This piece is not part of the poem series; I’m taking a little detour. This piece is actually a collection of journal entries from a summer eleven years ago when I was in one of the worst depressions of my life. For three months- ironically, just after leaving eating disorder treatment- I sat on a couch in my room and wrote about how miserable I was. In between I was self-harming, using drugs, and getting very, very sick with my eating disorder. This piece will hopefully offer a glimpse into the world of someone who walked with the shadow of suicidality, lived every day hoping she would die, and yet somehow managed to recover. The journal entires end with me beginning my school semester and still being really sick. It would take another eight years before I was really in recovery. I just want to show people that you can live through depressive episodes like this; as long as you stay breathing, there will be an end to it. You will eventually find peace.
Summer of 2000: A Chronicle of Major Depression
~ As I begin to move yet again I am experiencing the most hopeless inertia. In some ways it is similar to a feeling of needing to start over completely, toss the canvas overboard because your painting was beyond repair and must be created again from a fresh viewpoint. However, in this case I have the urge to drown with it… only I can’t do it. My hopelessness and feeling of impotence are so complete that even the energy for desperate suicidality has been depleted. I am left on deck without my previous work, without the motivation to work again, a wish to drown, and the weight of immobility that keeps me breathing.
I need a better analogy.
~ The most amazing thought process happened to me this morning:
I woke up. Not for any particular reason, no alarm… my meds wore off. Why am I awake? Sunday. No appointments to go to, no shrinks to see, no reason to get dressed or leave my room. Any phone calls? No. And bad TV.
I have to kill myself.
There is clearly no purpose for my existence today. However, even suicide seems boring and useless after last night’s attempt. You moron. The futility! If slitting your wrists actually resulted in death you wouldn’t be here to complain about the eighteenth time that it didn’t.
Sleeping is a better option.
Unfortunately, my mother keeps all of my meds in the kitchen. For safety, she says. Poor deluded old woman. I stand up too fast and promptly fall back down because I never EVER seem to get it through my head that my body is fucked up. Walking to the kitchen, I become annoyed with the hallway, its cold, hard, clay tile, how it strikes my thinly padded heels, sending shivers of pain up the bones. In the kitchen I gather thirteen pills including three painkillers and a couple of extra tranquilizers for good measure. I swallow them with the rest of the now tepid coffee in the pot and immediately return to my room, pausing only to turn up the thermostat because I’m fucking freezing in the Texas afternoon. I turn on the TV while waiting for the drugs to kick in. As per usual there was nothing on. I abandon all of my attention to the monotony of the Preview Channel. ER reruns tonight and my last thought before passing out is that now I don’t have to kill myself. ER used to be my favorite show.
~ This is getting really bad.
My self, mind, body, and my hatred for them cannot go on living in a state of panic over the others’ existence. That persistent fear that lies between self and self-hatred has taken me beyond a certain breaking, or perhaps boiling, point in my depression.
The body: too heavy to move. Sluggish, painful, and clearly defective; bloated to the point of bursting, my pale skin barely managing to hold the massiveness in. It is intolerable burden, this leaden mass of flesh.
I can identify few feelings or emotions. Pain. Despair, really. Exhaustion. As sense of being completely hollow, even inside the massive body, so that each thought rattles and echoes to create an intolerable internal friction.
But my head is really the worst. It’s a neurochemical war zone, serotonin and noradrenaline battling each other in my brain, horrifying images flashing through, screams and whispers and insults and threats.
It sounds so complicated for something that can simply be called misery.
~ Several major flaws in my thinking:
1) I am not, apparently, considered by other people to be expendable.
2) Hating yourself and your life and the body you live it in sucks.
3) There is no actual pressure from anyone in my life to do or be anything great; I am my own source of scholastic and vocational expectancy.
4) There are no people in my head. No one I know or don’t know actually sees me when I think they do and my life is not monitored and judged twenty-four hours a day.
5) There is not a pill to take that can significantly improve any situation I am currently in.
Self-realization is a trip.
It should also be considered that I have never actually accepted myself as bulimic. Every half-hearted attempt I have made to stop puking was purely and excuse to starve. If I am to recover from both disorders then every therapeutic technique that has been applied to my anorexia must also be applied to the bulimia.
To me, bulimia = shame. Nothing, but nothing, can make me want to die more than binging and purging. It is the worst. Full stop. Run to the kitchen, try to be quiet, fail, stuff your fucking face, sneak back, over the toilet, hacking, gagging, the metallic tang of blood and acid. GOD the acid burns, teeth marks on your hand, room spinning. Then back to the kitchen. Uncontrollable cow. Greedy slut. Fat useless lardass weakling piece of shit.
