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How Depression Keeps Me a Prisoner in My Mind

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I am in prison.

But instead of bricks and bars, my prison is made from thoughts, habits and fears. For a short while each morning, I’m allowed out of my cell to enjoy a little freedom, to feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. This never lasts very long, but I live for these little daily escapes, even though I’m fully aware of the fact that, when I go back to my cell, it will be even darker and lonelier than I remember.

The “outside time” I’ve been referring to is the time when my medication works, and it gets shorter every day as my body — my eternal warden — becomes accustomed to the relief it provides and does everything in its power to clamp down on these good feelings. As in most prisons, happiness is not readily tolerated. Pain is better aligned with the status quo.

Yes, there are drugs in my prison too, but they are intended to bust me out rather than getting me more time on the inside (although, more often than not and despite their best intentions, that is exactly what they do).

I have so far served 20 years in the prison of depression. The sentence is indefinite, to be carried out until I am paroled by some future medication but, having been on the inside for most of my life (I am 33), I am none too hopeful and have often wondered whether my prison will one day be my tomb. Will I die as a man incarcerated by his own vengeful thoughts, a prisoner of a damaged mind?

I don’t get any time off for good behavior, and I have been good. I have, for the most part at least, steered clear of alcohol knowing full well that it will counteract the beneficial effects of my medication. I don’t partake in illicit drugs and I gave up smoking nearly two years ago following what I thought at the time was some form of stroke, but turned out to be a particularly vicious brand of migraine.

My vices are coffee and candy, and I relish the relief they bring me, even if it is short-lived. The warden — my body — has, for the most part, allowed me to indulge in my confectionary pleasures without punishing me too harshly by way of expanding waistline and complaining pancreas. But this is a prison after all, and a good, healthy dose of guilt is meted out with every bite of my chocolate bar or sip of my hazelnut latte. Happiness – both real and artificial – is not allowed in my prison.

Some days, my prison turns into thick molasses and I can barely move through its cold, empty passages that seem to mock me with echoes. Everything happens in slow motion on those days. I even speak slowly, as if my voice is merely a recording that has been slowed down to a miserable crawl. On those days, smiling is virtually impossible and takes so much physical exertion that it leaves me exhausted.

On other days, I become hyper and the prison becomes a blurred, resonating nightmare, vibrating like a startled spider in its web. A dirty smudge on the canvas of reality. Noises seem amplified and more urgent, and I startle easily and violently. “Hyper-vigilance,” my psychiatrist calls it, which is just a fancy way of saying I’m as skittish as a mouse that’s been on a steady diet of Red Bull and methamphetamine.

I do plan on getting out one day. My sentence may be indefinite, but it is not a life sentence.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Unsplash photo via Vinicius Amano.

Originally published: June 9, 2017
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