Essays

Depression is (Still) a Trip

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, we are re-posting this. And sending out our wishes for safe weathering of all storms, inner and outer.

 

You stay alive you stupid asshole
Because you haven’t been excused…

–Tony Hoagland, from “Suicide Song

Depression is a wildly confusing, exhausting trip to someplace you didn’t actually ever intend to go. Let’s say you set out for Austria, had in mind a little singing on mountaintops like in The Sound of Music, and you end up getting on the wrong plane and find yourself in Antarctica. Did you know the average temperature during the coldest three months in Antarctica is MINUS 81 degrees Fahrenheit? So you are in this place, so bitterly cold that it’s hard to move, your limbs lock up and your face freezes if you try to uncover it. If you expose any of your tender self, even a little, it goes from cold to burning to numb so fast you just know you’ll be dead if you don’t cover up again. You didn’t intend to come here and you don’t quite know how you got here and you haven’t figured out how to leave. You don’t really want to see your loved ones here because you’re afraid they’ll freeze, too; sometimes you feel like you’re talking to them through a video link, and they’re far away, and you sort of wonder if they aren’t just better off staying far away from you and your inimical tendency to lose yourself in dark and dangerous places.

*

I don’t know much about drug trips from personal experience (unfortunately? I don’t know—I overheard some writers behind me at a reading recently talking about traveling the country on LSD when they were younger, and these were women in their 40s and 50s who were clearly oh so much more badass than they looked, and I confess I felt a bit envious, if also a bit ashamed at my own timidity), but it seems to me depression is like a drug trip for a lot of reasons. You don’t seem to have any control over how you perceive the world, or how you respond to it. You feel like you’re not your usual self, and you fear you may never get back to being your usual self, or that your “usual self” is in fact your “unusual self,” and the majority of who you are is actually A Depressed Person. Other people can tell you that your perceptions of reality are not accurate, but even when you accept that truth you still can’t make yourself perceive reality differently and react to it appropriately.

*

You can’t actually stop traveling, slogging through muck, unable to find a place to sit down to rest that isn’t even more miserable than the continual push. Once I overturned my kayak and sank to my crotch in silty mud. When I tried pulling one foot up, up, to the surface of the mud and putting it down again, I sank just as far. Other people went by in their kayaks and said, “Are you okay?” and I said, “Yes, I’ll get back on in just a minute,” though I had no real idea how I would do so. Embarrassment, shame, helplessness. No choice but to engage the mud.

*

I’ve been on these trips before. It’s terribly embarrassing because people often believe you bought that train ticket yourself, or something that happened to you gained agency—A. Death, Job Loss, Another F. Rejection—and all you need to do is track down that entity and face it in order to get off the train. So you’re on the Depression Train, it’s speeding along through a concrete wilderness, and people are saying, “Hey, why don’t you get off the train?” Well, more often they’re saying, “You could try this or this to get off the train,” helpfully, really, but the thing is you just can’t get off the effing train. It’s going full steam and if you managed to pry open one of the doors you’d just find yourself bruised on the hard gray world anyway.

train-569323_1920What can you do?

Well first you apologize to the people who love you, over and over, when you cry daily or don’t even get off the couch to go to the grocery store for toilet paper or turn down invitations to do things or accept said invitations and then feel like your company is a burden. You apologize and you try to explain that some day, you suspect, you’ll be able to get off the Depression Train. You just don’t know how, and you don’t know when, so you can’t tell them when it’ll be easier to be around you and you can’t tell them how to help you.

And then you remind yourself, over and over and over, that the train WILL stop. It will stop. It always has before. The train will stop. And you’ll get off, stepping out into ordinary sunlight. The air will have smells again, other people will seem real, you’ll be able to smile. There will be possibilities, choices. You will be able, again, to choose whether to walk fast or slow, turn left or right. You won’t suddenly be able to fly—that yearning will never be satisfied—but you’ll have choices about how and where to go with the means you actually have.

Knowing this won’t stop the train, of course. So, when you can, you engage in the activities that make the journey slightly more bearable. You meditate, accepting where you are, noticing the train, the gray outside, the lack of smell. You notice and do not judge. You cry. You try to eat the cardboard-tasting food in the snack bar when you can make yourself get there. You stay alive, even though staying alive means staying on the train. This is where you are, now. You keep breathing.

*

Later, you’ll make notes about where you went. You’ll have learned something about yourself and your own depths, your astonishing ability to despise yourself, your even more astonishing ability to survive. You’ll see that this journey wasn’t exactly like the others, each one different, this last one perhaps less time in the Country of Despair and more time in Shame City. You’ll make lists of supplies for the next involuntary trip, if it should happen again: warm blankets, old hard-bound books, herbs to help you sleep, a foreign language phrasebook so you can still communicate with your loved ones, and they with you.

