I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Yours truly has not had a graceful quarantine. I gained ten pounds. I self-medicated with wine and happy pills in a way that makes me feel very ashamed and embarrassed to admit to all of you. I cried a river, and then the river dried up and I found it impossible to cry. And then I found it impossible to feel anything at all.
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I found myself struck with that empty kind of depression where you don’t feel sad or lonely or anxious. You’re numb, robotic, a vast empty nightclub boarded up and shut down by the city. When I have empty depression, I begin to really miss my feelings. I start to crave a nervous breakdown — anything to spark up the flame in my heart. Anything to make me feel less homesick for my soul. Anything to make me feel inspired to read beautiful books and absorb beautiful art and create beautiful content. What is the point of indulging in the arts when you’re void of emotion? Isn’t that why sociopaths don’t really care for art? The whole purpose of art is to feel moved. When you’ve lost the ability to be moved why the hell would you open up book or write a poem?
Might as well just solve a puzzle. Or stare blankly into space. Or reorganize your kitchen cabinets in a far-away haze.
I wanted to write a piece about empty depression because it’s something I don’t think we discuss enough in the mental illness underworld, even though a lot of people experience it. Because we as a culture tend to define depression by being ambushed with relentless sadness, when we’re experiencing empty depression, we don’t tend to recognize it as depression. But I believe it is. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most harrowing incarnations of depression.
Feeling disassociated from your own inner life is extremely lonely. You watch, mouth agape, as your friends or lovers or family-members so freely weep at the sad movies, staring intently back at them through the static of the TV. Intellectually, you understand that whatever movie slow dancing its way across the screen is indeed, very sad, but you have lost your visceral understanding of sadness. Isn’t it weird when your brain comprehends something so thoroughly but your heart can’t make a modicum of sense of it?
This doesn’t just happen with empty depression.
It happens a lot with love, but reversed. You’ll know someone is toxic, terrible — dangerous even — but your heart can’t stop longing for them. When the head and the heart are on two very different pages it’s very jarring. I like it best when the head and the heart work as a tandem bike. Maybe one is stronger than the other at the moment, but the other one can easily ride along in perfect unison because they’re able to lean on the other’s strength.
I feel like my inner-tandem bike is broken right now. Like my brain has been running for miles and miles and miles in an open field while my heart has been locked up in a closet for so long, its lost the will to come out.
My bouts of empty depression don’t usually last that long. They aren’t usually medication-related, which is a shame because it would be very easy if it was just “Oh, I’m just over-drugged up. Lower my dose, problem solved.” I know that for some people, altering dosages is a cure-all for empty depression, but never for me, because my empty depression is usually a knee-jerk response to some sort of trauma. And let’s get fucking real: The last several months have been traumatic. So many hundreds of thousands of of people have lost their livelihoods and their lives. The country is on her knees, praying to higher-powers she no longer believes in. Family grief is at an all-time high. Too many (*far too many*) people have been shot down dead because the color of their skin is not white. Racism, homophobia, and antisemitism have stopped trying to stay hidden with the cobwebs beneath the couch. They’re out, they’re proud, and they’re poisoning us every single second of every single day. It’s been a lot. And for a lot of us, when shit hits the fan, we shut down. We stop living. I mean yes, we show up to protests and do our jobs and feed ourselves, but we’re not actually in our bodies for any of it. We’re floating above, hanging out with the ceiling fans, watching ourselves from above, wishing we knew how to drop back in. To ourselves. Even though it feels so goddamn empty, it’s still somehow painful. Actually, it’s far worse than painful; it’s lonesome. But the loneliness can’t be cured by spilling your guts to your best friend over a glass of wine. The loneliness can’t be cured by having mind-blowing sex with the hottest entity to ever exist. The loneliness can’t be cured by moving back in with your parents. You don’t miss those people, and you don’t miss the sex; you miss yourself. And missing yourself is a very difficult thing to fix. Nothing on the outside will help. You’ve got to dig deep and do the work. Ugh. When will we be able to stop doing “the work?!” When will we be able to simply sit under a tree and look at the sky and not be overtaken by demons?
When will we ever be happy?
Is it even possible?
I restarted therapy, which I hope will help lead me back into that beautiful, wild, scary ocean of feelings. It’s definitely helped reconnect me to myself in the past. And I’m pushing myself to create because sometimes that helps to remind me of who I really am, and a strong sense of self can lure the emotions back in. Mainly I’m trying to remember that this empty, soulless depression is temporary. I’ve been lost in the woods before, but I’ve always found my way home. And sometimes (like with most depressive episodes), once it passes, I have a newfound appreciation for the intensity of life, the nuances of the complicated, flawed-yet-stunning human spirit. I respect sadness when I haven’t danced with her for a long time. She’s quite beautiful if you think about it. She appears like a cloud of smoke ready to choke you up and remind you that you’re human, that you’re vulnerable. She cracks you wide open. And no light will ever be able to leak itself inside of you if there isn’t an entrance to your heart. And the entrance to the heart is often crafted by pain.
I don’t really have a thesis here. If you’re experiencing empty depression, I want you to know that it’s not going to be this dim forever — that it’s not weird, or strange. I know a ton of people who experience it. I want you to know that your feelings will eventually find their way back to you. They have an intrinsic understanding of where you live, and they might even be walking toward you this very second without you even knowing it. Don’t give up.
Most importantly, know that you are so not alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. And even though we’re not feeling particularly connected and cozy right now, we’re still in this together. And maybe that’s what will help us the most: just knowing that we’re not “the only ones” will help us to exhale. And feelings, those sneaky little bitches, love to come back to us when we’re taking a giant, deep breath.