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.

My friend came out to me today. We were talking about her picket fence fantasy from long ago. I confessed to her that these days increasingly, I was beginning to seek comfort in that fantasy for a few minutes. When all the stress of school, and advanced genetics courses and job interviews gets too much, I’ll think about chopping carrots in the kitchen one evening, all grown up. I imagine a faceless husband who will come home and put his arms around my waist and kiss my neck. “Hello, babe”, he says. I smile back and we have a happy, quiet, relaxed dinner together. I think about this while I’m washing the dishes as a break from studying. Then I wipe my hands on my pants, go back to my desk and study Human Molecular Genetics for the rest of the evening.

So I told her this, and she said , “Oh, I don’t want a husband anymore.” “You don’t?”, I said. “Why not?”

“Oh, haven’t I told you about this summer?” She waited till we were outside, and told me she was gay. “Oh”, I said. We kept walking and talking and it was all very unmomentous and ordinary. It was like she’d just told me she wanted a coffee. Ohwell.