“[Depression] just gives me that dark smile, settles into my favorite chair, puts his feet on my table and lights a cigar, filling the place with his awful smoke. Loneliness watches and sighs, then climbs into my bed and pulls the covers over himself, fully dressed, shoes and all. He’s going to make me sleep with him again tonight, I just know it.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
During the summer before my senior year of high school, I had a lengthy discussion with my dad about depression. We’d watched a few of my friends and acquaintances battle with the condition, but because I had never exhibited any symptoms or red flags, he thought I’d never have the illness in my lifetime, even though it ran in the family.
“If you haven’t experienced depression by now, you never will,” he said.
It’s such a relief to hear that from a parent, as it’s the kind of thing you’d like to believe. Up until three weeks ago, I’d been replaying this eight-year-old line in my head for months on end, trusting that my father really was the most reliable source of information in the world and on the mark that I was too resilient, happy, and inherently positive to come face to face with a mood killing, life sucking, personality zapping sickness. He was a former New York City cab driver, for crying out loud. No one had better instincts than burly, no-nonsense Paul Donovan from Jersey, yet it recently dawned on me that he was off in his depression assessment. As much as I hate to admit it, even in print, I suspect I fell victim of this illness upon relocating to the concrete jungle.
I initially had my doubts because the timing seemed off. You’d think I would have suffered a malaise of the soul right after graduating college and having to work full-time, but it didn’t hit me until I moved to NYC in October. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to reside in New York, but I made the move so swiftly and abruptly that I didn’t have time to catch my breath or formulate a game plan on adapting to the northeast. Worst of all, I had to start fresh whilst navigating the clogged, damp, rank, creeper infested roads of NYC. I quickly gathered that the job for which I’d moved to New York wasn’t a good fit, so I resigned from that position and almost immediately returned to the news business. Though I felt at home in media, I also felt very alone in my new city. I had friends, but nothing and no one to cling to.
At first, I chalked up my perpetual exhaustion to the cold weather, logging in long hours at the office, and staying up late to watch brainless Netflix freebies. There was also a poltergeist in my old Brooklyn apartment, and that annoying attention whore kept me up at night more than I’d like to admit. Life improved dramatically when I settled down in the upper east side with an awesome new roommate (and dodged the asshole ghost), but I still felt an overwhelming wave of tiredness six days a week. It wasn’t a sleep deprivation kind of tired, either, but a defeated comatose state. Everything I was tasked with seemed trying and impossible to tackle, whether it was taking out the trash, washing the dishes, or writing a letter. It was all too much, and I wanted a break from activity. When I noticed that so much was burning me out, I began to worry I was mentally unwell, but I assured myself I was not depressed because depressed people are incapable of climbing out of bed. I got up every morning and fulfilled my duties all right, but not without feeling worn out and spent.
It wasn’t until three weeks ago, when I finally started feeling excited, upbeat, and well-rested again, that I figured out what had been wrong with me for half a year. Rushing to New York took a toll on my well-being, and switching jobs twice and apartments three times in a six month period reminded me that I had no roots or stability. That’s why I chose to stay a member of my gym in the west village despite the fact that it’s far from my residence and work office — I needed one thing to stay the same. So the fitness center, which is always a pain to get to, has been my constant since January. I absolutely love everything about it, and perhaps that’s why the guy at the front desk says whenever he checks my name off the attendance sheet, “You always have such a huge smile on your face. How do you do it?” I laugh, but once told him that it’s all a facade, which it really isn’t. It’s just how I feel at the gym, which has never let me down or changed the game on me as everything else in NYC has. NYSC has helped me maintain some shred of normalcy, as running allows me to clear my head and release toxins, but as many non-competitive exercisers know, working out does not bring the level of joy one finds among friends. I needed human connection, not more time on the treadmill. Most of all, I needed consistency, which I’m still trying to find.
As much as I love my job and the endless amounts of writing opportunities in NYC, there’s a large void I need to fill before I can really call myself an adult or feel content. Now that depression has taken off, I can try to do that with my eyes wide open and energy level high. Unless I stay up late, I don’t feel sleepy, and if I am a little exhausted, it’s because I haven’t been resting enough, not because my body believes it’s dying. I’m awake and wired again, and I know how to avoid slipping into the darkest of places from here on out: by understanding that depression can strike anybody at any time or age. My dad was incorrect that I was immune to the awful condition, but hey, now I’m aware my father didn’t know everything after all. How’s that for the first of many life lessons a girl is supposed to learn?