I’m 17, and I’m quite sure that by year’s end, I’ll be dead.
Actually, that’s not quite true, because I already am dead. My body remains intact, yet my inner systems have been thoroughly corrupted. They’ve been corrupted by The Disease.
The Disease is a curse. As in, a literal curse. Not from a demon, perhaps, but more likely and more terrifyingly from a mere genetic anomaly combined with a series of shitty experiences and a broken environment and a few really stupid choices.
I am on my bed. My bedroom door is locked, not because my parents will walk in without knocking, but because I am attempting to shield myself from anything that might interrupt my despondence. Make sense? No, of course not, but The Disease is the greatest provocateur to have ever existed.
I’m overwhelmed with a sense of nothingness. I suppose this is how I might feel if I were to find myself starving: would I only think about food? I would, right? So does it make sense that when I find myself in the throes of The Disease, I find myself consumed with nothing?
I’m becoming a hotbed of lethargy. Answering a phone call, for example, seems too tiresome, so I ignore most of my calls.
Yet contrary to popular belief, I’m not walking around in a fog; in fact, my reality seems to be clearer than ever: I am consumed.
When I first heard about The Disease, I imagined it amounted to people in a perpetual state of grief, overridden with loss so great that nothing could help them. I’m quite surprised to find that’s not the case at all. I’m not sitting around thinking about how sad I am or reflecting on the tragedy of life, I’m not really thinking about anything at all.
Thinking, after all, requires some mental effort, of which one has little when The Disease takes its hold. Instead, I find myself wasting inordinate amounts of time thinking about, well, nothing. As in: I’m thinking about the fact that I’m not thinking about anything, except it’s not so much that I’m doing this consciously, it’s just happening.
At this point you might ask: how you do think about nothing? Surely you must be consumed with something. While understandable, that’s wrong. Something is particular, specific, while nothing is a vast continuum of, well, nothing. That makes it rather incomprehensible, which, while difficult to think about, isn’t impossible. I suppose it’s kind of like the universe: you can ponder it profoundly, but it’s really damn difficult to think about “it” like you would think about, say, Batman or some other mindless drivel like that.
But I digress. We’re getting really philosophical. While philosophy and religion might be helpful when removed from The Disease, they're not exactly tools you suddenly find yourself wishing to sing along with when you’re consumed by it. My Future Self will teach me that this is not true--that there is much wisdom and solace to be found in the ancient traditions--but for now, Epictetus and Jesus and I just aint jivin'.
After a few months of this seemingly frozen existence, I realize what a tragedy this all is. Dreams, fantasies, loves, desires, goals, plans, adventures are annihilated from every operating system in my body. They are no longer welcome. What is welcome is The Nothingness. The Nothingness becomes my constant companion. But it’s really incongruous, because I know the inherent quality of nothingness is nothing, yet it still is. As in, it becomes personified, and follows me around like a rabid dog.
An obvious but ludicrous question that might come up for you now is this: why? Why are you consumed with The Disease?
There are certain events that have happened parallel to The Disease’s infesting my system. Several friends have died. I’m in love with a woman I can’t have. I feel increasingly alien to my own family. I am utterly bored with the town I live in and desperately want to run off to New York.
But if I identify any of these events as the “cause” of The Disease, I’d be a comical joke.
Depression isn’t a linear experience. Ever. We seem to be predisposed to ascribing it to the “bad shit accumulation effect”. As in: bad shit happens, then some more bad shit, followed by a cesspool of shit--kind of like the slam dunk of shit--and eventually, The Disease walks in and declares: “you’re mine, bitch.”
The reality is more like this: I am uncontrollably fixated on the shit that resides inside every system in my being. As in to say, I am totally infested--down to the cellular level--with a peculiar form of horrific shit. And it’s not just any shit: it’s a carefully crafted, extremely particular shit, tailored exactly to my physical, physiological, biological and neurological specifications. It’s a rather exquisite shit. The only problem is, the shit is me. I am the shit. It’s a shit carved from heaven. Except it’s not: it’s carved from hell.
It’s like an idiosyncratic vortex of idiocy. It’s not idiocy in the literal sense, it’s much more complicated. I remain entirely aware of my intellectual abilities, my gifts, my power to engender change. But it’s as if that awareness has been amputated from my core, no longer applicable to my existence. I can reach for it, but The Disease is a jealous overseer. No room for any of that productive, hopeful shit. The Nothingness must reign supreme.
I liken The Disease to methodically and sustainably being consumed by a parasite. The parasite takes hold in your core, protruding throughout every aspect of your being, until ultimately, you become identified with the parasite, and the two are no longer distinguishable.
I spend a lot of time wondering whether I have any options. Without fail, the options presented to me are nonexistent. Is this a phase? A life stage? Am I genetically predisposed to this? If so, am I screwed?
