In May 2011 after a near catastrophic bout with depression that left me at different times listless, catatonic, tearful and angry, I took the advice of my therapist and visited a psychiatrist to the end of getting my chemically distorted brain on a mild cocktail of anti-depressants. I say mild because, to be absolutely clear, I was on the lowest dose possible...at first. She insisted I'd only have to be on them a year. 18 months and a dose hike later, I was still on them, and not feeling markedly better - mostly feeling as though I told someone I had heard an annoying sound coming from the basement so they started blasting Ke$ha in the attic.
It's a weird thing to talk about your mental problems online, especially when, as it is in my case, I'm not even sure I have mental problems. Can I really claim to be sick, like a cancer patient is sick, or like someone with a "real" mental illness like schizophrenia? Is that fair? Like many people who suffer from varying forms of depression, sometimes it is hard to distinguish between "actual" depression, Depression with a capital D, and just sadness, or just lethargy, or just a general inability to keep calm and carry on.
I found and find myself wishing to know: is what I am feeling normal, and I'm just being a big wimp? What is normal, anyway? Are there people who go through life never feeling this way? Or does everybody feel this way sometimes - and maybe not get as alarmed or worked up about it as their depressive counterparts? If only it was a simple as a broken bone, or a bout of flu. Then maybe I would feel less conflicted about treatment.
A metaphor that has come to mind lately is one I'm thinking of as The Dark Room. Let's say you are afraid of the dark and you find yourself suddenly in a room in pitch blackness. You strain your eyes to open, and they dart side to side looking for a crack of light around a door frame, a glimmer of ambient light through the side of a curtain, ANYTHING to cling onto and push back the encroaching panic of being completely and utterly blind. You could staunch the encroaching panic with medication. Something that would make existence in the dark bearable. Some magic pill that, maybe not the first day or the day after that, but eventually, would lull you into a state where the soupy blackness isn't as noticeable. Something that would allow you to say, "Oh this? Yes, it is dark. But it's rather soothing, no? Don't you find it somewhat cleaner and easier to handle than all that light? I consider it less "dark" and more "a break from the glare!".
That or you can turn a light on. Or leave the room. (Leaving aside the obvious conundrum of how you can find the door, groping around, uncertain what kind of nightmare things lurk along the walls as you fumble your way to a doorknob.) The question then becomes: is this room dark? Or is it all in my head?
That is a scary fucking question.
I had to travel through depression as I upped my dose and my body became used to the medication back in May 2011, and I've had to travel back through that country, up and up through the levels of hell, no Virgil to be found, back through depression and into the light.
I've been weaning off the medication for about five weeks now. Down from a pill and half (my personal high, and still not even close to the four pill clinical dose) to one, and from one (about a week ago) down to a half. The level of Out Of My Mind I have felt over the past few weeks trumps anything I have ever been through historically. I never want to go through it again, especially knowing that I'd have to cope with it twice: once on the way in, and once, more sordidly, more painfully, on the way back out.
Real depression, for me, almost always finds its way onto a plate - or off of one, as the case may be. Though the image of a sad woman eating her way through a pint of Ben & Jerry's is ever present in our collective sitcom consciousness, food is such a source of joy for me I find that I can't stomach it when I'm sad. I don't think (in a normal state of mind) I've ever not enjoyed a meal, on some level or another, even if the food or company or setting left something to be desired. Eating, for me, is and always will be a bite by bite reaffirmation of a beautiful life. The best I can do in the dark room is eat an energy bar or sip broth, maybe a Nutriment if I'm feeling particularly weak (and retro!).
I knew I was coming out of it this weekend when I was able to throw together a meal, when the sizzling of onions in oil finally had the same palliative effect as a favorite song, and when the smell of food cooking filled me with hope instead of revulsion.
I made arroz con pollo (and then a million other things as my heart and hands came back to life).
Eschewing the recipe my Dad gave me years ago (sorry Dad), I decided to wing it. Brining drumsticks in salt, sugar and oregano and then browning them in oil, rendering the chicken fat out and the skin a crispy, crackling brown. I sauteed the onions and garlic in that the leftover oil and cracklings, with a healthy dollop of pork belly fat from one of my freaky jars in the fridge. (There is a certain shelf in there that looks like a mad scientist's lab.) I returned the chicken to the pot along with two cups of brown rice and four cups of chicken stock, paprika, cumin and cayenne - sticking the whole covered mess in the oven at 350 for as long as we could stand it (just over an hour.) Finally, I chopped up half a jar of jalapeno stuffed olives and two cured Meyer lemon slices and stirred them in with a couple of cups of cooked beans. The spoon could barely stir it, the rice moving with a sticky unctuousness that does not translate well to film, the chicken shredded off and I picked the bones out, like some new branch of fresh archeology, clean and long and knobbled at the ends. Perfectly naked.
And then I ate.
Tentatively at first, a small ramekin only. Thinking it was all the solid food my stomach could stand. And then a second one, and a third.
Somehow, somewhere between the third and fourth serving, I saw the tiniest flicker of light.
34 minutes ago