I wish they would stop calling depression a mental illness. Because when I’m depressed, my mind is the last to go. I find it first in my body. On that morning when depression first descends, I wake up aching, like I spent my sleeping hours marathoning across my dreamland. Every movement hurts inside my bones, inside the marrow of my bones where I can’t touch it, can’t find it. And it settles there until it’s a part of my genes. That’s how deep depression goes.
My head feels blocked and it’s a physical blockage, like a head cold no tea will cure. Do you remember those commercials for sinus medication in which a man’s head is a balloon he holds by the end of a string, the kind that bobs around and gets caught in trees? That’s what depression makes my head feel like. The physical, flesh and blood and cavity part, not the inside. I don’t even know where the inside is, because the physical head of mine doesn’t feel like mine at all.
Next, I discover that someone has replaced my eyes with cotton balls, so thick and useless for anything but keeping my suddenly-fluid gray matter in. People have told me my eyes go dead when I’m depressed and I think it’s because my eyes are marbles, like they rolled back and revealed their flatter sides while I was sleeping.
And oh, am I sleeping. Depression is an exhaustion that settles in the marrow of my bones. It makes it hard to rouse myself each morning and sends me crawling to my bed in the evening, assuming I’ve found a way to drag myself from it in the first place.
When I’m depressed, I’m numb. The surface of my skin that is usually so alive with sparks from the ends of the tiniest wires I’m told are synapses go dead. No signal. It feels as though every touch is floating a few inches above me or like I am wrapped in invisible armor. Nothing can touch me.
And perhaps it is that armor that makes my body weigh more than it ever has. Arms and legs may as well be concrete cylinders, but less sturdy than that, the concrete cylinders that hold up bridges we’ve all seen collapsing under earthquakes.
And that sound, that same sound from that same television news bulletin, fills my ears. It’s part cracking, part static, part the loudest roar you ever heard, and it drowns out everything, even my own thoughts.
Depression isn’t the presence of sad thoughts. It’s an incapability to find my own thoughts. Or maybe it’s an inability to dredge them up from where they’re buried, under so much else that feels wrong, in the most visceral, physical sense that I cannot find the words to tell you how very not mental it is.
Know then, that when I tell you that you can't make me feel better just by telling me to think of something happy, that I'm telling you all the truth I can find.
And that’s why your well-intentioned offers to help make me feel helpless to help you help me until I’m circling the drain in a spiral of shame and self-doubt inspired by the weakness of both of our positions. Because depression would be easy, in the sense that I can say that from where I’m standing, if it was mental. But depression settles into every cell of my being, mental, physical and otherwise, and I have let to find a way to get it out and keep it out. Nothing gold can stay, they tell us. But if I can find a way to bathe myself in the sweet, elusive glow of arbitrary normalcy, I’ll live in for the rest of my bliss-enamored days. But until then, please don’t tell me to get out of my own head and consider yourself blessed that you don’t know depression except in all the ways I can find to tell you what it feels like, to the extent I know myself.