2019 was the first year I took my depression seriously. It was the first year I realized it could actually take my life.
You’ve read it before. I was bulimic for ten years. And when I stopped being bulimic, I became a drunk. Naturally, any bout of depression in those fifteen years was intrinsically tied to my “habits.” My brain attributed my lows as a natural side effect of throwing my guts up multiple times a day, everyday, for a decade. When that finally stopped, my brain then accepted my lows as natural comedowns from my love of wine and tequila. Sadness was just the temporary side effect of my beloved 92 Château Sainte Marguerite Rosé. My brain accepted lows, but not really as my own. Always just tied to behavior and circumstance.
And then 2019 came and broke me. I was out. Cold. For four months. Out of nowhere. No one really knew. For the most part, I was still pretty high functioning. My bills were all paid on time. I went on dozens and dozens of general meetings. My diet was squeaky clean. I FaceTimed my parents, often. I still sent my friends screenshots of ridiculous DMs. But I was swimming through molasses with a bag over my head. And I was lost. Depression hit and I was a year and a half sober, with five years of ED recovery under my belt, and I did not know I could hit this low a bottom on my own. There were no external factors this time. There were no substances messing with the chemistry of my brain. I had to come to terms with the fact that depression was no side effect. This was just my brain. This is my brain. This is how it’s wired. Everything else about the rosé and the toilet was just a distraction I spun for myself. But if this is just my brain, what now?
You have to understand that I come from brain doctors. Both of my parents. A Neurologist and a Neurosurgeon. Understanding mental health is part of the fabric of who I am. And yet as I say that, I also have to acknowledge that there was little room for any exploration of what this actually meant in regards to us, directly. My father grew up in abject poverty and thus questioning his fears and anxieties was a privilege he simply did not have. My mother is a brilliant researcher and writer with a complicated history behind her that she rather be left unspoken. Mental health was science. For example, my first bouts of anxiety were handled expertly. My father thought it best we left Colombia because children’s brains can’t properly develop in fear. When I showed up at home one summer weighing 85lbs at 5’7”, we came together on what the best treatment could and should be. But there was also a sense that it should all be conquered. My anorexia made me fragile, but because I had the genetic Garcia drive, it was also assumed I would be fine, eventually. And so my anorexia was discussed with company at the dinner table, along with the cheese plate. It was a strange blend of science, deep Colombian pride, and French aloofness. It was both modern in thought, but archaic in feeling. Progressive machismo. So we never spoke about depression. Somehow we had to believe these other events were not related. Because those were actionable. We couldn’t afford to talk about the thing that lay dormant. Certainly, not the thing that lay dormant in us. In me.
The progressive machismo still hardens me. Sometimes. That Garcia thing. I can harden when women cry in public and I can harden when I think someone to be meek. I can harden at my best friend when I feel too vulnerable. But I never harden about mental illness. I don’t tell my friends to get it together. To stop being weak. To get their shit together when they are so clearly going through a bout of something. I don’t encourage my friends when they chastise themselves for eating a donut. I can be stern. But only because I take mental illness extremely seriously. Because mental illness has disrupted my life more than Colombia’s violence, more than my father’s arrest, my migration to this country, my family’s loss of resources. Mental illness has shredded my life to pieces and that says so much considering the life I grew up in was literally bullet proof. Mental illness does not discriminate and there is no amount of overprotection you can build to save yourself. The only solution is to understand it. I do not joke around, I take my friend’s sadness seriously, and for every time I yell at someone (lovingly) to get over their damn professional fears, my friends and family know to call when despair hits. Because of despair, I have sought to understand so much. Despair— I learned to respect her because no amount of hardening can beat her.
And yet. My relationship to my own mental illness and instability isn’t something I took seriously. At least not like this year— not in the way I was forced to. I just thought better habits would lead me out of sadness. I’m a Garcia, afterall. I thought her visits would get shorter and she would eventually realize she wasn’t welcomed. But this year. Man…. This year, I learned how my depression is life threatening. We spend a lot of time making depression and anxiety cute. Palatable. And I understand why. I don’t love all mirrors that reflect my lows and not allowing yourself to make light of something so extreme is unbearable. But while we make memes out of our darkness, I caught myself wanting to speak— depression means I spend a lot of time not wanting to be alive. Not wanting to be on the planet. Wanting to die.
