Don’t You Dare Blush

Don’t you dare blush, I thought, as I felt my face already starting to heat up. I did not need a mirror to tell me that I was going red. If you blush it’s over. The only reason you’d blush is because what he’s saying applies to you, and everyone will understand that. So don’t you dare blush.

Usually, telling myself not to blush was like not thinking about the pink elephant. It would only make me redden more quickly and start to sweat profusely. The more I would sweat, the more embarrassed I would get, and the vicious cycle would go on. This time, however, my face began to cool. Maybe the dire nature of the situation gave me the willpower to conquer my physiognomy’s betrayal. But I’d only held back the tide. The lesson had only just begun.

“You see, the Torah prohibits it because it’s not natural,” Mr Scheftz said as he paced in front of the board, chalk in hand. “Animals do not do it, because sex is for one purpose, and that is procreation.”

I tried to focus on the words that had no special meaning for me. Animals. Purpose. Natural. Natural. Natural. Just don’t think about the meaning. I kept my head down, looking at the desk, so as not to catch anyone’s eye. I could not risk them seeing my inner turmoil.

“You hear couples say that they broke up because they ‘just weren’t a good fit for each other’. That is totally false. Men and women fit each other perfectly. They were made to fit each other. Men and men, or women and women do not fit each other.”

Jacklyn put up her hand. “Mr Scheftz. I’ve heard that gay people say it’s not a choice. How can God punish them for being born that way?”

Mr Scheftz took a deep breath in, still pacing back and forth like he always did.

“They say it’s not a choice,” he intoned. “But it’s always a choice. No one has to have sex. If a man is attracted to men and not women, he can choose not to have sex. God punishes the sin, not the sinner.”

The sin, not the sinner, I thought. The sin, not the sinner. I considered putting up my hand, just like Jacklyn had. If I was brave enough to ask a question, that would make it look like I had nothing to hide, right? But I knew that if I did that, I would go bright red and sweat would pour down my face, and then everyone would know. If only I had a little bit of composure!

I tried to focus on the words he’d said. The sin, not the sinner. I was the sinner, and I’d already sinned over and over again, hunched over a toilet. If anyone ever found out about that… The sin, not the sinner. Don’t blush. You’ve done well so far. Just keep it up.

“There are even special shuls where gay people can go.”

How could anyone go to one of those shuls? I wondered, briefly considering the option. If anyone sees you going in, they’ll know your secret.

Kerry put up her hand. “The Torah says that men can’t sleep with men, but it doesn’t say women can’t sleep with women. Are you allowed to be a lesbian?”

“That would be physically impossible for me,” Mr Scheftz said, and the class giggled. I laughed with them. “No, the Torah says that you must not follow the way of the Egyptians, and that’s referring to their sexual practices. In Egypt, women had sex with women, men cheated on their wives, and they had mass orgies.”

I could smell my deodorant, activated by the heat under my arms. I was still putting all my mental power into not blushing. I could not afford to. Would this lesson not just end? I looked at my watch. Still 20 minutes left! I could not make it, I simply could not make it that long.

I put up my hand.

“Can I go to the bathroom please?”

Mr Scheftz gave me the go-ahead. I exited the room quickly, without looking around at the rest of the class. Could they tell? I barely ever put up my hand, not even to go to the bathroom. Would this breach of character show them what I was going through?

As I walked down the corridor, I lifted my face to the breeze and felt the air cool my skin. That’s better. Finally, I was free, if only for a couple of minutes. I was alone, the only way I should be, the only way to ensure no one ever found out what type of person I was. Alone I could pretend that my red face and sweat meant nothing sinister. Alone I could collapse into myself, and hide within the heavy burden of my pathetic existence.

