Back in July 2013, I wrote a short memoir, “Through the Fog,” for the site SNAPS 1000 Words.
After hearing of Robin Williams’ death yesterday, I was in deep thought, sadness. I thought about (and am still thinking about) depression and its effects, on the person who suffers and on the people who love the person.
Below is an extended version of “Through the Fog.” Initially, I wrote this piece as a cathartic exercise, but I also wrote it because I wanted others to read, to see that depression is not a simple “I am sad” moment. It is complex, it is confounding, it can be all-consuming. It is so important that we educate ourselves on mental illness, reach out to those who need our love and assistance, and not judge or condemn those who suffer with a mental illness.
Through the Fog
She doesn’t remember getting up from her bed, but she did. She hasn’t bathed. She hasn’t put on fresh clothes. She hasn’t done her hair. She hasn’t looked at the never ending to-do list. Up for hours now, she hasn’t even taken her daily meds, her vitamins, or has eaten breakfast.
Somehow, she was able to remove herself from the bed and transplant herself into the office chair across the room, and this is where she still sits. Blinking. Rocking a little off and on. Listening to morning outside her bedroom windows. Hearing her brother leave out to take their sister to work. The dog running up and down the hallway like he’s practicing for a track and field event.
She blinks some more and rests her head upon the desk. She licks her lips, capturing the fat warm tears that fall from her right eye to the crook of her nose to the curve of her full lips. She has enough energy to do this. She’ll do this, tasting her pain, for 10, 15 minutes before she forces herself to use her next bout of strength to sit up in the chair. Then, she will stare at nothing though her laptop is before her, glowing, trying to seduce her to snap out of herself and get to work. Tears fall, rolling down brown round cheeks and off her chin.
She tries to open her mouth. She wants to scream. She thinks that if she can open her mouth, then she can scream loud enough to break the lock inside her that’s keeping her body, mind, and spirit hostage. With effort, she opens her mouth, several times, but no words escape. No sound. Just a fog, the same fog that has grown thicker, darker over the last few weeks, few months, her whole year so far. With no outlet, the fog builds inside her, leaving her without any light to walk toward. A few days ago, the last dot of light died with the rolling of the fog. She recalls hearing her voice then, when her heart pounded, when anxiety itched along her face and neck: “I don’t even feel you anymore. I know you hate me, have forsaken me,” she said in trembling tones, brittle and sad and final.
Inside a head tight with racing thoughts, questions, and no answers, she tries to think about what she normally does. Things she needs to do, but every time she manages a few coherent words, her mind slams each effort.
Let us pray… But the words sound like German in her mouth. She doesn’t know what she’s praying and how she’ll be heard and if anyone up in the sky even cares anymore.
Let us read the Bible… But there is no message for her in it. The ache of emptiness inside her chest tells her that God’s done with her.
Let us listen to praise music… But the lyrics mock her life. What is there to praise, to be thankful for when she can’t even muster the care to bathe?
Let us read… But the words swirl into an unintelligible soup in her mind, and after a page or two, she’s taking bits and pieces of stories to cull together her own more morbid tales.
Let us write… But no one cares about her stories. No one wants to read her. She has told herself this so often that it has become her truth.
Let us work on the dissertation… But she’s a fraud. Besides, she loathes her research, she tells herself… though she loathes because she believes she’s not smart enough to do the work.
Let us prepare classes for the fall… But she can’t see 50 days ahead to care about preparation. How can she care about August when she doesn’t care about this one hot morning in late-June?
Let’s edit… But… later… later, she will do this, for she does have responsibilities to others. She will honor her responsibilities to others over her responsibilities to self.
Let’s call the BFF… But she has nothing positive to say, and she’s tired of sounding like a whiner, so she keeps quiet, locks her lips, and swallows down the bile of ache and confusion that wants to rush forward. Even best friends, sisters from another mister, have a limit of how much love and consideration and care you can withdraw from them.
Let’s call Mom… But she will worry, and the last thing she wants to do is make her mother worry for her.
