depression is a demon I live with (part two)

The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.
— Andrew Solomon

Learning Hamlet's famous suicidal soliloquy not long ago, I was confronted by the age-old interpretational question: was Hamlet genuine in his wish to die?  I concluded, after considering his lines, "But that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose born no traveler returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others we know not of" that he was not suicidal, simply afraid, because it has been my experience both in myself and in my observation of others that at the peak of depression (or the lowest valley, I suppose), one does not feel fear or negotiate with reason.  One cannot feel anything at all, except for maybe relief at the possibility of no longer existing.

The day I finally told my mother I had to leave school was more or less un-dramatic, compared to the rest of those days.  I can't remember if I had been to class, but I know that I had gone to eat, or to the library, or to some other place where I could be safely sequestered from the things that now repulsed me.  I was sitting, crying quietly, on my bed, in the late afternoon.  The light streamed slanted through my window, and I stared as it fell over the objects scattered across my desk.  My mother called me, and I answered.  I could just as easily have ignored it, but I knew she would have worried at the missed call, and from the first words I spoke, I couldn't hide my shaking voice any longer.  I told her that I had to leave, without telling her just how bad it had gotten, and then the next week I spoke to my father about it, and then my advisor, and the dean of students, and my suite mate, and finally the college housing office.  With each step it became more official, and the dirge of time began to relent.  I even made plans for the future, an idea that had been inconceivable only days previous, and I began to pack my things.

I have occasionally wondered since then what it would be like to return to school, and while the idea sometimes seems promising, so eager I am to learn about this or that, the reality of my life in that environment was something I would never wish on anyone.  I would be foolish to return to a place that so completely destroyed my sense of being, and it's not that that particular university or any other one could be completely responsible for my decay: it's that I lost my self in that environment, suddenly assigned values that I had never once cared for, and forced to remain in a place that I had never wanted to be.

Reading the catastrophic stories in Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon, I am sometimes consumed with the feeling that my depression wasn't "real", or that it was simply discontent.  I never broke down into catatonia.  I never attempted to end my life, such a life as it was.  But depression is not a set of symptoms; it is a spectrum of emotional experience, and recalling now the experiences I had and the emotions I felt, there is no denying that I had depression, then and for long periods before.  To attempt to describe the condition is to mine through many layers of the self: to analyze how one thought and felt, and how one's illness affected those thoughts and feelings, and how those thoughts and feelings feed their own cycle of increasing despair.

And yet we still attempt descriptions.  We use language, imagery, and sound to try to replicate the black and wordless silence that overtakes us.  As I cannot remember many of the particulars of my experiences, I can say only a few things about depression, and one of them is this: that to try to make sense of such an illness is to embark on a long process of painful reconciliation.  Reconciliation with the person you once were and now the person that depression has made you.

Today, years after that period at the university, there are still occasional days when depression reaches into me.  This mostly takes the form of a vague but insistent feeling of uselessness, or nullity.  Other times, a single interaction will turn my entire sense of being to black.  I do not subscribe to the idea of hope, only to evidence and fact: that depression is a demon I live with.  Some days it will overtake me, but for the most part, I can still be moved; I can still laugh and create and enjoy the circumstances of my existence.  Illness damages us, but we are not destroyed.  We continue on, sometimes against unreasonable odds, and learn how to be alive.