In October of 2022, we released our second Open Call: How might we view healing in mental health through art, letters, stories and poetry following the pandemic? The following is a story submission we received from this open call.
“My submission addresses healing in mental health through the experience of someone who has lived through it. All too often in interactions with health professionals, particularly in the realm of mental health, there is a disconnect from those outside and inside the mental illness. With my writing, I want to try to bring the reader into the present moment of the feeling and experience of living with, in this case depression, to increase empathy and understanding. Even with awareness campaigns, there remains a lot of confusion about what depression actually is. Then, hopefully, with a deepened understanding of the lived experience, friends, family, and doctors will know what actually helps, and what aren’t helpful suggestions”Alyssa Sherlock
“I’m not going to cook this week; it’s too much work. I’ll do something more interesting than pasta next week. Next week comes. The cookbook stays closed. Summer’s coming. Good, something to enjoy, something to look forward to. Once this stressful period at work is over, things will get better. I’m not going to do this work task, there’s no point. Is responding to this email really that important in the grand scheme of things? It doesn’t really matter. Nothing matters. I want to go home. Okay, I’m home now. I don’t feel any better.
I go hiking on the beach with my housemates. They go to scrounge for wild blueberries in the bush, but I stay on the lakeshore by myself, surrounded by sparkling blue. All my problems, all the world’s problems, are far away. I wish to stay there forever.
My limbs feel like lead. I can’t sleep. The nights are long and torturous, filled with anxious thoughts. When I do sleep, I don’t feel rested. I’m asleep even when awake, and someone has turned off the lights. My vision is weird, and the sky is dim. I can’t open my eyes wide enough. Maybe if I exercise, I’ll wake up. Maybe if I put my contacts in? Maybe if I eat something? Go for a walk? Splash my face with cold water, again and again and again? Nope. Nothing. It’s a Herculean effort to get out of bed.
I dread work every moment, and weekends are only a blink of hating the passage of time before Monday. What’s the point? I’m only getting up to drag myself to a job I hate, to then come home drained of energy to do anything but get ready for the next day, then suffer through a restless sleep, then repeat until the weekend, when I waste the speeding time away dreading Monday’s return.
I don’t have the energy to choose clothes, so I recycle the same three outfits, day after day. I’ve forgotten how to dress. Or did I ever even know how? Making my lunch is like lifting concrete. Walks never refresh me (they used to, didn’t they?) Food turns to dust in my mouth. I try talking to my coworkers, but feel drunk, or like I’m talking through a wall, or a pool of molasses. It’s exhausting to form a sentence and, when I’m finished it, I’m out of breath. Do they notice? Am I talking slowly? More quietly? Do I look as delusional as I feel? What’s wrong with me? I think something’s wrong with me.
I don’t work. I sit and stare, unable to move, unable to make any decisions, consumed by my thoughts. I look at the people around me, tirelessly typing away on their computers, taking calls late into the night like what they’re doing actually matters.
We’re all just slowly killing ourselves, I think. We all just work jobs we hate, longing for weekends until we die. Everyone I love is either going to move away from me or die. Everything I love is going to end, and the end is real and unbearably close.
I go home, having accomplished nothing, desperate to feel some relief, some familiarity. There’s nothing. I’m alone, which crushes me. I lie on the floor on the front mat and can’t move, no matter how much I berate myself. I go to bed. I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow.
I read books, articles, blog posts, trying to unstuck myself. Okay. Be kind to yourself. One day at a time. Find something to look forward to. But there’s nothing. Everything is a stale cracker—food, music, reading, writing, friends—all stale crackers. I enjoy nothing. I’ve lost everything, including myself. If I can’t do the things that make me me, who am I? Texts come in, asking me how I’m doing, what I’ve been writing, reading, doing. Each one is a stab of accusation. Look at you, they accuse, look at all the things you’re not doing. You’re even failing at being yourself.
I go on medical leave from work. I move back with my family. I’m the ultimate failure; I can’t handle a grown-up job or grown-up living on my own, and I never will again. I’ve ruined my life, and there’s no recovery. Everything is my fault. I’ll never get another job or be happy again. I hate myself for acting like a child and feel guilty that I feel so awful when there are so many others experiencing so much worse. I don’t deserve to allow myself to feel like this. I resent that I can’t take care of myself. No one understands, no one can ever understand. I’m alone and will always be alone.
I. Am. Alone.
A selfish, hateful monster has overtaken my brain and crowded out every other thought. I curl into myself, further and further, in an attempt to not let the monster spill out and attack the people around me. It comes out anyway, gnashing its teeth, screaming and crying and scratching.
I want to run away, but mostly from myself. I repeat escape in my head. Sleep is a temporary relief, so I do that often, but it’s not enough. The only way out is death—could the river wash me away? What if I stepped off the curb a moment too soon? Anything could be better than this hell-filled hopelessness. I lose myself in the internet and the lives of other people, hating myself and hating them for their lives, living while I’m not. I wish desperately to go back, for this to end, for things to be different. A dark black haze buzzes in my brain and my eyes, pushing out all other thoughts so I can’t concentrate on anything else, can’t remember anything else. The world was always this black. I know the truth now. I sink deeper and deeper.
Finally, I stop.
I wake up slowly. I wake after being tended to, held and patiently loved and waited for. There’s no out. Life is here, and there are people here, for now. They drop off letters that I read and don’t reply to. They send cards and texts. They don’t ask too many questions, but they’re there. I take steps—like pulling teeth. I make a list of things I don’t want to do (I’ve always been good at lists), and do them, one by one. Calling doctors, sitting in the shame and embarrassment of failure, guilt, procrastination, hate, and crazy. I’m lucky that my people listen—doctors, family, friends.
I go for walks with my sister. I hide my hateful thoughts. I accept where I am, as messy as it is, and stop wishing to go back. I stop wishing for escape. I recognize things might not get better, but I will try, because I don’t know if they will or not.
I try another medication—because what else is there to do—even though I know it won’t work, because nothing does. I talk. I pick up the meds a month late. I walk. I start to wake up; the meds work. The sky looks blue. real blue again, not like I forgot to wake up and am half living in a dream. I start to feel excitement again, and I roll it around on my tongue, feeling its freshness like a freshly picked strawberry, something I never thought I’d experience again. I roll through each small happiness with burning gratefulness. I’m still alive, and once again thankful to be.
A text comes through: We’re proud of you for getting through this. Proud of me? For what? What did I do? I did nothing for months, stagnant and hating myself while the world moved on without me.
They didn’t though. They were there, the whole time, waiting and loving and hoping. Who are you when you can’t do anything, when you can’t do the things that make you you: cooking and reading and being there for your friends and family and organizing things and giving and sharing and laughing?
You. Are. Loved.
And it means more in those moments, when I’m ugly and angry and can’t give anything and don’t deserve it. It is a godly, sacred kind of love.
Now awake, I can recognize the lies my brain piled on me. It comes in two words: of course. Of course I want to live. Of course there are many, many people who have been here before. Of course there are people who understand. Of course I’m capable, and won’t feel like this forever. Of course I’ll read, and write, and feel myself again.
And I am absolutely, definitively, not alone.”
About the Author
Alyssa Sherlock is the author of the illustrated memoir this is a love story: poems and essays on friendship, love, and mental health(2023). Alyssa regularly writes on the themes of mental health, family, and friendship in her fiction and creative non-fiction. In 2022, she was shortlisted for the CNFC/Humber Literary Review Creative Non-Fiction Contest. She regularly interviews other writers and storytellers about their work in various places. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Treaty 1 territory).
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