“I appear at times merry and in good heart, talk, too, before others quite reasonably, and it looks as if I felt, too, God knows how well within my skin. Yet the soul maintains its deathly sleep and the heart bleeds from a thousand wounds.” - Hugo Wolf
I would walk through my neighborhood of Spring Valley every evening. I was a smoker at the time. Not a pack-a -day smoker but enough that I had developed a bit of a cough. But what can I say? It looked cool. As I got to the end of each smoke - just before I was to flick it to the ground - I would instead hold the still lit tip of my cigarette and put it out on my arm. My left forearm to be exact and twice on the fleshiest part of my stomach. did it hurt? Probably but I don't remember. It was the only thing I could feel and putting cigarettes out on my body awoke me and reminded me of my physical presence. The singed off skin, the smell of burning arm hair, were further reminders. I would continue along down the street oblivious to what I had just done. I'd shrug it off only now does the ease at which I was able to cause physical harm to myself frighten me. For much of the spring I left my arm bandaged. There's a photo I have where I am in the front row, smiling as wide as can be. Everything looked normal but it wasn't.
It was a few weeks later when I disappeared for the weekend. I knew where I was, of course, but my friends didn't. I had recently leased an apartment two blocks from campus and that is where I stayed, not speaking to a single soul save for the cashier at a nearby convenience store. The phone would ring and I answer to no one. In hindsight the first weeks of my desent into depression all blurred together but disappearing, hurting myself, these were better than the alternative.
The alternative was this: each morning and evening on my commut to and from Capitol Hill I would stand on the platform at Metro Center. I would watch trains go by and wonder what would happen if I put my foot out just one inch too far and fell. A jump seemed far too dramatic. I just wanted to slip in front of a metro car and that would be the end. What hurt me would no longer do so. It would be over.
Do you know what it's like to be so destroyed that you are incapable of feeling anything at all? It feels like nothing at all because there is nothing left for you to care about. It's easier to tempt death than to continue to not feel. I wanted to jump but I didn't. I couldn't. I still don't know why.
At 23 I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder and that diagnosis brought everything together. It's not simply a feeling of hopelessness/despair/uncaring. My brain had been removed from my body. My apendages worked, I smiled, a front was put on but my brain was a bystander. Dead weight in my head. The depression intersperesed with moments of hypomania and euphoria at the simplest bits of good news. It's the depression that kills - or so it has felt in my experience. It feels drowning but instead of treading water, kicking your way to the survace, you release and relax. Might as well let the water take over. Medication helps and is what triggers you to kick your way to the surface and take a breath. There's that gasp for air at the top but then there's the aftermath. The people you have hurt, relationships destroyed. How do you explain to those who love you the most that you ache from the inside out? How do you explain that you want to raze everything in your path not because you want for others to feel bad but because those for whom the love is mutual don't need to see you like this? At your worst.
How do you explain the numbness? How do you explain that I don't care. So why should others?