Walking With The Bleakness

August 11, 2018

I realised, the other day, that I would not be able to write another thing until I had written about The Bleakness. And I want to write other things. Badly.

Depression runs, intermittently, through my family. In some of us, it manifests as a response. In others, it is embedded in our makeup. I think it’s fair to say that each and every one has been touched, in some way, by it.  For myself, my relationship with depression has been ever complicated, reaching far back into my teens, when my grandmother was stolen from me and I ignored and denied the yawning cavern of loss it opened in my soul. I didn’t know what to call it, then. I do now, but still don’t call it that.

I call it The Bleakness. This characterises the experience as I feel it: a slow, grey coldness unfurling through my bones and sinews and nerve-endings till it paints the world in muted neutrals, leaving me going through the motions with none of the responses and ripple-effects you associate with movement of any kind. It is movement in isolation, happening far away from the rich colour of the world, in a stagnant, empty wasteland where I have been imprisoned by my own body and mind. My only companion? Tears. And even those abandoned me when it got too hard.

The Bleakness began as a response — to abandonment, rejection, unfamiliarity, anti-blackness, whiteness. I don’t think I ever appreciated how carefully I had crafted my world until I left it and had to craft another one. But slowly, The Bleakness began to settle, become one with me. Perhaps it was the Scottish winter, the worst experienced in years. I joke that a part of me never unfroze, even though the sun did eventually come back. A friend and I commiserated about the post-thirty breakdown, and I wonder what role that played, and if Saturn’s return to my heavens turned them upside down. I believe, mostly wholly, that it was part of a greater, global response to just how fucked the world is. In a larger sense, I just drifted away from myself, buffeted on all sides by things I could not control, no matter how much I wanted to.

In September last year, I sat in my doctor’s office and explained to them that I was sad, and anxious, all the time. They asked me what I wanted to do and I said I didn’t know. We were both reluctant to turn to medication immediately, since back then, I could contexualise the way I was feeling, note its birthplace, explain its ebbs and flows. I still had answers. Our decision then, was to try exercise, a healthier diet, a more serious attempt to articulate my headspace. It worked, for a while anyway, and I found some solace on my yoga mat, in rejecting meat and takeaways, in circuitous conversations with Stuart about where we’re at. Reprieves are deadly because they are so temporary.

Fast forward to April, and my flagging resolve and spirit. The Bleakness is subtle and spends much of its time trying to convince me it does not exist. It only asserted its dominance later, somewhere in the weekdays and weekends of May, and suddenly, all it did in my imagination was rain. Rain and rain. And never stop. But never flood either.

When I returned to my doctor’s office at the beginning of June, I was a husk. (I initially wanted to write that I was a shadow of my former self, but that is patently untrue and does not take into account the awful, heavy emptiness.) I have long said that in times of distress and turmoil, kindness is my undoing. Deciding to seek help was an acknowledgement of my chaos, and the warmth in my doctor’s eyes when they turned and asked me what was going on, why I was there, stripped me of whatever was left of my shattered defences. Vulnerable, terrified, exhausted, I simply burst into tears. Half an hour later, I walked out with a prescription for an SSRI called sertraline and a tremulous kind of relief.

It felt weirdly like being on ecstacy without the rush, taking the anti-depressants. I messed it up that first day, swallowing an innocuous looking white pill on an empty stomach. The nausea that followed left me wretched, deeply uncertain about the next pill I had to take. I eat before I take mine, a friend told me, or else it’s vom city, so try that. With no small amount of trepidation, I took my second pill after dinner. Thankfully, no nausea. But a meal before medication only helped with that. The rest I had to field on my own. The weird dissociative state it put me in was so akin to my first time ever smoking a joint — turned into a spectator of my own life, unable to identify what happened between deciding to do a thing, and doing it. I yawned like you imagine giant cats do, full and with sound, basking in their own power; too often, it would feel like a yawn was an ascent into a higher state of consciousness and the descent, once I closed my mouth, left me dizzy and unable to move forward for a moment. My concentration clocked out early most days. My life took a backseat while I floated above it (something I didn’t realise turned me into a slightly odd, often dazed partner, as my husband later explained it to me).

I am unable to pinpoint the precise moment when that stopped. I only recall that one day, some weeks ago, I became aware of my own plateauing. There was no rise and fall anymore, no ebb and flow, only a steady shifting forward. Days were not good or bad. They were just days. I did my life, but had not sunk back into it yet, so I spent much of my time musing. Thoughtful. Introspective. My mind wandered with a freedom it had not had for months and months — through my past, my history, my experiences, my opinions, my principles. It was almost philosophical in nature, except not, purely because there was a burgeoning intent for praxis behind it (something I have not found to exist in much of philosophy at all). There were startling revelations. Uncomfortable admissions.

Most importantly, though, there were stories. I nearly wept. It had been so long since there were any stories in me. I fervently kissed my little packet of pills and wondered what was next.

Only recently have I truly come to understand the scope and depth of The Bleakness that held me so tight for the last months. I sat once not long ago, abashed, remembering how much I talked at a dinner with friends, only to be reminded that it was how much I usually talk, and that I had gradually spoken less and less as the seasons came and went. I joyfully welcomed back the low, burning heat that bloomed in my belly whenever I looked at my love, or his fingers trailed over my skin, kisses stamping lust and desire back into my body. I read an article and finished it, infuriated, marvelling at the return of my anger, no longer bound by futility and hopelessness. I found myself reunited with the early hours of the morning, my favourite, in which I feel cherished but alone, something I have loved since I was a young girl. And I came back to music.

I sing so much these days, and think of my uncle, whose booming voice was the soundtrack of my childhood, who I miss more than words but who, I think, would understand without me needing to explain, why I am glad beyond words when I sing.


[1] Treatment of depression and anxiety is a truly unique thing, one that looks different for every person. Nobody gets well the same, and this is just my account of how I got well.

[2] I would not have gotten well on my own. And so I want to thank: Stuart for the constant love, care and patience; Kyla, for the wisdom, the support, and the understanding; Lee and Adeline, for always being there when I was crying; Pat, for unwavering tenderness when I needed it most; Mercy, whose words always balmed my hurts; Alyx, who let me ramble and work out my own confusion; Adriene, whose voice regularly reminds me to create space between my ears and shoulders and unclench my jaw; and all the people who don’t know they helped, but did, in small ways I could not possibly count. Finally, thanks to mom and dad, who never failed to tell me I was much loved. So much loved.

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