Dancing with Demons: On Living with Depression

In Honor of my supportive, family, friends and fans.

One restless night among the many restless nights of living a life marred with relentless anxiety and depression, I dreamt that I was walking along a boardwalk somewhere in America with my psychiatrist walking alongside me, trying desperately to talk me out of ending my life. He said, “You are not the only one who feels lonely. You are not the only one who feels isolated. You are not the only one who feels abandoned. You are not the only one who feels empty, devoid of any energy or desire to get up in the morning, devoid of any motivation to do anything except wait for death to knock at your door; when you’ll gladly answer it out of pure desperation to escape the persistent pain of living with this depression that is slowly killing you inside.”

I have had depression as far as I can remember; that would be as far back as the age of ten when I was still in Haiti, before I came to America at the age of thirteen. I remember feeling very alone, even as I played with all my cousins and neighborhood kids. One time, I remember stepping out of the house and all the kids playing outside yelled “He’s out! He’s out!” and I rushed right back into my own self imposed isolation, and that was when my private hell began. But as often is the case with any type of mental illness, there is usually a genetic predisposition combined with environmental infractions that often triggers the disease; having endured psychological and physical abuse from my violent alcoholic stepfather for nearly two decades was certainly one of the catalysts that triggered my depression. Later on in life, I learned from my mother that I had an uncle (my father’s brother) who was mentally ill in Haiti. My mother told me that my father was ashamed of him. My uncle ended up committing suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train.

Then I learned that I also had a brother from my father’s side who, like me, was a tortured writer. He too ended up committing suicide. I can only speculate at this point when trying to find the correlations between the psychopathology in my family and myself. However, when it comes to my own battle with mental illness, the veil of mystery attributed to my family has been lifted. I know how I got to this point in my life, particularly now that I am experiencing a moment of psychological and spiritual health and clarity.

When I’m in a depressive state, everything seems to require too much energy and when that happens the only thing left to do is sleep, sleep and sleep some more. I figure that is the only way to escape that contentious and continuous feeling that resides in the core of my soul; this gaping maw of emptiness and despair. And when I am finally awake, I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin that absolutely nothing I do feels satisfactory; including watching television, reading, sitting, standing, walking, even breathing. The feeling of hopelessness is so potent that I would begin to think that death would be a welcomed alternative; since in reality, while in a state of deep depression, I feel like I am living a death in life; so the thought of being actually dead does not scare me one bit. The only thing that makes me feel better during those intense periods of depression is eating, eating and eating some more, at all times of the day, particularly after midnight. Then, comes the inevitable weight gain which ends up making me feel even more depressed. Then comes the psychological pathology that causes me to feel irritability, anger, hostility, indifference, impervious to everyone and everything around me, ultra sensitive, paranoid and completely delusional.

At the onset of a depressive state, the first thing I do is isolate from everyone including my own family. The second thing I do is start to drudge up things from the past that has happened to me or things that people have said or done to me that ended up hurting me in some way; that way I can have a prima facie rational reason to be angry and eventually lash out by making surprise verbal attacks on family and friends who try desperately to reach out to me. Soon after that, I start to feel like I don’t care what happens to me and/or everyone in my life, and the world basically. I begin to feel emotionally and physically detached both from my inner and outer world. After that, I begin to experience the unfathomable pain of existence; a pain so intense it penetrates the very nucleus of my being; essentially causing to ponder about an alternative in the form of actual physical suffering since the emotional pain gets to be too much to bare. During those times, I cry randomly about anything from my past or present. I find myself balling my eyes out watching reality television shows like America’s Next Top Model, and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. At other times, I find myself crying in my sleep and waking up and still be crying even harder. When I finally manage to find some energy to leave the apartment, once outside, I start to feel that people are staring at me or talking about me or laughing at me and paranoia eventually seize my very soul; which forces me to go back home and continue to avoid being among the living.

Eventually, my depression eases up on me and I start to come alive again and then everything feels like I’m experiencing them for the first time; the air smells better, the sun shines brighter and my lust and love for life and the people in it seems stronger. I start to reach out to my family, friends and the community at large. I realize that I need to observe these methods during deep periods of depression and not, after but that’s easier said then done. My psychiatrist have taken me off most of my medications upon realizing that they were making me worst and not better. Anti-depressant medications like Prozac ended up causing me to have violent tendencies; which is a total contradiction to my pacifist propensity. Now, the only medication I’m on is one that helps me to sleep at night, since my mind tends to be overactive during late night hours.

Another alternative that my iconoclastic doctor suggested is a treatment plan that focuses more on a behavioral approach than the traditional medicinal one. He has recommended that I enroll in a one to two year program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (D.B.T). This program helps people with mental illness cope with everyday life by focusing on more effective ways to react to the world around them; it teaches me about how to be assertive without being aggressive; how to solve problems instead of creating them; how to uncover the source of my problematic behavior and ameliorate them instead of simply overreacting because of them and generally how to be a healthier happier me. I have dropped in and out of this program because it requires a tremendous amount of discipline, tenacity and readiness to complete. And since I refuse to give up, the next time I write to you about it, I will have completed it.

The other way my doctor suggests that I try to keep my depression from completely invading my body and spirit is to maintain a relative level of structured daily activity. For me that means going to the library to do my reading and writing since I am currently working on my second book: a fictional collection of short stories infused with Caribbean flare; working as a Mental Health Peer Educator, volunteering at Reading for the Blind and Dyslectic (RFBD) and going to the gym. Sometimes I do more, and sometimes I do less, but the point is I do something. I know now that I have depression but depression doesn’t have me. Mental illness can be hazardous to your health; you can’t do it alone no matter what your dark mind tells you. When you feel like you’re drowning, reach out and someone is bound to pull you back into the world of the living.

Jacques Fleury’s “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe. Sample or buy the book at: www.lulu.com. 20% of proceeds will go to Haiti charity Partners in Health. For personal appearances or comments contact Jacques at: haitianfirefly@gmail.com.






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