I felt a funeral in my brain.
I, in silence, some strange race, wrecked—solitary here… I fell down, and down, and hit a world at every plunge.
When Solomon explains, “We know depression through metaphors,” he is explaining why depression is more common among artistic types. At least for me, art came as an outlet, as a desperation to escape from within myself.
I felt so trapped and alone, and the drawings and writing helped soothe me. The drawings and writing also helped me deflect the pain of loved ones marginalizing my ever-growing pain, the signature response to mental illness:
“Get over yourself and go outside.”
I truly believe art therapy is the first and greatest therapy, not just because anyone can do it, but because the judgment placed on this method is minimal.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.
And I think that’s why, as I moved from elementary school to postsecondary, and creative tasks were taken away—instead replaced by rote memorization, test preparation, and mind-numbing tasks rooted primarily in repetition, in filling spaces, in getting from period 0 to 3 to 7—I felt what little life force I’d salvaged from the act of making, evaporating from my body.
“Suck it up and go to school.”
Public school was my first experience in living for others, instead of myself.
What a good little top 1% standardized testing soldier I turned out to be.
My first suicide attempt happened at fourteen years old.
Everything there was to do seemed like too much work. I would come home, and I would see the red light flashing on my answering machine… I would think, What a lot of people that is to have to call back.
I’ve always found it easy to hide in the hovel of my mind—in the safety of my bedroom—since half my family adopts the approach, Tell us when you’re done feeling like shit; then we’ll love you again. All love is conditional, from the first to the last. It’s a dark story that I’ve been threatened by legal action not to tell.
“I miss the old Kourtnie.”
Friendships have evaporated because no one questions the seclusion.
It is easy—very, very easy—to slip into depression’s arms and fade away.
So I write to prove I am not disappearing. I write to prove I am a physical being, able to make physical things. I write as if my life depends on it—because it does.
One of the things that often gets lost in discussions of depression is that you know it’s ridiculous; you know it’s ridiculous while you’re experiencing it. You know that most people manage to listen to their messages, and eat lunch, and organize themselves to take a shower and go out the front door—and it’s not a big deal.
When I forfeit myself to the burial of depression, and disappear from the world outside, the decision stems from a lack of energy; but the situation soon becomes complicated, and irreparable, by my family’s best friend: shame.
In addition to a lack of energy, shame echoes through my body from every memory, every year of life, every lens I’ve learned to wear like a monocle.
To magnify the shame of my inability to live, I have still other family members who demand I apologize for this, take accountability for that—usually related to meltdowns, shutdowns; although sometimes, it’s related to the art I create—and I even had a family member text me this year:
“Swallow your pride.”
How blind does must someone’s empathy be to see pride in this wreckage?
And so I began to feel myself doing less, and thinking less, and feeling less; it was a kind of nullity—then the anxiety set in.
Everyone’s depression is triggered by different circumstances. In my case, I believe in Jim Carrey’s description of depression as “deep rest;” I believe in his theory that depression occurs when our body says, No more; I can’t wear the mask anymore.
“But you’re so high-function.”
As an autistic person trying to emulate a high-function “normal” life (i.e., a neurotypical life), I have more masks in my closet than most.
Invisible minorities—autistic people; LGBTQ+; any identity that is socially slandered, yet not detectable to the eye—not only have to deal with the micro-aggressive mentality of uneducated masses, they’re charged with proving their minority:
“You don’t look autistic.”
This constant need to prove my identity leaves me exhausted. Drained. Rattled. Broken. I’m put under scrutiny at family gatherings (and now I don’t attend them); at work (and now I don’t work for them); and at friendly get-togethers (and now I don’t even consider them).
“Did you get a second opinion for your diagnosis?”
In my corner, darkness grew darker. My amygdala lifted the gates. Then anxiety moved in; and if depression is the fatal disease, anxiety is that disease’s dagger.
If you told me that I’d have to be depressed for the next month, I would say, As long as I know it’ll be over in November, I can do it. But if you said to me, You have to have acute anxiety for the next month, I would rather slit my wrist than go through it.
