Over the summer my depression made an unwelcome reappearance on my emotional doorstep. For therapy I tried this exercise I had read about somewhere, which was to write an imaginary dialogue with my depression. This roll-and-tumble dust-up of a conversation was the result.
Depression: Gee, I just arrived. Why are you not smiling? After all this time, do I not get a hug? Have you forgotten about me? After all the great times we have had together, the least you could do is invite me in.
Me: You are not welcome in these parts, buddy. Go. Away.
Depression: Why, you treat me like a total stranger. How could you? We share so many fond memories together.
Me: Of course. You came to me right after my thirteenth birthday. You shamed me for being fat. I weighed 113. You held up a distorting mirror you had stolen a circus fun house. I lost 13 pounds. My dad made me see a psychiatrist.
Depression: Haha, psyche! You fell for it! But, hey, that was just my little joke. You know you need me, right? Without me, you always get too complacent. As soon as you think you have life all figured out, I have to come back and prove that you have more to learn. What were you thinking while I was gone anyway, that life was all rainbows and kittens? That you had any control whatsoever over the things that matter most to you? Oh, stop glowering like a cornered wildcat. Cheer up, Sugar Pops. Would you like some bubble gum?
Me: No thanks. I’m not really into bubble gum these days. The TMJ. Oh. Wait. What flavor is it? Hold on. Is that grape? I love grape. Wait. No! Never mind. Keep your silly bubble gum. Why are you here?
Depression: Well, the simple answer is you have bipolar disorder, so I am automatically attracted to you. Those chemicals in your brain, they drive me crazy. They call to me and I have to come. No cure. Remember? Just pills. Did you think such a tiny thing as a pill could banish me forever? Throw all the pills you want at me. I will always find a way to seep, slink, or ooze through your defenses. Even if you think you are feeling better, I will always be there, lurking beneath the surface of your psyche waiting for the day you will see me, once again, in all my dark glory.
Me: Seriously, Depression. (Looks around self-consciously.) I need you to go away. If someone sees you here, standing at my doorstep, it will be…embarrassing. I have written powerful, cogent inspirational articles about how I have heroically overcome you! People have praised me for writing them, told me it helped them. Besides, by writing essays, I have proven that I am way too mature for you. I have outgrown you. I am too wise for you!
Depression: Yeah, I remember those essays. That was back when your writing was good. Well I am here to invalidate every last word of them. The fact that you thought you had escaped me makes my surprise appearance all the more fun. Would you like a Skittle?
Me: A…what? No! I would not like a Skittle! What do you do, walk around with pockets stuffed with candy?
Depression: (Shrugs) Suit yourself. You can watch me eat a Skittle. Unlike you, I will actually be able to enjoy it. Mmmm. (Chomp, chomp, chomp.) So fruity. So deliciously grape. Fruity, grapey goodness! Om nom nom!
Me: Um. Grape? Well, I do love grape. Wait. No! Never mind!
Depression: I tell you, Sugar Pops, you are missing out.” (Chomp, chomp, chomp)
Me: Listen, Depression. Can we just make a deal? You go eat your candy. I will stay here and do some writing and other activities I enjoy. I will draw and read and listen to good music and try to forget you were ever here. As for you, you must have other things to do, too. What are your hobbies, Depression? Surely you must have some favorite activity, besides torturing me. Crocheting? Salsa dancing? Pottery? Maybe you could go to Greece. Or even better! I hear that the moon is very interesting this time of year.
Depression: Actually, I brought my suitcase. I am moving in with you. Where should I hang my life-size rendering of your first elementary school teacher who ridiculed you in front of the class for coloring outside the lines? Look. It’s made of multi-colored popcorn kernels! Is that unique, or what?
Me: Oh my God! You have bags of luggage all over my yard! No! There is no way my house will hold all that baggage. What did you do, rob a department store?
Depression: What? No. I have gotten used to a certain lifestyle, and I like having all my stuff with me. No worries. I’m certain we will find ample room for all of it. Just throw away all your boring cosmetics. I hear the no-makeup look is in. Hmm. No. On second thought, that might not be the best approach for you.
Me: Depression, have you really thought this through? Where do you intend to sleep?
Depression: My favorite room, baby: inside your head. I will swirl like a dark thread through your dreams. I will make your food bitter. I will distract you as you read. I will rehash memories for you to regret. I will point out despairing news articles that suggest the world will be ending soon. I will question your worthiness to exist. Oh my goodness. (Claps hands) We are going to have so much fun together!
Me: Fuck you, Depression.
Depression: You might as well just settle in and accept that I am going to be here for a little while.
