Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Depression, Anxiety and the Captive Audience

“I want to crawl out of my skin, jump in front of a car, and cry. All at the same time.”

“This is like trying to scale that prison wall in Dark Knight Rises.”

“This is like swimming through Jell-o. I just want to stop.”

“No writerly stirrings. It's like being cut off from one of my senses.”

“Donned bright colors to try and lift my mood. Alas, now I'm just a sad girl in a red dress.”

“Sometimes, handling depression and anxiety is like trying to leash a lynx. And a hyena. In the middle of rush hour traffic.”

There are a thousand ways to describe mental illness when you’re a writer, so many metaphors at your disposal and so many adjectives to try and capture the darkness, the hopelessness, and the exhaustion. But there’s only one real way to live it: your way. My way.

My way, as Fezzik says in The Princess Bride, is not very sportsman-like.

Waking up with a fist squeezing my heart and my lungs. Scrambling for my daily antidepressant like it’s a lifeline. Feeling utterly helpless when, during PMS, the medication is completely ineffective and my emotions careen out of control like a ball in a pinball machine. I bang into misery, whack at hatred, bounce back and forth between hyper and tearful. I’m a monster, then. The asshole I’m sure everybody already knows I am. Weak. Selfish.

Because that’s what the anxiety and depression are, at least according to my psychiatrist: a form of narcissism. Because everything becomes about you. I’m terrible. I’m horrible. Everyone hates me. They’re all looking at me. They’re all judging me. When you’re in the middle of the spiral, your life is not your own, but a melodrama played out for an imaginary audience. 

But, really, I’m the audience. For the reruns that play behind my eyes. The sharp recriminations. The self-mockery. The assurances that I’ll never succeed, never be anybody, never be loved. It would be simple if they were just voices. But they have phantom hands that tie mine behind my back. That drop a door between me and the only thing I’ve had to cling to over the years: my creativity. I’m in solitary confinement until depression and anxiety let me go. It can be hours. It can be days. Weeks. Months. Each sentence is different. Each punishment attuned to a specific trigger, a particular vulnerability and one stupid thing I did or said. And my stories are gone. My characters can’t visit.

So what do I do?

I breathe.

I whisper, “It’s okay,” over and over like a mantra.

I try to remember that I am not my mental illness.

I remind myself that I did not sign the South Asian social contract to suffer in silence and keep my dirty laundry hidden.

I wake up.

I rise.

I put one foot in front of the other.

I try.

And I wait to be free.

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