And so I remind myself: an imperfect word is sometimes better than silence, a pale metaphor better than suicide. Researchers and therapists want to understand problems in their broad dimensions; families and friends want to make sense of their afflicted loved ones; and, of course, those who suffer in isolation, starved for connection, mad with the sense that they will never be understood and never find relief, need to say something, even if it’s wrong, or not wholly right.
–A Melancholy of Mine Own, Joshua Wolf Shenk
I’m not okay.
I wish I could tell you this. I want to so many times. When you ask how I am.
I’m not okay.
Is what I want to say.
Instead I nod my head. Usually just one confident nod. Sometimes I’ll nod a few times. For security.
Tilt it slightly to the left.
Make sure my smile is big but not too big.
I am so good!
And then I immediately segue into talking about you. Asking how you are. What you have been up to. Steering as far away from the subject of me as I can get us. See how good I am at it? I amaze myself sometimes with how good of an actress I can be.
I feel myself dying a little bit more on the inside. Angry that I let another opportunity come and go. Another opportunity to open my mind up, just a little, and let some of the creatures out.
But I don’t. I can’t. I want to. I want to so badly. But I can’t.
Because here’s the thing: I was fine the day before. I was fine the week before. I’ve been fine for a whole month before!
Before it came back. Because it always does. It tricks me. But it tricks you more.
You see how good I have been. Maybe I was even great. Amazing. Fantastic. And I want you to know that I really was. But you, like so many others, were tricked into thinking maybe it wouldn’t come back. That sense I had been doing so well. I’d been so happy. That I could do this.
You’re not the only one though. It got me too. Except, deep down, I always knew the truth. I knew that it would eventually be back. It always comes back.
And so I can’t tell you. I like feeling as though someone is proud of me. I like seeing and hearing something other than concern when someone asks how I’m doing. As long as I don’t say it aloud.
Then I can pretend for a little while longer that I am okay.
So I can’t tell you. I don’t want all of that to disappear yet.
Even though I need you. The longer I continue treading water, trying to keep a smile showing above the water, the more detached I become. Not just from you. From everything. Family. Friends. Strangers. The world.
The longer I keep news of this unwanted trespasser to myself, the harder it becomes for me to get away from it. The harder it becomes for me to kick it out of my house. Out of my mind. The harder it becomes for me to defend myself from his advances. Eventually I will become too tired. And I’ll let it take my innocence and spirit away. What’s left of it anyways.
My therapist says I need to open up to someone.
Who are your close friends? Maybe one of them?
My mind goes blank.
Who is your best friend?
I have turned into a mute. Unable to come up with an answer. Unable to say anything at all.
I tell him that I don’t know anymore. I tell him that I feel so removed from everyone that I don’t think I have any. I tell him I don’t feel close to anyone.
He asks when the last time I felt like I had a best friend was. I tell him I don’t remember.
He tells me that my mind is telling me all of these things. And I know this. I do. But I can’t shake the feelings and thoughts that have once again taken up residency in my already overcrowded mind. I don’t have the energy to evict them right now.
The loneliness. The sadness. The numbness. The fatigue. The overall melancholy that seems to hang over me at all times. So thick that I sometimes I can actually see it. Hanging dense like fog. Hanging heavy on me like humidity in the summer when all you want is relief from the heat. It smothers you. Except this kind of humidity isn’t warm. It feels cold. It numbs me more instead of thawing me out.
I’m always cold. But I wake up at night sweating. My sheets damp from it. The side effects of my terrible, violent, excruciating dreams. So vivid that I wake up screaming and crying more often than not. There are shapes lurking in the shadows, but the light is even more frightening. I can hear people whispering. And I know it’s about me.
I want to tell you this. I want to tell you that Saturday night I sat on the bathroom floor hugging my knees as tight as I could in an effort to keep myself from falling apart even more. I want to tell you about how badly my sobs scared me. How I found myself yelling in anguish. I want to tell you about the only way I was able to get any sort of relief from this. But I don’t want to scare you.
I want to tell you about the hand that roughly grabs my heart every time I decide to leave my house. I want to tell you about the dizziness that takes over. Sometimes just from walking across my room. The shortness and sharp intake of breath when this happens. I’m too tired for this.
I don’t want you to think of me as a burden. As another source of anxiety. Of worry. I don’t want you to pity me. I don’t want you to think of this as something to add to the list. The list of what’s wrong with me. I don’t want to pollute your happiness with my despair. I don’t want you to see me as something to be handled with care. Something fragile that could shatter if you talk too loudly.
Because I need you. I need you to remind me of how strong I am. I need you to be a place where I can rest. A bench to sit quietly on. To cry quietly on. Something to steady myself on so I don’t end up all the way on the ground.
I don’t need advice. I don’t need you to talk. I just need you to sit quietly with me. I just need you to sit next to me. To hold my hand. To help me up. I just need you there so that the loneliness and the sadness and the despair doesn’t drown me. I just need some help treading water for a little longer.
But I can’t tell you this. I can’t tell you because I am scared to admit it to myself yet. I need you to know that my silence doesn’t mean I’m angry with you. I need you to know that my awkward response doesn’t mean that I don’t want to talk. It means I don’t know how to talk. It means that I don’t know how to connect my brain with my mouth and with my heart. I’ve forgotten how to.
And so I’ll whisper it onto this slate. Hoping it becomes lost among the rest of these thoughts.
I’m not okay.