When I was in the hospital, we had an art therapist come in and do a session with us. It was my first full day there and I was still very weirded out and art therapy sounded like the last thing in the entire universe that I wanted to do. But I showed up in the dayroom at the specified time anyway, because if I didn’t go I wouldn’t be allowed to go to the cafeteria for lunch, and also because part of me was slightly curious in spite of my bad attitude. I’ve had very little experience creating visual art since junior high, so I groaned when I saw the boxes of colored pencils, charcoal, and oil pastels laid out on the table. Our art therapist, Michael (not actually his name) was a quiet, soft-spoken guy in his early thirties, with big blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses and a slightly tousled head of brown hair and a matching beard. He tended to sit with his knees together but his feet apart, sometimes with one of them turned inward at the toe. He had the kindest face I’ve ever seen.
Our project for that day was a bridge exercise. We were asked to draw a bridge that showed or represented the journey we were on. What kind of bridge was it? What was on either end of it? At what point were we on the bridge, if we were on it yet at all? We took up our pencils and charcoal and Cray-pas and drew quietly, hesitantly at first but then with more enthusiasm.
My bridge was one of those horrible rope-and-plank things, the really wobbly and dangerous ones you tend to see spanning bottomless canyons in adventure movies. On one side was the land of my depression, which had nothing green or growing, just a spindly dead tree clawing at the sky, which was full of ominous dark clouds. It was raining heavily and there was a bolt of lightning coming down. Depression Land sucks. The bridge ran over a dry riverbed, and on the other end was the opposite of Depression Land. There was green grass there, and a tree with leaves and even a hole in the trunk for an owl to live in, and the sun was shining.
Michael murmured, “Don’t forget to think about what’s under your bridge,” and I realized that I’d been avoiding that part. I knew full well who was under the bridge. I had never drawn my depression monster before. I have images of him in my head, of course, and I even have a goofy moniker for him that I use when I’m trying to be dismissive and not take him seriously. (Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but it always makes me feel like I’m not entirely at his mercy. My therapist says this is a very healthy thing to do—to view the illness as something that isn’t me, because it helps me separate my thoughts and feelings from the shitty lies the DM tells me.) So I put down my colored pencil and reached for a piece of charcoal, because there’s nothing more appropriate for a monster than that pitch-black smudginess.
I draw at about a fourth-grade level, so my depiction of my DM was not very detailed. But he was darkest, darkest black and had long, long arms with long, long fingers at the end, reaching up to the bottom of the bridge. I didn’t draw the lower half of his body, deciding to just let it fade out at the bottom.
Ever see The Babadook? Turns out my DM looks sort of like that. (Which isn’t surprising, because I’ve read theories that the Babadook is supposed to be a symbol of the main character’s depression and grief over her husband’s death. It also explains why the movie scared the ever-loving shit out of me on a level that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time.)
It gave me the shivers to see him, my ever-faithful depression monster.
When we were done, we went around the table and each of us held up our drawing and explained the various pieces of it and what they symbolized, and then the rest of the group was allowed to ask questions or offer comments. It was really cool to see how different people looked at the same drawing and had so many different takes on it and asked such thoughtful, insightful questions. When it was my turn, someone asked if my depression monster simply waits under the bridge to see if I fall, or if he shakes it or tries to grab my feet. That question stopped me dead, because I’ve used the phrase, “My DM’s got me by the foot today,” more than once. That’s what it feels like sometimes—like I’m walking along minding my own business and BAM, he’s got me by the ankle. I so frequently imagine him lurking below me, I realized. So yes, he hangs out under that bridge and tries to grab my feet, and he shakes the ropes trying to make me fall, because of course he does. He’s an asshole.
It was also brought to my attention that everyone else in the group drew someone with them on their bridge—someone they love and who supports or inspires them. And it hit me that it hadn’t even occurred to me to draw anyone else on mine. That was a big moment for me. I’d already begun to realize that one of my biggest issues is my refusal to let the people in my life help me because I have this dogged insistence on being independent and taking care of my stuff by myself. Seeing it (or rather not seeing it) right there on paper made a loud *click* in my head.
I’ve been thinking about that art therapy session today, because after taking a hike for a while after I left the hospital, the DM came back today. It wasn’t a dramatic entrance, just the old familiar fatigue that creeps over me as the day goes on, making my head and limbs feel heavier and heavier until I physically don’t want to sit up anymore. I’ve heard seen this fatigue compared to the lead-lined bib you wear when you get x-rays taken at the dentist’s office, only it covers your whole body, including your head. And that’s so, so accurate. I’m changing jobs at my company and training began today, and this morning I hopped out of bed earlier than I even needed to because I was excited to get the day started. But somewhere around 1pm, I felt that heaviness creeping up, and I drank an energy drink because I was in denial, and it didn’t work. A couple of hours later, when I was fully worn-down and exhausted physically, the DM started to talk. That’s his MO: Wear down my body, and then it’s open season on my mind. You’re going to fail at this new job just like you feared you were failing at your old one. Listen to these people—they’re all asking smarter questions than you, taking more notes than you, understanding everything more quickly than you. You don’t belong here…when you interviewed for this job you did a great job fooling them into thinking you’re smart enough to work here, but you’re not, and everyone around you is slowly but surely beginning to notice.
Like I said, he’s an asshole.
So I fumbled my way through the rest of the afternoon, then trudged off the train and got on the bus, and then called an Uber because I was so exhausted I couldn’t walk the three or four blocks from the bus stop to my apartment. And I cried silently into my scarf in the back seat of that nice woman’s Kia (I’ve cried in the back of so many cabs and Ubers on my way home from places that it’s basically become a hobby) until I finally got home, and then I collapsed face-down on the couch for about 15 minutes while my cats poked and prodded me and stuck their snuffly little noses in my ear.
I ate Wheat Thins for dinner. There’s booze in my fridge and I really want to drink it but I have just enough energy left to stubbornly resist. This is a typical evening in the life of Minerva when her monster’s hanging around. So he’s latched firmly to my back and he’s going to stay there until he gets bored, and I’m going to be sad and irritable and think lousy thoughts about myself, interspersed with ridiculous, comically cranky ones like, “Shut the fuck up, Ed Sheeran, I don’t care that her goddamn soul is evergreen and I’m sick to death of hearing about it.” I’m going to watch Bob Ross on Hulu for a while, because he soothes me, and then I’ll put myself to bed early. And in the morning I’ll get up and do it all again, because that’s what I have to do. Getting out of bed might not look like much, but it’s an act of warfare, and I’m a fighter.