I have never fancied myself a creative writer, but in trying to express how my illness feels right now, I find myself looking for the perfect comparison: The personal overhead storm cloud, the veil of sadness, the blinders – all good metaphors for depression, but I find, in trying to process my most recent spiral out, these comparisons do not entirely capture all the small, painful struggles of this illness.
I was driving home from my parents’ house at nighttime in a blizzard. My mom had asked me to stay the night, but knowing I’m not a morning person and could not guarantee that I would wake up in time to get to work, I decided to start the 2-hour drive around 9pm. I’m a confident driver, a highway warrior. It would be fine.
It should come as a surprise to no one, that my mother was right.
I knew she was right as the all-weather tires fishtailed on the on-ramp to the highway.
I definitely knew it as I was white-knuckling the steering wheel at 30km/h taking refuge from the wind behind a transport truck.
She is always right.
Despite the windshield wipers flapping furiously and straining my eyes, I could not make out more than two feet in front of my face. Trundling through the whiteout, my side and rearview mirrors were of no assistance. My only goal was to remain on the tire tracks made by the equally idiotic souls ahead of me.
Every couple hundred yards I would feel the car slip beneath me, threatening to skid sideways and out of my control. I was exhausted but terrified to peel my eyes away even for a second. My shoulders and stomach and legs remained braced for …something – impact? An unexpected obstacle? A blast from the horn of a transport truck?
I held myself in this state of paralyzed concentration in complete silence for hours, for fear that any distraction would push me off the road. I’ll never know how many details of that drive I missed when I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the immediate road ahead. Save for a couple of transports that barreled by me at just furious speeds, it was just me and my wits on that road.
Rather unseasonably, I’m reminded of this experience and how helpless it made me feel. Yes, I could have stopped for temporary reprieve, but the drive remained ahead of me. All I could do was move forward cautiously and with very little control of my surroundings, despite how intently I concentrated. My muscles ached from tension.
In the thick of a particularly stubborn low, the sensations are familiar. Sometimes I can’t see past how shitty I feel in this moment, or more than two feet in front of my face, even though I know that this disease moves in cycles of highs and lows. I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, the trick floorboard to disappear beneath my feet, to slip and skid sideways off the track. The aftermath of bracing for impact lives with me for days after, with physical and physiological costs, and while I’m so tired, sleep is not always a relief. I move forward, slowly, in the direction I guess I’m supposed to go, knowing full well that I do not have a confident grasp on everything I need to attend to, but doing what I can.
It looks like I’ve found my metaphor, so the English major in me is satisfied. But I suppose this is where the real work begins.