After listening my alarm blare for five, ten, or twenty bleary minutes, I started to admire whoever designed the heinous tone. In a studio, or maybe a laptop at home, someone labored over every bleep, down to a fraction of a second, to be annoying enough to wake one up, yet restrained enough so that no one throws their clock through a wall in sleep-drunken fury. These tone designers mustn’t like their day-to-day life all that much. At least I can turn it off, I thought, rolling over and fumbling with the alarm’s buttons until it shut up. They’ve got to drive to work and do it all over again.
But I didn’t get up. Dropping my phone off the side of the bed, I let my eyes close again. An accidental invitation to sleep. In a few seconds I vanished, lost in a tense dreamscape. When I woke an hour or so later, remembering nothing of my dreams but a vague feeling of unsettledness, only a few minutes remained to prepare for work. Tearing off my sheets felt a lot like jumping into a cold pool. Placing my feet on the ground felt like striking the shallow end. I knew it would be a hard day then, and whether by self-fulfilling prophecy or intuition, I was right.
Thinking about depression as merely a flush of the wrong chemicals in the brain does the disease and its victims a disservice. That’s a component, of course, but in an isolated battle between depression and antidepressant medication, depression wins. This isn’t a hopeless declaration; I believe this is actually a testimony to the human spirit’s power, that drugs do not hold complete sway over us. Regardless, between brushing my teeth, pulling on some rumpled clothes, and scarfing down a Clif Bar as I shuffled to the car, my thoughts were full of unmitigated self-loathing.
I’m so lazy. I’m going to be miserably tired all day. I’m a failure. I’m selfish. No one in my life needs me. I need everyone. All I do is complain. All I do is beg for affirmation. I haven’t called anyone in my family for two weeks—why? I miss them. I miss everyone. All I did last night was watch TV. I didn’t write. I’m a failure. Will everyday feel like this? I was diagnosed over a decade ago. I’m so tired. Fuck me.
And so on. (Even now, strangely, as I reflect on what I’ve just written, it’s difficult to do anything other than accept it as truth, knowing full well it was conjured by sickness.)
Leading up to that morning, I was content for a record-breaking length of one month. I practiced self-love—an altogether foreign experience. When degrading thoughts happened, I learned how to halt them in their tracks, dismiss them, and focus on something positive—phrases like I am a good person. I am worthy of my peers’ respect. I have a good life. Though I didn’t trust these positive messages entirely, I wanted to, and that was enough.
In retrospect, I looked to myself like Lloyd Christmas pumping his arms in the passenger’s seat of Harry Dunne’s Mutt Cutts car. “It feels like you’re running at an incredible rate, Harry!” Ultimately, he was still just a nincompoop pretending to run in a car, like I was still just a depressive pretending to be happy. This, at least, is what I told myself. Maybe happiness isn’t waiting for me around the corner. Maybe all my life will be spent thinking about how to spend my life better.
As disappointing as this reemergence of depression was, it was not nearly so disappointing as realizing that, yet again, I will be a burden to my friends and family. My friends will be disappointed. My family will worry. Both will be tired of hearing about it. Whether or not this is based on reality, depression is a felt disease, not a logical one. Still, the feeling is enough to create and sustain its own logic: depression forces me to obsess over my internal life at the expense of my external one. If I’m sad internally, that will reflect externally, like an island whose lighthouse flickered out. People around me will crash into my shores, where I selfishly hope they might stay, listen, alleviate, as though they were marooned here by choice.
Any acknowledgement of one’s depression comes off as a plea for help, which, already feeling a burden, I never want to do. So as I trudged through my job, feeling increasingly morose with the double duty of doing good work that day and fielding a torrential stream of negative self-talk, I hid. A co-worker even remarked, “Will is always just so positive,” which, rather than feeling like a compliment, made me feel a liar.
I blasted “Every Time I Die” on the car ride home, letting the music’s relentless tension sap my own. Every incompetent driver made me seeth. My vocabulary left, leaving behind words like “motherfucker,” “asshole,” and “piece of shit,” woven together by wordless yelling and punching the car door. It felt as good as it did foolish. I was so close. Contentment had seemed so near.
In the distance where the sky met the Olympic mountains like a sheet of torn paper, the sun sunk to the horizon, a dying ember setting paper to flame. Night was on its way, but not yet. Not yet. Not yet.
My alarm was still on when I got home. I guess I’d only put it to sleep. I turned it off, sat on my bed, stared at the wall. My housemates’ laughter from downstairs passed through our old home’s thin walls like a spectre. I didn’t want to go down and burden them, but I also didn’t want to be alone with the ghost of their laughter. Tomorrow, woken once more by my alarm, I’d have to drive to work and do it all over again, and years of practice informed me the day would be much worse if I stayed in my room and moped. So I went downstairs, feeling a burden to all the world, pretending I wasn’t.
I’m so tired. Is everyone here actually so happy? Will I ruin the mood? Will they feel my sadness? They must be so tired of me. I’m selfish. I’m so fucking selfish. I’m so, so, so…
I am good. I love who I am. I have wonderful friends. Fuck me.