If you don’t know, if you’re new to this blog or new to me, then I want to tell you up front that I talk about three things: writing, mental health and food. My blog traffic goes crazy when it’s recipe day, and less so when I talk writing or mental health. I tend to think this is because I put my guts on the page when I talk about those things, and that either makes for tough reading or it truly isn’t interesting when compared to blogposts elsewhere that spew the same ten superficial pieces of advice or take lengthy hate-screeds and pot-shots at people.
I already talked about writing today. Let’s get into mental health.
I’m a suicidal depressive, in treatment, medicated and presently stable. I have tried to kill myself on a number of occasions. My body tells the stories of those efforts and the pain and the heaviness I feel in life. I don’t hide them (most aren’t on my arms), and I don’t run from the fact that it’s a part of my life and it rolls its nasty face around my way usually from September until April, and I’m spending those gray months either thinking about not living or trying to avoid thinking about not living. Often I talk about my depression and my pain while I’m going through it. Over the winter, I even tried to livetweet a depressive episode.
It’s important, I think, to be open about how we feel, what our issues are, what shitty traps we convince ourselves to fall into time and again and what we’re really wanting out of life. It’s honesty, it’s raw, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The point isn’t to make people uncomfortable, the point is to clearly express what’s going on. Expression beats silence and expression promotes encouragement. It’s through encouragement and support that the scary things of mental health are made less scary, revealing the dark spectres to be more Old Man Jenkins from the amusement park and less foul Dementors.
But when I write this, I’m not depressed. I feel great, though I think this is a combination of new blood pressure medication, a lot of new and healthy relationships and a positive change in my work habits and diet. Depression isn’t “cured”, so much as it wanes and withdraws like a tide. I’ll never be cured, but I can remain vigilant and disciplined and alert to how I’m doing every day. So, this post is about depression while not depressed.
Depression is the greatest motherfucker I’ve ever discovered. It lies. It manipulates. It skews perspective and encourages unhealthy behaviors to escape the pain it amplifies. It takes terrible activities and ideas and makes them appealing. Hurting because you feel no one understands you? Have a drink, pop a pill or shoot this into a vein. Aching and nauseous because you feel you’re alone on a rock in a stormy ocean while the rest of all existence experiences calm Caribbean waters? Seclude yourself in a bedroom. Feel like you’re suddenly speaking Martian and all your words and expressions and body language are angering any living thing around you? Eat hurriedly and feel like you deserve that indigestion.
Everyone has those doubting voices or passing thoughts about how they’re not good enough or could be better. I don’t trust anyone who says otherwise or who gets all extra swooshy and metaphysical about how those are egoic constructs that I need to jettison. While I’m willing to agree they’re habituated thoughts based on faulty evidence, I’m also willing to believe the bloodwork and tests that tell me there’s a chemical element to it. The little white pills I take aren’t placebo. And unlike what I thought at age 16, they’re not a shackle or something I take so the world doesn’t hate me, they’re tools I need to do what I do in the best ways I can.
Depression isn’t me. It’s my sometime jailor and tormentor, but it’s not my identity. I don’t walk the floors of conventions or into classrooms and hear people say, “Hey Depression Guy”. It doesn’t mention it on my business cards. There’s no giant blinking neon light calling attention to my illness or subsequent disordered thoughts. In this regard, I see it a lot like hair color or diabetes or a stutter – these are things a person has or lives with, but are not defined by. This attitude is hard fought and sorely won, and I’m sure months from now when I’m laying on the couch paralyzed by paranoia and a sense of failure, this is all going to read like applesauce and fluff.
Likewise, depression isn’t a giant block-letter tattoo on my forehead. As with many illnesses, you don’t see physical signs. I might carry myself different sometimes, my already questionable posture might contort more, my shoulders might sag and I might make less eye contact, but there’s no sucking chest wound or trail of gore fanning out behind me.
But the experience of that straight jacket made of suffocating fiber and weighed down with stones carved from your failures and shortcomings is hard to forget. I might drop something and make a mess or I might print the wrong thing out, but right now I can look at it and say, “Okay try again.” Not so when smothered by feelings of inadequacy, where the spilled mess or wrong pages printed are endemic of my absolute pointlessness and sheer stupidity. It feels weird typing that out, because I don’t feel that way now, but it’s like knowing a summer place – it’s familiar, you return their often, you know where all the light switches and towels are.
People want to help, and I love them for it. They offer support, fistbumps, encouraging messages and company. They invite me to places, they bring tea. I only barely get a sense of what it must feel like to watch me go through this, and I know that while I’m in that headspace, I’m making numerous apologies for sucking up their time and for being a downer. They all tell me it’s okay, that it’s part of being a friend, companion, partner or lover. And even now, I struggle with that. I’m not sure I’d have the patience they do.
I try not to talk sex on the blog, but it’s a relevant slice of this depression pie. Depression eats away at feelings of attractiveness, and leaves behind nice giant truckloads of performance anxiety and a junkie-like craving for intimacy, connection and any sensation that feels good. So you might totally want to do some pantsless partying, but some of the parts don’t get the invite, and then you double up on your dosage of failure and inadequacy. Depression generates feelings of wanting to get down and then like a school bully, takes away the ability to do so. It’s cruel. (Okay sex-talk over. That was a little awkward, right?)
Not feeling these things now, I get to observe them at a distance. I often get to this place and wish I had some kind of weapon to snipe them and eliminate them before they come surging back, but I’ve started to realize that they’re part of the forces that helped to shape me and continue to help to influence me. I don’t think I’d have the appreciation for good craft and work or the ability to tell wracking tragedy without the knowledge of just how bad things can get. Not sniping them is a challenge, but there’s also a sense that by not engaging them, by leaving them all the way over there, I don’t have to worry about being overrun by them.
And that remains a great fear – the fact that I’ll need another course of treatment, but that I wouldn’t ever come out. I’d lose contact with the world, I’d lose connections and I’d be trapped in some medical hell where I was stuck without the ability to do anything other than suffer. It’s the part of the future that frightens me. Winter is coming, and it brings the scary. But that’s what constant vigilance and therapy and talking about it is for – a thing is less scary if you’re open about it and build a good support network.
I’d be dead (literally and otherwise) without the support of people. I cannot repay them, there aren’t enough dinners in the world to cook for them to show them my gratitude for all their help, there aren’t enough ways to tell the people you love that you love them like you do. I hope that any day I’m still upright and kicking is a testament and a thank-you. Building that support network meant taking a good hard look at who I put around me and what they actually brought to me, and then making the hard choices of excising the elements and people who did more harm than good. Thankfully, I majored in Burning Bridges in college, so I have expertise in excising people.
Time to go back to work. The day’s nice and there plenty of things to do.
Thanks for reading.