O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.
from ‘To Sleep’, by John Keats
Loath as one might be to invoke a near two-hundred-years-dead Englishman (that miserable and doomed cohort), Keats perfectly captures a depressed person’s torpor and helplessness.
It’s not laziness, though some would say it is.
No, sleep and somnolence can either control, or appeal so strongly, to a depressed person because they offer the same thing as alcohol to a soak: numbness, respite and something a little nicer than self-loathing and hatred.
For a time, anyway.
Sleep is the warm big spoon to its frigid little mate.
Lethargy and self-isolation are common symptoms of depression and anxiety for many people, including me.
At my most depressed and despondent, I slept like Rip Van Winkle, practically wishing away twenty years or more. When my on-paper you-beaut life came crashing down a couple of years ago and I moved into an apartment on my own, I’d go days or a week at a time of keeping the blinds shut, doors locked and barely leave the bed or couch.
I hated myself and didn’t want to be me anymore, but I also didn’t want to feel anything at all. Having stopped drinking a year beforehand, I needed something to help me escape the alternating blackness and numbness that was swallowing me off and on.
Sleep and Netflix became my bottle, and I’d throw back shot after shot of all the series I’d ever wanted to watch but hadn’t, and chase them with naps and silence, all the while encased in my non-judging doona.
Sometimes I’d pull the doona over my head and just listen to the TV, feeling protected from the shitty world by wool, or feathers, or whatever was actually inside my Vera Wang blankie.
The only things that would force me to break out of my safe cave were having my kids on the days I did, and the necessary medical appointments that were being scheduled for me. Probably the two things that should have that effect, so for that I’m grateful.
In time, with support and a well of resilience I somehow found within myself, I increased my energy while decreasing my reliance on sleeping away the dark feelings or vacuuming numbness.
- I began making my bed every time I got out of it. Doing that small thing not only made me feel like I’d achieved something, but began to get really bloody annoying if I kept going back to bed. I also folded away any blankets if I was on the couch.
- When I first woke each day, I’d force myself to walk around the block before I was ‘allowed’ to do anything else.
Before my first coffee, even!
SO. BLOODY. HARD. TO. DO. ANYTHING. WITHOUT. COFFEE. FIRST.
That 15 minutes of walking and breathing fresh air became my second daily achievement.
- And I made myself eat a bowl of colourful vegetables once a day. Even if it was all I ate, or bookended by chocolate/biscuits/chips/marzipan/whatever else. One bowl of crunchy colour every day. And no, not Fruit Loops, no matter what that snide little Toucan Sam in your head tries to say.
I might have Keats on a pedestal for his humanity and literary prowess, but now I’m on the other side of the big black void, I’m relieved not to actually be him.
John Keats died aged just 25, officially from tuberculosis (consumption), which his self-administering of mercury meant he would never stand a chance of recovering from.
Amusingly, I learned that from a documentary I watched during one of my weeks in hibernation.
Originally published at The Westsider.