowing that the cloth that touches your skin now has touched theirs as well, at some point. It’s a strange makeshift sort of intimacy that conjures up the safety you feel with someone you love.
In other news, I’m a sentimental fool. Possibly aged thirteen. Or sixty three.

*Dada is my paternal grampa who passed away when I was in the 9th grade.
**ganji means vest. I’m just not a fan of the word ‘vest’.