Some days, as I wake, I do not turn off my alarm. The alarm on my phone marks the passing minutes by softly playing the song a once-friend recorded for me when I needed it more than I had words to say. It is a soft song, something that speaks to me of the process of healing, of starting anew, and of learning to forgive yourself for what you perceive to be your greatest failure. Unlike many songs about healing, or even most of the way we talk about healing, this song does not pretend that things will be like they were before. This song promises healing, but it also promises change. It promises that things will be different than they were and that whatever that difference is will be better than what you feel right now.
I don’t know what this song would say to you. I have a long history with this song and I’m willing to admit that at least some amount of its speech is projection. I need this song to say these things to me and, since it has said so many other, similar things to me before, I hear it say them now. So I let it play and I listen as it cycles through itself, restarting automatically because my phone is committed to ensuring I’m awake. It has no way of knowing that I was already awake before it began. It has no way of knowing that I’ve been awake for half an hour already, but have not been able to make myself get out of bed or even move until the song begins to play.
After a while, I roll over in my bed. My eyes, adjusted to the shy light of my phone as the alarm sounds, are stabbed by the bright white screen that flashes when I tell my phone to wait a bit before reminding me to wake up again. Five minutes later, it does so. I have not moved.
This time, before I temporarily silence it, I sit up in bed. The next time, I pull back the sheets. First one foot, then the other. I shuffle to the edge of the bed. Finally, after my phone starts singing for the seventh time, I stand. I tell my phone I no longer need the reminders and make my way through my morning routine as quickly as possible. I feel like someone running downhill. If I stop, if I stumble or trip, I will fall and roll to the bottom. If I can keep my feet moving, if I run quickly enough, I can stay upright.
Even when I sit to put on my socks, I still feel like I’m running. The edge of my bed folds underneath me as I lift up one of my feet for easy access, and I feel like all it would take to pitch me forward is a little shift in my balance. The first time I have to stop, when the feeling of running down hill ends, is when I put on my shoes. I have to sit in a chair or on the edge of the couch, and all of those seats are secure. As long as I keep moving, though, I’m fine. But if I stop, if I even pause for longer than a heartbeat, I might not make it back to my feet again.
This moment is dangerous. There is nothing to do in the seat. I should leave it fairly quickly, to get into my car and go to work, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes, I stay there until something happens to remind me that there is more to do. A nudge from the cat, one of my roommates coming down the stairs, a notification on my phone, anything. I will sit there until one of those happens and not realize how much time is passing until afterwards. An impossible moment where I am nothing until I am reminded, somehow, that I am something. It is like falling asleep, but without losing all awareness. Any outside stimulation brings me back, full awareness and consciousness crashing back into me. Painful, but welcome.
The day continues the same way. So long as I am moving, so long as something is happening near me, I am here. If I fall silent, if I grow still, it creeps up, washes over me, and I am gone.
These days are not storms, nor are they whirlpools. There is no OCD involved and very little anxiety, only enough to worry about how far down I’m going to go this time. Days like these are wavy days. Sometimes they’re choppy water, with small episodes spread throughout the day, and sometimes they’re a single tidal wave that threatens to crush me beneath its weight. The tidal waves are horrible. I know they’re coming before they appear on the horizon and all I can do once they’re there is to wait until they hit. Do my best to make it back to the surface after I’ve been pushed down and spun around until I almost don’t know which way is up. Wouldn’t know which way is up without all the practice I’ve had making it back to the surface.
So far, I haven’t found anything I can do with these feelings other than wait for them to pass. If I get too focused on them, my anxiety builds and my OCD starts acting up, threatening to turn the tidal wave into a full hurricane. I try to treat them like just another day while continuously denying the urge to let myself sink. To let myself stay in my bed or on my chair or to sleep at my desk. I do not give in to the desire to stay still because I am afraid that saying yes now will make it easier in the future. Losing entire days to tidal waves and choppy seas is not something I want. There’s always the risk that I’d wind up getting caught up and carried along by the waves, stuck until I finally manage to break free of the lethargy and exhaustion that tempts me to stay still.
It is sorely tempting to give in. One of the features of my depression is a desire to rest, an unending exhaustion that is beyond mental or emotional or physical exhaustion. Existential exhaustion that makes me wish I could just cease to be for a few days, until the waves have passed. It makes a convincing argument that I could use a day off of work or a quiet day to myself, but I know the day would be gone before I knew it, vanished in the haze of unawareness. I do not want that.
So I deny myself. I keep moving. I do one thing after another until I am out of things to do and then I invent more. I keep pushing until the exhaustion fades, the waves recede, and I can get back to just floating again. After all that, floating feels wonderful and I find myself almost grateful for the normal, every-day version of my depression that makes me less sociable and disinclined to take risks. Anything is better than the constant invitation to feel nothing.
This is my depression at its worst. I don’t have many days like this, thankfully, but today it is taking everything I’ve got to deal with the tidal wave headed my way. Tomorrow will be better, thankfully. They’re awful, but they never last long.