I don’t know, in actuality, what it’s like to be set on fire.
The closest thing I have – which I am convinced must be similar to burning alive – is my most recent bout of depression, in which I was in such agonizing and relentless pain that I became the emotional equivalent of a rotisserie chicken.
I felt certain that this would be the episode that pushed me to end my life. And then before I knew it, I was in the emergency room (again).
I had spent the weeks leading up to my hospitalization confined to my bed, promising my friends that tomorrow would be the day I found the strength to stand up – responding to Facebook invitations with a “maybe” and the determination that, yes, I would be at that brunch, I would bring orange juice, I would get better.
But I couldn’t.
Movie nights and picnics and parties flew by without me, the photos popping up on my news feed as a reminder that being mentally ill sometimes meant being trapped, no matter how desperately I wanted to see people, to make connections. Each passing day became a struggle to remember what it felt like to have fun, much less to be seen.
I sent the same message in various permutations: “I’m sorry I can’t make it – I’m just too depressed.” “I’m sorry to bail at the last second, I just don’t have it in me.” “I’m sorry I’m such a flake, my anxiety is just bananas right now.”
I always hoped they could read between the lines, knowing that what I was really saying was, “Please don’t give up on me.”
Every invitation I rejected came with a silent, desperate plea of, “Please don’t let this be the last time you invite me.”
Because the truth is, even though I’d missed ten brunches and six birthday parties and countless invitations for drinks, I didn’t want them to stop inviting me. Their invitation meant that they knew I was still alive, that they still cared about me, that they wanted me to be there, that they were thinking of me.
And what depressed person – or any person, really – doesn’t want to be thought of? Especially in their darkest, most frightening place.
“Maybe” to some is an annoyance or a cop-out when you don’t want to say “no,” but for me, when I RSVP’d with “maybe,” it was my way of saying, “I still have hope that things could get better.”
On the other side of all this, I needed to know there was a life filled with friends and laughter and waffles, and that everyone was just waiting for me, for whenever I was finally ready.
When I left the hospital, those invites were the only thing that reminded me that I could have a “normal” life again.
Those invites said to me that my mental illness didn’t make me less valuable as a friend, less wanted as a companion, and less worthy of support, love, and delicious breakfast foods. I was wanted – not in spite of my illnesses, but exactly as I was. No matter what my struggles looked like, I was still wanted.
I wasn’t damaged goods. I was still… me.
This past Sunday, I got out of bed, took a shower, got on the bus, and finally showed up for brunch. It took countless doctors, a complete overhaul of medication and hormones, and of course, the sweet encouragement of good friends (new and old) to get me there.
But I made it.
It was my first taste of the outside world in a long, long time – and I didn’t realize how much I needed it. The donuts, the video games, the orange juice, and the fluttery feeling in my heart when someone would say that they were glad that I was there, and I could feel how much they meant it.
Because while it’s true that psychiatric interventions have, more or less, put out the fire and tamed my depression, it was being surrounded by good friends that made me finally believe that I could heal.
And with every new invitation, I’m reminded that there are things (and people) worth showing up for.
As it turns out, there’s been no better combination for me than Zoloft and brunch.