But I’d have to go back to class soon, and there’d still be 15 minutes of that hell. I wished for a moment that I’d get sick, faint, fall flat on the floor. That I’d wake up and the nightmare would be over, and I’d never have a bad urge again. That I’d never blush, or have to hide. That I could be myself and be proud, and not feel the immense shame I carried with me wherever I went. And that I’d suddenly be someone that mattered, and not a constant disappointment to myself.

That was a pipe dream, I knew. Better not to dream at all. My only hope was in telling myself that one thing: just don’t blush.

Dating When You’re Mentally Ill

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

For years, I struggled just to exist, with my depression rearing its ugly head at every corner. And I made it through. It took 3 major episodes, a hospital, and two psychiatric clinics. But I made it through.

Yet, when I started dating, I realised I’d entered a minefield. How much did I tell my dates? At what point did I share? Is it okay to be dishonest?

I understand that my experience with depression is different to those with other mental illnesses. I know that it’s the easiest illness for others to relate to. And so, what I’ve gone through is probably nothing like what people with bipolar disorder, BPD, schizophrenia, etc. go through.

Nonetheless, this is the balance I found in sharing my experience with depression while dating.

Withhold (lie)

The first date I went on after leaving my second psychiatric clinic that year, I spilled everything. I was so nervous about being rejected for it, that I feigned confidence and I disclosed my entire history.

Needless to say, I scared the guy away. I never heard from him again, even though we had what I thought was a nice two hour chat.

I didn’t have to agonise over what went wrong. It was obvious. Choosing to date someone who has just come out of a psychiatric clinic is a huge risk. Even I would have reservations about it, and I can see behind the stigma. Who’s to say I’m “cured”, and won’t fall back into a depression that takes it all out of me and everyone around me?

From then on, I learned to withhold. Not just to withhold, but to lie sometimes. When someone asked me what I did (a basic first date question), I did not tell them that I’d only started to get my life back on track. I told them an approximation of the truth. It’s like saying you’re an entrepreneur, even though you have nothing going on at the moment. It’s kind of true, but it is purposely misleading.

This might sound unfair. Was I trying to get someone to fall in love with me before burdening them with my illness?

Not quite. Someone doesn’t have to fall in love with you in order to accept the risks. They just need to see the potential in you. So, when I told Kyle about my depression, he could have walked away. But he already knew he wanted to give this a chance.

Think about your own requirements of a perfect match. You might want them to live in your area, share the same political views or religious beliefs, and want the same amount of kids as you. You may filter your dating pool according to these requirements, but they’re not necessarily deal-breakers. If you meet someone you click with, there are many things on your wish list you’re willing to let go of just so you can see where it goes.

Be honest (eventually)

That said, it’s important that you don’t keep your secret for too long. Not just for their sake, but for yours too.

Your mental illness is a major part of who you are, for better or worse. Managing it is part of your lifestyle. You might, like me, see it as part of what shaped you into the person you are, who you can admire. If your date is not going to accept that, it’s not going to work.

Once you’ve gotten to know each other – once you know that you have chemistry – share your story. At this point, s/he is probably not going to run away, but they will have a lot to think about.

If they think that you’re too high-maintenance or see you as a lesser person because of it, they’re not the right person for you. Chances are, you’ve dodged a bullet. Just because you have rapport with someone, does not mean you know how to support each other, and this person clearly cannot support you.

As with everything related to your mental illness, you’re going to have to take a risk. This is an integral part of your life, and a negative response to it will be a dating deal-breaker.

Let them be a part of it

Early on in my relationship, I mostly kept my emotional struggles to myself. Although Kyle knew my history, I did not want him to see it manifest in our present lives. I was scared he’d treat me with cotton gloves, like a porcelain doll that might fall apart with any wrong move.

Turns out, he had similar fears. He did worry about me, but he also worried about not being real with me. He did not want to treat me as fragile, but at the same time couldn’t tell when or if it was ever necessary (and sometimes it is).

