Textures of Depression

A year ago my mother carefully asked if it was really burnout. I was adamant in response.

“I just wondered… with your history… it sounds a lot…” she said. Her voice was careful. Tight and thin. How scared did she have to be.

I hastened to assure her. “Oh, no, Mum, it’s okay. It’s just burnout. It’s not depression. It’s not like in my 20s.”

*

We use the one word for so many feelings. And I’m not even talking about the casual way you hear someone say a book is depressing or the way disappointment can feel when you really wanted something. We use it for those of us for whom the hospital seems like the safest space; people who can’t get out of bed some days; for those of us who can manage some things but not others; for those of us who can act like their old selves at work and then collapse at the end of the day from the effort; for those of us who just feel a little grey around the edges most of the time. These things are not the same things, but the English language can’t face it.

*

In my early 20s, the world closed around me until all I could see was a slit of misery, no matter which way I turned my head. An inner whisper I thought of as the thorn voice grew like the stem of a virulent rose around my conscious brain, always pricking pricking pricking.

I slept as much as I could. I barely ate.

When I think of that time, I think of a dark bedroom: smooth navy sheets; murky grey light from the dirty window that faced a brick wall; the piss-stink of cat litter left too long; the tremors of the streetcar as they cut across the drumming from the Native Men’s Residence next door. The misery was dank and thick. It seemed to stretch on forever.

*

I didn’t lie to my Mom. At least, if I did, it was only insofar as I was lying to myself. Or: let’s be generous and say I was hopeful. I had been off work for only 6 weeks, and was feeling a bit better. I would go back to work soon and I would start to remember things soon, too. In December 2021, I have struck the word soon from my vocabulary.

*

Forever didn’t last as long as I feared. Only a couple of years, really. And until 2020, forever had never come back for very long. I’ve had periods of not-quite-right that felt more like a gossamer film between me and the world. But they would dissipate, melting into the air after a few weeks, or a month, or after I finally did that thing I knew I had to do.

*

And this, this is not that. It’s maybe why I clung so hard to the word burnout, even after I had suspected that the burnout had not so much burned out, but faded away into something more familiar. Still, when asked if I was depressed, I said no. I didn’t feel closed in, I didn’t feel desperate to go to sleep and not wake up. After years of therapy, the thorn voice has been mostly pruned, so I didn’t have a constant chorus of self-hate filling every space. How could I be depressed if I didn’t actively hate myself and want to die?

*

We need words for mental health like we have for textiles. If I was drowning in a burlap sack 25 years ago, today I am wrapped in 5 layers of chiffon. Not tight enough to hurt, but enough that every movement is more tiring than it should be. I wish I could say to people, casually, I’m a bit hollowed or Today is a crater and that would make sense; I could conserve the energy of seeming like my old self for a joy that might spark bright enough I could see it through my current caul.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s