~ Shrink appointment today. Remember ask Dr. Hageman if there’s an Rx for:
. 1) The FUCKING PEOPLE in my head. I am being inscrutably monitored by these assholes, day in and day out. I am NEVER ALONE. Absolutely everything I do is watched and judged, from reading a book to taking a piss to talking in therapy. It does not stop. It is relentless.
I want them gone.
2) Heavy, sluggish, dulled painful feeling all over. Total lack of initiative.
3) Suicide being listed as Solution #1 to all problems.
4) One day this week, Saturday Night Live reruns were my reason to live.
5) The absolute fundamental basis of my eating disorder is that my body has been way too big for way too long. I found a way to be contained and I can’t let that go. Ever.
~ Things that happened while Shannon was gone (otherwise I’ll forget them):
Thursday– Saw Hageman, adjusted meds. Gave me a detox plan for Klonopin; Dad sent Mom a plant for their 26th anniversary. (The chicken-shit prick); Weight 81 lbs.; Surrendered bottle of Klonopin to Mom. Shit shit shit. At least I kept a little Valium and some codeine.
Friday– Mom tried to get me out of the house. We ended up having a big fight about my depression, treatment, etc. I said too much and she was extremely disturbed.
Saturday– Rented more movies. Drove by the new house. Fucking realtor touched my back and I felt creepy all night; I stayed up all night exercising– aerobics, crunches, ballet; a friend from Laureate called. She’s just as sick as I am. I skipped my meds.
Sunday– I slept from 9am to 1pm. Mom came in to tell me that I need to start cleaning and packing more. Uh-huh. So fine. I watched Boys Don’t Cry which was extremely disturbing. Read awhile and took a nap. Sigh. Then cleaning– laundry, dishes, kitchen, my bathroom… holy shit. At least all of that scrubbing and carrying and folding got my heart rate up so I was burning some calories. However, given my generally static state recently, is it a big fucking wonder that I’m too sore to move? The shock to the body of aerobics, insomnia, and major cleaning after virtual hibernation is drastic. Meanwhile, I’m trying to detox from Klonopin and practically drooling over my little bit of Valium. Being proactive is NOT what they say it is. I won’t get anywhere.
Frostbite does not hurt until it begins to thaw.
I want to die but I CAN’T!
I want it all to go away but it WON’T.
It’s exactly what Joni wrote in “Trouble Child”: You can’t live life and you can’t leave it.
~ Written after a trip to the ER where 3 liters of saline had been run in by IV in only 1½ hours. My kidneys could not handle it. The result was becoming Monstro the Whale for 48 hours.
I feel so swollen.
The image in my head is that of a toy, a plastic tube filled with gel and glitter, the kind that worms out of your grasp the second you pick it up. I held one in the mall once. When squeezed, the sparkly ooze would puff up, stretching its thin clear plastic skin to the absolute limit while everyone squealed at the thought of it bursting.
That’s what I feel like.
I can feel every little cell freshly fattened with saline and blood, buoyant as little beach balls, squishing up against each other under the weak confines of my body. I sit as if on a water bed and all movement is made through prematurely formed Jell-o. I’m water logged. And that is where the idiocy comes in: I know for a fact, an indisputable fact, that this puffiness is the result of the IV fluids given at the hospital. I understand that and even believe it a little.
SO WHY CAN’T I STOP FEELING LIKE A BIG, JIGGLING, BUBBLE OF BLUBBERY FAT ???
~ Today is the very sort of day when suicide turns into such a natural option for me. The simple action of swallowing pills and lying down seems to me to be as uneventful and prosaic as any other nap. I don’t know why I feel this way. Nothing particularly tragic has happened today. Or perhaps it’s that nothing even particularly different has happened today and that is the tragedy. I am spending my time merely waiting, death and the maiden, in a constant state of mutual antagonism.
