It wasn’t until I saw The Two Towers that I finally understood Gollum’s mental pain. I’d read the books several times by then (I think it’s thirteen or fourteen at this date), and I knew he was talking to himself. But it was through Andy Sirkis’s portrayal of him that I realized the anguish in which Gollum lived every day of his life. And I realized, as the movie progressed, that a part of me identified with him.
No, I haven’t been chasing down a golden ring that makes me invisible…at least not physically. But there are times I have metaphorically. Because what that ring represents — at least to Gollum — is happiness. A sense of having a partner. No loneliness biting at him in the dark and damp of Middle Earth, leaving him raw and open to the elements. Normalcy. Because when you’re invisible, you become a part of everything…yet you’re even more cut off than before.
Gollum is a supreme example of what it feels like to exist in the throes of depression, when the voices of self-doubt and self-hatred and frustration are in a battle with the part of you that still believes in you and knows those “nasty little voices”, to paraphrase Gollum, are “false”. And, and yet, because they’re so loud, so strong in their bullying and forcefulness, it becomes easier and easier to listen…and believe.
I know this because I’ve been there.
And I still go there sometimes when the moment, for whatever reason is ripe within me to blister open into those same two-self arguments Gollum has with himself. I have learned, over the years, how to apply gentleness to myself when I’m there. To not rail against myself for my own “falseness” and weakness. To allow myself to be there — as that’s what helps it pass. But it’s admittedly been hard to learn that, and I can still fall into moments where I am unable to do anything more than mentally lie within the throes of bleakness and despair.
Sometimes I can expect them and ready myself. At “that” time of the month mostly, or if I inadvertently miss taking a dose of my anti-depressant medication I can expect some low spirits within about 12-24 hours (I have tried to go off it with my doctor’s help a few times, but, even at a frozen snail’s pace of weaning, I crash; I am accepting that it may be something I must always take, and I’m not ashamed of it as I see it as a help, not a hindrance). But, sometimes, even though I’ve gotten good rest, it’s not “that” time of the month and I’ve faithfully taken my twice-daily dosage, I can suddenly descend into a sensation that I am a solitary boat in a solitary ocean.
I have no explanation for why this happens. Nor do I care to have one. I don’t need one.
At least, I’ve come to an understanding I don’t.
It’s just a part of who I am, and when it rears its head, I can only deal with it as I can. But there are moments when, like Gollum, I believe the “nasty” voice in my head and all the rock-splitting negative thinking and self-talk rends me in two. I am caked in loneliness and despair so bright and visceral it’s all I know, and all I will know (even though I also know it will pass). Shame of past mistakes, big and small, snap at me, burning in my flesh and mind and chest. Anger for making them, sometimes.
And I find myself feeling like I will never, ever have the things I most dearly want and even thought I’d have by now. I struggle with confusion as, in those moments, I don’t know if those are lies the “nasty” part of me is screeching in my head, or if they are truths I am unwilling to accept and it’s the refusal to do so that’s the true root of my despair.
And then I sometimes go into a phase, short or long (I never know) of feeling nothing. Or I start there and stay there and melt out of it…or I start there and go into the despair. My life’s resume at that point would be summed up in the most articulate of words: Meh.
I exercise, but I couldn’t care less about it. I shower, but I couldn’t care less one way or another (it’s what society expects, and I guess I really don’t want to be seen as stinky). And I eat (usually), but I couldn’t care less one way or another. Later, I stare at the TV, a book, my writing, Facebook, personal emails, work emails, bumping myself along on autopilot smiling on social cues, laughing on social cues, doing my best Eleanor Rigby as I put my face on that I “keep in a jar by the door” (who is it for? Well, I don’t know and I couldn’t care less).
It’s what I’m supposed to do to keep up appearances. Not because I’m self-conscious. Rather, it’s because I don’t want to have to expend the energy to evade questions about why I look like I haven’t changed out of my pajamas in four days, or washed my hair in six (there are days and times where, if I could, I would totally do that).
Those are the rarer moments.
The numbness was something I felt more 13 years ago as I broke out of where I was at that time and I came to write my novel Backbeat. As I did, the numbness began to crack open and in came the sting of long-dead spirit nerves coming back to life, feeling much like a foot that’s been asleep for hours. The pain was, at times, unbearable, but I knew it was from healing.
It was then the depression began to cling in me (and I do mean “in” and not “to”). It was as if the emotion part of me got a hiccup in it, a groove I can’t smooth out. Much like the scratches I somehow got on my glass coffee table.
A chunk of Heather Coding got lost and the patch I downloaded mostly fixed it. Mostly. It’s like I forget sometimes how to be happy, and sometimes it’s like I don’t even understand what it is, let alone be it. The sink hole opens up within me and I slide down into it, knowing there was something I was doing, something I was, something I had — but I don’t know how to grasp it again.
I suppose having that part of you be asleep and “unworking” (to coin a word) for so long does create a crease within you that cannot be flattened. Once crumpled, once wet, the book pages never sit quite right again, even if put under weights for awhile. Sometimes, it’s like I’m afraid to be happy. It becomes so foreign, even in the midst of it, I suddenly get gun shy of it and startled. At least, that’s the way it feels sometimes.
But I will take the despair over the numbness.
I think, maybe, I was in a place that was so intense with despair I shut off and shut down. I rendered myself numb. Flipped on auto-pilot and did what a proper citizen does: bathe, eat, sleep, smile, talk, walk, dress nicely (not because I cared, because otherwise people would notice how I was really (not) feeling).
My newest book Coming Home deals more outright with depression, though my character doesn’t realize that’s what she has; during that era (the 1960s) nobody talked about it. It wasn’t accepted. It wasn’t even accepted as I grew up in the 70s and 80s; instead, depression was something shameful and meant you were broken. Just someone caught in a pity party and who was self-centered. They just needed to friggin’ snap out of it.
And I’m here to tell you: It doesn’t work that way when you have depression.
It’s even that way sometimes when you’re on medication (which I thankfully, gratefully take twice a day!) It’s like existing in a world of continual grays and ash, even though you see colors — they don’t register. And it’s like walking around in grief all the time, except you don’t know what’s causing that. You wouldn’t tell someone who’s grieving to just “snap out of it” or to “get over yourself”. So please never say that to someone who has depression.
And though I’ve come a long way in the last fourteen years. I’ve come to accept and work with those phases, rather than against them. To learn how to accept them with compassion. Though sometimes I cannot. But, luckily, I’ve worked hard enough so that I’m okay with that, too. And I’ve learned to remind myself it will pass.
I do my best to accept it with compassion. Sometimes I just can’t, and so I accept that with compassion. Sometimes it’s just a whiff of existence in me. And sometimes I may as well be smooshed on the floor, surrounded by smoke from a fire. And then…it’s gone. Maybe after a few moments, maybe a few hours, maybe overnight, maybe a few days. I just suddenly notice it isn’t there anymore. After all, it’s not like it taps me on the shoulder and gives me a pointed goodbye.