You see it’s easy when I’m stomping on a beat,
But no one sees me when I crawl back underneath
Paramore, Fake Happy
On the outside, it’s business as usual; smile wide, telling stories, joking, laughing with friends. But the smile is stitched on, the stories and jokes are shallow and the laughter is forced. All features of a carefully applied mask. A mask that is so frequently worn it’s hard for even the owner to tell what is real and what is not.
On the inside, you’re perched precariously on a ledge, being ever so careful not to make any movements that may send you careering over. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, the ledge crumbles beneath you and you’re spiralling down, out of control. You’re falling and you’re not entirely sure where or when you’re going to land.
It’s dark and lonely and terrifying. You don’t know how to get out of here or even if you will. You’ve done it before, you’ve survived but this time it’s different. It feels never ending, numbing and excruciating both at the same time. There is no light and you’re stumbling about in the darkness, so lost and so alone, hoping and praying for someone or something to come and save you. And you feel weak because why can’t you pull yourself out of this? Why aren’t you strong enough to help yourself? Because you don’t think you’re worth it. You can’t be dependent on other people, you don’t want to rely on them but you need to feel close to them, to anyone because the loneliness makes you ache; a hollowness inside you that has been there for as long as you can remember. It’s an emptiness that spreads throughout your body, bubbling beneath your skin, a burning rising through your neck and face, tearing into your stomach, pulling you in all directions.
Everything is black, the blackest it’s ever been, and there are voices all around you, angry voices, persuasive voices, dangerous voices you know you shouldn’t listen to. The hopeful, reasonable, logical ones are drowned out, barely audible, like they’re on another frequency entirely, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t quite tune them in properly. The bad voices are the loudest and the most overwhelming, pervading your every waking moment. They continue their cavalcade, telling you to hurt yourself, that things will never get better, don’t bother trying, the only way out is to die, you’re unlikely to slip away in your sleep even if you wish hard enough, so kill yourself, make it as painful as possible because you deserve pain, there is no other option, best get it over and done with before someone can try and ruin it but better make it good, better get it right first time, we don’t want any failed attempts now, do we?
The blackness is all-consuming. It’s pushing into you from every angle, blocking you from seeing behind or ahead. It clouds your brain and bars you from thinking clearly. It has you on fire and drowning and falling and bleeding all at the same time. It stops any rational thought from being heard, all the while it continues to tear into your skin and burn you from the inside out, polluting your every thought and memory as it does so. It seizes any positive thing you think you have and twists and distorts it so badly, you can’t remember what the truth is anymore. It tortures and torments you by destroying so completely the thoughts you hold on to, whilst you look on helplessly, too weak and damaged by it all to put up much of a fight.
Other people go through this, have battled it and survived, but that doesn’t help in the slightest when you’re like this. The knowledge of that won’t make these feelings vanish or ease the blackness that has its claws in you.
Sometimes it doesn’t hit you as hard as other times, it just lurks in the background or manifests itself into another destructive emotion. It’s jealousy, a searing hot knife slicing into the sides of your face. It’s loneliness, slowly cutting at the strings of your heart, the dull snap echoing round your chest, sending an aching pain coursing through your body, leaving behind a gaping chasm where your heart used to be. It’s a self-loathing so intense, it’s a wonder it hasn’t destroyed you before now; a need to slice and hack at your own flesh in an attempt to transform you even slightly into a different person. Anyone will do. Because this can’t be it, this cannot be what you will be like for the rest of your life, otherwise what is the point of clinging on for much longer? There will be nothing left to fight for.
But then, far off in the distance, a small flickering that may be called hope. It’s an effort and a struggle to get to that one thing that may save you, but you think maybe it might be worth it. You have to crawl across the ground, pulling yourself along, attempting to get to your feet, your legs a dead weight beneath you, and trying to make it out before you run out of oxygen. And then, after the longest, hardest journey of your life, you get there, exhausted. You’ve finally reached stable ground again, away from the blackness. You’re bruised and raw and the wounds are startlingly fresh. Hopefully this time, you’ll have time to rest, to clean yourself up and look after yourself, try and focus on the good things, make a start towards getting better. Hopefully you’ll have enough time to prepare yourself before the ground starts to crumble and the cycle begins all over again.
If you’re lucky, the mask will not have slipped an inch. Those around you will be none the wiser, oblivious to the battle that rages on beside them. Even if it does crack for a second and they catch a glimpse of what’s beneath, no one will ever really understand.
You will find that some things take your mind off the agony inside your own head from time to time, and others even make you feel an emotion similar to joy. They will keep your spirits up, but the more you get used to the routine of this, the quicker the effects wear off and it’s a desperate search to find the next thing that will administer a diluted version of happy. Because there is always the inevitable comedown and the familiar feeling of inching towards that ledge again. This is not sustainable and you know it. It’s no way to live.
This is what my depression feels like and it terrifies me.