Me: Depression. Tell me. Why? Why now? I have been doing everything right. Taking all my bipolar meds. Writing consistently. Keeping journals where I record everything good that is going on in my life. Thinking positive thoughts. Making silly gratitude lists and trying to forgive my enemies. I have meditated. I have read books about how to keep you at bay. I have practically abandoned social media, just so I could be happy.
Depression: Oh? Who told you abandoning social media would make you happy?
Me: All the articles people posted on social media!
Depression: Fascinating! But to be honest, I am a little insulted. You thought going off social media would get rid of me? I have existed for millennia, kiddo. Social media is not even a blip on the cosmic calendar. Kings have fallen before me. Hoards of writers just like you have succumbed to my wiles. I have dangled the bottle and the sword before the despairing, brought celebrities to their knees. Think about it. Was everyone always happy before social media came along? I suppose it’s fine to find a scapegoat. But remember how ancient I am and give me a little credit, will you? Social media. Ha!
Me: Depression. Why are you here?
Depression: Whoa. Maybe it’s time we had a little talk about who is in charge, missy. Unlike most things, I am not bound by silly rules like cause and effect. I come and go as I please. You will never figure me out. I live by my whims. You can take your pills. You can meditate and be as mindful as you want. You can read self-help books, study philosophy, try to logic me out of existence, but you will never be able to control me. Face it. I will always be part of your life. I will always be part of you.
Me: Okay. I get it. You will always be with me. Like you said, as soon as I think I have life figured out, you will be there to scramble my thoughts and have me doubt everything I think I know. But Depression, I have a big question for you. A big important question, a question I want you to really, really think about.
Depression: Oh. You want to ask me a question? Pray, tell.
Me: Tell me, Depression. What would you do if I laughed at you?
Me: Depression, you didn’t answer my question.
Depression: I was just thinking. Your question is wildly hypothetical. No one laughs at depression. I am a very serious matter. Why do you think I always wear black turtlenecks? Why do you think Psychology Today writes so many glowing articles about me?
Me: No, Depression. My question is not hypothetical. This is a question for here and now. What if I laughed at you? What if I laughed about how absurdly pointless you are? About how you are either a stupid accident or the biggest joke natural selection ever pulled on humanity? My teeth make sense. They help me chew food, which gives me the energy I need to survive. My eyes make sense. They let me see beauty and identify danger. But you. What did you ever do? Did nature at some point say, “Hey, this is gonna work! Biological organisms who lose interest in activities they usually enjoy because they are in the grip of existential despair, this is going to help humans survive. Take away their energy, make them question why they are here. It will help them outrun tigers.” Pointless silly things are the stock and trade of comedians. So again, I ask you, Depression, what if I laugh at you? You brag about how you have brought down kings, but you are no more formidable than a stray hair on my neck. What if I laugh at you? At how you strut and preen? Or how your breath always smells like week-old boiled cabbage?
Depression: Boiled cabbage? I do not smell like boiled cabbage! (Blows into hand) No one has ever said that about me! That is not even a thing!
Me: (Quietly) Again, Depression. What if I laughed at you?
Depression: Um. I would rather you not. I am your house guest after all. It would be rather rude. I would certainly think less well of you. I might even give you a bad review on Yelp.
Me: My brain is not open for business. Write all the negative reviews you want.
Depression: Huh. (Glances casually back over his shoulder) I was sure I saw an “open” sign.
Me: You are ridiculous. And the more seriously you take yourself, the sillier you seem. You wear stifling hot clothes on sultry summer days. You think you are deeper than God, but really you are just a poseur, a clown in funeral garb. And you smack your mouth when you eat your Skittles.
Depression: Do not!
Me: Do too! You smack like a lady who just put on lipstick. Just answer the question. Depression. A simple question: What if I laughed at you?
Me: Depression? Are you still awake?
Depression: Mmhmm. I was just thinking. Actually, I think there is this…place I need to be. I think I, um, forgot my toothbrush.
Me: I just saw your toothbrush. Your suitcase is partly transparent beneath that little flappy thing.
Depression: Well, I, um, I forgot to get my coffee this morning. I’m getting a devil of a headache. I need to go grab something at Starbucks. Black coffee. No sugar, no cream. Dark roast.
Me: I have some coffee here.
Depression: No. I mean thanks, but never mind. I need to get some professionally made coffee. Your coffee tastes like fermented cat drool. No worries, though. I just need to think. But remember. Always remember. I am undefeated and un-vanquishable. I rule the world, and I am taking it out one person at a time. Soon I will enshroud the entire cosmos in darkness and my diabolical laughter will echo through the empty space where all the stars used to be. And mark my words, missy. I will be back. I will always be back.” (Throws package of Skittles on the lawn, turns around and struts away) Me: I know. (Walks outside, takes deep breath, and looks up at the sky) But next time I will be prepared.