On Writing With Depression: Streak-Breaking

During most of 2017 (so far), I believed I’d never have to write a post about my depression issues ever again. From at least December, until last Friday, I did not experience a single depressive episode. It’s an accomplishment to be proud of, I’m sure. Just like those 5th place Olympic runners should feel proud, because hey, not everyone makes it that far.

What? I’m serious. It’s amazing to just make it to that event. No sarcasm or self-pitying here, I put enough of that on other posts as is.

A true champion

Continue reading “On Writing With Depression: Streak-Breaking”

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adjective (dated) 1. sentimentally or foolishly amorous

So… it’s been a while.

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There are excuses— one of the main ones regarding osteochondritis dissecans— but, as you’ll read about later, I’m hesitant to tell my readers about things that are only interesting to me. And my last two months are nothing new… I spent September and October 2015 uploading a lot of old content too. It’s college time, what can I say. So instead of talking my absences, let’s talk about someone whose lack of content provokes more discussion. I know people are still talking about it, because I spent the last week crawling through 300+ forum pages of people somehow still talking about it, or, rather, him.

Continue reading “adjective (dated) 1. sentimentally or foolishly amorous”

On Writing With Depression: The Amanda Laurens of the World

Yes, I’m writing another one of these depression articles, and no, I’m actually doing fine right now. Thank you for asking. Although if you know what I’m talking about when I say “Amanda Lauren,” “xoJane,” or “Blessing,” you’d have good reason to believe otherwise.

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Last week, the online woman’s magazine xoJane published an article titled “My Former Friend’s Death Was A Blessing,” by the aforementioned Amanda Lauren. The article’s not available anymore; the editors replaced the piece with an apology. But not before The Wayback Machine saved the article, which is linked here for your convenience. Many people on Twitter discourage the viewing of this article at all because it’s triggering and reinforces the stigmas surrounding mental health in American culture. It’s ok if you don’t want to click on that link. Speaking for myself, I’d say that Lauren’s thinkpiece (appropriately tagged as an “unpopular opinion”) is worth a read, because it represents the mindset of one of the shallowest people you’ll ever find. Here’s what the article’s about: the author admits she “feel[s] it is a blessing when someone dies young.” In particular, she’s talking about a former friend who drowned herself in a bathtub. Why was it good that Leah— the false name given for the friend— died? Because mental illness had taken over her life, in the form of a) having a filthy apartment, b) not having a dating life, c) trying to hook up with someone the author had a crush on, d) quitting the job that the author gave her, e) struggling with weight, f) being a cam girl, and g) posting personal information about the author online. These things were enough to make the author of this article say, “her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was.” The author claims that she wrote the essay to bring the plight of the mentally ill to attention. But in reading the article, the only plight she seems to be talking about is the plight of the mentally ill on her own life.

Now, you’re probably here to listen to me talk about why this essay and this writer are so terrible. Similar sentiments can be found here, here, and here. Those response pieces capture rage. I have little of that to give. I’m mostly weary, that that’s because of an uncomfortable truth those response pieces are avoiding.

See, those response pieces will tell you that Amanda Lauren is perpetuating mental health myths dangerous to those suffering from those conditions, as well as being just plain wrong on many accounts. And there is an element of truth to that. But… well…

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Kendrick Lamar might be The Biggest Hypocrite of 2015, but I might take his place this year…

All right, let me back up for a bit. Among the many complaints levied at Amanda Lauren, one of them was that she’s shit at writing. And while her article is comparable to a high schooler’s journal entry, I don’t think that that criticism is entirely fair. She is self-aware. “It’s hard to share my thoughts… and not judge myself on some level for exploiting an awful situation,” she says near the beginning. Remember that quote about Leah’s life being a tragedy? She pre-empts that sentence by stating, “It sounds horrible to say…” Lauren knew she was dipping her toe in sensitive waters. And that knowledge did jack shit for her credibility. No one bought the idea that she was aware of the terrible things she was saying. I have a feeling that the same fate might befall me. But, unlike Lauren, I will not act all shocked and be like, “Oh no, I really did this to raise awareness of mental illnesses!” What I’m saying will upset you at first, but it needs to be said.

