On the turbulent, beautiful, and mundane realities of living with depression and anxiety…
by: Alexander Brown ((Header image is a sampling of the surreal self-portraiture of Kyle Thompson.))
The memory is hazy. Blame the bottle of Advil, the hormones, or the way memories seem to stretch out and lose shape over time.
It’s winter, and it’s morning on the 401 westbound. It’s about five a.m., no later than six. Outside the horizon is painted red; the rest is black and snow. The scenery is a quiet mix of farmland and exit signs.
Inside the car is a scared boy, curled up in the passenger seat, eyes never leaving the world outside his window. Driving is his father: strong and supportive. Worried. Confused.
They don’t speak. There isn’t much to say. There are miles ahead, but also good, long years.
Then it came back.
It’s ten years later and I am here. On the news someone with a partially blurred face is talking about ending the stigma against those with mental illness. Now a more fresh-faced politician is promising to rescue the Canadian middle class. I didn’t know either needed saving.
I’m unemployed and getting old. I used to drink too much to make myself feel better. I wish I were thirty pounds lighter. I am depressed and I am anxious. I am one of the millions.
It is months ago, summer, and I am back in the passenger seat, heading westbound on the 401, when I realize the driver, a friend, has been speaking to me for hours. His face is out of focus; all around us is snow. I hear a voice responding to him but it is not my own. I try to turn my head towards him but it is no longer connected to my body. I panic. That makes it worse. There is a hole in my chest. I wait for it to pass.
One month has gone by, and I’m out for another daily run to clear my head. It hasn’t worked. Every day since has been the same. I wake up in a thick fog and I pilot myself to the bathroom mirror.
“Hello stranger,” I say.
And the stranger says hello back.
I cross a bridge over a ravine and I stop to admire the view, only I can’t. It’s still a blur. I’m still not back.
You know, if this doesn’t get better, you might have to jump.
The voice in my head is eerily polite. I run home and call my therapist. It’s a Saturday. He is in the passenger seat of his car on the way to a wedding with his wife. He is a kind man who looks a bit like Santa Claus. He speaks with me the whole trip. It helps.
I’m back in the car with my father and we are pulling up to a place that is no longer our home. I sleep all day, the hospital wristband still a haunting reminder. When I wake he wants to know why I did it and what we can do, what we will do, to make it better. It helps.
It’s ten years later and I am here. I am a bit more like myself. The SSRI in my system is protecting me from the lows; the benzodiazepines are available to break glass in case of emergency. I see a Clinical Psychologist, a Psychiatrist, and a counsellor that specializes in mindfulness. It helps.
I think back to that boy in the car and I can still smile. The road ahead for him wasn’t always easy, but it wasn’t always hard. In fact, he’s had a blast. Relationships, friendships, weddings, Christmases, Jose Bautista bat-flips – each experience as special as the last, each one still possible. He will be fine, and he will not be fine, often simultaneously. He will lose himself, and he will panic. He will feel a fog. Sometimes it will lift. Often it won’t. He doesn’t need to #BellLetsTalk. He will talk for real.
Outside that window, on that cold, dark, winter morning, there still was a beautiful view.
Alexander Brown is a freelance writer living in Toronto, Canada. His work has appeared in other publications such as Writer’s Bone, Feathertale, and Provocative Penguin. He is the founding editor of TRACER, a short story journal where you can find more of his work as well as outstanding stories from up-and-coming writers. You can follow him on twitter @alexbrown17.