I wrote this on November 11 last year, sitting on the steps leading into the kitchen of my old house in Hobart. Didn’t post it because talking about depression is not really something I do. Then my good friend James Brady wrote this truly excellent piece about his own experience with depression and the importance of talking about it. So here we go…
Sometime around the middle of my final year of university, I stopped getting out of bed. It started just with morning classes — lectures I didn’t want to go to, tutorials I felt ill prepared for. Then I stopped turning up for work, sleeping through the boss’s calls for shift after shift until he stopped calling. I slept though study time, weekends, weekdays, mealtimes, reversing my body clock so I would be awake and doing what little study I still did at night, and sleep, or at least pretend to, when my flatmates were around during the day.
I watched movie after movie and disappeared into series upon series of soft-core angsty drama and awful fantasy epic. Anything that promised an escape from thought. Books, music, and newspapers were discarded. I spent days trawling overseas classified sites, picking out the flat, job, and friends I would have in London or Toronto or anywhere else. In June I stopped changing my clothes, in July I pushed the furniture against my bedroom door and stopped returning my boyfriend’s calls. I’d long since lost interest in sex.
There was a tree on the Hume Freeway, near Euroa, that stood close to the road and a little apart from the others. A jerk to the left would do it, just as you rounded the bend. I didn’t want to kill myself. But I wished that I would die.
When my father called to say my grandmother had died, I ignored the call. She had been shrunken and terrified in hospital a month before and I couldn’t talk to her, couldn’t comfort her, and now she was dead and I couldn’t grieve. I showered and went shopping for funeral clothes, made good for a week following my mum around my grandparents’ farm and filling the family church with teapots, then I came home and went back to bed.
I emerged from my stupor to complete one assignment, two weeks late, for an investigative journalism class. It was like writing in syrup. A month later my lecturer told me there was interest in getting it published, if I could make a few adjustments and submit it before deadline. I didn’t.
I told my indigenous studies lecturer about my grandmother’s death, and they gave me an extension. I didn’t deserve it. If I had done the work a week out for a funeral would not have mattered.
The whole year was a black mark on my previously good academic transcript, already marred by a 3am decision two years previous not to attend a criminal law exam. School was all I’d ever been good at and I watched it crumble, occasionally pushing out the stubborn bricks.
I wanted to drop out and work at a bookshop or a cafe in some two-bit town where I could work and sleep unmolested by the specter of a more successful self who sat on my shoulders and weighed me down with unfinished tasks. But such obvious defeat would never escape parental intervention, so I decided to fake it. I started applying for jobs as a cadet journalist, sending my resume anywhere so long as it was at least two hours drive from anyone I knew so no one could watch as I failed. The job in Bunbury was perfect — 3000 kilometers away. I completed every remaining assignment — seven essays across four topics — in a three-day bender at the very limits of my extension period and hoped that would be enough to earn the degree I’d promised them.
Then something happened. I started work. I turned up on time, did the work, stayed late, volunteered to work on weekends and developed strong opinions on kerning. Day after day, I turned up. And I was good at it. I wasn’t failing. Improvement was its own motivation for hard work again, just as it had been at school. Just as it would always be.
I’m slipping again now. It started in October last year. I’ve propped it up, but it’s happening more and more. I can’t get out of bed.
I know that work is my cure. But when it happens, work is precisely what I cannot do. Sometimes all I can do is turn up.