It took a lot of personal work for me to begin opening up to him more and more. And what helped was making him a part of my journey. We had to navigate the minefields together, so that he could know me intimately enough to intuit how to relate to me. He learned that I’m a strong person, who does not need to be treated as anything but, and he also learned that sometimes I need a bit more TLC than the average person.

To this day, I still have the instinct to hide my struggles. When I’m feeling depressed or particularly anxious, it can take a lot for me to disclose it. But ultimately, I share, and it’s crucial that I do. Kyle is my partner in this, and remembering that is key to keeping our relationship honest and supportive.

Don’t compromise yourself

Ultimately, it’s crucial that you don’t compromise who you are. Yes, start with a life story that’s only something like the truth. But be sure to clear things up early on, before you get caught in a lie you can’t escape.

If, once you’ve disclosed your personal truth, the other person bails, so much the better for you. They’re not the right person anyway, and staying the course would have only led to problems later on.

In the end, you know you’re worth it, and you should never accept anyone who’ll run at the first sign of trouble.

The Worst Day Of My Life

February 1, 2013

I’m finally back at the house. Today was a long one. I walk into my room and feel the weight of failure pressing down on me. It’s worse than failure. It’s hopelessness. I don’t know what I’m doing for the next hour, let alone the next week, month or year. And then the years after that. They’re all mysteries too.

I go to the kitchen and Rhandzu is there, getting ready to run.

“Hey,” she says. “How was your day?”
“I feel like shit.”

“Oh… What’s wrong?”

“Just depressed.”

“Do you want to come running? Maybe the exercise will help.” Everyone always suggests something.

“Sure.”

“Mia’s on her way with Thor…”

We stand around waiting. My chest is light, and it’s hard to breathe. I take shallow breaths and try not to pace. I wish Mia would just come already. I need this run.

Mia is taking forever. Every second feels like forever. I don’t even know what I’m waiting for. Mia will come and we’ll run and maybe I’ll feel better for half an hour, and then I’ll come back to this. Then what? Dr Schneider can’t see me today. My medication’s not working yet. It reminds me of April last year, when I was waiting to see Dr Nossel. There were still three hours till my appointment, and I went on a run around the block that took forever. I got home and it was eleven minutes later. I don’t remember what I did next.

When I saw Dr Nossel, he couldn’t do anything that we hadn’t already done. You have to wait for the meds to work. And they never work quick enough. I had to stay a night in a psych institution then. I don’t ever want that to happen again. I need a way out.

I consider taking sleeping pills. Three or four so that they knock me out for a while. But the problem is that it always makes me feel worse. That moment just before, when I know my solution will just be a timeout from this eternity of suffering. Then I’ll be groggy, and I can take more and more until I’m immune to them, and I have to be fully awake.

Mia has arrived, along with Thor, her dog. We run, but after ten minutes I’m tired. Exhausted. The run is not nearly over. We’re going up quite a steep hill. Mia and Rhandzu are talking. I can’t say a word. I don’t want them to worry about me, but I just can’t say anything. They’re letting me be in my silence.

After another twenty minutes, my body won’t let me run anymore.

“I’m too tired,” I whisper to them.

“Maybe you should take a walk back,” Mia says. “Are you alright?”

“I’ll be okay,” I say. It’s important that they think I believe it.

It’s a long way back. I don’t know how I’ll make it that far. I don’t know how I’ll take the next step. But I can’t just stop here. I need to get back, lie down on my bed, and then I don’t know what. I’ll smoke up. That might make me feel something.

When I arrive back at the house we share, I decide to shower. Before I get to the shower, I wonder how I’ll manage to get to the shower. In the shower I wonder how I’ll manage to get out of the shower. I somehow get out and get dressed.

I go to the kitchen. I will wait here until Rhandzu gets back. Then I’ll speak to her. She might help me feel better. She is taking a long time. I don’t know if she’ll ever return. I don’t know if I’ll still be here. I pace, breathing quick, shallow breaths.

Eternity.