*

However you are, it’s ok. I know you didn’t buy that ticket yourself, plan this trip for yourself. You’re allowed to cry. You are just a person, not a Depressed Person. You will return. You are valuable even when you’re not functioning well. You are unique, a miracle, the most beautiful and perfect you there ever was. You will return. You will return. You will return.

 

Categories: Essays, Katie's Voice

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38 replies »

  1. This hits home and the cold chill of depression is all encompassing. It’s hard to get people to understand and they are very judgmental..until the day they have to deal with depression and they see how it feels and to imagine feeling like this many times during the year. The good part though there is always tomorrow and the sun will shine and it will end. Great post Gloria

  2. Thanks, friend. <3

    2016-10-07 0:23 GMT+02:00 The Gloria Sirens :

    > Katie Riegel posted: “In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, we are > re-posting this. And sending out our wishes for safe weathering of all > storms, inner and outer. You stay alive you stupid asshole Because you > haven’t been excused… –Tony Hoagland, from “” >

  3. This really hit the spot. I lost three babies, two were born premature and was just to small to survive. My third was visiting his dad in their new home they had just moved into the night before. The ceiling collapsed on my baby’s head. For a week I had to watch my son die in a hospital bed, while I prayed everyday to bring him home. Now people can’t understand when the world is to much for me to handle. There are so many mother’s who treat their kids bad. My son was my best friend, and I was the best mother I could be. I tried to protect him from all danger. I failed at that, I was unable to keep him protected now I can no longer be a mother. I spend many days not leaving my home because I can’t handle seeing motherly things. I was diagnosed with PTSD and MDD, but I know this won’t keep me down forever.This was an AWESOME post.

  4. depression is really something very bad and awful and each of person have to go through it one day…but from my own experiences the only thing what can really help you is to be active and to be happy from the small daily thing what are around you. I mean even if you are only at home so do not stay just in a bed and watch movies etc… it will make it worse actually. But wake up, make yourself beautiful, clean the home, cook and bake something. Have a lunch with families or friends, go outside where you see a people or draw or read a book.. . simply anything very simple but it will make your mind very busy so you would not have time to think. And if you do not have time to think so the depression will fade away soon. Its just about you must force yourself to do something – even you do not want.

  5. I can really relate to this. Depression is not something I chose, it chose me. I’ve been struggling with it since I was younger. This reminded me that one day it will stop, and I will walk out of the depression train, I will rise out of the ashes stronger than before. I’m really glad I read this, thank you

  6. This post was the first i read when I’ve discovered your blog (this is a wonderful blog!), and since then, I’ve never forgotten it. It is the reason why i have wanted, in the first place, to come back to read you all.
    Every time I read this post, I have this feeling in me, that comes from deep inside of me, that is hard to explain but brings tears to my eyes.
    And there is no sadness in these tears. It is simply that i am so, so, so, so grateful that someone (you) has written these words and tried to give the most beautiful and true explanation for what so many people are suffering from and even die of.
    And these people can’t find the words to tell what they are going through…
    Thank you very much (I apologize for my “poor” English).

  7. This is such a great post – I can liken the speeding train of depression to one of alcoholism. You want to get off the train but you can’t. Hold out hope, the train does slow down, sometimes it even stops for us. Thank you for your post! May it spread hope to all who read it!

  8. Thank you for this amazing post! In as much as people are more vocal about depression, it still carries a negative stigma where people are judged. Depression can happen to anyone at any given time and people need to have more compassion because no one is immune. There are different types of depression with varying degrees. All are painful.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing this. It really is a beautiful and wonderfully accurate way to look at things. I am so thankful I have been off the depression train for over a month now and I really hope I don’t ever have to get back on.

  10. “You feel like you’re not your usual self, and you fear you may never get back to being your usual self, or that your “usual self” is in fact your “unusual self,” and the majority of who you are is actually A Depressed Person. Other people can tell you that your perceptions of reality are not accurate, but even when you accept that truth you still can’t make yourself perceive reality differently and react to it appropriately.”

    OH my god, THIS. And then you have trouble knowing if they are telling you the correct thing about reality because you’ve been subject to some abuse in life and you don’t even trust your ability to pick good people. Yeah.

    • Thanks for getting it–and I’m sorry that you get it. I would add that people who generally tell you nice things about you are to be trusted; the inner voices of depression and abuse are usually bad things about yourself, and unfortunately your brain will find ways to make those bad things seem real and logical. <3