At this point I feel I must point out a few unfortunate but essential truths. I’m sorry to be a downer, but when The Disease takes hold, you can forget about finding “understanding”. No one will seem to understand you, and among those who have a chance, your mind will rather craftily convince you that they don’t understand anyway.
Other people you meet who happen to be afflicted by The Disease won’t understand either, because their sense of dying will only reinforce that you’re dying too, and then you’ll feel like you’re them, and they’ll feel like they’re you, and you’ll both want to die even more.
You’ll also engage in a form of what might be called The Circular Paradox: you espouse on how awful your circumstances are, then your friend does the same, and so on. Eventually, you’ve spoken for hours and said essentially nothing. Then you go home and find yourself feeling exactly as you did before. Not exactly a vehicle for healing is it?
Instead, The Disease does something remarkable: it convinces you that what you most need is perhaps that which is most destructive to finding healing: isolation.
Isolation is pernicious, terrifying. It takes away your most primitive need: connection. Without connection, The Disease is left to feed upon you with even greater tenacity. You have no choice but to become ever more absorbed in your own pain. Isolation becomes like a drug for The Disease; an agent of perpetual harm. And it always works.
Another unfortunate truth: when The Disease has tightened its grip on you, you’ll also be forced to lie. A lot. Your “loved ones” will become so convinced of your impending doom they’ll do everything in their power to make you better. This will be well-meaning for the most part, though their efforts will be useless, even harmful. Because you’ll constantly feel pressured to appear “better” than you are--you’ll go to great lengths to hide The Disease.
I suppose I’m supposed to give you some sort of fix, but with my apologies I’m not going to. Sorry, but Tiny Buddha’s “7 Steps To Beat Depression” articles are nothing but a cesspool of platitudes. And not just any platitudes, but maggot-infested purveyors of falsehoods. Though they’re very charming and all, what with their prescriptive analysis of all things based on everything except science, psychology or experience.
Unfortunately, to give you some sort of prescription would be to commit an act of great transgression. I’m really quite feeble at the moment, and although I really would like to get better, I don't know how. What I can offer is this: if you find yourself enraptured with The Disease, hear and bear witness (more on that in a moment).
Where do I find healing? Strangely, the only time I feel relief is when I’m in the presence of a few particular friends. Though there are moments--fleeting, beautiful vistas of connection, that occur with Bryant, Marvin, Lauren, Jason, Kim, Luke, and most importantly, Ruth.
I believe I’m in love with Ruth, and by this point I realize that I’ve placed an enormous burden on her. The Disease has turned me into one of its finest disciples: a self-absorbed aberration. I’ve also become much more hyperbolic, though can one be hyperbolic when The Disease itself is a powerful manifestation of hyperbole? Can you hyperbolize hyperbole? Beats me.
What’s most interesting though--at least as seen by my Future Self--is that there’s a catch: along with all of that narcissism exists a deep well of empathy and understanding; a paradigm of perception so strong it scares the shit out of me.
For reasons I can’t understand, people start coming to me for help. By any clinical definition, I am categorically fucked up. I’ve told people I want to die. I don’t talk to my parents. I won’t see a therapist or take any drugs. Why the fuck would I do that? To mitigate my suffering?
I repeatedly want to walk into my school’s auditorium during an assembly and declare: But I’m not suffering, I’m dying. IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME, YOU IDIOTS.
Make no mistake, The Disease never feels anything but terminal. I suppose this is where I find some semblance of hope. Not for myself, but for others. I possess almost steroidal empathy now. I seem able to sense other’s pain as acutely as they can. Thus a sequence begins: people come to me, we chat for a time, and they leave with some veneer of understanding. I don’t fix anything, but I seem, somehow, to be “helping.” Over time, people start coming to me regularly, as if I possess some wisdom that I don’t fully comprehend.
After a few months, I detect a pattern: in my conversations, I’m not really doing anything. In fact, the one thing I do seem to be doing well is listening. That’s all. I might listen to someone spill the inner workings of their soul to me, only to find that I haven’t said a word in an hour.
There seems to be some refuge in this.
I guess it makes a certain sense. There is something about this “listening” shit that seems to have an effect. It allows us to traverse this aloneness together.
Case in point: One school official tells me I’m not “clinically depressed” and that I’m really just going overboard with all this melancholic shit. Her message is clear: stop creating such a fuss and move on.
A few weeks later, a guidance counselor lets me cry in his office and extrapolate on the horrors of my existence like a drunk imbecile. I feel really shitty as I write this because while I can remember his surname, I’m completely forgetting his first. After all, we became pals. Referring to him by his surname doesn’t feel quite right, kind of like if your cool uncle was a general or some shit--and you forgot his name--instead of calling him “Uncle Bob” or whatever, you called him “General.” I mean, the latter wouldn’t be incorrect, but it would be just, well, wrong.
