The Idea of “Nothing”

*Originally written in 2018*

When my husband and I first started dating, we lived up to the title of “Power Couple.” 

He was working on finishing his PhD while I was teaching full time. We rarely saw each other during the week because we were lucky if we could find time in our busy schedules of work, hobbies, and social engagements to even eat during the day. When we did get together on weekends, we would spend Saturday mornings in a coffee shop or the public library, him working on his dissertation and myself grading papers or lesson planning. 

When we moved in together, our conversations over dinner were centered around all of the things that each of us did that day. To outsiders they could easily be perceived as a debate about whose day was busier or more exhausting, but to us, it was how we communicated the things in life we were most passionate about. 

These routines of outward productivity were such an integral part to how we defined our relationship and ourselves within it. We saw each other as equals, two individuals in fierce pursuit of conquering life one achievement at a time. 

But when I fell into the deepest depressive episode of my life, it all changed. 

For weeks on end he came home from work to variations of the same image: me sitting on the couch, still in my pajamas, emptily staring at the tv screen. 

We tried to fall back on our usual routine of talking about each other’s days. He still rattled off excitedly or frustratedly about things that were happening at the office, barely pausing to take a breath. My answer to his question of, “What did you do today?” became reduced to one word–”Nothing.” 

“Did you take a shower?” 

“Did you eat anything?”

“Did you go for a walk outside? It was nice out today.” 

My answer to all of these and similar questions was often, “no.” 

I knew what the situation looked like. I knew that it really did look like once again, I spent an entire day doing absolutely nothing. I had no busyness to talk about, no “valid” reason to justify why I was just sitting on the couch in my pajamas watching television. 

This one-sided conversation became our new routine. Sometimes though, it never happened at all because the predictability of my answers allowed him to retreat to his work in the den without even asking.

The ugly truth is that this conversation didn’t need to be one-sided because during those days, I was doing far from nothing. In fact, those were the most busy and exhausting days of my life; it’s  just that they were busy and exhausting in ways that nobody wants to hear about and in ways that only some can truly understand. 

No, I didn’t take a shower. I didn’t take a shower because when I walked into the bathroom, the voices in my head saying how easy it would be to fill the tub and let myself slip beneath the water’s surface were deafening. I sat on the tub’s edge for nearly an hour, trying to refocus my mind by counting the tiny tiles on the floor, over and over again until I had the strength to stand up and walk out. 

No, I didn’t eat anything. I didn’t eat anything because as I passed through the kitchen, I saw the knife block and thought of how desperately I wanted to cut into my flesh in an attempt to feel anything other than the unbearable pain that coursed through my veins. I held the knife in my hand and stood, playing the tiring game of trying to remember all of the good things– despite the fact that I felt there was nothing good left for me. 

No, I didn’t go for a walk. I was lucky that I had enough energy to drag myself out of bed and to the couch this morning because my whole body aches and I feel as though I’m one hundred and forty as opposed to twenty-eight. In fact, I didn’t even know it was nice outside because I couldn’t even bring myself to open the shades. The idea of facing the brightness of the world when I felt so much darkness was too much. 

On those days that I did “nothing,” I was fighting from the second that I opened my eyes–fighting a constant and vicious war between reality and the sickness of my mind. Even when I survived the day and crawled back into bed, my psyche was already putting in the effort of rallying my troops to go into battle again tomorrow. 

The image of “nothing” can be deceiving. The construct that outward accomplishment and productivity are tied to effort is false. Sometimes, what you see as someone doing “nothing,” is really a warrior pressing on every second of every day, with no end in sight, doing absolutely everything just to take one more breath.

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