For years now, I’ve tried to find a way to describe the experience of depression and anxiety. Since I’m currently in the process of fighting off a mild bout this week, I thought I would take the opportunity to try to set some of it to words.
Thanks to various mindfulness techniques, I am able to notice when it comes, now. It used to be as imperceptible as fog, growing and growing until finally, before I know it, I’m lost within myself.
As I’ve come to pay close attention to my inner river of life and experience, I’ve worked hard describe what it is exactly that goes wrong. It almost always occurs when I am over worked, or sleep deprived, or working on a particularly challenging mental puzzle. The last time it struck hard was when I was working to resolve the dissonance between my upbrining and my new found relationship with my partner. I know I’m smart – very smart, with an ability to scope out the finest details in a problem – but it also seems that my brain is a delicate machine, easily pushed to overheating.
When I “overheat”, its as if all the details of the problem, or the world around me, get jumbled, distorted. Wrong emotions get assigned to the wrong facts. It all grows grotesque. My internal puzzle warps into an incomprehensible Picasso painting, or into a Las Vegas perceived through the eyes of an LSD-ridden Hunter S. Thompson. Once this process starts, I get lost – I fall down the rabbit hole, into an inescapable inner dimension of grotesqueries and painful circles of reasoning.
Sometimes, this strange distorting of reaity seeps into the physical world around me. Two days ago, I found myself looking at one of my jade plants in my bedroom. They are very beautiful and strange looking, and I love them, but on this particular occasion, I felt nothing but pain at the sight of my jade plant. Through some incoherent inner logic, the sight of the jade overwhelmed me with a since of alienation and inexplicable anguish. I felt unmoored from reality, as if that image of my jade plant next to my window was completely detached from any reality where I felt safe or at home, as if it was floating somewhere in outerspace. I decided to put on my shoes and go for a long run.
During the most intense episodes, every thought, feeling, movement and image sparks feelings of isolation, anguish, loneliness, or anxiety. There have been mornings when I woke up, and screamed and screamed into my pillow because everything caused pain. During one particularly awful episode, I remember looking up at the ceiling fan and being completely terrified of it, as if it were bestowed with a monstrous intelligence.
My current mental puzzle has to do with my faith, as I’ve recently been exploring on my blog. And not just faith, but the work of various authors in relation to my faith, like Sam Harris and other atheists. In the process of understanding this puzzle, though, I’ve struggled to maintain equilibrium.
I thank God for the tools that I’ve had to learn. I don’t know if my mind is simply by its nature fragile, or if the traumas I’ve endured have made it so. Either way, the greatest tool is this: total acceptance of the fragility of my mind. I’ve learned that my mind is something to work with and not against. The spectre of mental illness is a ghost I may never be relieved of. Accepting this finally gives me the tools to live life fully in light of the odd workings of my brain.
Following close behind are the arsenal of tools that I’ve developed over the years: mindfulness, exercise, medication, therapy, the 12 steps. I’ve spent the second half of my twenties learning to protect and fight for the sanctity of my own life, and my own right to happiness and contentment.
I can barely believe I turned 28 last month, and I am looking on the last 2 years of my 20’s. If I could define growing up as one thing, it would be this: learning to work with myself instead of against myself; discovering the futility of pretending to be anything other than what I am.