The Isolationism of Depression

I’m sitting in a brightly lit, crowded and noisy room. People bustle around me, eating, drinking, talking and laughing, and here I am in the middle of it, ignoring it all. I have noise-canceling headphones in, and the most I hear is a faint whisper of spoken word, the slightest hint of movement out of the corner of my eye, and the distraction of someone jostling me as they try to get by. Otherwise, I’m in a world of my own, oblivious to the people around me, focused on the music in my ears and the screen in my eyes.

In many ways, this is a perfect analogy for depression. I know there are things going on in the world around me, but I can’t connect to them. I know there are people who might be watching me, trying to talk to me, but I can’t pay attention. I don’t hear anything but my own focus, don’t see anything but myself. In the same way that the sounds around me are muted and distant, so are the feelings of people around me, and even the brightness of the day is somehow more subdued than it used to be.

Depression is very isolationist. It really doesn’t want me to interact with people, or do my job, or pay attention to my family. All depression really wants is to escape into a lost, solitary world, a place where no one sees me, and I don’t have to see them. Where no one hears me, and I can’t hear them.

This is a place I’m intimately familiar with. I’ve often felt huddled in a corner, looking out on the world from a place of dark loneliness; I frequently lapse into periods of nonexistence, where I’m not certain if I’m dreaming or not, if I’m in bed or at work. When depression steals over me, it mutes the whole world in both color and sound, and it’s all I can do to stay cognizant enough to make it from place to place, from moment to moment, until I finally get to retreat into the soft warm covers of my bed once more.

I’ve been told I get very self-centered when I get depressed. I think this is probably accurate; it’s difficult to assess others’ problems or empathize with their troubles when nothing seems to matter. When the darkness creeps over me, I just stop caring about anyone else. Perhaps it’s a survival instinct; perhaps I’m just trying to stay sane enough to live the day out. The same is true of duties and responsibilities; I’m having a really hard time focusing at work, convincing myself that any of it matters at all. I want nothing more than to go home, go to sleep.

Sometimes depression is a deep, overriding despair. These are the times when I can’t even get out of bed, never mind take a shower, or brush my teeth, or make it to work on time. This is when the world is black, I can’t see past my own feet, and everything is spiraling out of control to a point where there seems no way out.

Other times, however, depression is a kind of blank limbo, neither feeling nor unfeeling. I do things as though nothing were wrong, going through the motions of an otherwise normal day, but there’s no connection internally; no meaning to any of it. Do I speak up at that meeting or not? It really doesn’t matter. Do I go shopping after work? Who cares? Should I watch a movie or fall asleep? Same difference.

That’s kind of where I am right now. I haven’t written more of The Redemption of Erâth in a good few weeks. I haven’t written more music. I haven’t done … well, anything, really. I just keep plodding on, step after step, day after day, getting up and going back to bed with nothing in between. Leaving the house, going to work, having dinner with friends … all of it, nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.

I hate losing touch with reality like this. I don’t want to just go through the motions. In fact, I think I’d rather be utterly incapacitated with despair than well enough to do things, but ill enough for it to all mean nothing. I’d rather feel something than nothing, even if that something is misery.

Mostly, though, I’d rather just sleep the day away. Then I wouldn’t have to sit in this brightly lit, crowded and noisy room. Then I could just be on my own, in my little isolationist bubble, and feel nothing.

The night isn’t far away.

The Vividness of Mid-Afternoon Dreams

Perhaps because of my bipolar disorder, or perhaps because of the medications I take to quell its symptoms, I like to sleep. Like, a lot. When I’m not working, I find it very difficult to make it through a day without having at least one (if not two or three) naps. (To be honest, even when I am working I get so tired after lunch that it’s hard to be productive anyway.)

Also perhaps because of my disorder, or the meds, I dream when I sleep. What’s particularly funny about these dreams, though, is that they are (mostly) benign, never frightening, and vivid as hell. Like, Wizard of Oz Technicolor vivid.

For example, just yesterday I dreamed that I was in the loft in my house, but for some reason my house was on the edge of a cliff bordering the sea. While I was sleeping (because in my dream, I was taking a nap), the cliff started to crumble, and the house started to slide into the ocean. It really wasn’t a big deal, but kind of threw me for a loop.

The best part was that when I woke up (in the dream) and looked out of the window to see my house sliding down a cliff, I thought to myself, this isn’t very realistic – I bet I’m dreaming. But then I went downstairs, and when I passed the bathroom I saw the toilet gurgling and flooding as the water from the ocean started flooding the house. And that’s when I started to worry, because it seemed like a detail too intricate to be dreamt. Maybe my house really was drowning.