What Amanda Lauren says about people who have a mental illness being burdens is not true. The fact that people like Lauren exist, however, is true.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to know that you are not a burden. And that’s a true statement regardless of what others believe. But there will be people that do believe that lie. Many mental health activists are discouraging people from reading the article, lest they think others don’t want them around. And to be honest (even thought that’s all I ever have been)? I wish we could turn back time and live like that. But the seal is broken. Amanda Laurens exist in the world. I have no doubt that there are people in my social circle that think I’m better off dead. Thankfully, I’m certain none of the really important people (therapist, family, close friends) think that. But the rude guy at my high school lunch table that garnished cynicism on everything he saw like it was salt? The old school, wandering preacher who believes in heaven and believes the modern world has been overrun by the forces of hell? I’m connected to them on Facebook (for the record, I have a hard time unfriending people on there). They might look at my blog any day and think “Still in college at 23 pursuing one major and no minors? Obese? No love life, not even a history of one? Anxiety and depression… of course this kid would be better off dead.”

I might not even need evidence to believe this kind of thing. One of my bartending coworkers gets easily upset at people who don’t follow his orders and “lie” to him. If you were to ask him, he’d likely say that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Judging by his actions, I’d say he doesn’t suffer anyone gladly. He doesn’t know that I have depression, and he already thinks I’m a burden. He doesn’t have to say it for me to think it. Hell, that doesn’t even have to be true for me to think it. My head does most of the work.

Remember one of my earlier posts on depression this year, where I talked about codename Hamlet (also: Hamlet’s doing better now! Yay!) and how I couldn’t help him with his depression? Although I never saw Hamlet as a burden, the relatives of Hamlet that kept pushing me to help him clearly did. Ultimately, their anxieties and their own selfish beliefs did not help Hamlet get to this better portion of his life. He’s the one that did that.

And that’s part of my point. No one gets to decide your value. Not even you at your darkest moment can do that. No one, from your sad thoughts to your suicidal thoughts, from the bully coworkers to the crazy preachers, can rob you of the innate dignity you possess. You will meet people like Amanda Lauren, even if you don’t know it. Denying their existence is more than pointless, it’s counterproductive. But it’s within your power, no matter where you are in life, to acknowledge that you do not need anyone’s opinion or respect to deserve life. You deserve it simply because you’re you. You are not worthless. And the people who matter in your life already know that.

I wouldn’t even call Amanda Lauren worthless. I think she’s struggling with complex emotions that she’s not equipped to deal with, and this interview confirms that. Her battle is between her limited viewpoint and that terrible old chestnut “She’s in a happier place now.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s dealing with a lot of pain under the surface, especially now that she revealed a rather ugly side to herself to the entire world. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to take on her pain as your own. The people who think you’re a burden are not just wrong, they’re wrong on a level that must be rejected clearly and decisively. It won’t be easy. But those ideas must be faced head-on. Free yourself from the mindset that depends on other people’s opinions, and you’ll wonder why you feared them in the first place.

You Can Never Hold Back Spring

I have a small story to tell.

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It’s one I’ve been meaning to tell for a little while now. Life, and other writing projects, got in the way. And, to be honest, I’m mostly telling this story because the main character in it instructed me to do so when we met. I’ve grappled with this event for over a month now, trying to tie it into everything I do on this blog. If there’s a lesson I’d want to import with this post, it’s this: write things for other people. Storytelling is as much about reaching out to others as it is about your own creative fulfillment. This blog shouldn’t always be about me.

The small story took place in last February, on the first warm day of both that month and of this year. I was just getting out of one of that month’s many depressive episodes. I had finally broken out of my lonely, messy room— or at least dragged myself away from the Internet, and I had found peace in my own thoughts again. On moments like this, post-depressive episode, I’m usually high with energy, invincible, certain that I’ll never feel depressed again. Last February is when I stopped crawling out of depression oceans triumphant, instead reaching solid ground water-logged. It’s better now, sure, I thought, but these moments will be back. There’s no point denying that anymore. There’s no more energy to feeling good again, just a calmness. That’s the best thing I could say about my mind at the time.

I stepped outside my apartment that night and stretched my arms, running my fingers through recently-showered hair. The sun was setting. I tend to forget (or not have the energy to) eat while in depressive states, so I decided tonight was good enough of a night to go out on the town. I brought “The College Station All-Male Feminist Union,” my short story, with me to edit.

