Emails on Depression

Michael Onsando
9 March ,2015

I’ve been asked often what depression really feels like. The defiant part of me refuses to answer these questions. To dwell on a violence is sometimes inflicting a violence on the self. To be forced into repeatedly justifying  your humanity can cause you to doubt it.

(if everyone says I’m not here, am I?)

Another part of me is obsessed with the idea of finding the words to describe it. With the idea of finding the words to talk about the force that keeps you in bed for days straight. The force that sits you in the darkest corner of the darkest room, the voices insisting “you are nothing.” It’s not easy to write about depression. I still haven’t found the words.

But there are some words. I’m going to try and weave a narrative here using some emails that I sent to a few close friends late last year. I was, at the time, right in the middle of a depressive period. I’d like to make it clear that the emails are largely unedited. I’ve kept all personal bits out and only shared my side of the conversation. The words are as were shared in private.

I still don’t think any of these emails has found the words. But they are from a place of truth with a promise of safety.


“A part of me is wondering if the ferguson protests will grow and  morph. But then I remember the neoliberals aren’t willing to let profit fall for anything. So instead I sit here in my dimly lit room. On good days I get work done. On bad days I wonder why I haven’t died yet.


This is not about depression.”

Sometimes the emails I wrote went to thousands of words. I have written very many metaphors for pain.

Other times the emails were short. One reads:

“I’m feeling okay. This is a new sensation. I’m clinging to it.”

The thing about it is, you can’t really know when it is coming. Even as I write this I know it will come back at some point. I wonder if it will come with as much viciousness or if it will have grown wise and patient in its old age.

“A post on tumblr ” I feel like I’m drifting into a permanent state of exhaustion.” I resonate with these words so deeply that I wish I had written them myself, so I share them with a friend. He tells me the problem is my feminism. I should just leave this “human rights stuff” and go make some money. (A few days later another friend echoes the same words. He insists that what I need in life is a “real job” I’ve wasted enough time being a writer. He further insists that the fact that everyone knows I want to write will slow down my job hunt. I started this as an aside it has now taken over the paragraph – I will stop).


I’m not sure I know how to exist anymore. Staying where I am seems dangerous, moving, in any direction, seems dangerous. So I spend most days in bed, unable to edit, write and, sometimes, eat.


I don’t know why I’m writing this email. Some part might be a cry for help. Another might just be me needing a space to speak. There might even be other reasons that I’m not aware of.”


“I like your tree analogy. I’d like to imagine that I’m that tree that twists and turns and forges my way to the light.

I don’t think I am.

I’m more likely the tree that tries but is trampled on by passing horses. The tree that wanted to live – but didn’t.

I’m defeated today.”


The odd thing is, having just got my book out, I should have been happy. As an artist the release of new work is meant to be exciting. Especially when it’s received and discussed. Still somehow nothing could undo the weight. I carried myself to social functions out of obligation. I did just enough work to barely cover whatever bills I had – and even that was a bit too much at the time. I couldn’t be bothered to try and do better because it was easier to just let go.

“Chicken little said the sky is falling.


This seems important to this conversation. I don’t know why, but it does. Maybe it has something to do with the impending nature of little’s warning. The sky, now falling, poses and immediate threat that no one else can see. Maybe it the hysterical nature of the call, the “please believe me.” The “we have to leave now.” There are things in chicken little’s life that apply to me. There are things that don’t.


 Taking care is easier said than done.”


Neil Hillborn says “this is not to say you aren’t special, this is to say thank god you aren’t special.” I’ve been thinking about these words I’ve been dwelling on them. So maybe this is why I wrote this. Maybe it isn’t.


“in the absence of truth there is confusion; the essence of truth”

– Reggie Watts

The thing about such essays is that expect action points, solutions but the truth is I have none. Only a couple of emails and life. There are no answers, there is only life. Chimamanda reminds me that depression passes but all the stories of people who didn’t make it remind me that it stays as well.

Take care of yourself.

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