(Artwork by me, watercolor, ink, and gold leaf)
Opening my eyes, I was unsure of where I was. I felt like I was floating somewhere, on a river or on the surface of a lake. I knew that wasn’t true. I knew I was in my bed and that the stale, cool, butter yellow light meant that it was still early in the morning. I felt as if everything were unreal, but in a way that I couldn’t explain. It was as if there was a picture hanging on the wall, but it was just a little crooked.
It was a state of panic. I wanted to know that everything was fine, but deep down, I had felt a grip of fear strangle me to my very core. Nothing seemed real, everything was spinning just a little bit. Not now, not when I just woke up– I thought. The depression was running deep and I just wanted someone to talk to. But, no one was there. My wife was asleep beside me, and I didn’t want to wake her up to let her know nothing was wrong. But, everything was wrong. I just didn’t know what it was.
I recognized it as Depression’s weapon. Anxiety. I knew, logically, I was in a state of disassociation. I knew that touching on the root of my deepest problems were likely what caused this. I hated myself. It was the self-loathing. Calling it by name had agitated my old friend. It was like saying the true name of a demon. Demons don’t want their names known, because their names were their powers– or at least that’s what my Catholic upbringing led me to believe. But, whatever. Let’s go with that, I thought.
I knew calling myself out on my self-loathing stung, so it seemed similar. I sat up in bed and looked around to see if I could find Depression. He wasn’t hard to miss, clinging to the darkest corner on the ceiling like a spider. He was staring at me. And like always, he said nothing. He had been watching me sleep, assaulting me in silence. He wanted me to feel alone. He wanted me to feel anxious. He was going to fight back. His attacks were relentless. Vicious. And cruel. Depression attacked me at my most vulnerable.
“I know your name,” I said, my confidence shaken but a glimmer of determination remained. “I know you’re my self-loathing. And I am going to fight this. I’m not going to stop.”
Depression glared at me. He didn’t have a face, but I could feel it. For a moment it seemed like he tried to make a face. He tried to form eyes, a nose, a mouth. It just looked like black Play-dough with an impression of thumb prints pushed into it. Terrifying, I thought. This creature I made was absolute horror. I knew that I could not let it beat me, but it still was a powerful beast with a sword of anxiety ready to chill me to my bones.
“You have worn me for so long that you don’t know what I am or what I look like.”
“Show me your face,” I said quietly, as to not wake my wife. Everything still seemed unreal. Everything seemed as if it was spinning, but I did not have vertigo. I felt so much panic that I could feel my hair was damp and musty from sweating. This was not my first panic attack, but it probably wouldn’t be my last.
My own face has changed a lot over the years. These days, I can at least stand to look at it. For thirty years, I couldn’t. I hated the way I looked. For a long time, I couldn’t explain why. I have symmetrical features, healthy skin, a small nose, good eyebrows, green eyes. There seemed to be very little to complain about. And yet, I felt like I had to carve out a personality out of unworkable, hard clay. I felt like I just needed to learn to tolerate myself, and that was the best I could do.
I wonder if Depression was like that. Was that why he was a giant, black faceless blob with vague features? I wondered if it had something to do with being transgender. For all those years I lived as a woman, I felt like I was just pretending. But since being female was real– it wasn’t a mask. The mask was who I was. If I wanted confirmation, all I had to do was undress myself. It didn’t matter what I wanted. It didn’t matter how I felt. Being female was how I was born. All I could do was make the best of it so I didn’t have to hate it so much. I did my best to find my identity as a woman, but I just couldn’t. At the time, the only word I knew for the feeling was ‘insane,’ and it was best kept as a secret.
Maybe that’s where my self loathing began, and since it is all that I know, I have no idea how to be any other way yet. I know I don’t look the same as I used to– I know I am a lot closer to my ideal self than I’ve ever been. But somehow these things aren’t lining up.
Amidst my panic attack, I saw Depression still just hanging there, like a creepy chandelier in my bedroom. Despite his anger, despite his spitting, hateful rage against me, I knew we were growing closer.