Guilty Half Sentences

The flight home from Israel went by in a daze, and before I knew it I was standing at the luggage carousel, waiting for my big black suitcase. I already had a heavy load. A suit bag carrying most of my clothes, along with an overnight bag. For a few moments, I forgot everything and focused on wrestling my baggage from the carousel.

The time had come to face my parents. They would be waiting just through the sliding doors. I did not want to. I could not imagine how I would face them and pretend that I was fine and not on the verge of a breakdown. I knew how excited they were to see me. Especially my mom. She had been waiting for me to come home since before I left. Over the past few weeks, I had considered asking her if I could stay, but I knew the question alone would devastate her.

My heart trembled and my head pounded, bringing me back to drunken nights as a teenager. The night I got wasted and told my parents I was depressed as an excuse for my bad behaviour. I breathed in deep and located the way out. I walked briskly, staring straight ahead, my teeth clenched to hold back my emotions.

I spotted them after a few seconds. My father had already seen me, and I saw the dorky smile on his beaming face. He pointed me out to my mother, and I saw her nervous excitement grow. My own face dropped and tears nearly came flooding from my eyes. I tried to smile, but I might as well have tried to sink through the floor. I found my way to them and stood lifeless as they hugged me and welcomed me home.

I tried to find my voice and share their joy – I promise – but the sadness lay way too deep. They did not know that I had lost everything. The country I loved, the yeshiva I loved, all of my friends, and N. N especially. I could never tell them that.

I watched my parents’ faces change. My dad suddenly looked sad and concerned. My mom disappointed, angry, and deflated. I had ruined her moment. She looked as if she’d suddenly aged twenty years and been purged of everything but skin.

My dad said that I was overwhelmed. That it would take some time to get used to being home. We walked to the parking, where he proudly displayed his new Tata Indica. Guilt flooded through my arteries as I tried – I promise I tried – to show any kind of interest. Instead, I flopped inside the car and breathed heavily, clenching my teeth to stem the emotion.

As we finally rolled through familiar streets, I became all the more despondent. The sight of foliage, like you’d struggle to find throughout Israel, made my insides churn. It was all exactly the same as it had been during my past life in this land. This land in which he did not exist. A land in which he could not exist, because if I let him exist, my parents would know the impossible truth.

It was impossible. I could not be gay. And it was still somehow the truth.

*

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“He’s getting settled now,” my mom said, as I scooted around the house, trying to find any sign that I hadn’t gone a year back in time. “He’s back in familiar surroundings, hey?”

She spoke in the third person, her despondence having turned to pity and concern. I was her son and I would soon show her my love. I just had to get settled in my familiar surroundings.

There could not have been a more inaccurate choice of words than settled. My entire being was in upheaval. I could not accept being back here – I tried, I swear, I tried. I could not accept what I had lost.

Getting settled. No, agitated would have been accurate, a word that perfectly described the conflict within me of being in a world both post-him and somehow pre-him. Living in the horror of grieving for someone who never was.

“Can I phone someone… there?” I said, unable to stop myself.

My parents looked at each other.

“Okay,” my dad said. “Just don’t be too long.”

I used the landline to call N’s cellphone.

“You’re already back?” he said.

“Yes,” I choked.

“Jeez. I’m sorry.”

“Everything is the same as it used to be. I just want to be back” with you.

We had never really discussed our emotions. Our relationship had always been a happy-go-lucky slew of insults, affection, and jokes. This call could only last a few minutes. Neither of us knew what to say, and when I hung up I felt worse than I had before.

I attempted another route back to the Holy Land. Dovi Broner had put together a video of the guys from our programme. It was really just a slideshow, scored with songs that each of us liked, burnt to DVD.

I told my parents I wanted to watch it. We went to the playroom which had long ago become the living room in all but name. I started the DVD and watched as the faces of my friends went by. I saw myself smiling, happier than I had ever been, as Nothing Else Matters mournfully played.

N went by in bad photos that belied his vitality and charm. I looked at my parents, neither of whom were watching.

*

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I lay down in bed at around 9PM, believing I would somehow fall asleep and end this long day. Misery flooded my body. Depression overwhelmed me, and I stood up, thinking somehow that would make it better. Standing up could not help. Lying down or standing up, I was fucked. I could not bear this hell, I could not. Not for another moment. I could not be in this dark room, alone with my terrible thoughts and burning memories.

