Preface: I wrote most of this while going through a short-lived episode. In the midst of the disaster that was my mind, I had the mental acuity to think writing this out might help. Both to me as a therapeutic exercise, but perhaps to others that have also endured moments like these.
If one were to look at my CV (curriculum vitae) they would see all my hard-earned accomplishments, my proudest moments, a clear illustration of my deepest passions in life. What no one sees are the invisible subscripts beneath each experience that include the number of breakdowns or bouts of depression that went in to that accomplishment. In an effort to remain honest and write about the realities and rawness of life, I’ll share the following with you. What is it like living as someone that experiences bouts of depression and emotional breakdowns?
Depression is a vacuum. Of hopelessness. Of numbness. Of the deepest rooted sadness you can imagine.
Depression is a black hole opening in the very middle of your being. You can feel all that you are being sucked in. It’s gut wrenching and heart breaking and nothingness all at once.Depression is that deep, baseline drum beat to that one song – your life unraveling as the notes progress – reverberating in your very being.
Depression tries to convince you that you are alone. That because no one could possibly understand what you’re going through, that there is no point in even reaching out. At this point I know better and so I do. But I didn’t always. Depression is a tornado of everything in your life, every emotion, every moment that has ever broken you, every fear, every to-do item and due date spinning madly around you as you gasp for air.
Depression is a shadow lurking in the back of your mind. It’s dormant while you move – no skip – no run, through life at full tilt with the wind flying through your hair and the world blurring past you. While the most beautiful light of that sunset golden hour covers everything in your life, convincing you that even when things go wrong, nothing can go wrong.Depression is the wake-up call when you begin to believe that you have everything you’ve ever wanted.
Depression is an all-consuming liar. A wave of darkness that tries to convince you that everything you thought about your happiness was wrong, that it was only momentary.Depression for me is temporary. A perfectly placed sucker punch to my gut that knocks the wind out of me. Eventually I can breathe again but for a moment the world goes dark. I’ve learned to breathe into the emptiness that is depression until it passes. Despite everything it tries to do, I am now able to experience it within carefully crafted walls of perspective. I couldn’t always do that. Practice makes perfect.Let’s go back a few years – well perhaps more than a few at this point – back to my second year of college. I was studying for an exam and the snowball effect started to occur – what if I fail this test; what if I get a B, or god forbid a C, in this class; what if my GPA drops too much and I am no longer competitive enough for medical school – on and on. All of a sudden I start hyperventilating and as my mind races out of control, my entire body seizes up and I fall out of my desk chair. While on the ground I pull my legs to my chest and start rocking back and forth, entirely fetal. I keep hyperventilating and crying until I finally muster the strength to crawl towards my phone and call my mother.
Flash forward to my fourth year and these episodes, although still present in my life, occur less and less frequently.
“Mom…it’s happening again.”
By this point she is a well-trained first-responder, ready to act to the natural disaster that is my life at that moment. She tells me to lay completely flat on the floor and talks me through my breathing until I can breathe normally again; she tells me to go get a glass of water and drink all of it. By the last drop I am relatively myself again. But I never call her, or anyone else, until I have fully experienced the worst of it, letting the breakdown run its course.
Afterwards, I am able to completely immerse myself in my work and more often than not I preform exceptionally well on whatever task I had before me.Depression and breakdowns are a survival instinct. For someone like me, when my life, or my perceived life, spirals out of control, they shut everything down before it all blows up. That red, glowing, STOP! button someone hits to turn off the reactor before it goes nuclear.
For someone like me… Someone that grips on to the illusion of control like white knuckles on the steering wheel of a car that is colliding with everything around it. Someone that feels everything much too deeply. Someone whose mind moves at a million miles a minute. I’ll be honest, sometimes life is too much for me. If I get too stressed, too overwhelmed, by tasks or emotions or fears, instead of living with a feeling that things are spinning out of control, a switch is flipped inside of me that instead sets everything on fire – burning everything until I am left with nothing, that numbness.
In a probably fucked up way, these episodes are the price I pay to accomplish everything on my plate. To some how deal with everything going on in my life. Which may be absolutely nothing to someone else, or entirely impossible to another. Probably every great accomplishment in my life so far has been accompanied by either a bout of depression or complete meltdown. This is the price that I gladly pay, but pay nonetheless. It has become my “normal”. When they happen I let myself fall until I eventually climb back out and resume my life, business as usual.These are my survival instincts in the way that they slow down my brain, and my emotions, enough to allow me to reset. Yeah, believe me, I know this is an unhealthy way to go through life and to deal with stress. And yes, I don’t want this to ever happen or for this to be my life. As I have gotten older, and with every passing breakdown, these episodes are shorter and few and far between.It has now been about two hours since all of this started and I’ve come to the end of this blog post. Started because my thoughts, the synapses in my brain, were firing much too fast. Started because family business became far too upsetting and overwhelming to bear. Started because my hands couldn’t write or type out my todo items as fast as my brain was coming up with them. Started because I became afraid I simply couldn’t manage my life.
But now, on the other side, I’m relatively back to normal. Perhaps still a little subdued and introverted, but better, stronger, and a little wiser about myself and about life.
Update: It took a long time for me to hit “publish” on this post. I’m not ashamed in any way of the struggles I go through. Nor am I shy about them when asked. Even then, sometimes I feel very vulnerable and afraid to share my life with the world. I wasn’t sure I would hit publish either. Part of me wanted to delete everything and just move on with my day. But if in some way someone else can relate to what I’ve written, or my words can, in any way, help another, that makes it worth it. Even if it is just one person.