Some people call it “The Black Dog, some “a dark passenger”. I like dogs too much to call what I have a “Black Dog” and a dark passenger sounds too much like something out of the show about a serial killer “Dexter”. I like to think of what I have as a void. An abyss. A black spot in my brain, that if not controlled, can consume every aspect of my life. It is as if black-out curtains have been drawn in my mind and the tiniest glimmer of light cannot break through.
It started over a decade ago, when I was a teenager. I thought I was just having a bad day, then a bad week, then a bad month, then a bad couple of months. I felt frustrated and helpless, I kept thinking “what is wrong with me?”, “why can’t I harden up?” I was paralyzed to talk to anyone, not just about the abyss, but in general. The abyss took my confidence. My parents had to force me out of bed for months, had to remind me to shower and tried their best to cheer me up, but nothing worked.
Everything I was once interested in, ceased to interest me. My grades were falling, and I didn’t care. I had no friends, and I didn’t care. I could not see a future, so everything lost meaning. The abyss made me apathetic. The abyss was all I could feel for a very long time. I got so sick of not feeling that I turned to self-harm just to make sure that I was still human, to check that the blood in my veins was still flowing. It gave me a second of comfort, but that second was better than the nothingness. It was then that my parents realized that this was not a teenage angst phase, but something more serious. After all, I would not talk to them about what was going on, I would just say “everything is fine. I am sure I will feel better in the morning.” But it never did. Sunrise never dissipated the darkness.
After many sessions with a psychologist and lots of attempted talks, I was referred to a psychiatrist. After all, I had nothing to open up about in therapy, I didn’t have a harrowing childhood experience or traumatic event which caused the abyss; I just one day became aware that it was there. And then the psychiatrist gave it a name, Depression. I thought, sure, I am depressed, but lots of people are depressed and they seem to be fine. They go to school, have lots of friends, they partake in sports and other activities. I felt that I was just a wuss. And no one could convince me otherwise. At the time, the knowledge that I had Depression made me feel embarrassed. It made me feel worse, I wanted to embrace the abyss and become part of it, I wanted to become like my feelings – nothing.
Looking back, more than a decade later, I am embarrassed by my immature reaction then. I am embarrassed that I hurt the people who love me by pushing them away, by a suicide attempt and causing them to worry about me. Sure, I was a teenager and I really didn’t know any better, I just wanted it to end. It has taken me many years to come to terms with my abyss, to deal with the fact that it is part of who I am and indeed how to keep it at bay. I first started managing the abyss when I was 17 and was prescribed anti-depressants and therapy. I truly felt better. Then I made the mistake of listening to other people and the media and in my early twenties I went off my medication because I thought that it was “numbing” me and “bad” for me. A couple of months later, and the abyss consumed me. It was much worse since I had more responsibilities and not getting out of bed wasn’t really an option. The working world and the abyss did not like each other, at all. But now I had alcohol and I could self-medicate. What I didn’t know was that the abyss is much stronger at the bottom of a bottle.
After a couple of months of my zombied existence, I had to be brutally honest with myself and ignore everyone. I sat down, sober and stared into the abyss. This time not to be drawn into it, but to confront it. And in that moment, I realized, I cannot do this on my own. I went back to the psychiatrist and started researching Depression. I was wrong. I was not a wuss. I was not a spoilt, emo kid. I had a disease. My brain literally doesn’t work the same way as someone without Depression. The abyss was like a heart condition, or like my asthma. I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere without my asthma medication, so why would I not take my anti-depressants? It was freeing. The knowledge I obtained from having a frank conversation with my doctor and the research I did shone light into the abyss. We could co-exist. I have my bad days, but that’s it, it’s a bad DAY.
I am still on anti-depressants and I have made peace with the fact that I will be until the day I die. I understand now that it is out of my control, my brain needs help to create and regulate its chemicals that makes it function. Period. And sure, the brain is a powerful thing and it does build a resistance after a couple of years and I need to change medication. But I am aware now, through acceptance – through accepting the abyss and myself – what to look out for instead of just looking into the abyss.