The Bipolar Lens

My view from the rollercoaster.

Braving the Day

The Miraculous Everyday Victories Over Depression

The hardest thing by far for me to do when I'm depressed is to get into the shower.  It may sound like a trivial thing to people who don't have mental illness.  "Why don't you take a nice hot shower?" my mother always asks me when I call her, crying.  She might as well say, "Why don't you go climb Kilimanjaro?"  I can't.  I just can't face it.

That claustrophobic cubicle with its stinging, pelting streams of water taunts me.  "Come be assaulted," it hisses when I walk by.  I try not to listen.  During really nasty episodes I'm able to ignore it for whole days at a stretch.  I'm quite fastidious by nature, but the thought of all those gallons of water pounding my naked nerve endings is simply too much to bear.  I'd rather wear my own dirt.

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Days when I can't get into the shower are bound to be bad days, spent hiding out in bed.  I cancel all my appointments, neglect to return phone calls, don't bother to check my email.  I wallow in abysmal failure, hating my inertia but unable to overcome it.  My hair grows lank, my skin gets oily.  I smell like depression.

Over and over again, I eye that damned shower:  if only, I think.  If only I could bear that, I could bear anything.  If only I could get nice and clean, I could start my life out fresh.

I'm not always granted the dubious luxury of wallowing in my lethargy.  Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to put it off, life will not be refused – appointments insist, obligations demand.  On those days I lie in bed, thinking about moving but unable to do so.  I visualize getting up, but my body doesn't share the visualization:  it stays right where it is.  Finally I'll manage to move my foot an inch or so toward the edge of the bed.  Twenty minutes may go by before I can move it any further.  Then in a sudden burst of violent concentration, I'll swing my legs up and over and stand – inevitably dizzy, inevitably furious that it takes this much effort just to get out of bed. 

I force myself to walk into the bathroom, open the shower door, and turn on the water.  I avoid getting wet if I possibly can.  I stare at the water for a good long time, wondering why such a miracle of nature is my nemesis.  I have to muster all my willpower to reach out and place my hand under the stream.  "There now, that's not so bad," I tell myself, and I keep progressively submerging myself – wrist, forearm, elbow – until I'm accustomed to the stabbing sensations against my skin.  It's agony, but it's endurable agony; and as anyone who's experienced depression knows, sometimes endurable agony is as good as it gets.  I take a deep breath and step in.

There are small miracles that take place every day – heroics that nobody knows about, but are feats of glory all the same.  Somewhere today a severely depressed person is getting out of bed and brushing her teeth.  Somewhere someone is deciding to eat breakfast rather than commit suicide.  In my house, victory looks like getting wet.

 

Terri Cheney is the author of Manic: A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar.

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