Depression isn’t a thing you can think yourself in and out of. Depression happens to you. It pulls you under and traps you. Next thing you know, you’re looking at your life from both a bird’s eye view and from deep down in the ocean, lacking the energy to gasp for air. Just helplessly yearning for it. It’s despair and total detachment, all at the same time. I was high functioning and in deep despair. A despair that drowned me from the inside out. And it did so in phases— first it pulled me under. I thought it was a bad day. A tough week. I’d just come back from Christmas at home in France, after all, and the culture shock always jolts my insides. But then it trapped me. The days got longer and mornings came too soon. I felt like someone was holding my head under water, but my legs were still kicking. And eventually, I stopped kicking. I was just at the bottom of the ocean. Not cold. Not warm. Just looking up at the light, hoping I could finally drown. And I thought of all the tools I had in my kit— my clean diet, my meditation, my therapy, I even joined CrossFit because it seemed like a small price to pay to stay alive. I was doing the things. I was calling. I was still attending my meetings. But I would return to my cocoon and churn. Like a muscle spasm trying to stretch itself out. I couldn’t gratitude my way out of this one. I couldn’t think enough about the people I loved and the purpose I’ve been granted— my heart only wanted one thing, relief. And relief meant death. I yearned for death every day for four months.
I’ve always been a deeply purposeful person. Growing up, our country was a battle ground. You didn’t get to feel neutral about anything and due to my father’s rise out of poverty, conviction was a pillar of the household. Power was something we spoke about often and dinner conversations often included how to be the most effective and impactful version of yourself. By the time I was a teenager in America, I grew wildly confused at the millennial malaise and desire to be indifferent. Friends would pretend not to have crushes and not care about school work. And for lack of a better phrase, I thought not caring was just very lame. I never understood not telling someone how you feel about them, or trying to be cool for the sake of fitting in. I never understood not speaking your mind for someone else’s comfort. Emotional comfort was not a thing I grew up understanding as valuable. Progressive machismo probably has a lot to do with that, but raising resilient children in a world that required it was the aim. In other words, I feel. A lot. I can be stubborn. I’m very proud of my strength. I’m proud of the way I take up space and the way I can communicate. I’m grounded. And fiery. I pride myself in my wit. My favorite thing about this life is connection. I crave it, I seek it, I go in for more. And I don’t hide it. So when depression hits, it’s as confusing as it is debilitating. The things that make me me, no longer matter or make any sense. In depression, I can take up no space. I want no connection. I question why life even happened at all. I get into a metaphysical space of utter confusion: sometimes I feel like I was a soul waiting in line for a body and someone pushed me back to earth before I was ready. Like I incarnated and I can’t believe I have to do life all over again. Like I got tricked into being a human, again.
I’m not sure what happened that pulled me out of this terrible bout. What I do know is that even in its midst, I was very proactive about one thing— understanding my life was in danger. I called my partner everyday, we spoke about our future as parents and how we would deal with my future falls when they would inevitably come. We made contingency plans. We talked about the ways in which we would tell our children about their mother’s chronic depression and how we’d give them tools to understand. Because I needed that, as a child. That’s the piece of the puzzle that was missing. In the brain surgery of our life, I was taught about brain health and development. But I wasn’t taught about what would happen— what will happen— when those facts impact our own brains.
I’d worked so hard to stay sober, to get clean, to rid myself of addictions I knew were getting in the way of my life path. After all, that was always the big incentive for me— you find a way to stop this nonsense and you will get your career. You continue on this path, and none of it will find you. So I recovered and I got sober and I was on the up and up. I moved to LA, I was working out like never before, I had a team, I was writing, I bought a car. My mental health was the best it’d been in decades. And I still got pulled under and trapped. Depression does not discriminate.
It’s been about two months since I came out from under its weight. I still feel tender and raw. Like I’m looking at the light for the first time. I want to be very careful in saying that not CrossFit, nor my very clean diet saved me. They certainly helped. They certainly normalized certain aspects of my hormones so that the despair wouldn’t be more exasperated. Sure. But time is what did the trick. And I had to sit in it. I just had to let it happen. I set up systems to make sure I stayed alive during the wave, but the wave had to pass on its own. There are other things I want to write about, like the tools I used, and the shame of the aftermath. Contending with the fact that this year hasn’t gone exactly as planned and that a big part of that is because I was unable to do any of it… Dealing with that has been its own misery. I want to write about the spiritual tools I gathered and how I understand my future, now. But for now, this is all I want to say— Part 1, if you will. This year I learned that my depression is chronic and it is mine. It’s a beast and a teacher. And I have to work very, very hard to keep my two feet on the ground. This year, I learned to take my depression seriously.