Content warning: depression, suicide

Did you ever hear that story about a guy getting mauled by a giant panda and having to hold his own intestines in until help arrived? That’s kinda how I feel today. Just holding myself together until help arrives. Except there is no help. This is just how it is now.

At some point, my arms are going to get tired and I’m going to have to let go. Then all my guts will come spilling out like spaghetti from a can and I’ll sink to the floor.

And when I’m on the floor, I’ll know there are people on their own floors who got mauled worse than I did. Whose floors are colder and harder. And that’ll make calling for help harder.

And no one can put the intestines back in anyway. That’s my job. I’ll reel them in, wind them into a ball and stuff them back inside. I’ll peel myself up off the floor and sew myself back together. And no one will see the stitches.

I’ll do all this before 2pm today. That’s when I’ll be needed again. I won’t have achieved much else. Because it’s hard to do things when you’re holding your intestines together with both arms. But the floor, the reeling, the sewing…that will feel like a big achievement anyway.


The above is a series of tweets I posted last week. I was sinking into the Very Deep Pit™ and I needed to put my feelings somewhere. I didn’t have the energy to channel it into fiction; I didn’t want it on Facebook where my friends and family would be worried by it, or try to help, or even think about it. I didn’t really need anyone to read it, I just wanted it out of me.

Depression is like herpes; once you’ve had it, it comes back whenever it goddamn feels like it.

Since that tweet thread, things have gotten better and worse in turns. Sometimes I’m sad and I cry, sometimes I’m angry or just mildly cranky, and sometimes everything seems okay and I just enjoy the relief. But for the most part, I feel kind of numb. Maybe everyone is feeling that way these days. I don’t know. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I have come to some conclusions.

People with depression are used to hunkering down.

Of course I can only speak for myself, and I’m certainly not qualified to talk about clinical definitions or text-book tendencies, so bear that in mind when you read what I’m saying here.

When I feel a low coming on, the first thing I do is to get the hell away from people. There are several reasons for this:

  • People want to help but they don’t understand that they can’t, so I end up telling them I’m okay (i.e. lying). I hate lying.
  • People feel pity (I don’t want to be pitied).
  • People don’t understand how it works and think I can just snap out of it (I can’t).
  • People get uncomfortable around unsolvable problems, so I know I’ll end up making them feel bad if I’m honest about the above points.
  • I know I have a lot to be thankful for and my low moods seem self-indulgent (I worry other people are judging me about this, too).
  • I don’t want to have to explain that it’s not “about” anything, it just is.
  • Depression is exhausting, and functioning around people drains energy I don’t have to spare.
  • When people share good news about their lives, I feel envious and resentful and I don’t like feeling that way towards people I love.
  • When people share bad news and other problems, the world seems even darker.
  • I don’t want this to be who I am, nor have it define how people see me the rest of the time.

I’m pretty sure this non-exhaustive list also gives an idea of why those who are stuck in a depressive episode don’t reach out for help. If anyone responds, the attempts at help—while well-meant and offered with love—are futile and exhausting.

I can’t look after your feelings while I hold my metaphorical intestines in.

That’s why we (or at least I) hide. So, in that sense, self-isolation is pretty normal for me. I do it on a regular basis to recharge and regroup. I hide in my home, I watch movies and TV shows, I play video games, I cry. I lament my lack of creative productivity. I stay off social media as much as possible because of the whole good news/bad news thing I mentioned above. Then, one day I wake up and things are better, for no particular reason at all.

The real bird-poop in the ice cream here, though, is that prolonged isolation makes depression worse. You need to exercise to give yourself the endorphins that might help shake this off. You need to get out of bed, wash yourself, buy food, clean your house, do your job, be a member of your family, and so on. Enforced isolation, like we have in this lockdown, is like drugs for sufferers of depression; we are being commanded to do the very things we usually stop or limit ourselves from doing. Stay home. Don’t be around people. Practice “self care”. It’s just the kind of warm, muddy sty that depressive piggies secretly dream of sliding into.

But, like drugs, it’s really bad for us over the long term.

Let me acknowledge at this point that I am very lucky. Depression has never given me suicidal thoughts nor made me lash out in anger at someone I love. I can put on a mask and be a human for the hours in the day I need to be a good worker and mother and writing community leader. I can be relatively confident that it will eventually stop.

My personal Very Deep Pit still has a view of the sky.

Others are not so lucky. I can only imagine what it might be like for someone who has recently lost their job or, worse, a loved one. Someone who was already at the bottom of a pit when this started. Someone who can’t get outside for a walk. Someone who has other health problems that affect and are affected by depression. Someone who doesn’t have a family or friends to exhaust them with useless help that at least lets them know they are loved.

Then there are people who simply don’t have the option to hide. They are locked in with families in small apartments. They are essential workers who have to keep things running for the rest of us. They are refugees living in tent cities waiting for the virus to hit. Or, they’re in the hospital fighting for every breath.

All these people are out there, also locked in their situation, also suffering, also probably silent.

If this is you, I’m sorry. I wish it was different for you. I don’t know what else to say besides I hope you make it through.

For me, that’s the worst part, and it’s the part that helps me understand those who sometimes entertain thoughts of ending it all, even though I haven’t been there myself. Those moments that are so desperately empty you’re left shaking from even going near them. On the inside, you’re panicked and wild and you feel like a caged animal; on the outside you can’t seem to make yourself move, make your eyes focus, raise a hand to hold onto whatever piece of reality might save you. Those moments have no connection to reality.

If you’re starting to feel that awful desperation that signals the bottom of the pit and you can’t stand it a moment longer, reach out no matter what it costs you.

If you’re sinking, call a helpline. Single-serving strangers have no agenda besides helping you hang on, and they are trained to know what to say and not say.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can’t understand why someone would do anything to stop it.

I’ve heard people complain that those who suffer from depression and consider, attempt or commit suicide are selfish. I understand why some see it that way, but I can’t agree. It’s not selfish to have a health problem, and it’s not selfish to imagine what relief would feel like when that problem is at its most vile. It’s absolutely human. It’s also human to be glad you survived, to fear that you might end up back there, and to be glad again the next time you make it through.

If you’re reading this and you know me personally, please don’t let this whole thing change how you think of me. Because, since you know me, you know the end part of my tweet thread is as true as the beginning: I will pull in my guts, sew myself back together and claw my way out of the Very Deep Pit. If for no other reason than because spring is upon us here in the north and I need two free hands to carry a book and a chair outside into the sunshine.

photo credit: San Diego Shooter Bai Yun walking around via photopin (license)