My depression is something I brought with me into this world. I get gravely depressed. I get wildly happy. As the smallest of kids, I can remember the visceral feeling when adrenaline would run through my body, making me feel like I was sunshine.
My healthy focus, when it’s switched on, is razor-sharp and canyons deep. But my mood can shift with the snap of a finger. The sharpness and deepness remain, but it’s not healthy focus any longer. In the bad times, it’s calling to me to do things I have to fight to resist. Days can pass with my mind running miles a minute as I sit frozen in my recliner, unable to act. Days can pass when I am alight with the ability to write fiction that astonishes even me—the one creating it.
My first instinct is to cast around for a cause, a place to lay that burden-of-living-this-way down. I found that naming something does very little. A therapist calls it PTSD, or “anxiety being acted out via compulsions.” I call it not being able to feed myself or attend well enough to standard living situations. I call it living a homeless person’s life, though I’m here inside my snug little house. Would it feel less dire if it were called something else? It harms me. It harms my life. I expected my life to evolve, but no. No.
I have such a hard time with the yeses.
I do very little. Partly because it’s hard to anything in a down phase, partly because what little I do creates enough for me. My gifts allow me to do less. This is what you call a high-class problem.
Confronting what you haven’t done in your life is hard. It is perhaps harder if you’re dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Anxiety should have the pen name “Compulsion.” The compulsion to create. To extend. To consume. The compulsion to fail. To harm. To neglect or ignore.
My last severe depression, seven years ago, caused me to quit one semester short of a teaching master’s degree. In those seven years, I’ve managed to live and get enough work done so that I haven’t lost my house. I’ve managed to have a handful of titles accepted and published. Yes, I exist at the poverty level, physically. But I’m not out on the streets, despite my constant and severe ups and downs. I’ve made a surprising success at my failures at life. My neighbors think I’m strange for such a friendly person, but none of them realize the depths I fall into during the stretches of time when they don’t see me at all.
I hide my light under a bushel. Perhaps my successes lead to my continuing depressions? Growing up, I saw life through a distorted mirror. If anyone told me I looked pretty I’d think, Why are they making fun of me? If someone complimented my writing I’d put my hand over my eyes and turn away, ashamed at the praise. And yet, I never stopped writing. I could never turn my back on that part of my life that occasionally glowed like a coin—a coin I could use to pay my way through this life.
People like me are born every day. The hard part is growing into someone new. Someone stronger. Someone strong enough to walk this world of normality. Even on a good day, the path is hard. Working through it on down days brings up devils. Enough said.
In the coming weeks, this series will look at one woman’s way of coping with falling in and out of her lifelong depression. Bear with me. I’m explaining myself—to myself. And hopefully, you will get something from my rambling.
In the coming weeks, this series will be painful for me, but I’ll keep it coming. If I cannot tell myself the truth, what kind of life am I leading? How valuable will my art be if my view of my life is a falsehood? As scary as it seems, I believe that we are meant to peer into the shadows.
In the coming weeks, this series will not be about blame or justification. It’s about now. About trying to live in my own skin by employing empathy. About examining why – through my own engineering — I have arrived at the door of this funhouse.
I’ve got a feeling it’s about the minutes spent dancing between realms and learning to accept that that is an okay way to live.
Stay tuned. And for anyone reading who has issues like mine, stay brave. I bet you’re made of sunshine, too.