it’s one of those sundays, commuting.
it’s 6:30pm as i exit the subway train, and then hop onto the escalator, waiting for this massive metallic tongue to take me up to the trains platform. meanwhile my mind wanders…
the walls are filled with tile mosaics : slate-grey, blue and white dots running on the walls. thousands of them, maybe millions.
as i observe their patterns, i can’t help but ask myself : how many antidepressants did my mother and my grandmother, and all my other relatives took in their entire life ? thousands of them ? maybe millions ? could all of them fit onto those walls ? (probably not)
suddenly, i’m at the top of the escalator, and everybody’s rushing to their next destination. i walk among the crowd, still trying to figure out how it all began…
how depression fell in love with my personal history.
even though this has been a private joke between me & myself, i’ve always knew that dealing with anxiety & despair had been a family sport for as long as i can remember.
on my mother side, several generations of both strong & anxious women have passed this condition onto the next. on my father side, melancholy struck the ancestors tree like a silent lightning, quite a long time ago or so it seems.
a family legend even tells that madness used to knock on our (already) massive wooden door once or twice…
what DNA could not transfer onto the next branch, common family lore (or should i say dolor?) passed it on to the next branchlet. what a relief to know that our legacy was never to be lost !
ever since i was a kid, i got used to see our family medicine cupboard filled with pills, tabs, drops and stuff i knew the adults administrated themselves, on a more or less regular basis.
my grandma of my mother side was clearly addicted to benzodiazepines. and so, every time the doctor came to visit her (whether she was sick or pretended to be) the prescription of clorazepate he handed her clearly looked like the Holy Grail.
i remember, once, a bottle fell open on the floor and she hurried to get the pills all back together. she even counted them. she didn’t look like a mad woman to me, but rather like a gold panner whose rocks almost escaped the pan. even then, she cared after me and was cautious that i never swallow or (worse) hide the pills.
even as a kid, i never considered those pills as candies for grown-ups, but saw them for what they were: a relief for the anxiety, agoraphobia, and vertigo my grandma used to experience throughout her whole life.
my mother, on the other side, took them mostly to avoid being excessively edgy or angry, and skipping a pill for one day never seemed to be an option.
i figured it was all a dark family business: my grandma must have handed some pills to her in a desperate hour of need, and from that moment, my mom became addicted too, reassured i guessed, that having those kind of crutches would definitely help her out through all of the bad moments she’d pass through.
she has deliberately slowed down her consumption through the years, switching to a lesser shitty benzo 20 years ago, and she even managed to stop taking them for a while (for a while) and then, this comforting safety net called her back, in her darkest times of need.
on my father side, well… let’s say we also got a pretty nice panorama dealing with mood disorder, anxiety state… and that damned affection called melancholy by the ancient greeks and my dear romantic poets.
my dad went through some pretty nasty sh*tstorms throughout his life. most of them he could have avoided, but he didn’t. and thus he tried some antineurotic pills once or twice, to finally discover smoking pot seemed to be working for him. // fun fact: my dad always told me he’d kill me if i was to ever touch drugs. and so did my mother. //
as a matter of fact, i never took synthetic drugs. i tried mushrooms once, and usually smoked pot, like most of my friends. never touched LSD, MDMA, or sniffed cocaine and all the other synthetic drugs out there (tbh no regrets). even at parties, concerts and going on clubbing. and i’m able to count my dead-drunk nights on the fingers of one hand.
let’s say my brain seems to produce enough imagination trips, while fulling a high quota of energy for me to burn (how my cortex does what it does is still a mystery, even to myself).
when i was a teenager, i’d never thought DNA was responsible for my chronic insomnia nor the state of deep melancholy i’d experienced on a very regular basis.
with adolescence came the usual package after all : puberty, teenage angst, self-esteem crash, identity crisis, and so forth.
but no one ever tells you that melancholy-driven children will probably evolve into melancholic-passive-aggressive-teens, and later into hardcore-melancholic adults.
