Ah, Depression of the Hand.
It came to me in the dead of night.
The past and the future came together to meet me right there in the middle. I remember how it elucidated all things, how certain I was of my own life and the calming yet calamitous realisation that everything would be different from now on.
Different now and then forever the same.
My depression manifested itself in a physical form. It started in my right hand; a spine tingling pain that shot up through my arm as though someone had injected it directly into my veins. I grabbed my hand but it was now in my wrist, evading my attempts to grasp it, contain it, and pinpoint its exact location. Instead it played hide and seek, dashing up and down my arm.
My heart knew exactly where it was at all times.
The dull, aching pain in my right hand stayed with me for six months and on and off again the following year.
‘Maybe it’s RSI’ someone offered.
‘It’s probably just a muscle sprain’, said the doctor.
‘It could be arthritis’, came the melodramatic relative.
It was none of those things. It was my depression.
It’s an inexplicable thing really.
It reached its pinnacle one day when I was jet lagged and too ‘tired’ (ha, that’s what I told them!) to get up and get dressed to go visit my dearest friend and cousin Rachel in hospital. She was recovering from surgery. I wasn’t tired. I mean I was, I always was because I could not sleep. But it was more than that. I was tired of me, of the nothingness, of the trauma that reverberated around my head and in my world.
I temporarily forgot that my hand was in a vice controlled by my mind and simply assumed I had slept on it the wrong way. I was irritated by it but at least I could feel one thing that day. My irritation.
‘I’ll go tomorrow’, I said to myself and to my aunty who was waiting for me, and turned my back on the world.
‘Are you sure? It’s going to get harder and harder to visit her’
I didn’t know what that meant and blocked it from my mind.
When I finally went to the hospital I discovered Rachel only had a few days left to live.
I had not been briefed on this possibility. I was removed from the world that knew she was dying and instead was left in the dark place where she was getting better. Did they forget to tell me? Why didn’t you tell me, I cried to them. They shrugged helplessly.
My hand was on fire.
Today is Rachel’s birthday. She would have been 23 years old. She will always be 17.
I had just come back from getting my learners permit to drive a car, that day at the hospital when they casually relayed the news that my best friend would close her eyes soon and never open them again. Rachel’s brother smiled when he saw my brief excitement and relief. It was one of those rites of passage she wouldn’t get to do.
My license has since expired and I refuse to drive a car.
I remember seeing her little slippers on the floor of the hospital. I was staring at them and nothing else, willing myself not to cry. And although I hadn’t been able to cry those last 6 months, I somehow caved in then. An onslaught of tears came from somewhere unexpected. I wiped them away with my right hand that ached so. My hand burnt my face. Someone handed me a paper towel and nudged me, as though to say.
We talked about this, no crying in front of her.
But the coarse paper towel scratched my face and I tried to focus on how it irritated me. Couldn’t they provide some soft tissues?! I remember thinking, a strange, normal person thought.
I awkwardly tried to conceal my face in my lap so Rachel wouldn’t see me. They said she didn’t know she was dying. She was the last to know. But I think she knew all her life that this was coming.
I could feel her eyes on me; the heaving lump of a thing in the corner, the one who couldn’t NOT cry for five minutes.
She was talking so much and laughing that day we visited her, I heard my aunty say, looking at me.
She had stopped speaking now.
Why couldn’t I just get out of bed that day?
But I couldn’t get out of bed, not even after that.
People ask you in a quiet voice ‘Isn’t it time for you to get up now?’
‘Don’t you want to get out of bed?’
But wanting has very little to do with anything.
Over time it disappears or you might be distracted enough to forget it was ever there. And then it comes back in small waves of nausea. Oh there it is. The signs are subtle. It quits waging war on your hand. Instead it’s in the space of hopelessness. The way no one can see it or understand it. It becomes invisible to everyone but your subconscious. The everyday mundaneness both helps and hinders you. It’s how you find the rhythm to keep going.
You get excited enough for the little things.
You tell yourself that today you’ll get out of bed because at 11.45am you will take the 150 seconds worth of steps to the café in order to buy yourself a coffee. What a novel idea, no one has ever thought to do this before! You’ll soon realise that the 15 minutes you’ve sliced out from this day have contributed to a brief, yet thrilling moment of happiness. You know it will pass, like all things, but for now you try to close your eyes and savour it. You think about tomorrow and how only 15 minutes of that day will matter. You are grateful.
You watch one episode of a show that makes you laugh and maybe believe momentarily that the characters are real. Then you remember the characters you tried to create, the ones that sit, half drawn on pages with broken words. And that thought leads to the one where you burn your novel draft to ashes but remember there’s no printed copy of it, and what happens if the hard drive erases all of it? Good, you think.
I’ll watch another episode.
Night approaches, darkness comes and I embrace this place that keeps my mind going faster, where the option to get out of bed has long passed and the possibilities are endless. I’ll drink one drink tonight; maybe two, and I’ll be okay. Or I’ll be numb enough by the fourth one that I can’t remember what not being okay feels like.
A day might come when the thought of leaving the house terrifies me. And the thought of two weeks alone occupies a place in my mind I do not wish to explore. I’ll sit for an entire day at home, staring at the ceiling, wondering where my friends are and not caring either way.
You fall desperately in love with a person, whose voice on the other end of the line reassures you that they will come to you, they will bring you dinner and you will watch a movie together or read a book and exchange notes afterwards.
That person is your saviour, your becoming.
And like all things that person will disappear in the dead of night, leaving you to dwell in all the empty that surrounds you. They’ll come back many times carrying their own burning hand, asking you to cool it down, to hold it, to help them, and you will. But when they leave again, you’ll be alone with the burning hand and the words on your wall with their name on it.
And then tomorrow morning happens all over again but I am grateful that the pain in my hand has gone.
Every day I hope for healing.