Caleb Kim

Mar 22, 2021

4 min read

the break

tw; depression, mental illness, etc.

On Friday, I woke up for lab meeting, led lab meeting, went to Chinese class, smiled while watching my teacher do a cooking demo, had a COVID test, and then played my ukulele on Cross Campus. I met some friends along the way too. I had two meals and played some video games. And then while sitting alone in my room, I started to cry. One of those ones where the tears only barely noticeably trail down your face. My breath shuddered, and my hand went to wipe it away, but it just kept wiping and wiping. It made me want to cry even more.

Over the weekend, I met with even more friends, I got back a negative COVID test, I cooked some more food, and played some more ukulele, and then there were moments when I felt happy. When I felt grateful for the things I had.

Today, the veneer of my stable existence broke once more. I slept for a total of 17 consecutive hours, from 2 am to 7 pm, and I’m still tired. My limbs feel numb and heavy, and my head is pounding. Every movement I make feels slow, and I want to cry. I heave and I whimper into my pillow, but no tears come. I think I’m too tired to cry right now.

It began in the summer, when my mom’s nagging was the only thing that managed to get me out of bed, when I ate regular meals only because they were prepared and placed in front of me, when I managed to keep it together despite feeling an inexplicable sorrow that only got worse with each passing day. It was hard to concentrate, and I frequently found myself staring blankly into my computer monitor, only looking away after realizing the stinging of my eyes.

After my parents left for Korea, I was home alone, and I think that gave me more freedom to act the way I really felt. I would sleep all day, with classes being the only thing that managed to get me up. I had about one meal a day, something I would put together out of desperation from hunger. Ramen, Ubereats, and frozen dumplings were the bulk of what I ate. Everything felt pointless, and I’ve written about this before, but the most concerning symptom I experienced was my loss of taste. It all started to taste the same, no matter what I ate, it didn’t matter. And soon it felt like my life didn’t matter either.

I would cry almost every other day for no reason at all. Not a sad movie or a song, not a bad email or a rejection. It happens when I eat cereal, or when I brush my teeth, or when I go out to get the mail. Soon, everything started to feel numb, and I began to perceive myself in the third person, as if my mind was outside of my body, just staring at it curled into the sheets of its bed. I would wipe my tears, and if I didn’t think about it, it would feel like someone else’s hand. I was on auto-pilot, just living to survive.

Today marks four weeks of meds, not that they’ve done much for me yet. As far as I can tell, nothing’s changed except for the fact that I can’t fall asleep at night and that I can’t stay awake during the day. Each hour drags on like I’m waiting for something that’ll never happen, and every little thing I do causes me so much exhaustion that I can only get one thing done a day. Most days it’s my schoolwork, some days it’s a shower.

The most difficult part of the diagnosis is realizing that I’m ill. That my brain has a broken leg, and that every day I’m expected to continue limping along with what feels like a defective cast. Whenever I can’t cook for myself or finish my schoolwork or roll out of bed, I feel like there’s something wrong with me, and now I know that there really is something wrong with me. I’m broken. This body and this mind that I have are broken. All the while I don’t let myself show it to others. My face is cued to smile, my throat laughs, and my mouth talks. Exhibiting my depressive symptoms feels more like a show than the show I put on to be perceived as neurotypical.

And it isn’t that I don’t feel happiness. People with broken legs are physically still able to walk, but the pain inhibits them from wanting to do so. It’s the same for me. Sometimes the happiness is too painful to be worth feeling — it’s temporarily welcomed but ultimately only reminds me of worse times to come. The highs make the lows worse.

But unlike a broken leg, the body doesn’t have a natural tendency to heal the wounds of mental illness. Neurons don’t mend themselves, and dysfunctional brain chemistry doesn’t fade away with time. SSRIs are just pain-killers. Break days are just short reprieves. And therapy sessions are just opportunities to explore your trauma with a stranger who doesn’t have a stake in your life. Every new trauma is another crack in the bone, another reminder of the light fading away.

Some days I feel normal, or close to normal. I wake up fine, I’m able to cook and do schoolwork fine, and I’m more or less a functional human being. But other days I feel psychotic, like I’m losing control of myself and who I am.

When someone asks me if I’m doing okay, I normally reply with a courtesy “yeah I’m fine,” but these days, I’ve begun to be more honest with myself and others. I feel like hell. Every day has felt like hell. It feels like there’s no escape, and I hold onto myself with every last ounce of strength as the darkness ensnares my senses.

“What happens if the medicine wasn’t really in control?
What happens if the cut, the burn, the break
Was never in my brain, or in my blood, but in my soul?”
— “The Break” (Next to Normal)