I’m a sucker for a story. I think stories matter. Words matter. Names matter. I have a fragrance named Grace from Philosophy and a lipstick named Grace from Charlotte Tilbury and a lipstick named Grace from Nars and a lipstick named Grace from Hourglass and a cat named Grace from New York City. (And when Tom Ford adds Charlie to his Lips & Boys collection, I will have that, too.)
I care about the product, but I also care about the name.
During World War I, the soldiers referred to their Red Cross nurses as the rose of no man’s land. They were hopeless and wounded, and their rose offered some salvation. In tribute to that story of nurses and soldiers and comfort on the frontlines, Byredo crafted its fragrance Rose of No Man’s Land. And, given that I live with an illness that often sends me to no man’s land (and because it’s pink), I of course needed to have it.
Depression, for me, isn’t the stuff that I’ve read about in articles, medical journals, or even some first-hand accounts. In accordance with my training and mental disposition, I go instead to the word itself and a classic Merriam-Webster definition. Yes, there’s the one about sadness. But Merriam-Webster also defines depression as “a reduction in activity, amount, quality, or force,” as in a depression in trade or an economic depression.
That is my depression. Everything just stops. Those rabbits that I wrote about chasing so aggressively last week just disappear. My functioning is quite literally depressed, and, like Merriam-Webster suggests, I demonstrate a reduction in activity, amount, quality, or force. My light turns off.
Remember in Sex & the City when Charlotte compared relationships to cabs? For those of you who don’t have the series memorized (weird), she basically said that people are like cabs. When we’re ready for a relationship, our light is on. When we’re not ready for a relationship, our light is off. For non-New Yorkers (or New Yorkers who weren’t New Yorkers before Uber), when a cab’s light is on, it’s available. If its light is off, its driver either has a passenger or is heading home for the night. If my light is off, though, it’s never because I have a passenger; it’s always because I’m heading home for the night.
And when I head home, it isn’t for the night. At best, it’s for the week. In my 20s, it was for a month. In my early-30s, it was for a season. In my mid-30s, it could be years.
I spent the better part of the past five years in bed. And I mean that quite literally. I would get up for bathroom breaks or to shuffle to my Nespresso machine. When I lived in LA, I had everything delivered to my door, and it would be my workout for the day to walk from my bed to receive the delivery. (Needless to say, I do not suggest that as sufficient exercise, and I gained some weight.) If I was out, it was either on my monthly walk to a local coffeeshop or because a family member had collected me to show me some sunlight. If you met up with me in person, know that you were the exception, you were worth the outing, you lived up to the effort, and you were one of ten non-family members I saw in the past five years (I counted).
My light turned off about five and a half years ago, and it stayed off for a long time. My brand of depression is real, and it is chronic. It wasn’t a phase. I wasn’t in a rut. I was in no man’s land, and, like Charlotte said, I wasn’t available. (And let’s just say the light is starting to shine more regularly now, but I still live with a bipolar disorder, and my light can flicker.)
Charlotte’s wisdom didn’t stop at cab analysis. When she was lost in her own no man’s land, she brought a Cavalier King Charles named Elizabeth Taylor into her life to serve as her nurse. Likewise, I brought Charlie on to assist my overworked yet properly paid nurse, Grace. Although this cat-and-dog team refuses to snuggle up on their breaks the way I dreamed they would, their bedside manner and attentiveness to my occasional need to remain there makes up for it. I’m pretty sure they aren’t officially licensed, and I think I’m their first and only client, but for my money they’re the best in the business. They are my roses, regardless of my realm of residency.
But truth be told, I’ve found myself in no man’s land again. With medication and treatment and what feels like great effort, it isn’t the no man’s land I used to live in. It’s more of a daytripper’s no man’s land, but I’m here nonetheless. And when I’m here, it’s hard to remember who I was just days ago, harder still to find any desire to be that person again, and hardest to describe the experience.
My head hurts. A lot. The sunshine feels good. Everything looks and feels blurry. It’s hard to form sentences. It’s hard to form effort, interest, or inspiration. Everything, from my eyelids to my feet, feels weighted and heavy. If I have to make a public appearance, as in literally appear outside my home, I will be shaky and clumsy in preparation. I will have so much trouble standing that I’ll have to find a place to sit. My heart will race, my eyes will squint, my body will feel limp, and I’ll have to actively prop myself up. I will worry earnestly that I won’t be able to stand myself up again when it’s time. I will wonder if you can tell. I will wonder if my droopy, dull eyes give it away. If you talk to me, I will try to smile and nod at the right places, but I will have no idea what you’re talking about.
I have lived in no man’s land for long enough, though, that I’ve learned to build myself an escape hatch. When I get leave from no man’s land, I sprinkle a trail of bread crumbs so that I can find my way back. In 2009, it was the Louis Vuitton Stephen Sprouse. In 2012, it was the J.Crew French hen. In 2015, it was Charlotte Tilbury everything. In 2016, it was as many Nasty Woman t-shirts as I could find. It’s seldom the crumb I’ve planned that lifts me up, but I leave so many that something is bound to find its way through the fog.
Today, with half-alert eyes I glanced down at a vanity of scattered treasure and noticed my pink vial of potion. I found my Rose of No Man’s Land and rolled it onto my pressure points.
I put on lipstick, YSL Rouge Pur Couture Rose Mix (number 75, whose digits add up to 12, which is another necessity entirely). I put Charlie in his basket in the back seat, and we drove off for coffee and sunshine. And in the car we (I) belted with Megan Hilty to “They Just Keep Moving the Line” from Smash, so honestly it’s tricky to locate the exact rose to this no man’s land.
My body still feels weighted. My vision is still blurry. My voice still feels slurred and softened. My thoughts still feel inaccessible. My inspiration still feels like it’s jotted down on a piece of paper instead of breathing somewhere within me. I can’t see any rabbits to chase, and I’m certainly not able to run today.
But I’m out of bed. And I made myself some food. And I put on lipstick and perfume. And I drove with my puppy. And I sang with Megan Hilty.
And perhaps most importantly, I found the rose that I had left on my vanity, just in case I ever got lost in no man’s land.