In astronomy, a black hole is a region of space-time — the intersection of two dimensions — where / when there is such a strong gravitational pull that nothing — no matter, no light — can escape. Space, time, mater, and light collapse into each other, occupying a “space” that seems far to small for all that has fallen in.
I believe a black hole is a pretty good analogy for a certain level of Depression. And yesterday, I may have fallen into that black hole. Today, for the time being, while still depressed, I have escaped that dark and crushing place.
More about that black hole I fell into — or to be precise — I almost fell into. If I had fallen into the black hole, movement would have been impossible, time would have seemed to have hit a standstill, words would not have been able to escape my mouth, and I would have simply been a mass unable to do anything. I have seen loved ones fall completely into black holes and not come out for days.
That was not me yesterday. But for a couple hours I felt I was on the precipice of a black hole.
Words were able to escape my mouth, but it took a lot of effort, they came out mumbled and slurred (more on the slurring later).
Some movements were possible. I was, after all, able to type a blog post and respond to well-wishes via social media. But for the life of me, for several hours I was unable to get off the bed. I was starving; I had to go to the bathroom; but the muscles required for going from lying down to walking were not cooperating. This makes it sound as if it was simply a matter of not having the energy to move much. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated.
Empowerment gurus often speak of four types of health — physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual — that make moving forward in life possible. In my black hole analogy, I envisage these types of health as dimensions that collapse upon one another, messing with each other, and rendering some dimensions disappeared for periods of time.
And so, I felt I not only didn’t have the physical energy to make myself something to eat. I also seemed to lack to intellectual capacity to figure out how to start that process. In my mind, I knew all the steps, but I lacked the ability to string them together as a process my brain had the energy to work through. And while I had some physical desire to eat, I lacked the emotional desire to do anything about that.
At what I felt was even a greater extreme … I have a pile of magazines growing on my bed stand. I love the magazines. They bring me joy. They serve as a form of mental bubble gum that are simply nice treats. While during my mildly-depressive times, I find it hard to even garner up an interest in finding out what’s inside these magazines. When I fall into the depressive black hole, it’s even worse. It’s as if my mind physically tells my hands not to touch the magazines, it emotionally says it will take too much energy to read or understand what is on the pages, and “spiritually” (if that’s the right word) I think what would it matter anyway.
Now, what makes this minor black hole experience so odd, is that I may have no trouble getting the energy — physical, emotional, and intellectual — to get my hands to the light on my bed stand and turn it on or off … or even the same energy to pick up my laptop to check various social media sites … even the ones that share the content of the magazines I cannot seem to reach over and open.
It is a surreal experience. I hate it.
As I wrote yesterday, the black hole confined me to my bed for several hours and made me an incapable blob on many fronts.
A bit of an aside (or rationalization) for those who see me daily in public. I don’t spend a lot of time in black holes. But I am familiar enough with them to know when I am about to fall in (more on that later).
Much of the time — not in the past couple months — I am a normal, healthy guy who sometimes gets anxious or has periodic panic attacks.
But even in my disrepair of the past couple months, most of the time, I manage okay. Sometimes I may be considerably down or more than a little agitated. But I know how to do therapist-taught tricks, exercises, distractions, and medications that allow me to do one of three things: (1) reduce the bad; (2) delay the bad; or (3) escape the bad. I practice these tricks or use these distractions or medications if necessary. In other words, even when I am not healthy (even when a number of people are not mentally healthy) I / they / we find ways to function, do our work, live our life, contribute some pretty amazing stuff.
But sometimes I even find ways to contribute when I am nearing a black hole. There are some experiences I excel at … I love so much, they overpower the collapsing dimensions. Oftentimes, my job / vocation provides this opportunity. Now, regular meetings and / or data entry will not help me escape a black hole. But if I am to train someone on advocacy or organizing, if I am to help a task force strategize a campaign, if I am to negotiate with a policymaker, sometimes it’s as if a “Super Michael” switch gets flipped … and someone hands me a “You Are Good At This and You Are Needed” super drink.
Bam! I am on!
When that task or meeting is done … well, then it’s like air escaping a balloon. I deflate. And sometimes I fall into that depressive black hole.