For me, this is far worse than a time when my depression had those dramatic, desperate tragedies one expects. When my family was in denial– when my various chemical imbalances were as yet undiagnosed– when my life revolved around blood and bones and vomit and Valium and the problem was just that no one knew– that was a time that held more hope for me than right this moment. In that type of depression there is always a peak, a point where you just can’t take it anymore, when things are so awful and no one can see enough to help because you just can’t bring yourself to tell them, that you just have to die. In a peak like that you are pretty sure that you want help and it’s just that no one will give it to you. Killing yourself will be your calling card. A last fuck you to the world. You are not doing this because life it hopeless– perhaps the opposite. You are doing this because there is hope, damn it, and you know there’s hope, but everyone is so fucking thick that they can’t see your Pain! And your Agony! People can help but there is not engraved invitation with your name on it and you, lacking all initiative at this point, are pissed. You’ll show them how stupid they were and they will be sorry. The entire basis of a depression like that is anger.
~ I was thinking about the contradictions that are my truth right now. About the fact that deciding what to do with myself this evening ultimately determines my own worth at the same time. See, I really wanted to do was exercise– that was the favorable option. I wanted to get high, such as I get high. But my friend from Laureate and I swore off exercise together. So maybe I’d just lie down. No. I needed to be doing something. If I couldn’t exercise (be good) then I was going to binge and purge (be bad). I would force myself to eat until I just had to, had to throw up, so I could wallow in the blood, the knife-like pain in my stomach. Do I like myself today? Do I deserve to feel good? Do I like myself enough to make myself exercise so I can feel good? Or am I too worthless for that today? Today, I might just deserve to be tortured with my own weakness and failure. Should I be praised for my strength and rise above the flesh? Or should I be punished for my guilty existence?
~ I was able to see tonight, for just a moment in the dark, how thin I really am. The stark outline of my silhouette, the rarely seen dark in my eyes, pupils dilated under low light. I traced the borders of my body with my fingertips, traveling over the hills of my bones, the hollows of my flesh. I felt the arbor of veins wrapped around my limbs like vines, and what little muscle that’s left stretched tight. For a fraction of a second I thought, Wow– I finally did it.
But, I told myself, it can’t be. The numbers– the numbers don’t work. 79 lbs? How can I be thin when the scale says I’m not? No, I was wrong, I didn’t see clearly, it was only a shadow. Just a longing mirage.
I flipped on the light, and I watched my face suddenly widen in the brightness. The familiar sight of glaring flaws. My pupils shrink back into icy blue-gray, and my body is once again in excess.
And there was nothing to do but turn away.
~ My depression is so deep right now that it has become an actual physical pain. My limbs ache with the weight of despair. The inertia is set in to the point that movement causes stinging throughout my weak muscles. Even breathing is a struggle. Sometimes I let go, breath stops, and I just let my heart pound away at my sternum. It causes the cross around my neck to jump. Sometimes I just wish it would lie still.
There is no purpose for my existence. I just wish I were thinner. Maybe it’s appropriate to be out of the hospital right now. I’m not that sick. I weigh 81 lbs. I’ve got a good 15 lbs. to go before warranting treatment.
~ Emily staying here is just a nightmare. Mom told me that she said, “Tell Sarah I’m sorry I fucked up her life.” She thinks that I hate her. She holds herself responsible for my entire eating disorder/drug dependency/depression/suicidality/self-mutilation/situation. How’s that for a guilt trip?
I don’t want her blaming herself for all of my problems. Christ on toast. I mean, I’d love to blame someone for this, sure (wouldn’t we all) but she is not #1 on the list. For one thing, I’m the one who fucked up. For another thing, I deserve it. And while it is pretty clear how she might come to her conclusion, it isn’t so clear how long it could take to get rid of it. I just want her to forget about me. You know?
~ I was asked the other day why I starve myself; or rather, what I get out of it. I told you the answers that I knew from books. I did not tell you what I know from life. I did not tell you the truth.
I like to see the veins. I like I like to see the tendons and the muscles and the bones. I like to watch scars form on my skin and see my skin grow transparent. I love to see the blood pulsing under the veins. I need to see this. I need to see this to know that I’m alive, it tells me I’m alive. I need to know that I am here and that my blood runs through my veins as water through a stem. I need to see that I can be seen and felt and touched and held. I need to be held. I need to be held and rocked and petted and stroked and whispered to and sighed upon. I need to feel the comfort and protection of a mother’s loving arms. And I need to be able to feel this, within myself and in God, if I am ever to be truly free.
