It has just occurred to me, at the time of writing, that no less than two weeks ago, leading charity Depression Alliance launched what was to date their “biggest ever” Depression Awareness Week (18 – 24 April 2016) in the United Kingdom. As one can obviously deduce from its name, the nature of the campaign is rather obvious. It seeks to destigmatize and to raise general public awareness of depression, or more broadly, mental health illnesses.
This is a cause I feel strongly about, and the reasons why, I guess, are fairly obvious.
I do not know why I have allowed myself to be oblivious the entire time such a meaningful event was getting under way. This piece, therefore, I hope, will serve as an atonement of sorts.
In order to make up for my absent-mindedness, and to perhaps play my part, however little it may be, in such a worthy movement, I have decided that this week I will write about nothing but Tom only. No dogs, no doughnuts – just Tom. He is a mischievous little weasel and ought to be dragged out into the light and open, where everyone can see him for who he truly is.
I am aware that I have not written in weeks, not least because my return to Oxford was anything but a smooth one. But I am in a better place now. I am able to make it out of my room without panicking that often and without stumbling down the stairs. I am able to eat at least one meal a day and drink 5 cups of water. And now, I can write again.
What I am about to write about Tom is a very candid and uncensored account of the past 16 months of my life. It is a very rocky story of how two very different individuals have, quite literally, been forced to spend each and every second together, like a pair of conjoined twins. And alas, in the context of Tom and I, and contrary to what a Taylor Swift pop song might suggest, two is far from better than one. I would also like to suggest to my readers that If you are looking for something dainty and light to read to round off your night, perhaps you should look somewhere else.
This is, undoubtedly, the most taxing and emotionally consuming piece of work I have ever penned down. This will also be a very disjointed narrative too as my thoughts roam far too wild, so please bear with me.
Depression is a peculiar condition. The sensation is difficult to explain, to say the least. If you have experienced it, and made it through, I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. I truly am happy for you. But, if you have not, then I wish that you never will have to. For the pain of depression is something that I would not wish even on my worst enemy. It is a mental prison without parole, and a never-ending dark tunnel with a sealed exit.
I do not intend to deploy a hyperbole when I tell you that there are simply no words adequate to describe very aptly the excruciating pain of depression. It extends far beyond than a malady of the mind. It is a very real, very morbid, and very physical sense of pain. It does not just happen in your head, as so many would ignorantly claim. You feel it ripping your insides apart, you feel it trying to yank off all four of your limbs, and the raging hellfire inside, no matter how hard you try, is inextinguishable. It burns on and on, and on, and on.
It would also, in my humble opinion, be wrong and far too simplistic to classify depression as being “sad”. Sadness, no doubt, is indeed a present element, but it is far from being the sole emotional constituent. The more dominant sensation that I have felt throughout these months, is the sense of absolute loneliness. I felt and do still feel that I am the only person on Earth. Even if my family, and whatever friends I have, were to surround me this very moment, and tell me how much I meant to them, it would not make a difference at the very slightest. I would still, very willingly, place myself in self-isolation, perhaps in the safe dark corner of my bathroom where I have spent many a night weeping silently, and sometimes not so silently, voicelessly asking God “why?” and begging Him, on all fours, for Him to pluck me away from the living inferno I am in.
Depression means seeing visions of your loved ones being crashed into pieces and pieces by an endless succession of cars every single night, while you stand there, screaming, powerless to reverse their fates. Depression means tearing vigorously at your skin and hair, and clawing at your table with your fingernails in utter desperation to distract yourself from what is burning inside. Depression means punching the wall over and over and over until your knuckles bleed, with a faint naïve idea that maybe the negativity inside you will trickle out your body along with your blood. Depression means taking pill after pill after pill every night before you go to bed and hoping, praying even, that you do not wake up in the next morning.
In the days of old, I never could bring myself to comprehend the idea of suicide. Why would someone, with a sane mind, want to end his life when his whole future is ahead of him, when there is so much yet to be done, yet to be explored and experienced? Why die when you know it’s going to be all better eventually?
Upon hearing this, Tom, at this stage, comes in, pats me on the shoulder and with a sly smile tells me: “Tough luck mate, it’s all going to be the same for as long as you live. You hear me? The. Same.”