A few weeks ago I had such a moment / event. I was meeting with one of my citizen leaders who I consider a good friend in advance of a larger meeting she would facilitate. I had prepped her well enough in advance that our pre-meeting wasn’t needed too much. At the pre-meeting, I was pretty much a blubbering mess. Slurred words (again, more on that later) and half-made points. I must of looked like an incapable numbskull.
But I told her with a second of clarity, “You start the meeting, you cue my part up, and I will be on. I am confident of this. It happens quite often.” Then for the next several minutes I returned to being a blubbering mess. As our team began to show up, our leader kept up the idle chit-chat so I could just detach, appear interested, and regroup. And then the meeting started. I was cued up. And I was on. I turned into Super Michael … for about an hour.
After the meeting was done and everyone was still milling around, I could feel the sinking feeling return. I nodded to the citizen leader and said, “Okay, my brain is turning off.” I mumbled a couple of words, and then I left.
These occasions are very rare. But I am fortunate to have colleagues, advocacy partners, regular folks in the field who support one another when we need to be able to offer our strengths and then recede. This is what I rely on when I am not healthy.
Now, about the future: Today, I met again with my “get-my-head-out-of-hell” doctor. We agreed that our first attempt to shake up Michael’s brain and bring it to a healthy place was not successful. Our Plan B failed.
Let’s move on to Plan C. That is where I am at now.
I’m changing meds again. This scares me. In the past I’ve had very not-fun med transitions. So I really don’t know what the next 2 – 3 weeks will be like. Thankfully, we timed it so these are not a 2 – 3 weeks when Super Michael is required. I also have a great team of people I work with (i.e. both in my office and in the field). So, when I fall down, others can pick things up.
And … hopefully … 3 – 4 weeks from now, I won’t need to flip any brain-switches, be handed any “You Are Good At This and You Are Needed” super drink.
I will just be normal Michael. Michael, who is jazzed by and good at social justice advocacy. And he’s just fine.
Now, as promised, about that slurred words thing and knowing when a black hole is approaching. As I noted in the first paragraph, in the real black hole, space and time collapse together. That description make the Depression analogy even better for me.
You see, some people, when falling into Depression report a different relationship with time. This has happened to me a few times.
I remember the first time I experienced it. For a few seconds I thought it was trippy-cool. Time slowed down. I was pumping gas into my car and the numbers on the pump seemed to slow down. It seemed odd, so I looked up. Cars seemed to be driving slower. And then I noticed my body was moving slower than I felt right. I said something to my wife. The words were slurred. In my head, they were very slurred. To her, the words just sounded really enunciated, very intentionally said. When the gas was done pumping, I walked to her and dropped the keys in her hand. I had read about this warped perception of time some depressed folks feel. So I just told my wife, “I’m experiencing Depression time (or something to that effect).” I told her I would show her more on the internet later. I also said I felt it wasn’t safe for me to drive.
Within just a couple of minutes I had fallen into a depressive black hole.
Since then, I am aware of slurred words and slowed down time as a queue that things could be getting really bad.
Yesterday, that happened, and things got really bad.
Another thing about warped perception and black hole Depression: Sometimes the Depression is so bad that I feel that my body is collapsing into itself. I feel as if my eyes are barely open, my shoulder (I think) must be at an exaggerated slump, and I feel that my face is contorted into a very painful look.
At times, when my wife is with me, I actually get angry. I think, “Why is she not helping me? I am obviously in a very, very bad place. I must look like I am about to die.”
A few weeks ago this was happening. I had already been experiencing Depression time. She already had the keys and was driving. I felt my body sinking deeper and deeper into the carseat. And I felt like I looked like a monster. I was getting really upset at Rebecca for not reaching out to me. But instead of lashing out, I figured, when we get to the grocery store, I’m going to go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. I want to see how horrible I look.
And so I did. I was floored by what I saw. There I was in my favorite outfit. I was slim, standing straight. I looked sharp. I just looked tired. Perhaps I looked like I was getting a cold. But that was it. No one …. no one could have had any idea — from my appearance — that I was in hell.
As I am trying to see the bright side — despite currently being depressed, fatigued, scared, and anxious — here’s a word to everyone else who is struggling with Depression and Anxiety and needs help: You need to ask for it. Your loved ones, your trusted colleagues may have no idea you are in hell.