For the first time in my life, after many months of deep and difficult consideration, I am taking antidepressants.
I have not yet assimilated that fact into my identity. To help me process it, I’m going to tell you the story of me and my depression.
This is your chance to leave if you don’t want to read any further.
Still with me?
Okay, read on, but feel free to stop at any time.
My depression has always been a certain kind of creature* – a persistent state of lowness, a heavy muted static that blurred my life like grime on a lens. It wasn’t fun, but it was manageable. It was a known quantity.
*speaking of creatures – the amazing artist Toby Allen created a whole host of monsters to depict various mental illnesses. Check them out here.
Only twice have I had a more severe dip into a state of seemingly immeasurable, inescapable despair. The year I turned 21 was rough, especially with the amount of drinking and partying that happens on an American college campus during the wave of 21st birthdays. I wasn’t drinking much during that time – I try to always avoid alcohol or other depressants when I’m not doing well – but the pressure I felt to socialise with a bottle in my hand was strong. I started taking sodas that came in dark brown bottles to parties, and soon realised that drunk college kids don’t notice what you’re drinking, only whether you are or not.
That year was tumultuous and dark for a lot of reasons, but it gradually cleared by the end of the year, leaving me clear-headed and positive as graduation approached. The years since then have been some of the most challenging and rewarding of my life; they will be remembered as the first years of my young adult life I spent getting to know myself, free of the relationships and dependencies I had clung to since I was a teen.
In those years, I learned how to forgive and let go of the past. I learned how to be grateful and to be present (as much as I can). I learned how to love, and the universe showed me a man who saw me and my path through life as something worthy of love.
And then, about a year ago, the darkness started creeping in.
It didn’t actually creep, so much as pounce. I shrugged it off the first time, attributing what I felt to grief, having unexpectedly lost my godmother and then my cousin within a couple of months. The second time, I had spent four months applying to hundreds of jobs that all met my eagerness with silence. I chalked it up to the anxiety anyone without financial or domestic security would feel.
Things got better, as they tend to do if you wait them out. I moved in with Jake (which has been one of the best adventures of my life). I got three job offers in as many days and accepted two part-time positions that I love, and I thought that was the end of the stress that was making me feel tired and distraught all the time.
My depression, as I mentioned above, had always been a certain kind of creature. Sidenote: do you notice how many of us who suffer from mental disorders of some kind precede the condition with a possessive pronoun? MY depression. MY anxiety. MY eating disorder. It is a way for us to give the impression that we control it, as if we can wrestle it into submission with our possessive grammar. Thoughts for future blogs, perhaps.
This time around, I didn’t recognise what was attacking me. Instead of a constant, lingering feeling of despondence, now I was being lulled into a false sense of fulfillment and happiness before plummeting into holes so dark I couldn’t see my way out – until suddenly I was. Over and over I have fallen, each time feeling like I’ve just about gotten my footing before the ground disappears beneath me again.
I started wondering if perhaps this was something else. I made the mistake of going online (no, don’t, stop!) and reading about bipolar disorder (why?! Stop reading that, you idiot!)
I would stand on the train platforms and think about whether I would care if, by some freak accident, I was pushed or I fell onto the tracks.
I went online again (oh, I give up) and was able to put a name to my train platform daydreams: passive suicidal ideation. Those are some pretty scary words, when you look at them. I’ve never been actively suicidal, by the way. I would never jump onto the tracks. When I went through a brief period of self-harm as a teenager, it was never about death, it was simply a poor coping mechanism for processing pain I didn’t understand.
I shared all of the above with my doctor on Wednesday morning. She asked me a few more questions, wanted me to understand the scale on which we place patients with depression: mild, moderate, severe. She thought my depression – my moderate depression – would benefit from therapy as well as a low dose of citalapram, an SSRI that should mean I have more serotonin hanging out in my brain, making me feel more stable and calm and whatnot. She also talked me through the process of getting a therapist through the NHS, which involved forms and assessments and a few weeks of waiting. I walked out of there with a prescription, a form to fill out, and a stack of printed pages with some general information about SSRIs.
I was tearful and anxious about the appointment before I went in. I didn’t want meds: it meant admitting I wasn’t coping on my own. I didn’t want to go to another counselor. I didn’t want to start over again. This felt like a huge deal; I was crossing a line I never thought I’d have to come near. The appointment itself was, predictably, a bit anticlimactic.
I felt better after the appointment, but still a bit spacey as my frayed nerves recovered. I got my prescription filled, came home, and got ready to head into work. I looked at the box of pills I’d brought home with me, wondering if I should take one or wait. Wait for what? I didn’t want to make taking the pills into a bigger deal than it was, so I opened the box, took one pill, and left for the train.
As I got to the tube station I heard a group of people grumbling about disruptions to the service. Inside, staff were turning people away from the entry gates. I approached a staff member and asked her what was happening.
“There’s no service between Camden and High Barnet,” she told me. “There’s a person on the tracks at Kentish Town.”
There’s a person on the tracks.
Why is there a person on the tracks?
I left the station in a daze and crossed the street to wait for the bus. My phone battery was dying, as usual, and I had only a few moments to check Twitter for more news before the screen went blank. No more concrete information other than what I’d been told: there’s a person on the tracks.
Only an hour before I’d been sitting in the doctor’s office telling her about the thoughts that cross my mind whenever I stand on a train platform. I wondered if the person at Kentish Town had ever had those same thoughts.
The bus had to go through Kentish Town; there were perhaps 15 emergency vehicles lining the street on both sides, with policemen directing traffic and calming those who’d been evacuated from the station. I read later that the young man on the tracks had been pushed. Deliberately pushed. I didn’t know this as the bus crawled by: all I could see was the aftermath of what I thought was a suicide on a day I’d chosen to address my demons and make plans to rid myself of them.
Today was supposed to be about living, not dying, I thought to myself as I felt a wave of nausea and heartbreak for the victim and those affected. By the time I got to work two hours later, I was shaking and spacey and could barely keep up a conversation, only able to concentrate on the sporadic stream of news coming through Twitter.
I was relieved to find out the victim hadn’t died. His injuries were described as “life-changing,” and I learned later that he was in a coma with a fractured skull, internal injuries and chest injuries. Police were searching for the man they believed had pushed him, who turned himself in the next day. I was horrified at such a tragic crime, and embarrassed by my relief that it wasn’t a suicide.
I felt strangely connected to this man, who for hours I assumed had tried to kill himself. Even after I found out the truth, I couldn’t shake the weight and impact of my emotional response to my false perception of the situation. He’d already become a symbol in my mind – of what happens when help doesn’t come, or comes too late, and we end up with a person on the tracks.
I’ve been taking my pills for four days now. Each morning I think of the man on the tracks, both real and symbolic, and wish them both well. Right now, I feel empowered by my decision to seek help, and am nervously looking forward to starting therapy in a few weeks.
Here’s to getting back on track.
Sorry this post was so long. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
I am trying hard not to say “I’m sorry” when what I mean is “thank you.” Check out this comic by Yao Xiao at Autostraddle, which explains this better than I can.