~ Last night my mother cleaned out and packed every drawer in the kitchen desk. I came in to make a cup of tea (China Green– it burns 40 calories a cup, so they say) so I was there when she stumbled across a shoe box full of pictures. Some of them were relatively recent– from the early 80s, Emily’s and my childhood. I really wasn’t interested except for a few pictures from the 30s and 40s– Mom’s family. There are no pictures of my father’s family. I’ve never met them (except for his monster parents), I don’t know their names, and what limited knowledge I have of them comes from nightmare narratives from Mom. Anyway, I kind of got caught up in her storytelling about her family’s pictures. Despite my tendency to desperately avoid any socialization (particularly with my mother), I stayed, sipped my tea, and laughed about old times with family and friends.
It was like a goddamned Hallmark ad.
And I seriously regretted it. I hate these photographs that portray a little girl pretending to be okay. I hate that they prove my existence then, in a time where I wished to God NOT to exist. Years I can’t remember for a reason. I don’t want to remember now, I can’t handle this. I want it to stop. I HATE THESE PICTURES! I HATE THEM!! They aren’t me, can’t be me, I wasn’t there, not dancing, not singing, not posing, not smiling. I don’t understand. I feel no connection to this girl in the pictures. It’s as if she’s one of those distant relatives that I’ve heard about but never met.
Like someone related to my father.
~ There’s something wrong with the self-hatred I’m feeling right now. The more I examine it, the more I realize that my hatred is for my situation– and myself in it. Looking back, at lot of my self-hatred started that way. How does that translate? The room is messy, feels chaotic; lazy bitch, get up and clean it. Mom is stressed from packing for the move; you should help more, selfish brat. The family’s in turmoil; it’s your fuck up, you weak little nuisance. I suppose you could take that and apply it to any situation. It’s always my fault. If something is wrong, I started it, kept it going, should keep my mouth shut, and fix it. Whining doesn’t accomplish anything.
Some little things I’ve noticed seem to be confirming the notion that I’m disappearing. I walk out under the porch light without triggering the motion detector. A nurse in the ER clips a pulse oxymeter on my finger but can’t get a reading. I try to adjust the desk chair but I don’t weigh enough to make it go down. It’s only little stuff but when you think the way I do, where everything is shot through the anorexia prism, you can build up a strong case.
~ I haven’t been making any sense in the last few days. Yesterday morning I broke down in tears and wailed for about 2 hours. I still don’t know why. I…. just… feel… shitty. My hands cannot stop shaking. My arms and legs feel clumsy. I am a conglomerate of bodily shame. That’s really the problem: I feel ugly. My God. Heinously, grossly, devastatingly ugly. Fat and fleshy and pale and short and something else– damaged, I suppose. Blemished and ruined. Exposed for the mess I truly am. It’s horrible.
There’s also this sense of being completely inept. As unsophisticated and lame as a two-year-old. I feel as if I will be laughed at and possibly scolded for all that I say and do. No, no! Stupid girl! Little shit! Leave me alone. Do it yourself, stop complaining, nothing’s wrong, do I have to spell this OUT for you?? Damn it, stop acting like a child. You’re being a brat, a wimp, a crybaby, a pain. You’re spoiled/needy/selfish/greedy/awkward/impossible/irritating…
Fuck. That is how I feel 24/7. How can anyone possibly get any work done (or even feel capable of working) with THAT in their head? Aren’t there PILLS for this? Aren’t I ON most of them? There is nothing in my life that I feel confident about, sure of, proud of. There’s nothing that I work towards. There is no purpose for me.
~ Therapy is extremely tiresome. It’s as if I have to narrate my life. Narrate it; like the fucking Greek tragedy it is, right? Every little thought and action falls into one of two categories: Worth (Therapy) Time or Not Worth Time. Most things actually fall into the first category but I don’t actually bring them up because I get tired of hearing myself complain.
Now, honestly, I realize that I’m never going to do any better for a therapist than Shannon. If anyone can possibly help me, it is she. I was incredibly fortunate that she fell on my path and I think the world of her. However, that does not inhibit my frequent inclination to want to rip her fucking head off. I become completely irrational and a big baby and think: all she does is TALK. Why doesn’t she just FIX IT? Hello?? I just want to scream at her to DO SOMETHING instead of just TALKING! It’s like that line in As Good As It Gets: “I’m drowning here! And you’re describing the water!”
