Mental Illness

Notes from the Underground

My family moved to the house that my mother grew up in when I was 8. It was equipped with a storm cellar, separate from the house, little more than a hole dug into the side of a hill. Its point was to keep people safe from the storm, but to me, it was almost worse – cold, dark, a refuge for creatures too sinster to be seen in the light of day.
I’m writing this from the storm cellar of my mind, where I more and more frequently find myself huddling. It’s dark, and frigid, and I can’t seem to find my way out. Instead of snakes and rats, my thoughts slither around me, waiting for the chance to strike.
As with real animals, there are tricks to keeping the demonic thoughts at a relatively safe distance. I wield a torch, flickering but sufficient. Knowing that this will pass, it always passes – fuel for the flame. Seeing my daughter and knowing how critial it is to her that her mother be there – more fuel. Knowing that this is chemical, that my brain is an asshole liar – and the flame flickers bright.
I brandish the torch, and the snarling beasts retreat. “You are worthless, lazy, stupid,” they cry from the dark corners of the cellar, but their claws just scratch, don’t sink in. “You don’t deserve the company of anybody, it’s only a matter of time before they rightfully abandon you,” and I push the flame towards them. “None of this fucking matters, you might as well be dead,” but they can’t attack full force.
A shadow is created behind me, and I only have the one torch, I can’t keep up with all them – behind me, a gentle, insidious tentacle slips around my waist caresses my shoulders, whispers in my ear. “You have been fighting so long,” its voice is silken, smooth. “Just – just lay down. Rest. It won’t hurt. Put down the torch. Let’s work together.” This beast is the most dangerous of all, and it won’t stop until I die.
When things get bad, I can’t sit still. My physical being reflects what is happening in the cellar of my mind – I have to keep moving, keep swinging the torch, keep gathering fuel. To watch a movie, read a book, sit with friends – all of that is impossible. I rock on my heels, flip from one mindless computer game to the next, pick at my fingernails. I can’t focus on anything other than fighting my brain, and willing time to pass, willing the storm to subside so I can exit the cellar.
Sometimes I wonder, in the end, which will come first – if I will beat the beasts into submission or if the flame will die down and I will succumb. I am so tired. But for now, the torch burns on.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

11 replies on “Notes from the Underground”

Thank you for writing this, and for all of your posts on depression. I went through a really rough time this past term/had a pretty significant depressive episode. Reading your writing and knowing that another woman who is smart, thoughtful, and capable  was going through something similar made me feel so much less alone, even on days when I didn’t want to leave my apartment.  I wish you all the hope and healing in the world.

I hope the fact that myself and many others here think you’re fucking awesome helps fuel that fire. I wish I could provide more tangible support than that. If anything, I appreciate your writing about this in such candid ways; depression is too often misunderstood by people who’ve never felt it. For those who experience it, it can feel so isolating at times. But in reality none of us are alone when/if we feel these ways. I will swing my torch all the harder in solidarity.

Thank you.

I wish that my brain were not an asshole liar.  When people say things like that, that they think I’m awesome, it becomes twisted before it even makes it past my ears.  Since I’m being candid here, I’ll continue with it – it feels like I’m a fraud, like I’m tricking people into thinking that I’m an okay person, like I’m a liar and a cheat.

I hate this.  I thought I was doing a little better.

Susan – I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Depression is the worst. Nothing in my life has ever compared to the hollow self-recrimination of depression. I wish that there was something, anything I could do besides offer small words of comfort. It’s a beast and you keep doing what you need to get through. My only rule (for myself, obviously) is ‘distraction is the name of the game’. It’s the only thing. It doesn’t even get you through it just passes time. If computer games are making you feel better I offer you this one, a personal favorite. I hope it provides you with a few moments of reprieve.

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