You are not a special salamander if you have depression. About 7% of U.S. adults suffer it. Doctors diagnosed half of those people with an anxiety disorder. Let me tell you what it means to lose that genetic draw.
Only two years ago did I look back and understand that I felt anxiety for my entire life. It’s an unholy combination of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attack Disorder (short version: it’s all the time, and thinking about the next one makes it worse). It manifests in my gut as an eternal furnace, always churning, sometimes empowering, never quiet. Sudden changes to plans? Ambiguous social cues? Time for a shower? All coal to add. But anxiety’s something to live with, and even benefit from. My therapist connected anxiety and depression thusly: depression’s the circuit breaker. The anxiety works you up, draining everything, until depression snaps in and calms down everything by removing everything.
Depression was always in my genes, but if I were forced to pick a starting point, it would be the beginning of February 2009. I just finished an insane weekend of high school extracurriculars. Friday worked lighting crew for school talent show, Saturday debate tournament and lighting crew again, Sunday swim conference. A weekend of finals and sleeplessness. I showed up to school Monday, then collapsed that night and took the next day off. This was when general moodiness at my fatigue transcended into a numbness that needed more than just a day off to understand. Someone described depression as when you’re drowning and you see everyone around you breathing. It’s a great description, but I’d like to add an oil fire on the surface. If you do feel anything, at least in my experience, it’ll be anguish and pain.
Most people who know me claim I radiate a never-ending smile and constant chipperness. A lot of it’s probably nervous energy, but I’ve interacted with enough people to confirm it’s a natural social state. I just look happy. So when I was bed-ridden that Labor Day after a energy-less 2009 summer, and after the hospitalization that followed, the lack of results from the thousand blood draws and tests suggested chronic fatigue. It explained my mood. Of course I got miserable, I was fatigued through no fault of my own! How could someone so happy, with so much fortune in family, class, gender, skin color, and mind, have depression? Here’s the truth (for me… ask a hundred people how their depression manifests, you’ll get a hundred and fifty answers). Fighting depression in the long term takes logic and medicine (which I have), structure (which I have), a job or activity you enjoy that holds you accountable (which I have), and a healthy body (which I’ll get back to you on). But in the short term, when that exploding emptiness inside paralyzes the body and soaks up the mind, logic is the enemy. Logic tells you that this agony will never fully go away and the longer you live the more you’ll experience it and the more intense it’ll get and the more it’ll ruin your life and your life isn’t ruined and the fact that you’re even thinking that shows how pathetic and weak you are and you know what? We’ve calculated the best possible course of action for you, and it involves duct tape and a plastic bag. Lindsay Ellis describes this as “the alien brain,” utilizing a logic system that only makes sense once you’re assimilated. Logic will not save you in depression. “I can’t kill myself, I’ve got work in the morning,” is such a stupid statement, and it has saved my life many a time.
I started running with track shoes with my writing two and a half years ago. You can mark the days I fell in a depressive state by the zeroes on my writing log. I don’t even think this affliction helped me on a qualitative level. I’ve written about depression before, and about people with depression, but how much did I gain that couldn’t be researched or interviewed for? That’s the first myth I want to dispel: you, fellow depression victim, are not a special salamander. Your ‘curse’ will not improve your writing: practice, research, and human interaction will do that. Don’t skip your meds so you can understand the mindset of a woman losing her job and her mother- learn to emphasize instead. And empathize with yourself when you fall in such a state. If I wrote better and more often about depression, I’d have written this post months sooner.
I’ll make my second point through a story. A couple of weeks ago was finals time. Finals stress out everyone, and devastate my mind and body. I tell myself, “You test well. Student Disability Services gives you a special testing room so you can have more time than everyone else.” But again, logic need not apply when you’re in a sky of quicksand, sinking up. I enter this state a day after Best of No Shame, after a descent into junk food, Internet submission, and bed living. Anything that distracts you from how you feel right now, you take. I already submitted two finals beforehand, and only had two left: the test and the portfolio. I mustered one reading of my notes before the test, and one scan of edits before the portfolio. I made it. I got to the test on time and turned in the first half of my screenplay a few days before the deadline. And it did a whole mountain of jack for my depression. Maybe I was stressed because I planned a big cleaning expedition to the jungle that once was my apartment before I traveled home, but nothing changed in this cocktail of sludge and vodka that was my head. It ended that night, but that’s not the point. I lifted the greatest stress from my mind only to find more cobwebs underneath. There’s the second lesson: no amount of success will get you out of depression. This includes writing. This is still my dream, but even when’s it’s realized I’ll still have to wake up.
I don’t intend for this post to start a pity party, just stand as a statement of what depression is to me as a writer and not a special salamander. If you’d like to learn more about the subject, I’d recommend here and here. Depression hasn’t kept me from updating the blog yet, but if you see a lot of my old work getting posted, send me an email, won’t you?