Rhandzu arrives back.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Worse,” I say. “I think I’ll just smoke up and go to sleep.”

“Can I join you?”

“Do you smoke weed?”

“Sometimes,” she says. She goes to shower. I walk back to my room. I pick up the wire dog that I hang my keys on. I stick my hand underneath, into its stomach, and pull out my bag of weed. I went through a lot to get this bag. I drove around for two hours trying to find the dealer. I was groggy from the sleeping pills, and I guess I just don’t know Cape Town well enough. Eventually we met in a wide, empty alley. It felt stupid, like a cliché that’s just not meant to be true for me. The dude had just picked his kids up from school. A girl and a boy. Around four to six years old. He was sweet. Told me not to worry about the time it took us to find each other. Hard getting used to a new city. I told him I was groggy from the pills. I didn’t want to seem like a loser.

Now I sit down and take a Rizzler out of my drawer. I lay it out on the desk. I shake weed into my grinder, and grind it into much finer granules. I knock it evenly onto the Rizzler. I cut a small piece of cardboard off the Rizzler box, and fold it into a filter. I place it at the end of the joint and roll the paper, lick it at the end, and stick it. It holds up.

I thought the process would calm me, but I’m still agitated. I still don’t know how I’ll get from here to the door. I still don’t know how I’ll wait for Rhandzu. I still don’t know how a joint could possibly help me.

Rhandzu and I lie on our backs looking up at the sky. I light the joint and take a drag, and immediately I get that 3D effect of the world that weed gives me. Like I’m only seeing it for real now. That usually my world is flat. I pass the joint to Rhandzu.

We talk. I tell her about my past depressions. I tell her that I’m gay. I tell her that coming out has to be done over and over again. I start to feel better. She tells me about her life. She tells me that… I don’t know. I didn’t listen to what she just said. Now she tells me about how she doesn’t think she’ll finish her Masters by the end of February, even though she has a job offer starting in March. She tells me about her family. The township they live in in Pretoria. Her mother is a doctor. Her father is a lawyer. Her brothers, who she loves, are moving in a direction she can’t recognise. I lose focus.

I think about the depression I felt so strongly just ten minutes ago. I feel great now. I think about how life can be perfect. I realise what I’ve been doing wrong. It’s that I haven’t been doing. Tomorrow I’ll wake up early and get started on what I’m here for. My expectations have been too high. I wanted to write the whole day, a ridiculous expectation for a novice writer with no clear plan. I’ll set an amount of pages to get done. After each page I’ll take a break. In the afternoon I’ll go explore somewhere. I’ll do this every day. Tomorrow will be Hout Bay. I’ll go experience the beauty there. I’ll look at the sponges and figure out what the fuck they actually are. I’ll figure out why they react differently to drinking water than they do to seawater. I’ll feel interested in life. I won’t ever be bored. I’m going to be okay.

Saturday

It’s going exactly as planned! I’ve been writing the whole morning, taking breaks with every page I finish. I just have one more page to do today, then I’ll go to Hout Bay.

I write about my main character, Danny Clark, feeling depressed. He rolls a joint because the process sometimes calms him. It works, unlike it did for me last night, and he doesn’t even need to smoke it to feel better.

I realise that this is not about Danny Clark at all. It doesn’t fit into his character arc. But who cares? It’s good writing, and it’s a start to my career. I’m fine. This day has started amazingly, and every day will be like this. I just need to keep to my plan.

I get into my car, and drive towards Hout Bay. Some of the malaise returns, but nothing I can’t handle. Once I start experiencing the joys of the natural world, I’ll be back on top of things.

I arrive at Hout Bay beach. I leave my slops and singlet in the car, and walk towards the sea. My chest is light again, and it’s getting harder to breathe. I take quick shallow breaths, trying to stay calm. I’m scared. I’m at this beach, around people I don’t know and can’t relate to, and if I panic now, I’m stuck here. There is no one to take care of me.

