My freshman dorm was cinder block tower with narrow metal windows that you could barely crank open. There was a matching building across the street. Someone said they were designed to make sure students wouldn’t huck things, or themselves, out the window. Each double room had a little sink and two desks and two beds, often bunked to make more room and a closet space covered by a plastic accordion style door. It was ugly and sad and I hated living there. It was also my freshman year of college which is fraught enough without being subjected to a living space that feels like a trap.
I was pretty depressed that year, I would see worse depressions soon enough, but this was my first real taste of sustained minor depressive episodes. I didn’t like it but I also didn’t know how to fix it. I listened to sad music on my walkman as I trudged to class, and following the rules was what kept me going. It’s wired into my personality to do what I am supposed to do so not going to class was never an option. At night, when I felt like I was drowning I would watch scary movies. The scarier the better. I borrowed VHS tapes from the library and I would curl up into a tiny ball in the ugly upholstered chair I found on a street corner and scare the shit out of myself.
I’d developed this theory that the only emotion strong enough to override sadness was fear. And it worked. When I was scared I forgot to be sad for a little while and so bit by bit, movie by movie, I experienced, for whole hours, an emotion which was different than the dull sadness hanging over me like a heavy cloak.
There’s a numbness to depression that is terrible and also comforting. It is terrible feeling numb, but it can also be terrible to feel something as intense as fear or joy or anger after a long period of sadness. For me it’s sort of like the pain of pins and needles when my foot wakes up after being lulled to sleep by the weight of my body. I am too old and not flexible enough to fold my body into a pretzel when I sit down but I do it anyway and suffer the consequences. That pins and needles feeling is just as annoying to me as the numbness. I want to fast forward to normal, I don’t want to do the work.
This is how I know I am sick. I am a hard worker, I like a project I can throw my whole body into working on, and right now I just can’t imagine anything being pleasurable enough to warrant that kind of effort. It will come back and I will figure it all out and I am not ok right now, but I will be. But I do wonder how I will know I am on the upswing. Will I start watching scary movies? Will I embrace fear over sadness first and then move towards finding joy? I can never remember the moment just before I feel better, I only remember feeling bad and feeling better. I’m scared I won’t find it again, but not scared enough to stop trying.