"Have you been avoiding me?" my therapist asks as he fetches me from waiting room 2. We walk down a long, beige hallway to his sparsely furnished office. As I plop onto a cheap foam couch adjacent to his desk, I wonder how many other people have sat on this exact cushion. The thought strikes me as sad. My therapist is nearing retirement (so he says), and the frequency with which he mentions this is truly alarming. He always wears all-black converse that zip up the side; I find this strange, but say nothing.
"Maybe," I respond, although the real answer is yes. Definitely. Of course I've been avoiding him, skipping my last two scheduled sessions because I've felt increasingly terrible, and the last thing I want to do when I feel terrible is talk to someone about it. He quirks an eyebrow at me, "And why is that?"
I see a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, because I've had an eating disorder for a very long time. "A very long time" is a vague way of saying, over half of my life. I don't know why I started "having" an eating disorder, but I'm willing to bet it's a lot like coming down with polio, or cancer, or diabetes. Nobody can really point to the exact moment in time their bodies begin metastasizing, just like I cannot point to the exact moment in time I decided to begin starving myself. In the grand scheme of things, the inception doesn't really matter.
Because my therapist specializes in eating disorders, I don't feel like I should talk to him about anything else, even though my eating disorder is the last thing that has recently burdened my mind.
"Lately, I haven't felt like eating," I tell him. "Actually, I don't feel like doing anything." This last part is undeniable; I can't concentrate on work, I can't concentrate on reading. I don't even feel like watching TV. Despite constant exhaustion, I can't fall asleep. I tell him all of this, pinching the soft spot between my left thumb and pointer finger with my right thumb and pointer finger. Pinching myself, I have found, is a good way to distract myself; a good way to avoid crying in front of a kind man I barely know.
Therapy is objectively weird. It is weird to sit in a tiny, dimly lit room and divulge my grossest parts to a near stranger. It is a strange, but incredibly useful practice, which is why I keep returning to the green plastic couch every other Thursday at 10:00 a.m.
He looks at me matter of fact, like a cat that is considering whether it is worth the effort to relocate to a sunny carpet spot or stay where it is shaded.
"It sounds like you're experiencing an episode of minor depression" he said.
It is easy to believe that everything happens for a reason. We like to think that every cause has an effect, and that the aftershocks of one event gently recede into the ether instead of igniting another quake. Life is more chaos than order, and looking that fact squarely in the face is a difficult, painful, terrifying task.
I've felt down before yes, but never uninspired to get out of bed. Never this relentless hopelessness that seems ill-founded to outsiders, and even to myself. I have an objectively good life, with a good, fulfilling job, good people who care about me, a safe home in a beautiful city, and a cat I love more than most people.
Sometimes, there is no single reason for feeling down or blue or even depressed. Often, there is no simple, straightforward way to feel better, either.
My therapist did drill down on one specific point: my lack of sleep. "Sleep is important," he tells me. I know this. He knows this. Everyone who has ears has heard that sleep is important. I make a mental note to later celebrate my exorbitantly low co-pay in celebration of not paying for such pedestrian advice.
"When depressed people can't sleep, their depressive symptoms worsen," he said. "Try listening to a podcast or audio book that's marginally compelling. Something interesting enough to capture your attention, but uninteresting enough that you're also a bit bored."
So the other night, after getting home late from an event, drinking half a glass of chardonnay and eating a roasted yam, I found myself curled up in bed with my cat, unable to sleep. My mind went from worrying about work, to finances, to Thanksgiving, to the weekend, to my car, to drowning (why??) to this blog, to my grocery list (can't forget laundry detergent), to a poem I recently wrote.
After an hour of anxious thinking and a bit of CBD, I opened Audible and downloaded Henry David Thoreau's, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, in search of the following quote, which was infiltrating my brain for no apparent reason.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
If you ever have trouble sleeping, I highly recommend listening to an 1849 collection of essays on resisting the civil government. You will find it impossible to stay awake, I promise.
P.S. If you ever experience a bout of depression, know that it isn't abnormal. Depression and/or anxiety affect over 18% of U.S. adults each year, but less than 40% of those who suffer receive any type of treatment. If you're experiencing depression, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), visit the National Network of Depressive Centers HERE, and learn more about he signs/symptoms of depression HERE.