I went back to the playroom. My parents were still up, eating dinner while watching Little Britain on BBC Prime.

“I can’t sleep,” I managed to choked out.

My dad nodded, a serious but nonjudgmental look on his face. My mom just stared at the TV. Bed was better. I went back, paced up and down my room, returned to the playroom and sat all alone on the couch, as my parents ate dinner a couple of metres away.

There was no solution, I could see that. I had no way of ever getting back to him. Even if I did, what would I do? Tell him that I loved him and wanted to be with him? How could that do anything other than make it worse?

I wanted to talk about him. I wanted to tell someone how much I loved him. To detail to them every little thing that made me crave him.

Instead, I remained silent for five years.

*

I was depressed. Not a major, agitation-filled “episode” like I would experience later in life and like I had experienced that first night, but a constant inability to smile or enjoy life that led me to believe I had to somehow get back. I told my parents I wanted to emigrate, to make aliyah.

“If you can’t be happy in my home, why am I alive?” my mom said. “I should just kill myself.”

My guilty lips trembled, unable to form a response. Unable to reassure her and tell her it was not her fault, and that I could not be happy no matter how hard I tried.

“It’s like he’s in love with a girl there,” my dad said, sometime later.

I would wake up every day at around 5AM, and lie in bed vaguely panicked with the near-certain knowledge I would not make it back to Israel in time. N was only there for another year. After that, there was just no point.

My father was an Israeli citizen, and if I spent more time there I’d be forced to go to the army. My only option, as I saw it, was to voluntarily emigrate and do their hesder programme. Another year in yeshiva, after which I’d spend a year and a half in the army. I would have to get back there in May if I was to start the programme while N still lived there. No one else understood how urgent this was.

Every day I would listen to Dana International’s version of Zemer Shalosh HaTshuvot, an Israeli song about a woman agreeing to go through anything for her man. Promising to let him sleep with whores and leave her all alone, if that’s what he asked for. But declaiming that she would not do one thing – forget him. Not even if he begged her to.

I wondered if there would ever be a day that I did not think about him. I wondered if I could bear the possibility. I needed to get back. I set the wheels turning.

Getting things done had never been my strong point. And now, I had to organise my emigration all by myself. It was impossible, I knew. I did not have a driver’s license. I had no money. I had very little information.

Still, I did not give up. I did not speak of it with my mother except in guilty half sentences. I felt my dad supported it to an extent, but he would not openly back it. I stopped speaking to my parents. I stopped being miserable around them. I showed them no sadness. I showed them no anger. I showed them none of my existential terror. I showed them nothing but numbness.

When, after three or four months, I began to feel happy once in awhile, I did not show them that either. They might think my resolve had changed. They might expect me to start talking. To say things I had no will to say. I showed them nothing.

I immersed myself in a South African yeshiva and moved into a flat there. I shut my parents out, visiting for an hour or so on a Friday afternoon, and staying every fourth shabbat. I could never be happy in that home, nor could I be sad or angry. I could only be numb. I dreaded those visits, and could not wait to get back to the yeshiva, feeling immense relief on Sunday morning. Holidays were the same. I stayed away from my parents’ home, even when I had to be physically present.

It was the past. A world in which my reality did not exist. A world of silence that could never be reclaimed, even when I came out five years later.

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.

Things That Happened When My Dad Died

Death. My dad’s death. Weighed on me for a number of reasons.

We were not close. I did not know how to mourn. I could not just pretend that the hole he’d left was impossible to fill. And the religious rituals would no longer work for me. The clean, scheduled, dignified mourning was impossible.

A few things happened.

I suppressed my emotions

I struggled to feel my emotions. I struggled to manage them and express them in a healthy way. How could I, when I did not even know how I felt? That’s the thing about trauma. If you were confused before, you’re only gonna be more confused after. The time to clear your head is before the big bad happens.

But I did not clear my head, and when he died, I did not know how sad I was, or what other feelings it brought up. I cried a lot at first. But a lot is relative, and relative to other mourners I’ve known, I barely cried at all.

I felt sentimental and ashamed for feeling sentimental.

And I felt angry. Angry at him and for him, for never dealing with his pain and dying with no resolution.

