Out of the Abyss

Sitting here at the computer, listening to the grandkids play games, my youngest daughter cooking breakfast; all is well in the world. This moment, right now, I’m smiling. I am happy.

I vaguely recall the diagnosis at the age of 13. Chronic Depression. I never heard of the term,let alone knew what it meant. I remember sitting in an office, stark, blindingly white and clean, this stranger in front of me asking me question after question. The only response was silent tears, weakly attempting to stay inside. I did not want to make myself vulnerable in front of someone I didn’t know, yet through these tears there was a deafening scream. Deafening to the point that no one heard it.

“Why are you crying?” He asked gently.

There was no coherent answer because nothing made sense. Frankly, it didn’t make sense until just a few years ago – 30+ years of struggling to make it through the day. Someone once asked me why I didn’t do well in school, knowing how “smart and intelligent” I was. And it was hard to explain – It’s like when you’re very physically ill, it’s all you can do to even get up to use the bathroom, much less take care of every day duties. The illness of depression consumed my energy, it’s a ravenous bastard.

It’s not my intention to paint such an ugly picture, although it could be – because it wasn’t like that 24/7/365. In fact there were large periods of time when Life would feel beautiful.

But, just as surely as time moves forward, thus the cycle of depression would move in. Taking over tenancy. A resident that reveled in making its presence known, loud and clear. Boisterous, obnoxious, overbearing, controlling, domineering. Liar, fearmonger, a black hole. Insidiously convincing. The only reason for its existence was to drown out what was good and pure, a cacophonous tsunami, rendering destruction to anything in its path.

Years down the line. Another diagnosis. Borderline Personality Disorder. Scary, yet a little more concrete than ‘just’ depression. I could grasp this, I had something specific to look at, to analyze, to work on. It was strange, answering the questions during the clinical assessment. As the mental health professionals went down the list of criteria, with each “yes” I answered, I felt almost tingly, I felt I was finally going to reach out and touch something tangible. Certainly not a diagnosis I wished upon myself, but it was SOMETHING with a workable solution. Along with a sense of devastation came a sense of understanding.

I now saw not a jumbled heap of pieces from the largest jigsaw puzzle in recorded history that what I perceived as my Life. I thought maybe, just maybe, I can move forward a little more, for a little longer, become stronger. However..

Depression is an ugly, ugly thing. What made it uglier was the confusion, the anger, the denial, the finger-pointing by others who were supposed to be on my side – “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” “YOU’RE JUST MAKING IT UP!” “GET OVER IT!” The sting, the proverbial salt on the wound, constantly re-opening, failing to heal.

Somehow, through each wave, I found my way back to shore. Dried myself off, moved on. but my soul eroded a little more, each time. Still not realizing the power was in me, with me, was ME, that although people couldn’t, wouldn’t understand, it was no more their fault than it was mine. I didn’t need to carry their burden of misunderstanding with me. I had more than enough baggage.

There were also seemingly infinite paths that all lead to dead ends. I’d go to a therapist, try a new anti-depressant, attend therapy sessions, go through the motions; the pills lending a false sense of security, comfort, normalcy.

On the pretense that this psychologist, this pill, this religion, this drink, this joint was going to liberate me from my demons, I smilingly played along. Look, see? I’m fine!

I was still lost.

I came across something this morning I’d like to share with you. It explains very simply someone going through a very deep depression might feel at times:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t
do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets
and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.
The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will
kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window
of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning
windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it
would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking
out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is
the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to
death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the
fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up
and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d
have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a
terror way beyond falling.”
― David Foster Wallace

Indeed the fire’s flames got close enough. And I was utterfly terrified by its intensity. Neither did I desire the fall. But jump I did. Into the abyss.

The slow, painful climb back out was probably the most incredible, bumpy, eye- opening leg of my journey thus far. Through all the physical issues I’ve encountered and endured with having been born with Spina Bifida – those trials were nothing, NOTHING compared to the healing of my mind. After the fog of that attempted suicide lifted, I vowed the most solemn vow – I would NEVER allow myself to fall so deep again. For the first time things started making sense. That I wasn’t this horrible person that Depression painted a distorted picture of (a cleverly disguised replica of the real me), that I mattered, that my very existence did have meaning to others. That the good things I had done were indeed GOOD!

The hardest part was to face the pain head on, and knowing only I could do that. That certain situations in the past were beyond my control. It wasn’t my fault.

That the walls I built to protect myself no longer served its purpose other than to keep me away from my Life. Fear. Fear of entering a new dimension. Although the pain of depression could sometimes be unbearable, I KNEW it, I knew what to expect from it.

I can’t, in all honesty, say exactly the reason how or why the right, supportive people came into my life when they did. I don’t dwell on it. I just know they did. I think maybe it was because I was ready to accept myself and ready to change.

Like anything else deemed worthwhile, it’s been and continues to be a process. A process I gladly, enthusiastically take on each day. I wake up in the morning with a smile, take a deep breath and am thankful I am alive. Is Life any easier? Probably not. But it isn’t a matter of whether or not it’s “easier”. Some days it takes a lot of physical power to get out of bed because of physical problems. I ache more often than not. I move more slowly than I used to.

The difference is I accept myself, in whatever I am capable of doing at any given moment. Right now, at this moment, I am capable of sharing with you a part of my life that I used to be ashamed of. Because I know there are people hurting and maybe not understanding why or that there are other options. And this is the first time most of you will know the depths of my depression, where it took me. I am no longer ashamed.

I didn’t come to this point ready-made, as is; it hasn’t always been Happiness. I’ve heard from several people that they’re tired of this “positive talk”, that they live in the “real world” and it just doesn’t happen. No, you’re right. It doesn’t “just” happen. You work at it. And work at it. And work at it until you find the path that is right for you. I’m not going to tell you that you “have” to do it a certain way. I don’t have an agenda to push, other than I want to see you Happy – because you are capable, worthy, worth it.

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2 thoughts on “Out of the Abyss

  1. Never more true words Alice, ‘It doesn’t just happen”.

    For every step forward, sometimes it feels like we sit down and slide back doesn’t it. Then we sit there and wonder, again? Like you, I got to the point where I was willing to open the door a crack and let some people in, that helped I think. Like you I got over being ashamed of what was never going to change, is life easier? No, except in my head and heart.

    Wonderful piece.

  2. I am in absolute awe of this blog post. I have never read anyone speak of depression so clearly and starkly. Yet, I understand everything you’ve written. Thank you. It sounds strange to say it, but thank you for putting in words the rest of us could understand.

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