Recently, I did research on representing ‘the unspeakable,’ something that is so terrible (such as the holocaust) that it cannot be represented in literature. Different traumatic experiences can be seen as something ‘ unspeakable’ and the debate as to whether or not it is ethical to represent such an experience is complicated. This is because language often does not do trauma justice. In other words, the experience cannot be put into words.
This isn’t the first time I thought about the limit of words. Years ago, someone pointed out to me that they are nothing but poorly designed containers in which we pour our spirit and emotions. It’s perhaps for this reason that people often struggle to explain what they mean. I struggle to convey what goes on during a depressive breakdown too. The experience isn’t traumatic for me, but the feeling is so intense that it is hard to believe that words can properly portray the event. The difference between the unspeakable and depressive feelings, of course, is that the latter can be discussed far more easily. I do not mean to say by any means mean that the unspeakable and depressive feelings come close to being similar. My research on the unspeakable merely made me think of other things that we may find difficult to express within the limited language available. This is interesting to think about because I’m a writer. I also use writing to express; that’s what this entire blog is about, and I tend to try and convey emotions with my fictional stories. If somehow, language is too limited successfully accomplish this, why am I still writing?
When I’m breaking down, it feels like I’m breaking out of my skin. I feel trapped and alone and in response, I try to convey it to others – to share the experience – as this takes a little bit of that feeling away. The issue is that I don’t know how to express what I feel. There are no words that can describe my experience. I’m both literally unable to speak and can’t find the words to speak if I could. Yet, my response is to try and put it down in words or poetry.
During my breakdown, my body is completely still, as if I freeze in place. I’m crying but I will barely make a sound and am likely to ‘scream’ in silence. It feels like my body is shaking on the inside but I don’t actually move. The room that I’m in starts to feel oddly familiar as if I have known this space all my life. I have the feeling and/or impression that everything that surrounds my bed, including the walls, is caught in the destruction of a hurricane. I don’t literally see this but imagine that the curtains, the photographs on my wall and the door of my wardrobe are ripped off by the force of the wind. They are being sucked into a tornado, together with my chair, the desk and its lamp and everything else that’s lying around. The tornado gathers around me, but where I’m at, in the middle of the eye, it’s perfectly quiet and calm. Nothing moves at all and I am trapped. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make this feeling stop and so my thoughts drift to scenarios that I’ll never touch.
I start imagining what it is like if I were to stab my heart with a knife; I wonder if it’d do any good to bang my head against the wall until I lose consciousness; I think of jumping through the glass of my window, and of my bones cracking when I hit the concrete outside. I think of all these scenarios simply because I so desperately need this feeling to stop.
I can’t make it stop though. I know these scenarios wouldn’t do any good so I continue lying there like a paralysed person who is believed to be braindead, while still very much able to think – until eventually my energy runs out and my brain switches to feeling numb. By this point, I have long given up on trying to write anything down.
There’s never really a reason for why this happens. Sometimes it gets set off by something, but when I generally feel low, this can happen anytime without reason. I wish it would be possible to make it stop but while I’m able to stop the thought process, this doesn’t make the feeling go away. The only way to beat depressive feelings is by coping in the best way that we can. Coping becomes easier, but these breakdowns never do. Sometimes it even feels as if they have intensified, perhaps because I’m no longer as used to them, but I don’t think that’s true. I think these breakdowns are as bad every time. I’m guessing it will hurt to break a leg every time even if you’ve broken it before and may be familiar with the feeling. Maybe the best way to cope is by trying to prevent the breakdown stage from happening. Still, writing helps me heal too, if only just for the time until it happens again. That’s why I am still writing because even if words are poorly designed containers, it doesn’t mean they can’t be used. I like to say that anything is possible. So in the meantime, I will continue to try and write down what it feels like, and perhaps this post has done a decent job already, but it’s not quite there yet.