I move more quickly towards the sea. If I can just get there, I can do what my psychologist once told me – appreciate nature, the grooves in the rocks, study the sponges. That will stop the monotony, won’t it? I take in the beauty of each individual wave. It’s so boring. I walk towards where I last saw the sponges. They’re still there. I pour water on them. They’re boring. I don’t care about sponges. Why did I think this could help? Just because there are lots of details to life, doesn’t mean it’s not boring. It’s too boring to distract me from this indefinable pain that sits at my core. It’s an emotional pain, but it’s physical too. I can feel that the chemicals aren’t balanced. It’s my fault for stopping with Cymgen. If I knew I could feel like this… but I should have known. I’ve felt this way before. I just forgot how bad it was.

I don’t know where I’m going to go, or what I’ll do when I get there. If I get there. There’s nowhere to get. Nowhere to run. This is inside me. Maybe I’ll write again. That helped this morning. But then what happens when I get bored with that? Or have to stop to eat. This is the worst beach to be stuck at. These are all pretentious aristocrats, leading a life I would hate. A life of boredom. I really need to be home, safe. What more powerful a place is there than a beach to make you feel all alone? I was so fucking stupid in coming here.

I get back in my car and drive towards the house. I groan from the pain. I can’t stop groaning, not even to make a more apt noise. I arrive back at the house. I phone my mom. She’s a last resort, because I know she couldn’t help even if she was here. My dad could make things better, but he’s dead. She’s now worried about me. She keeps phoning me. Calling her was a mistake.

I remember that, last night, smoking weed helped. I roll a joint. The process does not calm me. I smoke it halfway, then stub it out. I walk to a beautiful spot nearby, with a small lake, surrounded by trees. A little distance away is a father with his kid or kids and maybe his wife and maybe others. There is an indeterminate amount of related people, is what I mean to say.

I sit and smoke. It makes me even more disoriented than I already was. Despair and panic build up in my chest. This pain will never leave, because the world is full of pain and I know it for a fact. I know it for a fact because I feel it, and the feeling is the most real feeling I’ve ever felt.

I walk back to the house and panic. I roll around on the bed. The despair has closed in on me. The world has nothing for me but pain. No beauty can brighten that darkness. The pain is a fist around my heart, slowly squeezing. I take sleeping pills. I fall asleep. I wake up. I’m totally disoriented. Every moment is hell. Hell times a thousand. A second is much worse. A minute is too much to think about.

I phone Aron. He doesn’t answer. He calls back. I tell him I’m depressed and I can’t handle it. He tells me I can pick him up if I want. I do that. Stupid, stupid.

“Let’s go to Clifton,” Aron says. “Clifton’s the sort of place that makes you happy. D’you know what I mean?”

We go to Clifton and stand by something that looks like a cave. It’s probably a rock. I can’t focus. He smokes a cigarette, and I tell him how bleak life is. I don’t know what I’m saying. All I know is I need to get away from here. I need to get back home, away from Clifton and away from Aron too. But I don’t know how I’ll do it.

I get to the car, somehow. I drive him back to the res at UCT. He’s worried about me. I drive home. I lie on my bed. I stand up. I pace. I take some sleeping pills. I lie down and roll around. I panic. I call my mom again. She’s going to book me a ticket home for tomorrow. I don’t think I can make it through the wait at the airport, and definitely not the flight. But I tell her to book.

I phone Dr Schneider. He doesn’t answer. I message him that I’m really desperate. Later he messages me that I can come by tomorrow morning and he’ll help me out.

Rhandzu asks if I want to go with her to Mia’s place. I go, have a glass of wine, get totally disoriented but feel much better. I’m barely awake as we walk back to our place and I get into bed and fall asleep right away.

Sunday

I wake up, somehow feeling worse than ever. How is it that I can feel something worse than infinite pain? I don’t know, but it’s no exaggeration. I get to the clinic Dr Schneider told me to meet him at. He tells me that he’ll put me on the waiting list there. I tell him to do so just in case.

