Aug. 13th, 2014

catling42: ([dean] ghost of a trace of a pale imitat)
There are a lot of things going on in the world right now. But I only have the energy to talk about one of them. Since Robin Williams died of suspected suicide, a lot of people have been talking about depression and suicide.

About awareness. Ending the invisibility and shame. Maybe even about how broken our current system is in dealing with mental health.

I feel the need to contribute to this conversation. To spread some more awareness. At the same time, the thought of posting this is terrifying for so many reasons. But maybe terrifying is good. As long as it doesn’t get back to my clients.

Every one of you knows someone who has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation. I know this because you all are my friends, and I have for a long time, and continue to, struggle. Yes, there have been times when I felt the only way to make anything bearable — not better, not good, just bearable — would be to take my own life. This isn’t pretty, but its real.

Many of you know I have depression, but many of you have had no idea. Some of you know that I take medication daily. Not to “be happy” or “not feel sad” or so many of the things people say about mental health medications. I take medication so I can sometimes feel like myself. So the dark curtains part and I can see the sun, I can show people the light in myself, I can get up and get out and do good in the world and enjoy the things I actually enjoy but depression sometimes tells me I don’t.

Some of you know that I’m allergic to cats but keep them anyway because I love them and they’re a reason I need to stay alive every day. That once upon a time, the reason I *didn’t* kill myself when I was down in the deepest darkest places, is that I didn’t know who could take care of my cats and keep them happy. Not pretty. Real.

Some of you know that I wrote prolifically in high school, hundreds of poems, dozens of filled journals, mostly about being depressed, scared, confused, sometimes romanticizing it, sometimes needing to bleed it out of myself somehow, sometimes just playing with language like any normal creative teen. There was a year where I completely retreated, lost the connection I’d had with many of my family members, avoided going to school to the point that even the popular kids in my classes expressed their concern about *me*, the girl who blended in with the walls. I still struggle to feel connected after that, now fully 14 years later. I got lost somewhere and couldn’t show you where I’d gone, and that trip to the depths changed my experience on such a fundamental level that I was never sure if I could relate to you afterward. To be fair, I don’t just have depression. I also have anxiety, specifically about social situations, so that sure didn’t help with the whole connecting part, trusting folks not to judge me, or just not understand. After all, family is the toughest love of all.

I have almost never not known I am loved. I remember a friend in college desperately telling me that I was loved, that her friendship and that of our little group should be enough to keep me alive. But that’s not what depression is about. Its about a monster that lives inside your head and tells you horrible things, day in and day out (after this many years, I call mine the Trash Man). Its about a monster that you may not even know is there. Even knowing I have depression, knowing I have this history, it is adaptable and slimy and sometimes finds a way around the ramparts I’ve built and gets its tendrils back in the soft parts of my brain and I forget that its lying to me again.

It changes constantly, from day to day, though sometimes it is the same for days on end. Sometimes I have depression like you have a headache, dully aware of it behind everything, but not a driving force. Sometimes it is like pneumonia and I can’t breathe for sobbing. Sometimes, a cancer that spreads through my entire body, making my limbs heavy and painful, my brain foggy; terminal, unrelenting. Some days are good, some are bad, some are unending misery. Some days I can blissfully forget that I have a monster living underneath my skin.

It is both better and worse that I am self-employed. I can make my schedule such that I have down-time when everything feels amazingly overwhelming. I don’t have to hide at work the same way some folks need to from their employers. I work in a generally solitary environment, specifically designed to be as calming, peaceful and relaxing as possible (and I’ve done a damn good job of making it so), and am lucky enough that generally my work revives me. But there is plenty of work on my business that I don’t get done because I’m sick with this depression. I could be more successful. No one pays me to just turn up and stare at a screen sometimes, or to take sick days. There are days I do have to hide—there are days I call out of my busiest day of the week running around the city doing chair massages because I can’t get out of bed or everything makes me feel like crying, or I’m just plain exhausted for no apparent reason. And I am afraid I’ll lose those lucrative gigs that overwhelm me so much but are delightfully steady income when I actually turn up.

So that is a tiny window into my life with depression. When I first started writing this post, it started funny:
I wish that turning 18, or 20, or EVER came with a manual, How to Be an Adult. With chapter headings: How to Go to Work Every Day; How to Keep Your Apartment Clean; How to Cook Healthy Meals on a Regular Basis (subheading How Not to Waste the Food You Bought); How to Remember to Do Laundry AND Pay the Bills; How to Not Spend the Entire Day in Your Pajamas; How Not to Run Out of Cat Food (How to Get Off Your Ass and Go Buy Some Cat Food, No Really).

How to Have the Energy to Keep Going.

How to Know When to Ask for Help. (subheadings: How to Get the Kind of Help You Need; Navigating Health Insurance; What is Normal, Anyway?)


But depression isn’t funny. It is frustrating and real and not about any one of us in particular. It is a nasty disease that almost never entirely releases it’s grip on people. Remission is a word they use for cancer. I use it for depression. It’s always tentative. It could always come back. But there are leaves.*



And while I’ve needed to share my story, a lot of people have talked about this better than I have.
These comics put depression into easy-to-digest bites, packed with insight, for those of you who are visually minded, or just completely at a loss: http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/comics-that-capture-the-frustrations-of-depression
Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half has an amazing piece about depression and the epic nothingness that it can feel like.

*https://medium.com/the-archipelago/not-everyone-feels-this-way-7e21574a2dfd

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January 2016

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