what may seems like a mere poetic mood to some, can drastically become way less simple to live with when you’re afflicted with it.
by the time i was 13, spleen & ideal weren’t just some random thoughts a french poet had written while being high on opium.
i felt there was more than just being under the influence of a tender schizophrenic sadness/happiness combo, always jumping from one quick emotional response to another (another way to spell violent mood swings).
with melancholy came creativity though. and when creativity was distant, then the introvert sadness came to sit with me, and if sadness & tears weren’t available, anger came to pay me a visit, rolling its thunder & waves when i least expected it.
of course, adolescence is all about those fierce and savage emotions you can barely control. but one day or another, on the path of self-construction, there comes the challenge of social interactions, and how you’ll evolve or not, through a clique/a band. that’s where (usually) some of these emotions begin to temper by themselves, or at least find an echo in other people (friends) who are struggling, just like you, to make their own way into this harsh reality called the world.
i became friends with teenagers who had badass personalities, and whom even endured some pretty hard emotional hiccups. some of them even had parents under the influence of antidepressants too.
but except 2 or 3 stray dogs, all became functional adults who did not let their emotions overwhelmed them anytime & anywhere. they became the responsible & balanced type of regular people (though we all know everybody’s at war inside themselves).
least i can say is that becoming an adult has been quite a ride, and still is, actually (do we ever get to that final stage anyway ? i guess some of us won’t ever. and maybe that’s not so bad, after all…)
most of my friends know me as a cheerful and fun person, and most of them enjoy my Peter-Pan syndrome : never seem to age, never cease to be curious, always trust your heart & guts, and never take things too seriously.
but most of them never got to see the rest, the not so funny side, the harsh irony, sourness, dark impulses, anger, sadness and all the palette of hardened emotions that lay inside me, crawled up in some shadow corners of mine.
most of us humans do not show that kind of things anyway, right ?
raw emotions are rarely worn as shields, they’re not welcome, almost unacceptable in our civilized society. all lies in measure, balance, and how well we can behave with others, wear nice social masks and play nice with our peers. it’s about how deep we can hide our flaws from everyone and appear sane & safe.
identity seems best packaged in a lovely quiet box, the less the oversharing of our personal hidden time bombs of raw emotions, the better.
i was diagnosed with hypomania a few months after coming back from my last trip to Japan. 3 months, including 5 weeks of backpacking doing the 88 temples of Shikoku pilgrimage. that’s how much it took me to finally get to know myself a bit better, to force myself to look into one direction : my own.
to begin to see me as i truly was : uncommonly energetic, imperfectly balanced, emotionally raw, sometimes bad-tempered, curious & guts-driven, impulsive AF, mystic, introvert/extrovert in a schizophrenic way, and prone to always choose adventure/risk over reason in 80% of the time, while looking like a total responsible person wearing her best smile.
my parents had a hard time dealing with all this, and so did my best friends and boyfriends through the years, though most of them thought: “well, she’s the artistic type so it must be normal stuff she’s going through after all, she’s just a natural-born entertainer.”
later on, i found out my mom was both the fatalist & optimistic type but the fierce introvert of the family, while my father was the melancholic/pro-active/impulsive/risk-taker type (DNA has sometimes a sick sense of humor, right ?).
oddly enough, being able to put a word on my “condition” was soothing, after having been categorized as sad AF/probably highly depressive/bipolar so many times through the years by others, but also by myself. hypomania may just sounds like a psychopathology concept, a not-so-gratifying term for some, but for me it was a multi-colored & multi-shaped box i could finally fit in (and usually i’m pretty much the “i hate labels” type).
year after yeay, it became clear that identifying the symptoms of what laid inside of me became my favorite scavenger hunt and theme of analysis. like peeling an extraterrestrial orange… skin after skin, after skin.
after all, there was more than enough to do with: the turbulences, the roughness, the high & lows, and all the positive aspects that came with it : the energy that seemed to increase tenfold, the days that felt “this so great !”, even the lesser ones. my boat rocked & rocked & jammed to a beat i never quite listened that close before. all the subtleties of this very fabric that composed me, a world i knew almost nothing about, except the edges.
i always felt some of my perceptions were better left unsaid, untouched, veiled. they felt more secure behind high walls (mine), the risk being that they’d be too much to handle, not for me, but for anyone around.
