It is very hard to describe what mental illness is like to someone who has not gone through it. It is a subtle change that takes place not in the world, but in your head. The changes it brings come slowly, and the mind is quick to mask most of these from the person, so that one generally does not notice it until it is manifest. Even the subtlety of the attack, and the way the brain works to co-op the victim, very much like a virus stricken computer suddenly working hard to help the erstwhile hacker, makes the process all the more unbelievable. You simply cannot imagine you are acting crazy right up until the moment you do. And then you can’t figure out how in the hell you got there.
It’s very much like waking up, and going about your day, only to find at the end, when you go to take a shit, that somehow in the course of your day you took off the white underwear you very carefully chose in the morning, and replaced them with a green pair you have never seen before, and then proceeded to put them on the outside of your pants. The worst thing is not realizing you just spent the last part of your day walking around the block, talking to your neighbors, eating at the local restaurant, all with green underwear on the outside of your pants. No the worst part is not knowing where you got the underwear from in the first place. Like there is some secret store you go to buy green underwear, but only when you are so crazy that you cannot remember.
I am lucky in that I have only a very mild form of depression. Pretty much the worse that happens to me is I suddenly find myself almost entirely rudderless, and with only the littlest bit of ego to manage most adult tasks. I can function, after a fashion, but I have very little initiative to do anything but go home, and crawl into bed. For instance, I can sit on a corner waiting for a bus, but I cannot raise my hand and waive down a taxi. The thought of doing something new, like riding in a taxi, is almost paralyzing, even though it would get me home sooner, and I had the cash in my hand. I can even realize that I am depressed, and need to get myself to a safe spot soon, before it gets worse (like all mental illnesses, it can get worse), but I cannot manage to do anything that is out of routine or unsafe. Mind you, the very next day I can wake up and take twenty taxis, without batting an eye, so the effect is not permanent. I’m lucky in that also know now pretty much when I’m depressed, and have a good handle on my limitations. I am also able to work when depressed because I have learned how to not shut down completely when there is work to do. It’s always in the denouement after late night work that is the hardest.
I can leave a client’s office, after a long day’s work, and walk out to the bus stop to wait for the bus, very much like I did last night, and then at some point while waiting for the bus, suddenly and completely shut down. I was planing on going to a restaurant to celebrate a friends birthday, and sometime after I got off my normal bus, and waited for a new one to take me to the restaurant, I lost it. I could not wait for the bus to come (it never did), and while pacing for it, I grew more and more agitated until I got to the point that I started having a very strong desire to yell at any car that passed, and it was all I could do not to scream at the the occasional pedestrian. Even I know, while in the grips of depression, that this is not normal. So I watched 20 taxis pass, all of them empty, and waited for my normal “safe” bus to come, and take me home. Almost 2 hours after I left the office I stumbled through my front door, and crawled into bed.
On the way into work this morning, I saw several taxis. All of them seemed perfectly safe. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to call a friend and apologize for missing his birthday. Fortunately for me, he is a good friend and will understand.