This is an example of a particularly fantastic dream, but more frequently my dreams are much more bland; sometimes I’ll simply dream of a day a work where nothing of much interest at all happens, or I might dream of eating a meal that wasn’t bad, but just not really good, either.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I don’t have nightmares – the vividness of my dreams would not translate well. And the most vivid of my dreams are usually from those mid-afternoon naps, snuggled deep in the blankets (or on the couch with my cat) where the world outside is cold but in my head everything is toasty warm.

When I’m feeling particularly depressed, I actually look forward to these hallucinatory dreams – it’s like a fugue state, where everything and nothing is real, all at the same time. During these times, I slip into sleep like a warm comforter, just waiting for the dreams to come. When I’m not depressed I don’t necessarily deliberately look for the escape, but I certainly don’t avoid it, either.

Sleeping – and dreaming – is an integral part of my life, and something I couldn’t imagine being without. It’s an odd thought, really, because I think most people don’t really remember their dreams – or care to have them. I find them a necessity, though, in some ways to maintain my sanity; without dreams, I’d probably wonder if the real world was even real at all.

What are your most vivid dreams, and do you remember them well?

Thought of the Week: On the Staying Power of Dreams

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I dreamt of Harry Potter the other night. I certainly wasn’t expecting to, but I’m hardly surprised: Little Satis and I are two-thirds of the way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and had to skip a few nights’ reading due to my working late. I guess we’re both getting a little obsessed.

Yes, I understand Snape somehow redeems himself…but I don't know how, so don't spoil it!

Yes, I understand Snape somehow redeems himself…but I don’t know how, so don’t spoil it!

I don’t remember the dream terribly well anymore (you know how dreams tend to get fuzzy after a while), but it involved me being at Hogwarts and chasing after Severus Snape with the sword of Gryffindor. It was entertaining, to say the least. Hogwarts was (in my dream) a glorious old castle hung with red and gold drapes – something straight out of a medieval-set film – and I do recall marching into a great dining hall, the sword at my side, tall and confident and pointing my wand straight at Snape. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I suspect he probably cursed me into oblivion.

Strictly speaking, I understand that humans probably dream every night – multiple dreams each night, too – but we simply don’t remember them. If we’re surprised during our sleep, shocked awake, as it were, we’re more likely to remember them. Even so, the power of our dream images tends to fade rapidly, dwindling into oblivion in only a few minutes.

Every once in a while, though, there are dreams that stay with us for a very long time – sometimes even forever. A year or two ago I had a dream for the plot of a book. I even dreamed the title: The Girl Who Killed Herself in Apartment 615. I wrote down some of the details that I could remember, and I still believe I could turn this into a compelling novella, should I ever be done with The Redemption of Erâth and A Gothic Symphony. I remember a few specific scenes in particular – nothing too graphic, actually, but specifically being in an apartment or flat in a high-rise building and looking up at a glass balcony, which was part of the apartment above yet somehow descended into my own apartment. There were pillows and discarded clothes strewn everywhere, and out of sight amongst the detritus was the dead girl. The entire thing was utterly surreal, and the story would take place in a bizarre, hellish alternate reality. Some of the chapter/section titles are The Dream that Won’t Wake UpPassing Time in the Four Pits, and The Sculpture that Changed. Weird, huh?

My dream house? Maybe with trees all around…

My dream house? Maybe with trees all around…

By far the most vivid, longest-lasting dream I’ve ever had, though, was over ten years ago. I remember scenes from it today as though I just woke up: it was of a house, lost deep in the woods. My family and I had been walking through a forest, and though the woods were innocuous enough, the entire setting was after a nightmarish apocalypse. We weren’t in the woods for fun, but for survival. We then came across an old, abandoned mansion. The closest thing I can come to describing it is a sort of Munster’s house, complete with a little tower at the top, spiked trimming on the eaves and dusty wooden floors inside. I remember going up to the top of the tower, a little room with windows all around, and looking out at the surrounding trees. I then remember looking back down the stairs, and all of a sudden a great, overwhelming darkness came flooding up the stairs and engulfed me entirely, strangling and drowning me…and then I woke up.

I can still see that house in my mind, sharp as it has ever been. I’ve convinced myself that this house must exist somewhere – it was incredibly eerie to wake up from. I haven’t found it yet, though if you know where it is, let me know – I’ll buy it, for any cost!

What dreams have stayed with you?

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