Content warning: this piece contains mentions of suicidal ideation, PTSD, and depression
Author’s note: The events described here took place while I was experiencing a bout of severe depression. This is a portrait of what a depressive episode can be like.
The bedroom is quiet and gray. Only a strip of pearly morning glows around the edges of the blackout blinds. Normally, I hate those blinds. I know that I need daylight to orient myself, and, like a plant, if I don’t get enough natural light I begin to wilt. Of my myriad mental health issues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression brought on by the absence of sunlight) is probably the most surprising. I grew up in Hawaii. How could I possibly have known? This isn’t SAD, though.
It’s as if all the swirling ghosts have come to settle. All my usual tricks to dispel them are not working. I’m going to therapy. I’m eating well, mostly. I go for long walks, often at dusk because that’s my favorite time of day. The sky is soft and lavender, and the air smells like dinner cooking. I’m writing and making art. I’m doing my grownup shit and taking care of my family. But now, all the badness I’ve been stiff-arming so I can function comes rushing in. I can feel it heavy on my body. In my mind. A veil over my eyes that distorts and dims. “Did you think you could ignore me?” it whispers. “Did you really think we were done? We belong together. We need each other. I’ll always be with you.”
Depression is the worst, scariest boyfriend I’ve ever had. The one who says all the terrible things you already believe about yourself, which is validating. I’m a piece of shit, sure. But at least I’m right.
Let’s be clear: I’m not actively suicidal. I don’t WANT to die. I’ve fought too hard not to. I hate when people call me a warrior because I feel like a fraud. I didn’t fight breast cancer. I endured it. And I live with its specter, just as every survivor does. I think about it late at night when my brain is in “what if” mode. But the thing is, my depression doesn’t travel alone. It brings companions like PTSD and Anxiety Disorder (general, social, free-floating – the whole gang). Add to that: unresolved grief, shame, and guilt. It has a suitcase full of horrible pictures that I don’t want to see, but I’m strangely compelled to look. “Look, here’s you snapping at your mother, who has just pushed every emotional button you have. Now, here she is in that little apartment where she’s going to die. Everyone thinks you’re so great for helping your sister care for her in these final months, but you know the truth. Oh, and here’s a blurry one from when you were really little. You’re in someone else’s house. You’ve tried to forget this one, but here, see what body memories it stirs up. Remember how helpless and unsafe you felt?” Over and over until my insides are one big, unbearable wound. I don’t want to die. But I want it to stop.
If I’m being honest, it’s been months and months of gray. Of seeing the world through the shittiest Instagram filter. I’ve clawed my way out of bleak places, but this one is deeper and darker. One night, I tell my husband the loathsome truth. I confess, the way I learned in Catholic school. O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments. I deserve this, I think. He’s scared, maybe the most scared I’ve ever seen him – he never even looked this way when he was injecting Zarxio into my belly during chemo or when he had to clean and bandage my raw, oozing flesh after the radiation burnt off all the skin. I look at his face, and I realize how bad it is.
The following days are a blur of appointments: therapist (twice), psychiatrist (twice), primary care doc, pain specialist for the chronic inflammation in my neck and shoulders because apparently depression turns the pain up to eleven. I’m diagnosed with Bipolar II: hypomania and bouts of depression. My therapist suspected as much – she’s known me for long enough, and I trust her. She tells me to go to the ER if things get really dicey. If you tell them you’re manic, they have to admit you. I’m compliant with the treatment plan and the new meds, but I decline when the psychiatrist looks at me appraisingly and says, “I’d admit you right now if you wanted.” I’ve missed so much time with my family already. I’m pretty sure if I have to be separated from them again, these intrusive, disturbing thoughts will overwhelm me. My husband sits beside me, holding my hand. He needs to take time off, the psych tells him. I can’t be alone. She’ll give him a letter for work saying he’s my designated caregiver. I’m relieved and embarrassed.
I tell my staff I have to go on hiatus effective immediately, and the shame is crushing. I feel guilty for making them have to carry my workload. I have to be off social media, and that’s like 90 percent of my job, so I Vox and text them, micromanaging like crazy, until they firmly but gently tell me to knock it the fuck off; they’ve got it. My husband takes my phone away. I’m like a seventh grader who’s been grounded: no devices. Part of my prescribed treatment is to relax and distract myself. I can watch television – no news – and read paperback books. I’m on brain rest. It’s alternately pleasant and excruciating.
I remind myself that even if it doesn’t feel true in this moment, there are reasons to stay. Big ones, like my husband, my children, all my beloveds. All the people depression says would be better off without me and that anxiety says are only tolerating my odious presence. Therapy says I need to take them at their word because my own thoughts aren’t reliable right now. There are also small reasons to stay. And what I’m here to tell you is this: you don’t need big, profound reasons to keep on breathing. The little ones work, too. And sometimes, they’re easier to pick up and stuff in your pocket.
So, in case you need a few twigs of inspiration to grab onto, here are 50 stupid little reasons to stay:
- You need to know what happens in the next season of that show you love.
- The first cool fall breeze.
- That craft project you want to finish.
- You owe your friend lunch.
- Someone smiled at you and let you go first when the light changed; people can be nice.
- Your nemesis – you can’t let that bitch have the last word.
- When your cat is sleeping, and she covers her face with both paws, and you can hardly stand how cute it is.
- Watching hummingbirds sipping nectar from the flowers in your garden.
- Your favorite author has another book coming out.
- The smell of warm rain on fresh cut grass.
- You still haven’t worn that killer new outfit.
- You want to dye your hair a funky color.
- The way the sun feels on your face.
- You need to clean out the garage.
- You want to go to that concert. You had to set an alarm to make sure you called in time to get the tickets; you can’t miss this one.
- You still haven’t been to Iceland.
- That meme that made you laugh until you peed at little bit.
- You haven’t gotten to the end of that video game yet. You need to finish the quest.
- The movie you’ve been waiting for.
- There’s a recipe you want to try.
- You need to know if your team makes it to the playoffs.
- New pens and notebooks.
- You have unreturned library books.
- You stopped to pet a dog and he grinned up at you.
- The way the sky looks first thing in the morning.
- You found a chocolate bar in the fridge that you’d forgotten about.
- You’re supposed to volunteer at that thing.
- That video someone sent you that is so heartwarming you cried but in a good way.
- That candle you bought that smells like the beach.
- A hot bath with those fancy essential oils that are not going to heal you but that make your skin soft and fragrant.
- That gift card to the spa that you still haven’t used.
- Fresh-baked bread.
- The way your coffee mug fits in your hand and how the steam smells as it rises into the air.
- Halloween – the other holidays might be depressing but you love getting spooky and dramatic. Plus, there’s candy.
- You found five bucks in the pocket of the jeans you just took out of the dryer.
- That song, that one song with the words that zing right into your soul.
- Breakfast for dinner.
- Second-hand bookstores, especially the kind with a resident cat.
- You got a text from a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
- You saw a little kid laughing when you were at the park, and it was like bright, opalescent bubbles floating up into the trees.
- You want to learn to play the guitar.
- You’re still crocheting that blanket.
- Tea – the kind you brew and the kind you spill to your BFF.
- You have to vote in the next election.
- You haven’t written your book yet.
- A ladybug landed on your arm, and you helped it back onto a leaf.
- Pink fluffy cotton candy clouds at sunset.
Maybe some of these speak to you; maybe your own list is different. It doesn’t matter what’s on it. Your reasons don’t have to make sense to anyone else. Just know that there are always reasons to stay.