The following is the beginning of Norton Juster’s infamous book The Phantom Tollbooth. While I don’t have it memorized per se, I do remember how much it resonated with me when I first heard it, and I think about it often, especially when I’m sinking into a depressive episode, like I have been recently…
Chapter 1. Milo
There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.
When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’d bothered. Nothing really interested him — least of all the things that should have.
Damn, does this quote give me the feels.
I can’t be the only one who can relate to Milo, right? Spending the entire day wanting to leave the house only to wish you were back on your couch when you finally get out. Spending time away wishing to just be home again, but then getting home and wondering why you came back.
When I was in the eighth grade, our teacher read us the Phantom Tollbooth, and this quote, literally the beginning five sentences, has stayed with me since. At the age of fourteen, I had no idea the general melancholy I often felt was a symptom of the depression that I would one day experience in a much more all-consuming way.
Every day on my way to school, I felt a sense of dread. Whether there was a test happening, a project due, or nothing at all, going to school felt like torture. But I really loved school! I loved hanging out with my friends and I enjoyed learning, so I always tried to understand the logic behind these feelings. But there genuinely wasn’t one — I was just depressed.
As someone with high-functioning depression, I’ve written before about some of the small details that start to crop up and make me realize I’m depressed (because it isn’t always apparent to me!). At this point, as I enter my third week of the job search and the stress begins to get to me, I’m starting to see some bad feels crop up.
I’m hardly eating meals, only snacks, and when I do eat, it’s mindless binging. Having more than 2 things on my to-do list is challenging, and reaching out to others feels impossible. Yesterday, I hardly had the energy to check my turnip prices in Animal Crossing. Like, what? Weird move, depression!
Like Ben Wyatt when he resigns in disgrace from his job (yes, I’ve been watching a lot of Parks and Recreation), having endless days without anything to do is causing some inner turmoil (minus the claymaish). Also like Ben Wyatt, it’s taken a while for me to realize that I am, in fact, depressed.
I’m even struggling with my hobbies — I wrote last week’s post a few hours before it went live and I wasn’t even sure I’d get this one out. Like Milo, no matter what I do, I don’t feel settled. I even experienced something similar in Disney World back in August where I felt a restless itch to be anywhere but where I was.
Wow, this post is a bummer! But there is hope! Every day and every depressive episode we live, we learn more. I know some of the different things that can help me feel okay in the moment, and I know not to get caught up in the Milo way of thinking. Instead of thinking “why go out, I’ll just want to be home once I leave,” I can flip it to “going out will get me out of my head and get me talking to cool people!” Even if I don’t feel as though I can go out or do a hobby I enjoy, I need to remember that getting over the hump of getting started will be worth it in the long run. Sure, starting a new puzzle sounds daunting, but I can’t let that discourage me from doing something that will ultimately make me feel better!
Even more helpful, my fiancé Dan is by my side and understands my patterns, too. Last night, we almost skipped out on an event we go to every month due to exhaustion and depression. But Dan knew that I needed to get out of the house, even if I couldn’t bear the thought of it. He turned to me and said “get dressed, we’re going.” I protested weakly for a bit, but I knew that this was the right thing for us to do. Depression brain was telling me to stay on the couch, but not for my own good.
It’s all about pushing past that depression brain and not believing it’s lies. Is there something you usually like to do but depression brain tells you that you don’t? Push through and show depression brain who’s boss! If depression brain is making you hate the things you once loved, pivot and do something else. Try something totally new if you have to, and shock your system! It can be challenging to see through the woods when you’re in them, but even trying to do something small that you enjoy every day can help you realize that the woods have to end eventually. We’re going to get through this, I promise.