last year, when i was in the worst of my suicidal depression, the only thing that often got me out of bed was my hunger.
i don’t mean anything deep or existential by that hunger; i mean a physical, stomach-growling-please-feed-me hunger because the truth is that we need to eat to survive, that we must physically sustain ourselves and nourish our bodies to live. that meant that, oftentimes, the only thing that would get me out of bed was my body rebelling, screaming, FEED ME! FEED ME! FEED ME!, so i’d force myself up and to the kitchen, pour myself a bowl of cereal, eat it, and try to get on with my day.
sometimes, i think this is the thing that maybe puts people off the most about depression and suicidal thinking — that they seem to put us out of commission, that we’re high-maintenance and/or overly sensitive and/or emotionally immature and fragile and pathetic, that we’re consequently not worth investing in whether as potential employees or potential partners or potential whatevers. we’re a drag on productivity, and we’re legal risks and liabilities. we’re lazy and failures and undisciplined. we’d bring bad energy into a space.
do i sound defensive? maybe it’s because i am, just a little.
because no one asks for this — i certainly didn’t — and we learn to live with it, managing better some days and worse on others but, still, managing and surviving and, sometimes, i dare say, thriving. my therapist asked me the other day how i felt, getting my diagnosis for the first time after years of avoiding it, and i know there are a range of personal responses to that.
some people feel like their suffering made them unique, that it’s somehow made them less special, having something that seems so commonplace and ordinary as depression. others feel comforted and hopeful because a diagnosis is somewhere to start, something somewhat more concrete than just being inside their head. others, too, are afraid, afraid of what a diagnosis means, how people might perceive them because of it, the ruin a diagnosis might bring, none of which is a dramatic reaction if you’re wont to view it that way.
i’ve been asked, too, if i somehow take comfort in my depression, and i told my therapist that, no, i didn’t feel like i lost something that made me special when i got that sheet of paper from kaiser with my diagnoses written on it. i didn’t feel that comforted or hopeful either, not then because it was too soon then — seeking professional help was still too new and alarming. i didn’t feel much fear, either, not really, maybe, again, because seeking help was too new at the time, and i’ve since moved on to a combination of indifference and defensiveness and mild irritation.
one of the things i have been learning over the last few years, though, is that i am not that unique. none of us is. we are individual people with differing personalities and characteristics and details, but, on the larger scale of things, we are not all that different, you and i. we worry about similar things — being able to take care of ourselves, of the people we love, loving someone and being loved back, living a life that means something — and, yes, maybe it all looks different to each of us, but, fundamentally, our wants and hopes and fears are not so alien from each other’s.
we don’t want to be alone. we don’t want to fail. we don’t want to fall behind.
we all need to eat to survive.
things i’d eat at the worst of times when i couldn't find the energy to cook "proper" food:
- rice topped with hot dogs and a fried egg and a lot of ketchup
- eggs soft-scrambled in butter
- milk toast from paris baguette, straight out of the bag when fresh, toasted when a day or two old
- ramyeon from different brands, all spicy
- pepperidge farm chessmen
- eggs, a lot of eggs, just a lot of eggs
i confess that i can be pretty rotten at physical self-care. as a type 2 diabetic, i shouldn’t be eating a lot of things — namely, sugar or anything that turns to sugar quickly in my body. for a few months after my diagnosis this february, i did fairly well at following my restrictions, resentfully, yes, but following them for the most part, cheating a little here and there but generally being pretty good. my fasting glucose levels came down; my headaches went away; and trader joe’s started making a lot of money off me buying boxes and boxes of their nut bars.
i went to iceland in june, though, hiked a shit-ton and ate whatever the hell i wanted and suffered zero consequences for it because we were constantly on the move, scrambling up and down waterfalls, running across glaciers, hiking, hiking, hiking. i got back to california itching to leave again, to travel more, to get back out into the world, away from a city and state that unfortunately bore me and feel like a cage, and i couldn’t get myself to get back to those restrictions, not when food was the one comfort i had.
the thing with my body, though, is that it feels the crappy eating, and it hits back. it makes me suffer. i feel like shit all the time, and my head starts pounding, and i feel sluggish, lethargic, even less focused than i already am on my good days — and i have an attention disorder. my stomach goes haywire, and my blood sugar spikes and plummets haphazardly, and, as my body continues to rail at me, i rage at it in my head.
when i was first diagnosed, my first thought was, i hope this kills me, and, yes, it could eventually, though that will take years, but, also, it doesn’t have to. type 2 can be reversed, and, if not, it can be managed with the help of medication, a good diet, and exercise. type 2 isn’t a death sentence; one just has to be open and able to make changes.
it sounds stupid simple, doesn’t it?
and, yet, tell that to a suicidal depressive who’s barely made it through a year-and-a-half depending on her body’s need to eat, on the fact that food is the one thing that lights up parts of the self she thought had died long ago, and see the devastation a little diagnosis wreaks.
this is why nothing is simple and nothing is easy and why reductive thinking does no one any favors. we all come with baggage, and we all come with history, and, if we want to help each other, we have to learn to take all that into account and go from there, not disregard it and pretend it has no impact or should have less meaning than it actually does.