Explaining My Depression to My Mother: A Conversation
Mom, my depression is a shape shifter.
One day it is as small as a firefly in the palm of a bear,
The next, it’s the bear.
On those days I play dead until the bear leaves me alone.
I call the bad days: “the Dark Days.”
Mom says, “Try lighting candles.”
When I see a candle, I see the flesh of a church, the flicker of a flame,
Sparks of a memory younger than noon.
I am standing beside her open casket.
It is the moment I learn every person I ever come to know will someday die.
Besides Mom, I’m not afraid of the dark.
Perhaps, that’s part of the problem.
Mom says, “I thought the problem was that you can’t get out of bed.”
Anxiety holds me a hostage inside of my house, inside of my head.
Mom says, “Where did anxiety come from?”
Anxiety is the cousin visiting from out-of-town depression felt obligated to bring to the party.
Mom, I am the party.
Only I am a party I don’t want to be at.
Mom says, “Why don’t you try going to actual parties, see your friends?”
Sure, I make plans. I make plans but I don’t want to go.
I make plans because I know I should want to go. I know sometimes I would have wanted to go.
It’s just not that fun having fun when you don’t want to have fun, Mom.
You see, Mom, each night insomnia sweeps me up in his arms dips me in the kitchen in the small glow of the stove-light.
Insomnia has this romantic way of making the moon feel like perfect company.
Mom says, “Try counting sheep.”
But my mind can only count reasons to stay awake;
So I go for walks; but my stuttering kneecaps clank like silver spoons held in strong arms with loose wrists.
They ring in my ears like clumsy church bells reminding me I am sleepwalking on an ocean of happiness I cannot baptize myself in.
Mom says, “Happy is a decision.”
But my happy is as hollow as a pin pricked egg.
My happy is a high fever that will break.
Mom says I am so good at making something out of nothing and then flat-out asks me if I am afraid of dying.
I am afraid of living.
Mom, I am lonely.
I think I learned that when Dad left how to turn the anger into lonely —
The lonely into busy;
So when I tell you, “I’ve been super busy lately,” I mean I’ve been falling asleep watching Sports Center on the couch
To avoid confronting the empty side of my bed.
But my depression always drags me back to my bed
Until my bones are the forgotten fossils of a skeleton sunken city,
My mouth a bone yard of teeth broken from biting down on themselves.
The hollow auditorium of my chest swoons with echoes of a heartbeat,
But I am a careless tourist here.
I will never truly know everywhere I have been.
Mom still doesn’t understand.
Mom! Can’t you see that neither can I?
— © Sabrina Benaim
Modern Spoken Word poetry, or performance poetry, is a more recent discovery for me. I’ve heard some pretty great speakers/performers. I first heard Sabrina Benaim’s poem on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel a few days ago. There’s a second version of this poem uploaded more recently from the Vancouver Poetry Slam. It’s a bit calmer and more laid back than the one I’m featuring here. I like this particular version better because the emotion she dramatizes in the reading reflects the words of the poem. The shrill nervousness (I’m not so sure that was intentional) she expresses actually enhances this performance. In fact, everything about this performance screams, “Yes. Yes, this is exactly the way I experience depression.”
It’s not often that I run across something that so accurately depicts an aspect of my life, but this does. Depression is a bear. I love the first part ending with: “On those days I play dead until the bear leaves me alone.” When I say I need to hibernate, essentially, this is the same thing. Right now, it just feels like the bear is playing with my lifeless body wondering should it curl up with me to hibernate in its den, waiting to devour me at spring’s first light after the winter thaw.
I’ll spend the winter taming the beast again, like I always do. I’m just really tired this year, exceptionally so.
I fight so hard to hide bits and pieces of “me” from others that I often wonder if I could be myself even if I really tried. Could I have an honest conversation like this? Could I ever show the emotion that makes me feel like a nervous bowl of Jell-O when I’m so accustomed to expressing the customary blanketed flatness? I’m not so sure I could.
It’s difficult to help others understand Depression, especially when those of us who suffer from it struggle to understand what is happening with our mind and bodies. Trying to gain some meaning or insight from the struggle may or may not be possible. Catching a glimmer of hope every once in a while may be as elusive, but wait out those “Dark Days” for that ray of sunshine that blinds the bear.