Picture it–(Sicily, 1947)–just kidding, it was probably around 1980-1981. I was roughly three or four years old. I lived in a tiny place in the frozen tundras of Alberta, a province in the great forested wilds of a country named Canada. The town was called Tin Town. Tin town was basically rows upon rows, huddled up to the street, of small mobile homes with some geniuses idea to use metal sheets on the roof and outside. Metal sheets, guys–I don’t know if any of you have stuck your head inside an oil drum while someone cranks out a drum-beat from Pantera upon it, but it’s pretty much what it sounds like whenever it rained, sleeted or hailed.
These were the “lower ranked” military housing, set below the much more majestic actual houses on a far off hill where I assume the higher ranking Canadian military families all drank expensive water and had expensive parties or something.
It is night. (Remember: you’re picturing this with me.) Our tiny little tin coffin is darkened and silent as the night cloaks all in stillness. My father–a long time sufferer of a horrible back and gout-ridden feet, often slept on the couch at night as it was more solid and more supportive than the bed. In our tiny little metal box, my room was at the very end of a short hallway that looked right out through the kitchen and into the living room; facing the living room’s large picture window. Below the picture window was the couch. And on that couch was my father, arms crossed over his chest, feet crossed at the ankles and grey-wool sock covered feet peeking out from under a blanket. I knew he was fast a sleep because it seemed as if he were sawing the winter’s worth of aspen trees for kindling. AKA: Holy mother of Odin, my father could out-snore a drunk bear.
And so, like most three-to-four year olds, I had gone through my list of Things I Could Do To Avoid Going To Sleep such as the number one hit: I Have To Pee, and, I Have to Pee Again, as well as, Read Me Another Story! and my favorite, I’m Hungry! as well as the other not-as-well-known usual night time favorites. Having annoyed the living fuck out of my parental units so much that they fell asleep, exhausted, obviously ignoring my needs–I felt rather betrayed. And upset. And so, I began:
All of my life has been a silent war.
This battle was not a grand thing. There were no towering men and women in shimmering suits of armor; silver, gold or painted rainbows on a field of honor. There were no trumpets or galloping, no glory or majestic verses sung of my bravery as I fought because the battle sometimes happened between me and the bed. You don’t get stirring ballads when you struggle to put clothes on every morning. When you think: I don’t want to wake up, I want to go back to sleep and dream. I want to pull the blankets over my head and lay in the dark. I would battle to open my eyes and stare at my ceiling, listening to the sound of cats chasing each other through the house or the birds jabbering away at one another. Five minutes, ten minutes, sometimes an hour or three would pass as I drifted between a skittery sleep that skimmed the surface of deeper rest.
After the war to wake up then get out of bed came the fight to take care of myself. Putting one foot in front of the other felt like walking on the bottom of the ocean being crushed by the waves. My feet were in lead boots keeping me below the waves, too far where no sunlight reached.
Then came the skirmish on my apartment, the messes of every day life. A kitchen that needed sweeping. Clothes to be put away. Dishes to be done. Carpets to be vacuumed, bird cages cleaned, garden to weed, wash to be done, shower–day in day out the little things which everyone does was a knock-down-dragged-out-bloodless battle to perform. Inside my head I had to bark at myself. I had to yell and cajole and bribe. I would roll out of bed every day as tired as the next, whether I slept fifteen hours or eight. Tired when I woke up, tired when I went to sleep. Tired of being tired.
And when I made myself do the things people do day in and day out, it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t perfect enough. Something in my head would crouch down low and whisper like old scratchy mix-tapes that had been used over and over again until static hissing could be heard behind everything–never good enough, The Thing would say. It would back itself into a corner high above every achievement I would ever do: a painting, a clean house, a piece of sculpted clay, a bite from a bird, a mess that needed cleaning, a piece of writing–awful–The Thing hissed. It’s horrible, just like you. It would begin. And I’d do my best not to pay attention to it but there’s no running from your own head, there’s no safety on the battlefield when it’s inside your body with a part of you that never goes away.
You’re disgusting looking, fat and ugly, The Thing would cackle at me when I tried on new clothes or dress up a little and put some make up one.
This is garbage, it would announce when I was finished with drawing a picture. No matter what anyone says or tells you, you’ll never be good enough whenever someone complimented me.
You can’t it would say when I tried to convince myself I could.
You won’t when I fought to tell people I would. And when I didn’t, it would laugh gleefully and point out that I didn’t–just like it said I would.
You are completely worthless, it would tell me day in and day out. Until I lost any arrows to fire back at it to silence it.
All of your mistakes all of your life–every one of them we can remember–let us play them in your head every night on loop, dissect them, point out your flaws and your imperfections until you cannot sleep and you cannot stand yourself–The Thing would do, every night when I tried to go to bed. And it did. And I would watch the things I did in the past with growing shame until I tore myself up inside.
I lived with this thing for so many years that it became part of me.
Cut an onion incorrectly: you’re an idiot it would hiss.
Accidentally drop and break something: See how worthless you are? You can’t keep anything.
I tormented myself over things that should never have tormented me. I lost sleep over the things we all do, the mistakes me make as children and adults. I agonized over my weight and sabotaged every single thing in my life that I had to be happy about. I started listening and believing to that Thing in my head until it did begin to ruin everything I did.
I stopped drawing.
I stopped making things out of clay.
I stopped writing.
I stopped playing the games I loved to play.
I stopped reading the books I loved to read.
I stopped doing things around the house until it piled up and took hours to do them instead of a few minutes.
I stopped caring about myself and, I stopped caring about it.
I argued and said things to Shawn over things that were so ridiculously stupid I am ashamed I argued over them.
And then my mother died.
I lost something so important to me that I could not put into words what had happened. A part of my life that had always been there (and a part that you know some day will go–but you never want to admit it, because she’s your mother. And she’s forever. Always.) was no longer. I was thousands of miles away and I hadn’t the chance to say good bye.
The Thing in my head reared up from its corner and spilled as ink across my mind. It took over everything inside of me. The words and the things that it said to me bombarded me day in and day out. I did nothing. I wanted nothing. I grieved but I hated myself. I let my mind rip myself apart as it never had before. I could do nothing to stop it. Over the decades I used to be able to fight back: This will pass, I would tell The Thing when it hissed. Tomorrow all will be better. You’ll see. I am a good person. I really am. I have nothing to be sad or angry about. Everything’s okay and I will be fine, I always am. But this time I couldn’t reach for those words. I couldn’t convince myself that things would be all right anymore. I couldn’t find it in myself to believe and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt as if I were always on the bottom of the ocean and that I hadn’t seen the surface in years.
Then one day, The Thing in my head in a voice as clear as ringing metal: You would be better off dead.
The cacophony inside my head fell to silence and even I felt myself stop moving and go still. What The Thing had said had frightened me so much that all the little voices that toss about in my head–leaves in a pile stirred by the wind–dropped out of the air. I felt afraid. The Thing had said something that it had never said before and I knew with a clarity and a sharpness that it wasn’t just grief for my mother. It wasn’t just the loss of someone I had loved. That the years of The Thing living in my head, ruining everything I had taken joy from was not how it was supposed to be.
I knew that I could no longer do it alone. I knew that I needed to stop waging a silent war and tell someone. I needed help. So I told my husband–I told him everything I had never told him over the years. I talked and I talked and I made myself say things that The Thing in my head fought with me tooth and nail not to say. I talked, and then I spoke to a doctor and spoke with friends. Anyone who would listen.
The Thing? The Thing was depression.