As mentioned before, last summer I lived in student housing at UMaine for 15 days. I was 33 years old and a college instructor and I was living amid college students. I had a roommate.
Yep. CREEPY. I know.
To alleviate some horror thoughts, know that there were separate rooms, on separate sides of the apartment. I had, thank the Gods, my own bathroom.
So, I didn’t really get to know the gal with whom I sort-of shared a living space. We had a few conversations, but they were of the most basic social-mixer kind: Where are you from? What are you studying? What do you do? What brought you to Maine?
What I do know of her, I know from a kind of removed observation. Here is what I observed—
A deeply depressed young girl doing her best to get herself together.
Or at least this is my take. I am not a clinician, but it seemed like the signs of depression were there. The borderline personal hygiene. The filth of the living space. The sleeping for the majority of the day, then going to work, then coming home and going back to sleep. The utter lack of friends. The diet that seemed to consist entirely of black olives bathed in Italian dressing. The drinking.
There was also the list stuck to the refrigerator titled “Goals.” On such a list made by one so young, one might expect to see items like a desired GPA or internship applications or world travel. There were no such things on this list. I won’t include the actual list here, as I do not want to expose her private life, but there were items like—
- Get trash out of bedroom
- Wash bedding
- Don’t sleep more than 9 hours a night
This is the kind of list depression makes of a life. Simple, small tasks seem to take a great deal of effort. Sleep seems like the only release.
I know I spent the first two years of college full of expectation and thoughts of the future and a genuine zeal for all the classes and theatre productions and people who were a part of my life.
And then? Well, I grew depressed, deeply so. I don’t think anyone noticed. If they did, no one said anything. I can’t blame them. I myself didn’t notice, or at least I had no idea what to call the anxiety and isolation and overwhelming sadness. I did what I knew how to do to get through it, which was work harder at my studies. Take more classes. Volunteer more.
And then I plummeted.
I still remember the look on the face of a friend from high school who stopped-by to visit one day after I had fallen. He saw the days-old dishes caked in egg yolk. The shades drawn against the sun. My inability to focus. I remember he looked as if he couldn’t get out of there fast enough, as if he thought I might be contagious.
My GPA dropped. I gained a great deal of weight. I withdrew from social activities. I drank far too much. I stopped sleeping or I slept for 12+ hours.
And yet I never, ever would have called myself depressed or admitted that I needed mental healthcare.
There is another time I clearly should have realized I needed help. During my last winter in Alaska, I would wake-up, plug-in my truck, return to bed, and lie there chanting to myself—
Brush your teeth and your hair. Brush your teeth and your hair. Brush your teeth and your hair. These are important.
These two, quite small human acts, seemed to require a great deal of energy. And I had to convince myself to do them by chanting this mantra to myself every day.
Every. Single. Day.
I can’t tell you how long it lasted. I can’t tell you why I didn’t recognize that I was depressed until far too long inside of it.
This girl, though, this temporary roommate, she at least had some recognition that the life she was living was no life at all. Her list also included—
- Make therapy appointment.
She was aware of the mire in which she’d become stuck. She was doing what she knew to get out of it.
Which is far more than I can say for myself at any age or time. To this day, I have never sought therapy. My aversion is maybe a hangover from my mid-south, blue collar upbringing. It is maybe fear of admitting there is something wrong with me.
Typing those words, just now, made my stomach clench. I’ll do it again.
There is something wrong with me. I am not okay. I need help.
It’s a difficult thing to admit.
But an eighteen year old girl admitted it. I saw that girl. Shuttered in her filthy apartment. Anxious. Alone. I saw that girl and I saw myself. Not as I am now, but as I was, and as I could be if I do not start making a conscious effort to tend my mental health.
It’s a cycle, after all. Feeling anxious and alone makes me depressed, which makes people not want to be around me, which makes me anxious and alone….
This last year and a half has been a tough one. Just about the saddest things possible have occurred. In my own misguided way of dealing with it all, my anxious and alone sirens have been on full blast.
Luckily, a good friend let me know I was not myself. She looked at me and was genuinely scared for what she saw. Not a woman dirty and alone, but one spinning in anxiety and neediness. Rather than running away, this friend let me know I needed help.
This past weekend, I made a list. (Actually, I made a color-coded spread sheet, but, ya know, same deal.) This item is right up top–
- Make therapy appointment
It’s taken me to the age of 34 to do this. It’s taken a friend strong enough to challenge me to get better.
And it’s taken me not being able to write.
If you’re curious about the long blog-post hiatus, well, this is why. I began slipping away sometime this Spring. By last week, when I sat down to write anything, even a journal entry, even an email, I couldn’t. It was like my own voice was missing from my head.
I have always disdained the term writer’s block as a crutch of the lazy. And there are those people, of course. People who run around claiming writer’s block because the real work of writing, the long hard slog of it, is more effort than they are willing to undertake.
But there is also being blocked from one’s own voice. I know this now. And I know that writer’s block, in this sense, is not the stuff of amusing coffee mugs or casual reference or excuse. It is a powerful symptom of something wrong. It is terrifying. There is no “work harder and you’ll get through it.” I don’t have the tools to do this kind of work. Not yet.
I know addicts use the phrase rock bottom to mean that point when they realized they needed help to change. The stories they tell are of waking-up covered in vomit, or someone close to them overdosing, or exchanging sexual favors for one more hit.
My rock bottom? The point I had to reach before I realized I needed help?
My rock bottom was silence.
Image taken from here.