I saw life for what it was

I watched a man who’d struggled with his own demons for at least a decade just wither away. Getting sick had not brought him closure. He had never had a moment in which he’d come to terms with it. Until the end he’d been in denial.

And then he died without a resolution.

Nothing was fixed. He never lived his dreams. He never learned to live in the present. We never resolved the problems with our relationship.

The closest he got to any of it was buying a piano and writing a blog. A blog which he’d never share with his family.

It’s not fair, I thought

but I knew that fair is human

and in all the idiocy of human belief

fair

takes first place

Optimism, closely connected, comes second

Pessimism is third and

Realism dutifully takes fourth

I thought I died too

We weren’t close, but I was more similar to him than either of my brothers were. I saw in his habits my own low self-esteem. In his gambling addiction, I saw my own search for an easy way out. In his naive love of writing, my own naive dreams.

He struggled with belief in his own competence, and passed that to me. He struggled to understand his place in this world, and passed that to me.

And so, when he died, I saw my future. An unresolved person, living in denial to the very end, before expiring without so much as a famous last word.

I internalised it. I even dreamed that I was dying with him. And I dreamed of him coming back to life, only to continue dying without a resolution and without even trying.

I denied pain

Perhaps more than anything, I was angry and scared that such pain was possible. The pain he had gone through for no good reason. A few days before he died, I wrote this in a message to a friend:

I hate this and I hate God for it which is my way of trying to make the pain external. I’d rather that nothing had been created than for even one person to go through his pain. I don’t sleep properly anymore and I can’t hear the phone ring without feeling either anxiety or anger. I’m angry a lot and I’m crying a lot. And I’ve been talking about it a lot. I’ve felt very much lately on the side of euthanasia. Anyone staunchly against it can never have experienced the pain of this kind of suffering.

In many ways I wish he would die sooner rather than later, to alleviate his own suffering and make concrete that of our family. I wish he would be well enough once more that he could speak with us, without immense confusion, but that’s unlikely to happen. We’ve lost him already, and we’re left with a suffering shell which is awful to see and extremely painful to love and impossible not to.

Fuck life. The world’s not worth it; even if some people can find happiness, there’s too many that find only suffering. I love life and I won’t let go of it but I can’t see its worth.

I now know that this view of pain is synonymous with depression. The idea that pain can only be bad, and that too much pain invalidates life, is indicative of a depressive worldview. The idea that anything can invalidate life is a depressed worldview.

The main reason mindfulness works in treating depression is that it requires you to view pain in the moment, without judgment. Once you take that judgment out of the equation, all it is is pain.

As they say: pain is inevitable; suffering is a choice.

Grief need not lead to depression…

…but it’s hard for us to avoid. For someone who struggles with depression, it’s hard not to choose suffering at such a tumultuous point. We battle to manage our emotions effectively, and when we don’t, they become that awful numbness. That numbness which is, paradoxically, the worst type of pain.

Grief does not have to lead to depression. In an ideal world, it would not. We would feel the sadness keenly, along with all our other heightened emotions, and would rejoice in uncensored life.

I could have learned a lot from my dad’s death.

  • Resolve your familial relationships while you can. Advice I’ve been unable to take and possibly never will.
  • Deal with your shit before it hits the fan. After two more major depressive episodes, I finally learned to do this.
  • Life has no resolutions. The important corollary (if that’s what this is) is that it does not need to have a resolution. Life is fine as it is, and we can be happy just being alive.
  • Pain is inevitable. And by avoiding it, you’re just making the inevitable into a monster that is impossible to overcome.

But ultimately, we cannot foresee how we will react to the ultimate big bad, and the luxury of learning usually presents itself to us only in hindsight.

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.

Will The Mental Illness Stigma Ever Go Away?

No.

The mental illness stigma will never go away.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

I live in a diverse world, with friends of varying sexual preferences, gender identities, races, and religions. Nearly every one of them has been stigmatised by one or another sector of society. We’ve all thankfully come to a place in our lives where we live openly and honestly. With pride.

Personally, I’ve faced the stigma of being a gay Jewish atheist in an interracial relationship. And I am able to speak about my identity with anyone, no matter their own personal beliefs.

Well, with one exception: I suffer from depression.

Now, unlike homosexuality, most cultures and belief systems do not reject the depressed. There is no verse in Leviticus saying that I should be put to death. So why is it still so hard to be open about the fact that I suffer from mental illness?

