My depression delivered me to its lowest depths in 2001, in a section of Brooklyn that had yet to be assigned a realtor-friendly nickname.
I lived in a four-story atrocity, right under the BQE between Williamsburg and Dumbo. Now known as “Vinegar Hill,” then we called the neighborhood Dumbsburg. My friend Clara and I found it via a realtor from Avalanche Realty.
During a haunted house-like tour of the place, we noticed everything was held together with caulk. The banister, the door frames, the dreadful dark wood paneling - all reinforced with ridiculous white caulk.
We took a moment in the basement bathroom to discuss.
“I fucking hate this place.” Clara glanced at the shower head affixed to the wall with caulk.
“I know, me too,” I admitted. “We should take it, right?”
“Yup,” she answered.
We weren’t looking for a place for long, but we were about to be homeless. Our couch surfing landed us in a loft with a bunch of friends, and they just received an eviction notice. We all would be without a home, and this place, though ugly, was huge. In the “office” of Avalanche Realty, an apartment in Crown Heights appointed with wall-to-wall pot smoke, we signed the lease. Four floors of caulk and mold, all ours. It was not until after we signed the lease and sent in our non-refundable security deposit did we realize all the windows were framed in Depends diapers to keep out the breeze.
After moving in, I woke up one morning crying, depression coursing through my blood. I felt contaminated, defective.
My mother called. I answered the phone crying, and couldn't stop.
“Are you feeling blue again?”
“Blue” is what she called it every time I went through this.
She never experienced depression.
The word “blue” made me fucking crazy.
“Well, what, Eva? You think that when you feel blue, it's worse than when other people feel blue?”
“No Mom, I don't,” was all I could muster.
I did not think my blue felt worse than other people's blue. However, I did think clinical depression felt worse than anyone's blue. They aren't the same thing. I know because I experienced both.
If she said the word blue again, I'd kill myself. Of course, that was hyperbole. But I did fantasize about it. Sometimes thought of little else. In fact, I came up with 365 unique ways to do it -- one for each day of the year.
January 1 – Eat a peanut butter and poison jelly sandwich for lunch.
January 2 – Practice bass guitar - in the bathtub.
January 3 – Lick the baby turtle. People have died from baby-turtle-induced salmonella. I know because I purchased one off the street in Chinatown for my pre-school class but found out it was illegal to bring baby turtles into schools because they’re deadly.
“Is anyone home?” my mom asked, desperation stuck in her voice.
“No, I'm here by myself.”
“Oh, I hate to think of you by yourself when you’re like this.”
“It doesn't make a difference, Mom.”
“Why don't you go see if you can go talk to a neighbor.”
Talk to a neighbor? How did she come up with that prize piece of advice?
Do I go to:
A) The drug dealer’s apartment?
B) The abandoned building where the homeless grunge kids are squatting?
C) The skater boy’s brownstone for a nice, soothing, hot mug of bong water?
To my surprise, exploring these options made me realize I had to come up with a more promising solution.
I hung up the phone and knew I had to do something.
My therapist from that time gently, but repeatedly, suggested medication and AA, both of which I resisted wholeheartedly. Regardless of the fact that I could barely stop crying, I was dead set against being medicated. It was so uncool. Among my group of alcoholic friends (we preferred the term “partiers”), the consensus was that we weren't going to buy into The Pharmaceutical Conspiracy Taking Over America. Instead, we got wasted every night and tried everything else we could think of.
I learned St. John's Wort, when taken with a shot of tequila, is ineffective. I started jogging, hoping the endorphins would give me a boost and counteract my hangovers. Every day, I ran around Prospect Park, past the carousel, the playground and the pond. For all three-and-a-half miles, I cried. It was supposedly impossible to run and cry at the same time, but I was defying the laws of nature.
I cried everywhere. In the laundromat, on the exercise bike at the gym, in restaurants, bodegas. Name a place; I cried there.
I cried more than any kid in my pre-school class. I hid in the corner of the playground, hoping none of the children would notice.
But kids notice.
“Ms. Eva, are you okay? Maybe you should try to use your words.”
I finally gave medication a try.
I couldn't believe what happened.
After a few weeks, I felt a new sense of myself, and a feeling of inner peace and contentment I hadn't experienced since I was five years old.
Not fighting for my life every day freed up my energy. I thought meds would rob me of my emotions. But now I could feel anger, sadness, hurt, fear and joy: an array of feelings instead of just that one - the depression I constantly tried to get away from.
The medication confirmed what I had resisted accepting. I do, in fact, have a mental illness.
After a few years of being on medication, I became well enough to realize that in addition to clinical depression, I had to address my alcoholism, and in 2005 I got sober.
Now, I accept I have a mental illness. I sometimes wish I didn't have to take medication, but then I look at the life I lead. I get to show up for the job of my dreams, helping other people share their stories. I get to have deeply meaningful relationships. I get to take care of myself well and can access the things to help me keep my depression at bay -- therapy, my beloved dance classes, recovery, walks with my dogs -- all of which are out of my reach when I'm not being properly treated.
When I start to have a pity-party about having a mental illness or needing medication, I think about the unlucky gifted people who suffered through this disease before medication was available, like Virginia Woolf and Vincent Van Gogh.
I remind myself to be grateful that I've been able to muster up the courage to share this story with you, with both ears intact and no rocks in my pockets.