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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Writer's Amputations and the Depression Discussion

" who's taken my get-up-and-go? "
 Thanks are in order to Colin Roswell for initiating a candid discussion about the struggle with depression as a literary artist. I've struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, which happens to be a particularly cruel battle as a teeny weeny bookworm seedling. When I was five, my brother Tim lived with us. Nearly twenty years my senior, he was almost a parental figure rather than a competitive peer. My lifelong battle with depression began after the consequences of his alcohol induced accident.

--This is not a sob story, rather, an explanation of why my depression got so out of hand. It has taken me seventeen years to realize why I am so fucked up. The coping mechanisms most healthy people learn and develop over their childhood, adolescent, and young adult life do not resemble my withered coping methods.

Tim's death fractured my parent's marriage, destroyed their credit, and (rightfully) made them both emotionally inapproachable for several years. It held me back from my learning potential and kept me from skipping kindergarten to advancement in a higher grade due to my reading level. It caused a lot of my early behavioral problems with rebellion and self-isolation.

Less than two years after Tim's death, my parents were divorced and living in separate towns, and I survived my first molestation at the hands of a boy my age. It was a particularly hellish time in my life: I not only learned how to devalue myself but also all the wrong ways to handle these rough emotional problems. Neither parent is to blame, but I felt incapable of reaching out. I did not have the proper processing ability to understand what was happening to me, much less know any of the language necessary for communication.

Nefariously ugly precursors aside, I now realize I might have PTSD in addition to my other symptoms. I have been diagnosed with having major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I remember my first panic attack at the age of seven, and still have them occasionally to date.
"My dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed - my dearest pleasure when free." -mary wollestonecraft shelley
Writing is the heart and soul of who I am. I've told stories for as long as I can remember and collected them from others. At once they are my teeth and my lungs. Writing to me is the same as singing your favorite song in the privacy of your car (or shower). It is the joy of that feeling in your throat, the music stuffing its way into your brain through your ears and skin. Yet it is also like my hands or legs-- a life without being able to write would be like suddenly enduring a horrifying accident that would make me quadriplegic. I'm not being Ableist here, what I am trying to convey is the act and art of writing is something that would break my heart irreparably if I couldn't do it anymore.
...Which brings me to my next point.

Depression is the Dr. Moriarty to my Sherlock Holmes, with whom I constantly battle to save the things I love. He sabotages my professional capacity, denies me of pleasures both simple and cherished. He locks me in federal prison and uses my appeals as toilet paper. Depression tells me that when my friends and family don't immediately assist in my struggle that it means they don't love me (it is a vile and deeply personal betrayal). He also tells me how selfish I am for demanding things of my loved ones.
"You don't need to bother them with your selfish drivel," he says. "They let it get this bad anyway."
Depression literally sucks the life out of me. It is like living with a vampire. When I'm having an off day, I feel as if I've given too much blood: exhausted, achy, sore. A total loss of impetus. Everything seems trivial and pointless, including brushing my teeth. ("Why? You're just going to do it again before bed; besides, you're not going anywhere today.")
He keeps me from the things that bring me out of depression. Absolutely every one of my short and long term goals seem both inanely simple and impossible, which sets me off on a need to control the slightest things. My boyfriend didn't put his turn signal on soon enough; he drives five miles an hour too fast or too slow; he didn't fold his own laundry in quite the right way (nevermind how my laundry is "arranged"). Maybe that's not necessarily depression, but it certainly seems to coincide with the rest of my symptoms on my off days.

...And it's so much more than just the down feeling and mood swings. I feel empty and callous most of the time. It is extremely difficult for me to feel better than just content or amused. I have had to learn to settle for that if it's all I'm going to get. Movies or TV shows I normally enjoy make me wonder, "Why should I care about this protagonist or conflict?"

It is extremely unfair and ridiculous of other people to tell me "just snap out of it", "keep positive thoughts", or "just get out there and do it". I want to, I need to, I know that I want and need to. I've had years of counseling sessions and only just recently realized my deeper issues on my own without counseling. I believe (specifically) counseling only works for parts of problems and short-term issues. Deep seated issues like mine REQUIRE. DAILY. WORK. Therapists can help, but I have yet to find one that will listen to my issues that I want to talk about without either bullying me, passing me off, or prescribing a random medication without really knowing my condition besides "generic depression". I've even had one physician prescribe me an antidepressant and refused to discuss it with me "because I won't notice the side effects as much".

However, I realize my life is out of control and I need help. When I can financially seek the help I need, I have prepared a list of my symptoms and issues so that they can't just skip over it or pass me off until they've read in a nutshell all the problems that need attention. It's my job to express my intentions and expectations to the professional, and it is their responsibility to elucidate their services and explain my rights.

The most horrifying aspect of all my depression symptoms is my inability to write. I might feel like I'm coping "well" or decently enough, and I just can't write. The words won't come, which is different than a writer's block. I can't even make myself want to write, even when I know I need to and it will make me feel better. And then there's the writer's block. Conversely, when I feel the overwhelming need to write and have tons of ideas floating about in my head, I go to put it in type and the words simply will not be summoned.
How am I supposed to meet a deadline when I've stared hard enough at the page that I've given myself a massive aneurism and still there's nothing? How could I possibly put in that query letter to the magazine when I can't even keep my drive?

One ability I have retained throughout all of my life with depression is the ability to fluently create poetry. It takes a while for me to "hit the mood", but there are still some things out there that are outrageous enough to stir my anger or frustration enough to get past my "off days". Unfortunately, poetry is not very marketable, but I keep them around anyway "just in case".
When I get into a horrible funk, I have to distract myself somehow. Spending over budget doesn't help you in the long run, and neither does playing video games for days on end. However, I know I have spent tons of late nights "doing research", which includes rather random web browsing. This has helped me orchestrate some measure of sanity, keeps me from drowning in the filth, and I am so intensely thankful for when I can actually get around to writing.
I also edit my work, but only when I'm not at rock-bottom. A mild-mannered Moriarty is productive, and you will sometimes be surprised at what stuff you will find lying around that you've forgotten all about.
I can't take non-writing jobs that overwhelm my long term goals. I have to be realistic with myself professionally. I have kept menial labor jobs and can do them well. But, when the stress gets so bad that it's all I think about and can't even bring myself to do anything besides the sleep/eat/work cycle, I have to find some other way of paying the bills. Just because the jobs are simple and I can quickly be very efficient at them doesn't mean that's what I should be doing. I can only stand keeping a job like that if it exceeds my expenses by a modest amount at least. Even so, stress should be a factor in your paycheck.

Most importantly, I have to be realistic with myself. Whatever horrible time I'm having of things is alright. It's not going to stay that way forever. There's nothing wrong with seeking help. And even if I can't write right now, I will have one hell of a story to tell when the words come back.

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