I made a promise when I started this blog that there would be some rules – no cursing, no over-sharing, no political views – but for the first time since I began writing this blog almost six years ago I’m going to break one of those rules. I am inspired by something Dave Holmes said when everyone on Facebook changed their profile pictures to the red background with the pink equal sign:
If something like this had happened when I was a kid, it would have made my day. If one person I knew had expressed the opinion that I was a human being who deserved respect– whether it was by wearing a shirt, or hanging a sign, or using the word gay even one time in a way that was neither derogatory nor pitying – the teenaged me would have been overwhelmed.
I don’t ever talk about this particular issue because, frankly, I’m embarrassed about it. I think if I ignore it, if I pretend it isn’t there, maybe it won’t be so bad. To be frank, I can’t even be totally honest about here, I can’t face it entirely. I still have to minimize it in order to cope. However, if what I write here below helps one person to feel less alone, to feel less isolated, then it was worth it.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental illness is something that affects 1 in 5 people, but it is still taboo to discuss. You can say you have diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, and people will nod sympathetically, but if you say you are bipolar, or manic, suddenly the room gets chilly and people find they have to go do something somewhere else. You are labeled “crazy” and written off as a person. And even if you are on medications and your symptoms are completely under control, you are still disregarded because you are “unstable.”
I suffer from Anxiety and Depression. The anxiety, I’ve had it as long as I can remember. When you have to give a speech in front of a large group of people, or you have to walk on a twisty rope bridge over a lagoon, you know that tight feeling you get in your chest and how all your muscles tense up and you can’t concentrate on anything aside from that fact that you are quietly freaking out? I feel that all the time. If I’m awake, that’s my default state. Adrenaline pumps through my veins constantly and my eyes are always dilated. I feel like I’m walking on a knife’s edge. Since I am accustomed to this sensation, I’ve learned to manage it. I am by no means non-functioning. I hold a good job at which I excel. I have lots of friends. I’ve never been in debt, I own a car and an apartment. I’m not a cutter. I’m not addicted to drugs. But all that comes at a cost, which is that I am exhausted from maintaining the appearance of calm that most people take for granted. When I get home from work I feel like I’ve been slogging through knee-deep syrup all day. I wear big headphones at work and more often than not no music is playing, I’m just shutting out the rest of world. On Friday night, I usually go to sleep at 1:00 in the morning and get up at 3:00 in the afternoon on Saturday. I sleep a lot. It’s the only break I get.
I always had hope. In high school I told myself, “When I go to college, it’ll get better.” When I was in college, I dreamed of working in a creative outlet. Then living in New York City. Then getting a boyfriend. And then, shortly before my 28th birthday, after I had achieved all these things one by one, I had an epiphany –it’s never going to get better, not for me. Nothing’s going to alleviate this. This is my burden until I die.
And, armed with this knowledge, I had a nervous breakdown.
That’s when the depression started. I have no hope now. I know that there is no pill or therapy or meditation or acupuncture that will take away what feels like the Eye of Sauron charring its way through my sternum. I’ve tried them all, nothing works. I wake up every morning disappointed that I woke up. However, as grim as that sounds, it’s not all bad. There is one good aspect. This is an excerpt from an article I found:
Mood disorders and madness have long been associated with creativity. In the fourth century BCE, Aristotle argued that an excess of the bilious humour, while causing melancholy, was also a necessary component in creative genius: ‘All those who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry and in art, even Socrates and Plato, had a melancholic habitus; indeed some suffered even from melancholic disease.’ … But it was the Romantics who gave fullest expression to the notion that madness, melancholia and creativity might be inextricably wound together. ‘We of the craft are all crazy,’ Byron famously proclaimed. ‘Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.’
So you know every musician or artist or writer or comedian or director you have ever liked? Chances are they are dealing with some kind of mental imbalance. I like to credit my ability to create in so many different mediums, in fact my desire to create, to my constant state of unease and misery. It motives me to keep making things of beauty and interest. If I was content with my lot in life, I would have no impetus to do that.
I’m not yet at peace with my situation. I still struggle with the idea that there’s something or someone out there that will fix all my problems and I’ll be like the smiling people on TV dancing through a field of wildflowers. I develop obsessions with different people, sometimes people I know, sometimes celebrities, that last about six months. My brain tries to convince me that if I was around that person all the time everything would be fine even though I know that’s a complete fallacy. It’s profoundly distracting and irritating. For example, most recently, my brain only wanted to think about Tom Hiddleston. Tom Hiddleston is a British actor best known for his performance in The Avengers as Loki. If I’m having a good day, I don’t think about him at all. If I’m having a horrible day, I think about him incessantly. “If he was on the subway with me right now, we’d talk about THIS” or “If he was eating dinner with me right now we’d talk about THIS” or “I bet he’d like this song I’m listening to right now.” It’s like those pictures of Jesus that are supposed to be comforting.
In my case, I am the girl staring off into middle distance, and my obsession o’ the moment is Jesus, hovering behind me like a spectre in a backpack I carry with me everywhere. And the statement, “I am always with you,” instead of being soothing ends up being more like a bleak reminder.
(On a positive note, I found a version where Jesus sparkles like a teen vampire.)
I have met thousands of people in my 35 years on this planet, and I have learned that no one is a magical healing balm. Every person is just a person, and my anxiety is mine and mine alone. This is just how it is. I try to look at it from a brighter angle: It has made me more compassionate to the suffering of others, it forces me to constantly strive to better myself in some way, it made me funny. Nothing is ALL bad or ALL good, and this is no exception. If you or someone you know struggles with depression or anxiety, I recommend you send them this article.
It’s a start. And remember, everyone is a little different. Maybe yoga will help you. Maybe SSRIs. Maybe therapy. B vitamins. Sunshine. Running. Try everything. You never know.
Here are some really good blogs written by people who have depression and are wildly successful.
http://thebloggess.com/ Jenny Lawson. Author. Her book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened debuted at #1 on the NYTimes bestseller list. Collects taxidermied animals in anthropomorphic poses.
http://thefrogman.me/ Benjamin Grelle. Comedian/Photoshopper. Makes some of the most shared images on the internet. Gets marriage proposals from strangers. Has a cute corgie named Otis.
http://dooce.com/ Heather Armstrong. Professional blogger. Coined the verb “dooced“. Has so many fans she has her own community site. Takes really good photos and has excellent interior design sense. She recently wrote an article about this specific issue. http://dooce.com/2013/05/06/if-this-isnt-for-you-its-for-someone-you-know/
http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/ Allie Brosh. Awesome illustrator and writer. Has thousands of fans. Her “Clean all the things!!!” is one of the most iconic images and is used all the time. Just returned from a debilitating bout of depression and we’re glad she’s back. The internet wasn’t quite as internet-y without her.
Good luck on your road.