He gives me a prescription and says that I’ll be feeling great in an hour. I drive to the pharmacy.

“Can I give you Truvalin?” the pharmacist asks.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a generic,” he says. “It’s exactly the same, but cheaper.”

I worry that it won’t be the same. I’m not motivated enough to have this conversation. He gives me the meds and I go to the car, get inside, and take them right away. I used to be on a variation of this. I don’t know how it will help me in an immediate way though. I drive home. I lie on my bed, roll around. After an hour, nothing has changed. I take sleeping pills. I roll around on my bed. I miss my flight.

Greg Gelb is here. I must have called him. We’re sitting in the kitchen. He makes scrambled eggs and does magic tricks for us. I appreciate his efforts.

Sobel comes over. I must have called him. He comes to my room and I lie in bed. I must have fallen asleep because I open my eyes and he’s cleaned most of the room for me. This is not the worst day of my life.

Monday

I have an appointment with Dr Schneider. I’m groggy from all the sleeping pills. I arrive at Dr Schneider but I don’t remember driving. He comes into the waiting room, and sees me half-alive.

“How did you get here?” he asks.

“I drove.”

Sobel arrives. I must have called him. He drives me to the house, with the receptionist following in my car. I pack some clothes and they drive me to the hospital.

I’m sobbing. I can’t stop. It feels better than not sobbing.

“It’s okay,” Sobel says. “Don’t cry.”

The nurse says the same thing. Maybe only one of them says it. Sobel’s gone and I’m alone in the hospital bed.

They haven’t taken my sleeping pills away from me. I take some. I feel infinite pain. I take some more. Nothing works.

I ask the nurse to give me something. She tells me I’ve already been overdosing. I tell her I need something. She is busy. I beg her. She won’t give me a moment. She says she’ll get to me. I go back to the bed. I roll around.

An eternity of infinitely painful moments later, Greg Gelb arrives, with brownies made by Leeanne, his wife. He also has some series for me. I watch The New Girl for the first time. I hate every moment of it, as much as every moment of anything else.

I take more sleeping pills. I roll around. This is not the worst day of my life.

Tuesday

This is the worst day of my life. It is infinitely worse than yesterday’s infinite pain. I don’t know what makes it worse. I wake up in the hospital at 5AM to have my blood pressure taken.

My mom will arrive later. I make a courageous effort at giving a shit about anything, and I shower and shave. Somehow they forgot to take away my razor. I get back to the bed and my mom is there. She looks miserable. She doesn’t recognise that I’m doing slightly better at this moment in time, having managed to get up and shower and shave.

Dr Schneider has informed us that there is a spot open for me at Kenilworth Clinic. He is one of the founders of the clinic. An ambulance takes me, with two young paramedics.

The male one says that he wishes he could spend some time there. He is trying to make me feel better. I get taken to a room. I see other pathetic losers walking around. I have no idea how they have any motivation to do anything. I am told I will be here for three weeks. I can’t believe I’ve fallen that low. I want to leave, but I know that I won’t be okay to do so anytime soon. I don’t know how it is possible that I’ll ever be okay. I know far too well that life is a futile, painful hell.

I sit with my mom and Dr Schneider in a room, discussing me. I can’t sit still. I have waited for this little meeting to happen since I arrived an eternity ago. Now I am waiting for it to end.

“He says that he feels he might be gay,” my mom says to Dr Schneider. I don’t know the context. They continue talking with each other and me. I don’t know how I manage to say anything. Maybe I don’t.

I roll around on yet another bed. This is the worst day of my life. It is coming to a close. Tomorrow will be only slightly better. I look at my toiletries. They forgot to take my razor away. They took my sleeping pills away, but I’ve been put on a bunch of different meds.

This is the worst day of my life. It ends.

