I wasn’t sure which looked more dejected, the middle-aged woman sitting cross legged in the leather club chair, or the plant sitting slighty wilted in the container beside her. She looked deep in thought, so I let her be. Though I could not let that poor syngonium linger any longer. I returned with some water, and sat down in the second chair next to the woman and the plant. I went about taking off the dead leaves, and watering the plant. The woman turned to look at me. “I was thinking about how that plant needed water, I just couldn’t find the energy”. I nodded at her, and continued my gardening. ” I know, it is so hard to do anything” I replied. And so started our daily ritual of caring for the plants on the unit. We would often sit and talk, going from room to room. I learned a lot about Joan, and I learned a lot about how depression looks from the outside. I knew what it felt like, and how very hard it was, but I didn’t really know how it looked.
Depression becomes visible eventually. Maybe not in the beginning, but eventually it is plain as day. Everything that makes a person who they are starts to diminish. That glimmer in your eye when you revel in a memory, or the expression on your face when someone compliments you. All of these small mannerisms disappear. The face becomes just a mask, indifferent to all that is happening around you. Your steps get slow, your gait less ground covering. There is nowhere you want to be, so why hurry? Even your speech slows. Each word quiet and measured, as you barely have the energy to create the thought and finish the act of getting it to leave your lips. Following a conversation becomes difficult, words begin to lose meaning. It becomes easier to just retreat into thought, than to stay engaged. It is that disengagement that is so apparent. Looking at it from the outside, it appears the person is merely a shell. No defining features, beyond their physical form. Yet, even that appears smaller. As they close in on themselves.
I know what depression looks like. I can spot it instantly. It is an insidious slow invader. Only affecting a little bit at a time, though you don’t really know what is lacking till it is gone. The laughter that came easily once is missing. The running commentary and quick wit all but faded away. You are probably wondering, but what is left? A physical body, a being that is breathing and thus living. Though not really living, in any true sense of the word. Existing in this time and place, to be marked present in only the physical sense. There is so much more to living than breathing. So what then happens to a person when they are in this severe depression? Where do they go? What has happened to all that makes them who they are? I think it is akin to some kind of hibernation, or dormancy. The mind switches off all but the most essential parts. yes, breathing. But what of everything else? Well it is very much like a hibernating animal. There is no drive to move, or to think. Stillness becomes the normal. The apathy envelopes you in its entirety. But, we are not meant to hibernate. That is not in our genetic coding. In that state, the mind is in alien territory. It turns back in upon itself. Left to its own devices, in charge of a body that will not do anything. It is obvious where the self-destruction comes in. There are no positives, no goals attained, no ground covered. In that stillness, the options become one. To leave the apathy and the failure, and to escape the place of zero accomplishments. Our minds are meant to work, and play, and to explore. They are not meant to be bound in one place, completely unable to yank free. In the depths of that spiral, when everything is so small and so limited, suicide is inviting. It becomes a way out, a type of escape. But because the depression has robbed our mind of so much, logic has gone too. In a brain working at capacity, death isn’t an option. There is too much to do, so much to complete. No, death isn’t even in the equation. Goals are being met, success is just around the next corner. All it takes is more hard work, and total commitment. No, death doesn’t have a place there. Yet, if you take away those goals being met, and the things being accomplished, in the complete absence of these, death becomes possible. The mind has deemed us useless, discardable, ready to be terminated. Without anything to thrive on, we become expendable. It is depression that leads us down that path. By slowly robbing us emotionally blind, piece by awful piece. I know what depression looks like. I know what it feels like. I know what it is to have your brain decide termination is a better option than breathing. Yes. depression is a terrifying thing. To think how much can be lost, and how easy it is to slide down that slope.
Joan taught me so much, I learned to see the process of emerging from depression. The subtle mannerisms that return. Just a small smile one day. A glint of expression in the eyes the next. The emerging of the brain from the darkest of depths. Like that poor wilted plant, begging for some nutrients. Joan awoke, slowly but surely. I remember seeing her caring for the plants in the day room, she was almost unrecognizable. Her motions clear and with purpose. The returning of the sense of accomplishment. It was like meeting a new person. It was in that moment that I realized how terrible depression really is, and how it destroys a person. Joan was one of the lucky ones, she responded to medications and returned to a place of goodness and peace with herself. I am blessed to have met her, and am fortunate to have been able to realize all that she had to teach me, if only I opened my eyes and watched. There is hope, and it is possible to come back from the deepest of depths. To return from that place of dormancy, and to once again be whole.