She doesn’t want anyone to worry about her. Her whole life she’s been the worrier for everyone else, making sure they were loved, hugged, supported, encouraged, prayed for. Giving them all a shoulder to cry on. But she finds it hard to reciprocate. To shed tears on another’s shoulder. To say, “Pray for me.” To whisper, “I need.” To shout, “Encourage me because I am going through.” Her issues seem too large for her; she couldn’t burden others like that. Drain them like that. Instead, her spirit slowly leaks from her with every swathing from the fog.
Anger burns her insides. She’s a grown woman. Shouldn’t she have herself together by now? Shouldn’t she be in a space of opportunity and success? Shouldn’t she just shake off what she’s feeling and move forward? Shouldn’t she just be on her hustle like everyone else around her is doing, like everyone else announces is the only way to be? Shouldn’t she just get the hell over her sadness?
“It’s all in your head,” someone told her a few months ago.
“Just do something,” a friend said in an attempt to be helpful. “If you do something, you’ll eventually keep doing things, and you’ll get better. Mind over matter.”
“Smile,” a sweet friend told her. “Smiling makes everything better.”
She grabs at her head, thoughts multiplying and pressing against her skull. She winces. Knowing she’s alone, she yells, “I can’t do this” before clamping her mouth shut again, hoping she wasn’t too loud. She doesn’t want her nosy neighbors to think she’s crazy, after all.
Without warning, she stands, leaps from her chair as if set on fire. She feels enough to know she’s hot as sweat pools on her upper lip. Sultry southern summers make every minute of the day a natural sauna. She walks to the air conditioner, and as her finger makes contact with the air conditioner’s on button, she whispers, “Knife.”
The fog lifts, just enough for her to see a knife clearly in her mind. She blinks, and the next image before her is a gun. For the first time in months, excitement races through her body. She remembers she still has her mother’s Cobra .22mag Derringer and rushes to her desk. In the large center drawer, she finds the gun’s box deep in the back. She barely breathes as she holds the box, staring at the cobra on the top. Back in February, three months in on a heavy bout of depression, she and her brothers were celebrating having a new home and new beginnings when their beginnings were shattered by young boys brandishing guns and threatening to kill their entire family because they had been, in their eyes, disrespected. Police didn’t help, or couldn’t, or wouldn’t, and having her brothers near didn’t help. Fear had claimed her entirely and dug for her a deeper depression hole to dwell. When her mother offered the gun for protection, she cringed. Her mind had already created 10 scenarios of how having a gun in the house would end tragically. But she took it and placed it in the back of her drawer. Just in case.
“This would be quicker than the knife,” she says through lips that barely open.
Her excitement wanes as shame blankets her like thick, rancid humidity. Choking back a sob, she says, “No.”
It would be easy… if all she had to think about was herself.
She thinks too much, and she thinks about those who would be left behind, and what her leaving would cost them, so she cries, shakes her head, then as abruptly as the thought came, it leaves, and she stands stock-still in the center of her bedroom of soft beige walls and feminine pink, purple, and orange bedding and light billowy white sheer curtains and large task calendar and positive affirmations stuck on the wall above her desk, and she centers herself in the midst of the fog inside her again, barely breathing or thinking. When she holds her breath, the stillness of breathlessness eases her pain.
Every time she blinks, she sees the one constant image that has been with her for months: a road that eventually disappears within the fog. She knows on the road behind her there is light, clarity. She knows that there was a time when she could smile, for real, in people’s faces, when she could offer a word of encouragement, when she could laugh, when she could get excited, when she could feel hope for others… and herself.
But even behind that clarity are patches of past fogs that slowed her gait, muddled her mind, and constricted her voice. Her road is littered with the marriage of clarity and chaos, and before her the fog darkens every good thing in her life, leaving her depleted of energy and care.
Suddenly exhausted in a way that makes her marrow cry, she places the gun back in the drawer and trudges the few steps to her bed and crawls into it, throwing pillows and blanket over her face.
In her self-made darkness, she tries to remember that this doesn’t last. That people love her. That God still loves her. That he hasn’t discarded her. That things can change, and though she can’t feel it, there is a desperate need to believe it.
A few more hours, she thinks. I’ll sleep a few more hours and maybe I’ll feel better then.