Depression is like your brain dripping down your throat and choking you.
The italicized part of that line I read in Lisa McInerney’s 2016 novel, The Glorious Heresies, which I recently reviewed. If my recollection is correct, I don’t believe it was in the context of depression, but I immediately thought, “Oooh, okay, here we go. That works.” See, I tend to do that a lot. If I’m reading something, hearing something, watching something, I’m always connecting the dots of something particularly poignant back to my experience with depression. I can’t turn my brain off from doing that.
I’m not alone in that fixation. Those who suffer from depression are always vexed by how to describe it to those who don’t experience it. Popular analogies I’ve heard before, and have used myself, include the black cloud hovering over your head, a spiral staircase you fall down, a big black dog following you around, a weighted blanket you can’t remove, and slogging through mud in a colorless world. One that just came to me as I was reading the post back for edits: A ragdoll pinballing through the world feeling everything and nothing at the same time.
For those with depression, everything feels like effort, whether it is an actual big thing or a seemingly small thing. It is why someone within the throes of depression often doesn’t take care of themselves with respect to basic hygiene upkeep: showering, brushing their teeth, and keeping their environment clean.
I’ve talked a lot on here about depression and suicidal ideation, and my own journey battling through it, with my efforts in big beats over the last year and a half looking like: a.) getting on an antidepressant (and then getting on a better one); b.) speaking with a therapist for a number of months; c.) eating right, and working out on semi-regular basis (to where I dropped around 20 pounds); and d.) that culminating (well, it felt like a culmination of a kind) in a speech I gave to the Clermont County Suicide Prevention Coalition’s Candlelight Vigil remembering those lost to suicide about my struggles with depression and suicidal ideation.
The reason I call it a journey is because I think I’m still battling the black cloud, watching for the black dog, sometimes feeling the weight of that unmovable weighted blanket, you know? I’ve journeyed far, to be sure. I thankfully do not suffer from suicidal ideation anymore. Before, it was a daily occurrence, and multiple times within the day. Now? Maybe a fluttering at the back of my mind once in a while, but more easily dismissed.
But what is that space between where I was and where I am now? Where the brain can still drip and choke? I don’t know what word you call it, or how to describe it; this space between depression and suicide, between depression and death. Because it isn’t full-on depression anymore. It isn’t full-on suicidal ideation anymore. I’ve journeyed beyond that, and yet, there is still more room to journey.
So, I guess, for now, I’ll chalk these brain drippings up to a “wrong pipe, that sucks” sort of thing, choke it out, and keep moving forward. Because life is the journey, is it not? To be fully human, and fully alive, is to always be journeying. I don’t feel like doing the research tonight (a rarity for me, as I love researching!), so maybe this goes against all the research, but I also don’t feel like one ever “recovers” from depression per se. I think one has to maintain a certain level of vigilance against it because one can always backtrack. I’ve long fretted about doing just that.
The difference nowadays? I have the tools to get back on track if and when that happens. Thankfully.
How would you finish the sentence, “Depression is …”?
I suffered with severe depression as a boy and a young man. One of my first “real poems” written in my teens was about a couple contemplating suicide …
by Michael R. Burch
Have you tasted the bitterness of tears of despair?
Have you watched the sun sink through such pale, balmless air
that your heart sought its shell like a crab on a beach,
then scuttled inside to be safe, out of reach?
Might I lift you tonight from earth’s wreckage and damage
on these waves gently rising to pay the moon homage?
Or better, perhaps, let me say that I, too,
have dreamed of infinity . . . windswept and blue.
Another teenage poem of mine was about the inevitability of death …
by Michael R. Burch
deep and dark and still . . .
all men have passed this way,
Another early poem of mine, and my first non-rhyming poem, was about our lost loved ones becoming something nebulous, like shadows …
by Michael R. Burch
Something inescapable is lost—
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.
Something uncapturable is gone—
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
Something unforgettable is past—
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
which finality has swept into a corner … where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.
So three of my best early poems were connected to depression and the feeling that death makes life ultimately meaningless. Writing poetry was a way to leave something of myself behind and perhaps, in a way, to defeat death.
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Thank you for sharing, Michael, and well said. Poetry was there for me, too. I’m glad it was for you as well.
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Yes, I think we are brothers in poetic arms. Poetry gave me a coping mechanism and helped me feel that I was doing something worthwhile that could survive me.
I write this during a particularly difficult bout of depression. Full disclosure, I am ok. No need to worry. I struggle with depression but writing always helps. Like your Hemingway quote reads, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s a cathartic release.
“This isn’t the first time and I imagine it won’t be the last.
Defining IT is impossible because IT has proven itself to be as vacuous as space.
How does one pull themselves out of a black hole?
Resources I suppose. You identify resources.
Mind altering to soothe your already altered mind.
You search for the right combination of psychotropics.
They each offer you endless advice.
Here, just sleep.
Here, just weep, uncontrollably until you fathom impermanence and then realize you can’t do that to your family.
They say don’t live your life for others but when they offered that platitude they didn’t see the danger signs flashing.
I often wonder what this does to ones brain after it’s all said and done, after you’re different, after you’re “better”.
Do you ever dream the same?
Do you ever see colors the same?
Will you still notice butterflies that follow you in the canyon because they recognize your spirit?
Will you still have a spirit?
Half of your life is gone and you haven’t a thing to show for it besides failed attempts at what everyone says is normalcy?
Why are your expectations so high?
What makes you so deserving of a life free of the debilitating suffering of your mind? Why are you so special Corinne?
What makes you so worthy?
This might just be IT.
IT is DARKNESS and when you try to find your way out, blindly reaching for a switch on a wall that doesn’t exist you grasp at worthlessness and judgement and eventually wanting so bad to not be alone in the dark you become bedfellows.
This is… it.”
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Corinne, thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you know the struggle, but you described it beautifully. I particularly relate to how we think we’re displaying flashing warning signs for family, but they’re not noticing.