I have had depression my whole life. Other than that stellar selling point, I can’t give you any good reasons to read this blog. I don’t think of myself as a writer. I don’t have any good advice about “how to live with depression” or “how to get and stay happy.” I have a great deal of personal experience with mental health professionals, hospitals, therapies, DSM IV diagnoses, psychopharmacological drugs, suicide attempts, compulsively destructive behaviors, anxiety, and post traumatic stress, but I can’t tell you that I’m cured, or even that I believe that I or you can be cured. What I can say is that I know these issues. I know what these emotions and experiences look, sound, and feel like.
Because I’m not a writer, I feel like I should explain how I ended up not only writing about depression but also deciding to share the work publicly. Last November, right around Thanksgiving, I decided to keep a journal about how awful I was feeling. I had lived through many episodes of major depression in the past, and I had even occasionally kept a journal for short periods of time. For some reason this time around, though, my journal became my only constructive outlet. Five months before I began journaling, I had completed a master’s degree in fine arts, but what should have felt like a significant accomplishment didn’t. I had hoped that the degree and the act of finally succeeding in school would make me feel more confident about myself as an artist.
Instead, it seemed to have the opposite effect. I felt more insecure than ever. Worse than that, I felt that my work simply wasn’t good enough to be valuable to anyone. I couldn’t even justify working on art simply for my own pleasure, both because the drawings I made felt like a reminder of my ineptitude and because taking time to work on something solely for the purpose of my own entertainment felt self-indulgent. I suppose it’s not surprising, then, that these thoughts became the thread which led me to my most familiar place of self-loathing and despair.
I tried many of the usual anti-depression strategies—more therapy, more work, more exercise, more sleep, more reading, more time in sunlight—but none of those things could fill the emptiness. I was convinced I had been delusional in thinking that I could call myself an artist. Soon I determined that the only viable solution to this problem was to kill myself. Still, while I was trying to figure out how to commit suicide in a way that would have the least impact on the people I love, I reasoned that, until I had a workable plan, I had to find a way and a place to express my unacceptable feelings. And so the writing began.
The experience of writing evolved for me, perhaps because I wrote more frequently and consistently than I had in the past, or perhaps because, for the most part, I sustained the habit for a year. Whatever the reason, I approached writing differently. And as the process of writing expanded for me, it changed me. I cared about something. I wanted something. I wanted to do something that was not destructive. I wanted to write.
None of this happened overnight, but I knew it was happening. I could feel it. If I had to identify a turning point, I would say that it was a conversation I had with my husband about four weeks ago. We were discussing how hard things had been these last 15 months not only for me, but for him, too. He has stuck by me for over 20 years through all my intermittent and chronic health problems, but for the most part he has kept all of those struggles to himself. On this day, as I listened to him talk about the difficulty in living with this illness, especially when most people don’t even know it’s happening, I realized how toxic the secrecy had been for both of us. I thought I had been sparing people the details about my mental health—protecting others from the embarrassment, discomfort, and worry that seemed inevitable if, for example, I mentioned that I had been researching how quickly an overdose of Tylenol can send someone into liver failure, or if I asked if they were familiar with any suicide methods that could be construed as accidents so that my family wouldn’t have to live the rest of their lives feeling that I abandoned them.
Of course, I was also protecting myself. I was/am embarrassed by who I am and what I’ve done, and I have always been afraid that disclosing information about my mental health would be akin to telling people that I am a serial murderer or something worse (whatever that might be). But I couldn’t listen to the palpable distress in my husband’s voice or see the sting of grief in his face without knowing that this was all terribly, terribly wrong.
No more hiding. We’re done with that approach. It wasn’t helping either of us. It was crippling us. I had not been lying about my health, but obscuring the truth was not just a way to maintain my privacy. There were real repercussions and costs to the pretending that I hadn’t taken seriously. With this in mind, I sat down at my computer and started transcribing the words from my journal. The entries in my notebook chronicling my year of living with depression were made up of words I had chosen believing that no one would ever see them, words that I thought were for me. But as I re-read my journal, I could see that I had been writing to find a way out of my head. I wanted to connect to other people. I wanted to be truthful about what was happening. I just didn’t know how to say the words, so I wrote them down instead.
With this blog, I want to get out of my head and connect with others. I want to say out loud (well, sort of) what I didn’t have the courage to share before. I haven’t figured it all out, but I want to start anyway, before I lose my nerve. I hope people will read this blog and also share their thoughts “out loud.” If that never happens, though, that’s okay too, because either way I will be writing—trying to connect with people—and that’s good enough.