Anyway, Mr. Surname doesn’t judge me...he listens patiently and offers me a bit of insight. My Future Self can't remember what he told me, but it was certainly better than the two competing schools of idiocy being thrust upon me by all the responsible “adults”.
School of idiocy #1: Yeah, life sucks at the moment, but you’ll be fine. You’re just a stupid teenager. I know your friends died and shit, but you’re still alive so you should just be grateful and pull yourself together.
School of idiocy #2: You want to kill yourself!!?? How DARE you!! All these emotional outbursts are entirely unacceptable cries for help. You’re a whiny little shit, and your problems are interfering with our ability to lead unremarkable, boring, completely inconsequential lives. Either behave properly or we’ll shove every antipsychotic “mood stabilizer” we can get our hands on into your system.
Ummm...where’s the love, y’all?
I can’t help but wonder: is THIS how the “adult” world addresses emotional crises? If so, I’ll be pretty much fucked if I manage to survive this death trap and get depressed later in life. If they think I’m crazy now, surely I’ll be shuttled off to Bellevue if I have the audacity to find myself decimated by grief in the future. Shit!
So, how the fuck do I remove myself from this affliction?
The self-improvement gurus would tell me to take responsibility; in other words, they’d rather tactfully tell me to get over myself. This I find ironic, because in this decrepit state, there’s nothing to get over.
The only option, really, is oblivion. It seems to me that the fastest route to this oblivion is death. I don’t necessarily think that death will “put me out of my misery”, but I’m struck by how logical it seems nonetheless. Suicide isn’t the end so much as the logical outworking of what has transpired over the preceding months.
So I make a plan and execute it terribly. I go to my best friend’s place when he’s out of town, down a bottle of ibuprofen, and pass out. Needless to say, it doesn’t work.
I try again a few weeks later with a blade to the artery. I fail again, but this time it’s not because I’m ignorant, it’s because I chicken out. I start to bleed my wrist, but stop just before I cause any serious damage. I wish I could tell you I was suddenly struck by some sort of otherworldly revelation, but the fact is that I just got scared and stopped. This actually made me feel worse; after all, I couldn’t even kill myself properly.
One thing my dad said really stayed with my Future Self: we didn’t always agree, but one day he said, entirely without judgment: “just remember, if you choose to do it, you won’t be able to change your mind.”
I think this conversation remains with my Future Self because in that moment, my dad wasn’t trying to change me or hurry me into therapy or confine me to a psych ward. He was merely attempting to get me to reflect on my choices.
The Disease obliterates some of your reasoning skills, no doubt. Though perhaps because I had chosen not to participate in the pharmaceutical or recreational experimentation process many people in my situation would gladly partake in, some of my reasoning skills remained intact.
They weren’t enough to prevent me from attempting to take my own life, but they quite possibly ensured that when I did try to kill myself, I would royally fuck it up. Which is exactly what happened.
Who knows, maybe The Disease doesn’t want you to die. After all, if you die, it dies, so it convinces you to hang on, if only for a bit longer. Given that it knows you can’t be isolated forever, it employs the aforementioned weapon: The Nothingness. The Nothingness is offered as a sort of companion. She’s perhaps the most abominable companion available, but hey, better than nothing, right?
Oh wait: The Nothingness IS Nothing.
So does that mean I’m alone or not?
Am I existing in an abridged reality? A sort of fluid delusion?
That might be true, but the problem inherent in that hypothesis is that I know I'm not “right.” So it can’t be a delusion or fantasy or psychotic disorder of some kind, because I’m completely aware of my own ridiculousness.
This is one of the most insidious aspects of The Disease: it’s FULLY AWARE that it’s ridiculous, and IT KNOWS THAT YOU KNOW how ridiculous it all is.
With that said, what’s the point in wanting to die? Maybe all the folks who say that life is meaningless and thus suicide is logical are wrong: what if the pointlessness of it all means that I might as well live until I die and see what happens? After all, we’re all marching towards death, and often much more quickly than we expect. Right?
This is, in the end, what provides the catalyst by which I live to see a future: a delusional, desperate, beautiful hope in the face of the absurdism of life.
For now, it seems I'll live another day. Perhaps in this pain--in this nothingness--I've found something to live for. I can bear witness to the horrors of those around me, and excoriate The Disease with love.
This isn't going to be easy, but somehow I know it's worth it. Even when it fucking sucks, it's worth it to fill this emptiness with something.
I might not make it. But I'm going to try.
I'm Tim, and The Adversity Within is a blog dedicated to examining the topic of resilience in the face of adversity, while inspiring readers to stand headstrong in their grief and fight for their own evolution. Living with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, I explore topics like post-traumatic growth, survival, and self-reliance. No one should face adversity alone. Subscribe to my mailing list below for free weekly writings delivered to your inbox, and follow me along on Facebook and Twitter.