These Are The Distortions At The Root Of My Depression

Where did my depression come from?

This question has two answers. One is simple and the other is way more complex. In terms of heredity, chemical depression runs in my mom’s family, and possibly my dad’s as well. Simple enough.

But the chemical imbalance does not explain everything. I still have a depressed worldview – an obsession with death, as well as the difficulty I have in seeing life as worthwhile – and that’s a product of my upbringing.

Not that my parents made the conscious choice to teach me what they believed to be the facts of life. Not that they taught me those “facts” at all. However, I learned how to live from observing them, watching them treat life with an attitude that was fundamentally distorted.

These are the beliefs that led me to see the world in all the worst ways.

1. Nothing will ever go right for me

My dad did not believe in himself. I know that’s a clichéd thing to say. But he truly had no self-belief. He saw himself as a loser, as someone who would never “make it”, and unfortunately the people around him did not do enough to change that belief. Some even reinforced it.

He lost his job in 2001, and for the next 10 years, it seemed like nothing went his way. Every small job came to an end, leaving him unemployed for another tension fraught period of time.

The way I framed that last sentence is exactly the way he framed his life. When he was working, he did not view himself as successful. Rather, he believed that it was just a respite from his failure of a life.

For much of my life, I believed that I’d never be a success, and that the best I could hope for was to not be a failure. This led me to constantly judge the good things in my life as flukes, and assume that they’d all come tumbling down eventually.

This is a belief that fundamentally fosters depression. It makes it difficult to feel joy without the dampening effect of a context of hopelessness. It invites in despair, and I still have to fight it every day.

2. It’s all my fault

This belief is in almost direct contradiction to the previous one. Whereas that distortion grants me no control, this belief puts me in charge. My father believed that every good thing in his life was fluke, and every bad thing was due to his own failings.

He projected this onto his children, always blaming us when things went wrong in our lives, teaching us not to take responsibility, but to take the blame. You can’t take responsibility when you have no chance of getting it right, but you can be down on yourself for being a pathetic loser.

This belief further props up that despair, that “knowledge” that life is just not worth it. It’s just a matter of time before you mess up again, and face the humiliating reality of your own failure.

3. The world is out to get you

This belief was propagated as much (or more) by my mom as by my dad. She is constantly waiting on the next terrible thing that is going to happen. Because the world is dangerous, and it’s coming for us.

My mom’s anxiety informed the way we were raised. We were constantly told that the worst would happen – it’s how she tried to protect us from it.

But this belief protects you from nothing. It does the exact opposite. Since anxiety makes it incredibly difficult to live in the present, it becomes nearly impossible to be adequately prepared for what might really happen. You get so caught up in the imagined threats, that you fail to prepare for the real ones.

And, of course, the bad things become a lot worse than they really are. Instead of failure being something that you get over and learn from, it becomes the worst thing that could possibly happen. When it does happen, you don’t see the real consequences, but live in the light of your perceived humiliation and disappointment.

4. There are bad feelings

This is one of the most prevalent beliefs propagated by people everywhere. Sadness is bad. Shame is bad. Anger is bad. Anxiety is bad.

We therefore do everything to try and avoid these feelings. We live life ineffectually, going after not what we want, but what will prevent those bad feelings from happening. We avoid these feelings like the plague, and we ultimately hurt much worse when they inevitably hit us in the gut.

I learned this belief from both my parents, who spent all their lives controlled by what they were too scared to feel. For my dad, it was shame. For my mom, it was grief and disappointment.

Emotions that every single person is fated to feel no matter how hard they try.

Getting over the distortions

In order to recover from depression, you need to rewire the way you think. After all, if you still live in the distorted beliefs that led to that despairing worldview, you’re only going to reinforce the disease.

As the quote goes: “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it in the first place.”

