I grew up in a time that not only had answering machines, but people genuinely missed your call and were eager to return it so they could speak to you with their mouths through a receiver. It was insane, but it’s all we knew.
It didn’t take long for me to grow frustrated with my dad’s vague “We can’t come to the phone right now, please leave a message and I’ll return your call at my earliest convenience.” So I changed it.
“At the beep, please leave your name, number, and a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma, and we’ll get back to you.”
“Did you change the outgoing answering machine message?” He asked a few days later, standing in the doorway of my bedroom holding the cordless phone.
“I did.” I responded.
“Mark Buck just called and said he tried to reach me earlier about delivering new driveway stone but he got the answering machine and thought he kept getting the wrong number?”
“No, it’s the right number.” I mumbled.
“Are you high or depressed or something, what do these words even mean?” He half laughed, but also genuinely asking.
I just stared at him, and he eventually walked away confused.
Sometimes I think I am actually the child of Troy Dyer and Lelaina Pierce. I am a nervous worrier with the internal monologue of a wears-sweatpants-to-a-bar-clad slacker, who hates her dad because he keeps giving her cynical poems on napkins for Christmas, and she goes to bed every night hearing her mom crying in the bathtub moaning “I could have married an MTV producer.”
I was in Junior High when Reality Bites was released. I devoured this movie. As well as Singles and Threesome and The Craft. If was a very big decade for me, emotionally and fashionably speaking. Was Troy Dyer a sage icon of that time? No, but at 13 anyone who could legally buy beer was profound.
So I spent the afternoon copying the words from the movie and parroting them back into the cassette tape in our answering machine, lifeless and monotone, faking the depression I felt an oppressed and misunderstood man like Troy must have felt when he said them.
Now, at 36, I know that Troy was a privileged hack and sounding like an anthropomorphic flannel shirt is not what real depression sounds like.
Real depression sounds… like nothing.
But I never knew that, because while my parents were skilled in the art of depression, it was never really my brand of mental illness.
Instead my bones seeped with worry and anxiety. I feel too much. There is no off or pause, I simply turn the volume down for a prescribed dose at a time.
Then a few months ago, I began to feel less, and I thought, “yay! the medication is finally working!”
I was completely blind to the weights being secretly trucked in and tied to my ankles. I didn’t notice the sadness because I was too worried about the hurricanes. I didn’t keep track of the empty because I was focused on the wars. I never clocked when everything inside me left because I was worried about what might show up.
Unlike anxiety, of which I am content with stuffing down and cushioning with carbs and meats. Depression left me longing for empty.
Anything I put inside me was too much, too crowded, and too overstimulating.
I’ve never been numb before, and I know this may be old hat for so many of you, but for me, this was new.
Whenever I tried to casually bring up the emptiness to the people around me, I was always met with a chuckle and a “don’t we all?”
I wanted to scream, “no assholes, we don’t all. For some of us, this is new and it’s terrifying.”
There is no Handbook for the Recently Depressed.
It’s been eighteen months. I haven’t felt enough of anything in eighteen months.
Last week I woke up and brushed my teeth and called my husband and talked to my friends at school drop off.
Today I woke up and did all the same things, and I didn’t have to fake any of it. Everything inside of me feels warmer.
Have you ever stared at the sun just so your eyes would hurt? I’ve been doing that a lot lately. If it hurts my eyes, then I can feel things. I’m a walking eclipse public service announcement, guys.
It’s just that I’ve never really looked up before, I’m always way too busy looking ahead. What’s next for my career? Where will my kids go to high school? Why does this mole look weird? How many soccer practices do we have tonight? Oh there’s a sun up there? Isn’t there always?
No. There isn’t.
There isn’t always.
But lately, there has been.