There was a point in time, a couple of years ago, that taking out the trash was a stressful, painful situation that demanded planning, strength, and support. One time, I got into a big fight with my then-boyfriend, and he left only to come back to a trash-smelling apartment. I felt embarrassed because he had brought a friend with him. It was summer and I only had to take the elevator to take out the trash – something that most of us do mindlessly – but I couldn’t. I was depressed.
Over the past year, I seem to be able to remember more about the “content” of my “big” depression than ever before. Some people say that depression makes you forget about stuff, and that might be true because sometimes I try to remember how it was to live in my own rented apartment, and what kind of things I used to do during the first year of university, and I can’t tell. Looking back, I remember hours and hours spent laying on the couch. My ex-boyfriend would ask me, “how can you spend so much time laying down?”. But I thought that was just me being me, and not the effect of having a mental illness. Last month when I was thinking about it, I even messaged him saying, “you would have liked this version of me so much better”.
I mean, I couldn’t even put out the trash – how debilitating is that?
Maps of my life
So, what is it that I remember from 2018, 2019? Everything is weirdly blurry for someone like me who has the need to document everything. This kind of question reminds me of the artwork of Ana Amorim, a Brazilian artist that over three decades tracked down in pieces of paper all the places she went throughout each day. For one exhibition, she created labels with hand-drawn maps in which one can read “home”, “supermarket”, “dad’s”, “English school”.
I discovered her work on Instagram at the beginning of this year and thought that it would be cool to do something similar for each month of 2021, to celebrate the fact that I can now move around the city, instead of being stuck at home like what I remember doing in 2018. Unfortunately, this idea was forgotten a couple of weeks later, and the only record assembled was by Google Maps. This record, however, is close to the truth. In 2018, a typical month would look something like this:
In 2021, despite the pandemic, a typical month (in Copenhagen, at least) looked different. In a way, it still had the same go-to places – the supermarket, the café (just in a different location), the kebab place when I didn’t feel like cooking… But the important part here is the new habitual places, like going to the forest for a daily walk, or sitting by the lake writing, as well as the scattered places, the ones that indicate that a life is being lived.
The weight of every brilliant thing
Of course, the latest map wasn’t conditioned by some “big” depression. My lifestyle has since then changed to a healthier version. But I’m also not arguing here that the solution is to go out more – it’s not entirely about that. What I realized is that a person suffering from depression needs to constantly feel the weight of every brilliant thing. In other words, to find beauty in a life that sometimes one isn’t excited about like I wrote about a year ago. And what came as a surprise is that while most times, I’m able to do that by myself, sometimes I can’t because that’s the nature of my illness. The key is that there are people in my life right now who will show me the brilliant things in life. That’s the main difference between these two maps of my life.
Without knowing it, this year my friends saved me many times from what could have spiraled into a depressive state. I made a new friend who helped me cross off the list of places I wanted to go to in Copenhagen before I left. I spent more time by the beach than ever before, mainly because my friends and family made the effort to take me there. I had been thinking that visiting new and exciting places had made this year bearable, but the underlying parallel is that I went to all these places because someone made the effort to show them to me.
I only realized that after watching an anime series and by rewatching the play Every Brilliant Thing on HBO (which I talked about here). Both shows display the importance of “sharing the burden of grief” – whatever that is. For one character, this was about having friends who encouraged him to keep practicing the piano after his mom’s death. For another, this was about noting all the brilliant things in life – from ice cream to peeing in the sea, and having people around that kept adding to that list. For me, it helps to go out and see new things and keep the curiosity about this world alive, to keep myself breathing.
I don’t need friends who come and get consumed by my own troubles, but I need them there for when I get blindsided by my mental illness. Like I recently highlighted on my Kindle version of the book Conversations on Love, by Natasha Lunn:
“(…) healing is different from fixing. When your family member or friend is sick, you do want to fix it, and you hardly want to say anything if you can’t. But I think when you’re the sick person, you want someone to witness what is happening to you. Witnessing is a treatment and a form of love. And you can do it, no matter what.”
The big victory this year isn’t about every brilliant place I went to, but the friend who told me, “I’ll miss your fancy ideas of places to go”. In those words lies the evidence that my natural state of being was never to spend my days laying on the couch.