This is why mindfulness is considered one of the most effective treatments of depression and anxiety. It gives you an entirely new way of looking at life, rather than trying to fix what’s “wrong” with it. Instead of trying to do what you believe is impossible and be a complete success, you change your conception of success entirely. Instead of trying to stop things from going wrong, you reconsider how bad the inevitable downs really are.

Another approach, that can work in conjunction with mindfulness, is to challenge those distortions head on using CBT. You take every thought that usually leads you to self-sabotage, and you interrogate it. Once you expose it to the clear light of day, and show how unfair or unrealistic it truly is, you’re a step closer to changing that belief. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, but the payoff is worth it.

Ultimately, depression is based on a distorted view of the world. You only see certain aspects of reality, and judge those aspects as “bad”. By challenging those distortions, using CBT and mindfulness, along with a host of other techniques, you can begin to see life as it is, and accept even the “worst” parts.

Cliffy Is Dead

Darryl hooted and I rushed out the house and got into his car. I was wearing smart black pants and a dull red-striped button shirt. I don’t remember what he was wearing. I don’t remember how his face looked or what he said to me or what I said to him. I was only pretending to be there. Pretending to care that Cliffy was dead.

I do remember the dullness and denseness of the colours around me. The trees that lined the streets on the way to the cemetery. The dullness of the cemetery itself. I remember nothing of the eulogy or whether people cried aloud or how long the funeral took. I do remember his squad from the police force doing a tribute, and I remember that one of them looked anemic, almost like Cliffy would have looked without the muscles.

I had felt nothing when my mom had told me Cliffy’d committed suicide. I was too deep in my own depression. The fact that a person who was once my  best friend had gone through the same and had not made it was too dull to break through the wall of terrible numbness.

I had loved Cliffy once. We had all loved each other back then and had vocalised it regularly. But after school, we took very different paths and I hardly ever saw him again. I’d always thought we would reconnect one day, but that did not matter to me on the day of his funeral. All that mattered was that I was stuck at a fucking funeral and just wanted to get home so I could lie in a fetal position on my bed.

The episode had started about a week earlier.

I was at my old alma mater for shabbat. Yeshiva Gedola, where I had spent many of my happiest days. It could not lift me. Instead, it left me feeling trapped, unable to leave until nightfall on Saturday.

On Friday morning I had written a poem:

Give in to me
I’ll have you mine
I’ll have your breasts
I’ll have your fine
stomach, long hair,
sweet lips, pussy
In which to stick
fingers fussy

You have no self
and nor do I
You are my tart
and I your pie
of timeless time
eternal? No!
You are my soul
ejac’lated.

I’d named it Procrasturbation. I had not known what what was yet to come. But I had felt intensely negative and I had known I was not doing well. Hence, that awful poem.

The problem was that I’d thought the pit was the right place for me. It had seemed to absolve me of responsibility for knowing what to do with my life. It had seemed like a good thing until it absolutely broke me.

On that Friday night, trapped in the confines of a religious institution, I cracked. Major depression took me for only the second time in my life. I did not know how to manage each second. I tried playing around on my phone, even though it was the sabbath. I tried calling a friend, even though he was probably observing the sabbath. I hid the phone in my pocket when around some of the others, but I knew they probably saw it. I couldn’t care less.

I couldn’t care about anything.

When I look back on it, Cliffy’s funeral epitomises that particular episode. I had once loved him, and to this day, I feel immense fondness for him. And I feel guilty for not being there for him. And guilty for not being able to care when he died or properly say goodbye.

I never mourned for him, and maybe that’s why I still think of calling him sometimes. I’ve never fully come to terms with what happened to him. I will always feel that guilt.

It’s the most visceral example I can come up with when trying to describe what depression can do, aside from suicide.

It can make you dead, inside what looks like a living human body. It can make the best times seem like the worst times. It can make lying in a fetal position seem as moving as your best friend’s funeral.

Along with death, it is the great equaliser. Because it’s its own type of death. To paraphrase my awful poem, it is the detritus of le petit mort of the soul.