My ghost is waning, these days. There’s a flicker of hope, somewhere inside, and it’s fighting to find oxygen. It’s starting to catch, an ember, a glow. If it takes a good deep breath, perhaps I can extinguish the ghost, for now.
I find comfort in company, in friends. My family has helped, too. They’ve given me something to which I can look forward. A journey, a mission. Last week it seemed endless, bottomless, this pit. Now I’m beginning to think I’ve fallen so far down that I’m on my way back out the other side. Like a miner, sunk and burrowed to such great depths that I no longer know which way is up; I’m just digging and digging, in one direction now, desperate to break the surface. I’ll let you know if I strike sunlight.
It’s been helpful to know that I’m not alone. I’ve been actively reading the depression tags; following along as others blog about their fears, their heartbreaks. Their anxieties and depressions.
One of the hardest parts of struggling with depression is the feeling that you’re doing it all alone. That no one else suffers with you. It’s not that you want anyone else to suffer; true, misery loves company, but this isn’t that. It’s just that, deep down, there’s always a voice, a nagging whisper, and it says, “They don’t understand. They’ll never understand. You are on an island. You suffer alone.” This voice, this is the ghost talking. The ghost craves isolation, for it is detachment that fuels, feeds it.
To the ghost, separation is heroin. Withdrawal is that “one last” cigarette, the last one you’ll ever have, until you have another last one. You can’t have enough, because the last ones are always the best ones. Reclusion feels good because it satisfies the ghost. But that remoteness builds like tar in the lungs until you can’t taste, can’t eat. Can’t breathe.
“TO LOVED ONES LEFT BEHIND”
If my ghost takes me,
Know that it isn’t your fault
I’ll always love you.
In 1962, Michel Siffre, a French underground explorer, spent 63 days alone in a freezing cave as part of an experiment on sleep and isolation. He said, “Mental attitude is everything. You have to have faith.”
When you’re trapped in a mine, the first thing you have to do is find a way to breathe. You need a source of oxygen. You need to filter that carbon monoxide, vent the carbon dioxide, and breathe fresh, clean O2. Every miner carries a self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR) device at all times, or they keep one close by, if they can’t wear it on their belt.
For me, my SCSR is writing. When I feel stuck, suffocated, trapped, I turn to words. Sometimes I can only manage to get a few good deep breaths, put a few words down on paper, but that usually gets me by until I find the nearest exit. The pen is my pickaxe. Poetry, fiction––these are my intake tunnels. Even when I can’t find the strength to swing the axe, to make a dent in my surroundings, I can always throw myself inside a cart and wheel myself back through the tunnels in a good book or a poem.
That’s how I’ve been surviving, these past few weeks. Sylvia Plath, she’s been my guide in the darkness. She’s up ahead of me, right now, dragging my heavy ass through the tunnels. She’s wearing a helmet lamp, navigating the inky black, and every story or poem I read takes me a little further towards fresh air. I only hope I can be stronger than she was, in the end.
So many of you are still looking for your intake tunnel. So many of you don’t even have a good pickaxe handy, and that’s alright. You aren’t hopeless. Do not give up. Find something that used to bring you happiness, and cling to it. Whether it’s painting or drawing, singing or dancing, playing guitar or putting together jigsaw puzzles on the living room floor. Search deep inside and find a tool, no matter how big or small, and start digging.
Sometimes, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, you have to be the one to bear a torch along the way. Other times, a fellow miner will come along and hold it for you, should you be so fortunate.
Let these words be a torch, for those of you still stranded in the mines below. I haven’t made it out, not just yet. But I’ve found a good clear tunnel, and I’m hopeful. Let this be a marker for my own progress as I bore ahead, scraping and clawing my way out. I’ve come this far. Look for a torch in the path up ahead. If you don’t find one, or if you come across my decaying bones, you’ll know I wasn’t strong enough to go on. But if you turn the next corner and see the flicker of a new ember, you’ll know I somehow found the strength inside. You’ll know I’m still up there, somewhere.
You can make it out too. I believe in you. And I love you.