And why am I convinced the stigma will never completely go away?

It’s part of the illness

Because I’ve been out the closet for years now, I can say with pride that I am gay. There are a few reasons. I can logically understand that being gay is perfectly normal, and that embracing that identity has made my life better. I am also constantly around others who embrace that identity.

Most importantly, the dissenting voices came from the outside. I was told being gay is bad and shameful and immoral and so on.

Depression is, unfortunately, very different.

You can live in a society that is open about mental health and you can know others who suffer from mental illness, but still feel ashamed because of it. The reason is that the stigma is not coming (only) from the outside.

Underscoring just about all mental illness is the internalised belief that “I am not good enough”, “I am weak”, “The world is better off without me”. Those types of thoughts and the feelings associated with them are symptoms of the depression. They become so ingrained in us that we don’t even think to question them.

Which is part of the reason that, to this day, I am still ashamed that I suffer from depression. At this moment, my mind is still telling me that if I wasn’t so weak, I would never have reached the really low points punctuating my life.

BUT…

…even the societal stigmatisation of depression will never completely go away. And there’s a good reason for this too.

It is an illness

The ultimate acceptance of homosexuality is to view it as normal and not give it thought. To not have to pity the person or wish, for their sake, that they get “better”.

Mental illness is, by its very definition, completely different.

If I tell you I suffer from depression and you say, “that’s a perfectly normal and healthy lifestyle”, I’m going to look at you strangely. Mental illness should elicit sympathy from others. They want you to get better and to be free of the burden.

Yet, when you tell someone with a mental illness that you feel for them and hope they get better soon, they will take it as pity for their weakness. As I said above, that’s just part of the illness.

But it goes beyond that.

We stigmatise illness for practical reasons that, unfortunately, are compelling.

For example, would you start dating someone who you knew had cancer? Someone who you know you’d have to accompany to chemotherapy. Someone whose health needs would consume your life. Someone who might die on you way too early.

Some people will answer yes, but for most, the answer is no ways. You’re not judging the person for being ill, and if they were already in your life you would stick with them without a second thought.

But to take on that burden is to be a martyr.

Dating someone who suffers from a mental illness can be similar. Their depression or mania might well set the tone for the relationship. They might be in and out of hospital. And ultimately, they could kill themselves, leaving you to feel both terrible grief and unbearable guilt for not having saved them.

I’m not saying that there should be a stigma. Rather, it makes sense that others would want to know that the person was managing their illness well before getting involved.

There’s a difference between stigma and concern

The problem is that as humans, we tend to categorise things as good or bad and making all-too-easy associations. Since mental illness seems like a bad thing, people associated with it get a label too.

And that does not have to be the case.

There are things we can do to limit the stigma, and keep the focus on the illness rather than the individual.

Separate the illness from our/their identity

This applies to those who suffer from mental illness as well as those who do not. Part of recovering from depression (or anxiety, or bipolar, etc.) is to depersonalise it. Instead of saying “I’m depressed”, we have to learn to say “I feel depressed” or “I suffer from depression”.

We have to realise that mental illness is not an identity. Only then can we start to heal from it. Because we’re not trying to fix something broken in ourselves, but rather treating a disease.

People who do not suffer from mental illness need to recognise this as well. When someone they know is suffering from bipolar, they too can say “X suffers from bipolar” instead of “X is bipolar”.

ALSO…

…never call us crazy!

Ultimately, we can hope to lessen the stigma, but not only will it take time, it will also be an essential part of the healing process.

This Is Why Depressed People Hate Their Psychiatrists

“When can I see you?” I texted in desperation.

“I have an opening at 3PM,” Dr Lymeberger wrote back. “Come visit me at the clinic.”

I was in the midst of a major chemical depression, one that had been brought on in a misguided attempt to change my antidepressants. I had not needed to change my antidepressants. I was not feeling any worse than I had over the preceding year. But I was depressed nonetheless, and hoped that a chemical change might be just what I needed.

Unfortunately, switching antidepressants can have unexpectedly disastrous effects, as happened when I switched from Cymgen to Cipralex. Both of them are SSRIs, working in almost exactly the same way. But, for some reason, I was plunged into a deep horror-show, which I would have given anything – literally anything – not to have gone through.

I wrote that text to Dr L at 11AM. 3PM seemed like an eternity away, but at least I had something to look towards. Some semblance of hope.

