I think the act of living has always been a story for me. I can’t see the ocean without words cresting in my mind along with the tide, can’t feel the fur of my cats without adjectives coating my tongue. Words are the pictures, the taste, the meaning in everything.
And maybe this is why, at first, depression was so startlingly hard to bare; it enveloped all the words. Storytelling takes energy, vigor, light; without it, words dry up somewhere inside you without ever reaching the surface.
And perhaps this is why we still struggle so much with the concept of mental illness. If you have no language to describe what is going on within you, there is no way to communicate your pain to someone else. Words make things real. If the very disease that is gripping you removes them, what is left?
I remember an evening in the Emergency Room, checking in at the registration desk. I was crying, and when asked my reason for the visit, couldn’t think of anything to say. The receptionist kindly said, “I see; you’re sad.”
And that’s just it; depression is not sadness. I’m not sure how to describe it beyond that-what it’s not. But in some ways I’ve grown to see that as a gift.
One of the reasons I’m alive today is because someone believed in my light, saw the glimmer of my story even when my words had long been dormant. This person showed me how to be in this world in all the ways that depression is not.
She showed me it is possible to get out of bed on mornings when panic clogs your throat and it feels like all the awful possibilities are closing in on you. She showed me it is possible to dance in an emptying auditorium just because, for a moment, you feel giddy with joy. She showed me that you don’t have to settle for the status quo, that it is possible to innovate with fervent empathy. She showed me, through her own willingness, what it means to truly be yourself-something I had lost in hospital rooms and prescription bottles, and probably long before.
Depression is not dancing, not words. It is not connection, not light, not life. It chips away at who you are, piece by piece, like a strong wave pounding on a rock, until you are a grain of sand lost amidst millions of other grains. What a gift I have been given, to know that what it is not can prove a daily guide. That my story can continue through the pounding, even when words are harder to find in the swells. And what a gift that she, by shining her own blazing light, gave me back my own light, my own story.