(and alas ! i tried 3 times and 3 times… well, let’s say nobody could understand or at least not categorized me as the looney bin type).
so my usual technique of workaround was to pretend i could contain everything inside of me, like a time bomb waiting to explode, and that i’d be strong enough not to impose the detonation to others but myself. i truly felt this was the best way to manage the “problem” (which i later learnt wasn’t a problem at all, just my identity).
my therapist once told me the only harm done was to myself, and myself only. took me long enough to admit that what she said was true. and besides, in my heart i knew right from the start i wasn’t the guardian of a time bomb, but more of an atomic weapon.
when our family doc diagnosed hypomania, it was one of my darkest moment. i had came back from Japan and the journey of the pilgrimage got me, for one year or so, in a very (very) euphoric mood. it really felt like i was barely touching the ground with my feet. i was feeling so high, so positive, everything seemed so easy ! i became eager to talk to everybody and to make new friendly connections. i was doing tons of stuff, imagining new projects and new ways to share the streams of my newfound fountain of happiness.
but sadly, that kind of elation never lasts. i felt high on emotions and after the wave of exhilaration passed, came the darkness, and she didn’t came alone, but with anger.
the bomb inside me wasn’t ticking anymore and i had no time to duck nor cover, i never heard the blast, it was a silent one.
atomic i was, and atomic were the consequences. i had been arguing with my family for weeks, had shown signs of irritability, mania, anger, i became delusional and crying curled up in my bed became a routine. i felt trapped, tired, misunderstood, hopeless, lonely as Hell , and stuck in a sad place where i thought i’d never get out. like a stranger on an alien planet, not fit for this world that could never understand nor nurse me ever again.
after a few rounds of self-inflicted mental knock-downs, i finally decided to consult my family doc. he knew me since i was a child, so he saw right away something was off with me. after we talked about what i was experiencing and the option of going back to therapy, he said depression was a long-running thing in my family and that i shouldn’t opt out the fact that i may need some crutches too, even for a little while. it also meant caring more after myself, and less about the people i loved and tried to protect all the time.
he was kind and very comforting, said i had been strong enough to overcome all sorts of things in my family history, but somehow i was probably exploding because i wasn’t listening to myself closely enough.
i wasn’t where i was supposed to be and this increased the spectrum of everything i could feel. being oversensitive makes you break sometimes and that’s ok, but hurting like that wasn’t the usual stuff, he said.
everything i felt was heightened because that’s how i was built, and that was ok to be that intense, but i should understand that intense personas won’t break like regular people: they break harder, usually hurting the ones they love most in the process.
after we went through all the symptoms i was experiencing, together once again, he became a bit emotional and told me he couldn’t do more than to give me a prescription for an antipsychotic drug that would relieve me effectively.
the year was 2009. a few weeks later, i moved to a new place and put some hundreds of kms between me and my family, and life began to slowly bloom again.
10 years later, i may sound like a megalomaniac, but i’m pretty happy i never used the antipsychotics pills he prescribed me back then.
it took me quite some years to finally look after myself, to realize nothing was wrong with me, just not heard enough, nothing was off-balanced, just not embraced like it should.
i won’t add my pills of pain & depression to the family walls.
i’ll paint them with my own kind of color, the blue and fire kind.
because that’s how i found my place and true nature among this legacy :
i may be driven by spleen & ideal, melancholy may be my war song, but i burn bright and intensely, because i’m born and born again each time the tides of my emotions swallow me.
i’m a phoenix, and that’s the bird i’m going to carve as a coat of arms, on my heavy family doors.