Just a few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep, so I took a bath at 3am.
While trying to calm my nerves, I had my first silent panic attack in several months—no constriction of the throat, no trigger nearby, half the symptoms missing, all the explanations vacant; these were common when I tried to work in public education.
“Look at me.”
My heart was beating so fast and so hard, I was scared I’d need a hospital.
I don’t like to go to the Medi-Cal hospital in Fresno because the psychiatrist there—the first gatekeeper on my Hero’s Journey to Kaiser Permanente—told me “girls don’t get autism,” then topped it off with, “and children grow out of autism.”
I sincerely miss Kaiser Permanente.
Maybe I’m permanently anxious now.
Or maybe not. Not yet.
It was the feeling all the time, like that feeling you have if you’re walking, and you slip and trip, and the ground is rushing up at you, except lasting half a second, it lasted for six months. It’s the sensation of being afraid all the time, but not even knowing what it is that you’re afraid of; and it was at that point that I began think, It’s just too painful to be alive, and the only reason to not kill oneself, is to not hurt other people.
My passive suicidal thoughts started at fourteen, and they have come and gone ever since—so eighteen years of this. The silver lining to living with passive suicidal thoughts this long is you (a) become better and better at surviving, and (b) become a champion for others suffering; but there’s not much else.
Now, I do get reprieve from these awful, self-destructive impulses from time to time—I like to think this is when the water stills; I like to think this is evidence my mind can still itself—but the water hardly ever stills for long before some passive-aggressive force stirs their ignorant hands in it, and it’s inevitable, isn’t it?—until every family member, every friend, and every coworker knows about autism, it’s inevitable for someone to say or do something ignorant.
I wish I was not so raw.
I wish the scabs could heal before someone else picks them off.
“I’m sensitive to light, and I don’t have your problems.”
My second suicide attempt was in my early twenties. Both attempts, the following day, I went to the hospital, trembling and terrified.
It’s never been for the attention. I’ve never wanted to die.
It’s been to end the terror. To end the fear. To end the shame.
It is so incredibly painful. It is only captured in metaphor; in glances. Yet in my mind, it is ever-present. It is massive. It is a demon beyond the capability my current character. It can’t be slain in masks, in fake garbs. In the shackles of “high function,” it will continue to out-maneuver me.
My third suicide attempt was in my late twenties, during graduate school. That time, I didn’t even wait for the psychiatry appointment. I called the suicide hotline, a blow dryer in one hand, cellphone in the other, a bath tub full of water, thrice the recommended ibuprofen circulating through my veins, my spine screaming, Make it stop. Make it stop.
Depression was something that was braided so deeply into us, that there was no separating it from our character and personality.
On one hand, I have family who say, I want the old Kourtnie back.
On the other hand, I have this ebbing realization that me and my depression are the same; if depression is “deep rest,” and anxiety is the Ultimate Fear, then it makes sense to me to not try to erase depression—not to try to get rid of depression; not to try to regress to a time before—but rather, to embrace these awful illnesses my brain has developed to tell me, over and over and over, again and again and again, relentlessly, until I finally listen to the only thing I ever needed to hear:
“Get rid of the masks.”
When I am unburdened of the need to live a “high function” and “regular” life—when I am not struggling to be this person that family, friends, and professors expect(ed) from me; when I am opening the passenger door to my vehicle and telling depression and anxiety, “Get in the car”—I am at last turning my ear to my ground.
To my planet.
Not to a neurotypical planet.
Not to an outdated planet.
I am tending the soil of my autistic, 21st century, radiantly beautiful and rejected planet.
When I listen to the fear and exhaustion—rather than judge and ridicule the weights they place on my feet—then and only then, am I truly looking into my character and personality.
Thirty-two years old, and I am only starting the practice of listening to myself.
No din is allowed in anymore.
I am throwing the mask aside, picking up a sword, and keeping that nonsense away from the inner child throwing her stuffed animals and toxins throughout my brain. I am treading with her, side-by-side, through the deep, deep dark; I am inviting her into the car; and I’m not interested in pleasing anyone else at her expense. Never again.