Step by step, I found myself becoming that certain “someone”. The idea of death was no longer alien to me. It was, in fact, a very, very welcoming prospect. It would mean no more pain, no more suffering, and no more Tom. What could possibly beat that? Death no longer was irrational. In fact, it was the only thing that made sense and appealed to me at that stage. Why bother living, when living is worse than death itself?
I recall having a conversation with a friend last May. I had back then, and still have a daily ritual of removing the medicinal tablets I need every day from their respective packages and putting them into a small plastic box, where I carry around with me wherever I go. I was prescribed pills of all sorts, sizes and colors. The blues ones were for anxiety, the pink ones were antidepressants, the white ones were sleeping pills and some I did not know what they were but still took them just for the sake of it anyways. It did not really concern me as to whether I knew what I was taking in, when I should take them and whether I should be taking them in the first place. But I was too apathetic to care.
The pills were like candy, in that they supposedly made things more bearable. They numbed my senses, rather than stimulate them. They, at times, made me less sad and on lucky days, perhaps gave me an occasional dose of vitality, but inevitably the post-medicinal slumps would always set in. I distinctly remember taking a mouthful of pills, more than I was supposed to, one particular morning and immediately starting to count down, for I knew this farce of normalcy would soon break. Perhaps there was no point in taking them in the first place. But oddly, amongst this chaos, I did find some temporary moments of peace. Arranging my pills into the small plastic box was strangely a very therapeutic task. It was something, for once, that I had complete control of. I was clapping and giggling, fist-pumping the air whenever I got the job done. That, really, was how delirious I was.
One particular morning in late May 2015, I remember, a very fresh idea suddenly crossed my mind. It was a fleeting one at first, but then it slowly settled. As I looked at my small plastic box freshly stocked with pills of all sorts, I realized that I could actually put an end to all this. All I needed was a generous gulp of water, followed by a big swallow, and that would be it. No more panic attacks, no more fear, no more darkness and no more pain. Nothing.
It was at this very moment, literally so, that a close friend of mine, from all the way in Boston in the States, called me. “Don’t you f*cking do it, Nathan, don’t you f*cking dare.” I was surprised. This certain friend, one of my best mates, has always been quite an interestingly aloof character, albeit nevertheless always in good spirits, yet this was the first ever time I heard his voice trembling and raging with unbridled emotion. “You’ll f*cking break us,” he screamed, “Gear the f*ck up and be the man you’ve always supposed to be!”.
What this friend had said to me was harsh, very harsh in fact. But it was exactly what I needed to hear. And I am truly indebted to him for my life.
After a few minutes, he called me again. I assured him that I was safely in my room, sprawled on my bed, with my small plastic box safely out of reach from me. He gave out a sigh of relief, and asked, moaning even, “Why did you have to do all that? Why? Why are you not afraid of dying?”
I chuckled, and replied, “I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of living”
He told me he did not understand. But, I guess the one thing that he could not see nor understand, was that neither did I.
Now that it’s been a while, I’d like to think I’ve coped with things better. The future is still rife with very unsettling scenarios that I have yet to face and I struggle to return to become the person I once was before Tom came into my life. The days ahead are indeed uncertain, scarily so, and I have never been so afraid. But I do not need a telescope to see, however faint it may be, that there is hope. And that makes me feel brave, and that makes me feel big like a damn mountain.
But even now, I have not finished triumphing over my inner demons. Sometimes I forgive myself for slipping into old habits and caving into my depression, other times I do not. In the ordinary hours of the day, I try not to dwell on it, but every now and then, when I’m reading a case judgment or just folding my shirts, I’ll look up and see Tom coming out of the cupboard next to my bed. I’ll watch him walk slowly towards me, draped in his usual blue polo and khakis, holding a very familiar-looking small plastic box filled with white and blue and red pills. He’ll pass in front of me and stop, putting down the small plastic box filled with white and blue and red pills onto the table. He’ll open it and put a mug of water next to the small plastic box. He then flashes me his sly smile, like the one I’ve seen so many times, and before he heads back into the cupboard, he asks: “You hungry?”