~ I registered for school today. It made me want to cry. Actually, I did cry. The entire concept of participating in life is so painful. The idea of getting back to an actual schedule and some version of normalcy reminds me a lot of physical therapy. It’s like I’ve had two huge plaster casts on my legs for a year and a half, but even now that the casts have been removed I am still lame. The fractures may be mended and the bones stable, but the muscles and tissues are completely atrophied. It’s going to hurt and be tedious to build myself up again… three days a week I’ll be interacting with people all day. There will be responsibilities outside of taking my meds and (supposedly) keeping my weight up. Imagine! The brain can be used for more than calculating calories and trying to combat suicidal ideation. I’m taking piano for my elective and there’s ballet– my friends (what’s left of them) will probably start their movie group again– I’ll have homework– God. The whole thing is thisclose to normal. The abnormal part is that I won’t be eating during it all. Forget it. No way can I handle both.
~ I haven’t been turning to God in these last months. Actually, I haven’t been turning to anyone. This makes me want to cry somehow, like the baby girl grasping at her father’s legs, which are walking away from her– no! Don’t leave me! But I am so afraid that her tiny fists are beginning to lose their grip.
All these fucking thoughts! I don’t need it! Everybody just SHUT UP for one FUCKING second!! You all jabber at me at once it’s just obnoxious!
How is it possible for someone to so deeply despise herself? Where did she get the ability to hear this tireless criticism? Why does she feel so compelled to agree?
Is it selfish to do what I’m doing? Do I really need to spend all this time speculating about myself? (As if you’re important.) Is it selfish when someone else writes down their thoughts? (No, that’s called journaling, and it’s fine for people who have something interesting to say.) What if these notebooks were to be read by someone else? (You’re fucking pathetic. You’re in denial. Not one will ever care about your little self-important-badly-written-psycho-bullshit-thoughts.) Then why do I write and go to therapy? (Because you’re self-indulgent, crazy, and you have nothing better to do.) Lame-ass.
~ Having my wisdom teeth out on Thursday was quite and experience– It forced me to go almost four whole days without purging. FOUR DAYS. That may not sound like much but if you put into consideration the fact that I’ve been throwing up almost daily (minus hospital time) for a year and a half, this is major. Well, it was major. I broke down today and threw up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I just feel so disgusting when I don’t. Completely powerless– chaotic, weak, scared, out-of-control, you name it. Vulnerable… like every shield I have is down and anyone can get to me. If I’m not purging and/or restricting, who’s to say WHAT goes in and out of my body? There has to be SOME type of protection against intrusion or else everything that went into my body would have to STAY no matter how awful it felt. And over the last four days, everything has felt awful. There is this constant physical sensation of–God, there’s just no way to put this delicately– fingers. Being molested. It is disgusting. I want to kill myself. I pray for it to go away but I still feel it. I want to call Shannon, but what can she do? Just keep breathing, Sarah, stay right here, it’s you are safe at this moment, keep breathing, my dear. Helpful, maybe, while I’m on the phone but useless as soon as I hang up. I just want someone to tell me that this is not my doing, it is not unusual, and I am not completely perverted for fixating on it.
~ What is the matter with me? I’ve become a raging bitch. Yesterday my uncle, for whom I have great respect, started to make a sincerely concerned comment regarding my lack of appetite (for the third time) and I actually interrupted him with this: “Hold on. Before you say another word, let me remind you that you are speaking to someone who believes that the use of full-fat salad dressing epitomizes insanity.”
~ I have been pretty depressed lately. And angry– frustrated, I suppose. My eating disorder is a mess, so clearly the rest of my life is in chaos. I mean, my eating disorder is the central force of my life. If it goes downhill, then everything else goes with it. Because I still have about 98% of my self-worth wrapped up in my ability to starve and/or puke– that means that if I’m having trouble with it I automatically become incapable of anything else.
So anyway, in the past week and a half bulimia has been out of control. Maybe it’s because it was the week before my period; maybe it’s because my therapist is out of town; whatever. All I know is, I have been filled with anger and shame about my obsession with food and/or the lack of it. I am so depressed that because I can’t seem to get off my lazy ass and exercise. I’m eating more and more normally everyday. I’ve been at the SAME FUCKING NINETY POUNDS for weeks and I HATE IT!! All I want is to be seriously anorexic again. I want to be that small, gray, spindly, ghost of a girl that I was not too long ago. I want the sunken eyes, the drawn face, translucent skin, concave chest, layer of fur, bony joints, and jutting hips riddled with bruises. I want these breasts and thighs and this fat stomach gone. I want the whispers and worries and gasps and stares. I want to show everyone how strong I am, how powerful. I want to feel that alive again. Isn’t that ironic? That the times that I feel most alive are when I’m half-dead? That the only time I am not afraid of myself is when I believe I have achieved control through starvation?
I’m really sick.
© Sarah Ann Henderson 2000