In the meantime, I decided to go for a run. It would release endorphins which might make me feel just a little bit better. It was a horrible idea, although curling up on my bed would have been just as bad an idea. As would anything else. I ran for what felt like hours of torment, but when I got back home only 10 minutes had past.

3 hours and 50 minutes left before my impromptu appointment with Dr L.

Throughout this week-long depression, Dr L had been readily available. He’d given me his personal cell number, which I phoned and texted over and over again. My mom even phoned him a few times. He had given me sleeping pills as well as anxiety pills to help me get through the chemical hell while my body adapted to the new drugs.

But up till then, the sleeping and anxiety pills had been his only solution. I’d been taking them during the day, making myself unconscious for a few hours. Only to wake up to the same suffering. Only to take more sleeping pills that would eventually just make me groggy instead of helping me sleep, leaving me both depressed and disoriented.

3PM finally came around and my mom drove me to my appointment with Dr L.

“I think we’d better stop the Cipralex,” he told me. “From tomorrow, take the Cymgen instead.”

That was all he had to offer. I was in infinite suffering, and all he had to offer was to tell me to abort his initial suggestion. Something I would do only the next morning. That my body would take time to get used to.

I needed something right then and there, but he had no good ideas. The long-awaited appointment lasted about as long as my earlier run. I hated him. I had to hate him.

Dr L is innocent

Doing their job

Psychiatrists are just doing their jobs

I’ll go back to that story at a later date. It was one of three major depressive episodes I’ve been through, each one progressively worse than the one before.

For now, I want to focus on my hatred of Dr L.

Technically, Dr L had done nothing wrong. When I first saw him, my chemical depression was under control. My life, however, was not going the way I wanted it to, and I did not know how to change that. So I asked him to try use medication to fix it.

Psychiatry is often hit and miss. Certain drugs will work for one person and not another. Some will do the opposite of what they were supposed to, like Cipralex seemed to do to me. Nonetheless, I have huge respect for the profession, and I have personal experience with the lifesaving potential of antidepressants when they work.

And yet, to this day, 5 years later, I still hate Dr L.

Why psychiatric patients hate our psychiatrists

Help me, doc

Blaming someone gives you a little bit of control

Mental illness is a unique kind of hell. It is unique in that there is not always an evident cause, which is why it can be impossible to treat. Sometimes it’s chemicals. Other times it’s unresolved feelings or traumas that you thought were behind you.

Whatever the case is, there seems to be nothing you can do in the moment to fix it (at least for those who have not learned techniques to manage their mental health). You have no control and it is terrifying.

Still, from within that deep chasm you look for anything to clutch onto. Anything that might give you some semblance of control in getting out of there. Since you cannot do anything yourself, the most instinctive option is to look to someone else.

And when that does not work, you have to blame them. Because as long as it’s their fault, there must be someone else who can fix the problem.

If only I had gone to another doctor, you say. Alternatively, you reject psychiatry as a whole. If only I hadn’t trusted these quacks and their unnatural chemicals, you say.

It gives you something to believe in. The tiniest hope that maybe you can get out of this darkness that you’d otherwise have to admit is your life itself.

Why we continue to hate

StockSnap_LXCKQ8LU32.jpg

We are terrified of getting lost again

Now, when we get out of that chasm – through some miracle of science or willpower or simple luck – we need assurance that we’re never going back.

Shortly after a major episode, it seems almost impossible to live knowing there’s a chance it might happen again. The memory of what has just happened is so bad that our minds force us to forget it so that we can get on with our lives in some sort of ignorance of what happened.

But how do we ensure that it doesn’t happen again? We need to either blame it on something, or find something else to save us. Or both.

So we blame our psychiatrists, we blame the meds, or we blame our own lifestyles. If we trick ourselves into thinking we can get rid of the problem, we can go on living.

This is why most blogs about how to beat depression are not milquetoast about anything. They are not only CERTAIN that they are RIGHT, but they have to convince everyone else, too. Because the possibility that they might be wrong and that someone else might have a better solution is just too much, man.

So, to Dr L, I’m sorry. I know my hate is unjustified, and that you were just trying to help me. But my mind is never going to forgive you entirely. Don’t expect to see me again anytime soon. And if anyone asks me for a referral, unfortunately they’re not coming your way.