Two weeks ago, I was sitting alone on a stool in the corner of my kitchen with my back against the wall. I had been trying to cry, to discharge some of my sadness and anger, but I was stuck in nothingness. I felt hopeless, and a barking voice in my head was scolding me, insisting that I pull myself together.
People say things like “Pull yourself together!” all the time, but for some reason on this night that expression really irritated me. I mean, if someone tells you to pull yourself together, it suggests that they can see you’ve fallen apart, right? If you didn’t know me, though, you might have thought I looked sad or distraught, but you would not have been able to see the extent of my not-togetherness.
That’s the thing about depression—there is often nothing to see. I felt that I had fallen apart. I felt entirely at a loss. I felt that there was no one who could help me, and that there was no way to make any of this better. Except, I had no way to prove that these things were happening. All of those symptoms were just feelings in my head.
Thinking about the invisibility of those feelings drove me to do something that I had never done before.
I calmly removed two large dinner plates from the kitchen cabinet and clutched them to my chest. After a little bit, I gently placed one of the plates in my lap. Then, tightly gripping the other plate in one hand, I raised it above my head and hurled the dish across the kitchen floor. The jarring sound of the plate shattering as it crashed against the wooden floorboards and the spectacular sight of ceramic shards spraying everywhere felt cathartic. In fact, smashing that dish was so satisfying that I picked up the other plate and launched it, too.
After the second plate exploded, I snapped out of my nothingness trance and began to cry. Effortless, palliative tears started traveling down my cheeks. I had seen it in movies, people in fits of rage breaking things to release or express their anger and disappointment. I wasn’t surprised that the act of throwing those plates felt liberating and even empowered me to cry, but there was something else that I hadn’t expected.
Seeing the fragments of china strewn all over the floor was actually aesthetically pleasing to me, and even more than that, it was emotionally reassuring. I saw brokenness. Brokenness that was visible. Brokenness that was tangible and real. Brokenness that was indisputable.
I often feel broken, but no one can ever see it. There are no visual markers. There is nothing to measure, and there is no way to test for the pervasiveness or severity of the damage. So far, no blood tests or brain scans or x-rays can definitively demonstrate that I am struggling. The diagnosis of my illness often depends on my own ability to explain my feelings. Unfortunately, part of the difficulty in living with depression is that you don’t believe in your capacity to do anything, including accurately describing your experience. It’s crazy-making, really. Nothing feels right, or certain, or true. You just feel caught in an eddying pool of insecurity, self-loathing, and loneliness.
Looking at the mix of plate remnants, sharp-edged debris, and porcelain dust scattered around my kitchen, though, I felt a beautiful sense of clarity. The events and the reasons surrounding this brokenness were completely unambiguous. I knew what had happened and why, and I understood how to attend to the problem. I stood up, found a broom, a pan, and a brown bag, and began sweeping up and throwing away the mess. It was easy.
That kind of straightforward certainty does not exist when I try to address my depression. I wish there were a way to open me up and see the problem and immediately know how to fix it. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to look through a window or open a small door to allow doctors to peer directly into my own personal brokenness? Unlike the ruined plates on the floor, though, depression remains invisible, hard to treat, and difficult to explain.
I thought about taking a picture of the demolished plates as a way to document my newfound depression metaphor, but I decided I would write about it instead. And that’s precisely what I would have done the next day, if hadn’t been for some unforeseeable irony.
The day after my plate-breaking epiphany was April Fool’s Day. I was in-line skating in a nearby park, trying desperately to improve my mood, when someone’s off-leash black dog decided to run under my legs as it passed me. With just two small errors—the dog owner’s choice to ignore the leash law, and the dog’s inability to accurately judge his size or mine—I was sent crashing to the ground. I knew immediately that something was terribly wrong with my arm. It was excruciatingly painful, and I couldn’t move it. I was taken away in an ambulance, given various IV drugs, x-rayed, and admitted to the hospital. I had severely dislocated and crushed my shoulder and would need to have surgery the next day to “pull” my shoulder “back together.”
In other words, in case you missed it, after specifically wishing that there were a way to display or prove my brokenness, I literally shattered something inside my body. There were now *real* broken pieces in me that needed fixing, and the perpetrator in this accident happened to be a real live black dog. There’s my irony.
Today, I am still terribly depressed, but now I am writing this post with only one hand. There is also now a metal, sci-fi-looking plate with spikes in my shoulder holding the bone together. In addition to a good deal of bruising and swelling, there is an eight-inch incision across my shoulder and down the top of my arm. If you saw me, you would probably have no difficulty discerning that I am in a lot pain.
I feel like there should be some moral to this story, but I can’t see one just yet. I will say this, though: at no time did anyone tell me to pull my shoulder together. The only reason I am not in more pain or more discombobulated right now is that three strangers at the park, four EMT’s, five medical techs, 20 nurses, four doctors, and many family members and friends were all able to see that I was injured. They all wanted to help. They knew what to do and did it.