A lot of people were out that night— wearing shorts, talking loudly, living well. I’m listening to “You Can Never Hold Back Spring,” by Tom Waits, so I’m not interacting with Iowa City residents that night. It’s dusk out, but the stores and restaurants are so well-lit that few would be able to tell. Again, I’m not one to pay attention to details, especially in a town I’ve lived in for five years. One detail about tonight does worm its way into the forefront of my mind: I’m supposed to skype my parents right now. We scheduled this yesterday. They’re likely texting me about this at this moment. But at this point of the night, I’m hungry and still tired, so I ignore my phone and walk into Forbidden Planet.

Forbidden Planet serves gluten-free pizza. They’re also a quaint arcade throwback place, with old sci-fi posters on the walls, but I’m not paying attention to that. It’s crowded today, a Saturday. People are sitting at bright primary-colored tables, chatting away. No server arrives to seat me (was I supposed to seat myself? Can’t remember. All the tables were taken anyways). So I go to the bar, passing a hurried kid on my way to sit down there. I order an Arnold Palmer and ask for a menu. While I’m waiting, I write down editing notes on the copy of my short story on feminist allies. I do this for a few minutes until…

“What are you, some kind of food critic?”

The fat, sweaty guy in a white shirt a barstool over says those words to me. I chuckle, defensively, and explain that I’m working on a short story of mine. He seems satisfied by this answer. He would not take criticism of this restaurant lightly, I would later find. He’s got a wide mouth, and he opens it to keep talking to me. Introverts like myself know how to deal with moments like this: talk along with your new friend, be polite, ask questions about their story, wait for a long pause before giving your excuse to leave.

I listen to him and talk with him longer than I thought I would. His name was also Nick. He talked like an old man, nostalgic and prone to repeat himself, in the voice of a college freshman. He was drunk. Being drunk is an aura that exists beyond a sweaty face and friendly demeanor, so even someone with few drinking experiences like me can single out that inebriated presence.

Nick lost his father nine months ago. I inquire further, and find out that Nick helped work for his father’s business when he was young. That’s why he likes being here: Forbidden Planet is a family business. “It’s all about family,” he says. “These kids, serving drinks, cleaning glasses, they just want to have fun. They just want to help out.”

He repeats these facts about five times during our conversation.

About the fifth time he talks about the kids helping their dad’s business for the love of it, I joke and say that the kids probably want to be anywhere else on a Saturday night. At least, according to my memories of growing up. Nick denies this. He’s loud about it. He taps one of the server kids on the shoulder and asks him, “Hey, why are you doing this? Why are you working?”

The kid replies, “I just want to help my dad.”

I admit to Nick that I lost our little bet. I’m also touched. Nick nods, then goes back to watching the kids help their dad. There’s a long pause. It’s here that I decide that I should skype my parents today. Today more than ever. I thank Nick for his company, and go off to get an actual bite to eat— my menu never came.

Don’t worry, I did actually talk to my folks that night. And yes, I told them that I loved them very much.

It was during my conversation with Nick that Nick made me promise to write about our conversation in that blog I mentioned. I promised to talk about our heart-to-heart (or rather, his heart to my ear). I resisted doing so for a long time. It’s a small story, a trite one, and it reveals that as much as I claim to love people spilling out their guts to me, I’m never sure what to do when I meet one of them. But this story is not about me. Nick gave very clear signs that he was a lonely individual looking to be heard, even if he wasn’t good at articulating that. He deserves to have his story, even a small segment of it, be told. I’m glad I listened for as long as I did (Hey, I had to eat sometime. And I had to connect with my own folks sometime too). I’m glad I could put aside my work and listen that night. Nick gave me insight into what loneliness sounds like. I came out of a depressive episode just in time to help someone in a depressed mode with his problems. One of the thing I’m finding out now is that I can get myself to class and therapist appointments, when I’m not feeling well, if I can make someone happy, usually by promising to tell them a joke. And I did make Nick laugh a few times. Both of them.

If there’s anything else I want to say, it’s this: it does get better. Even if you don’t know how it will yet. It’s true: you can never hold back spring. It’s a small message, but sometimes authors just need to tell small stories.

On Writing With Depression: Suicide Attempt

Last week, I mentioned a diagnosis of Radiculopathy that accompanied my tendonitis. This assessment came at the end of a long day, as well as right when a blog post was due. The hour after I posted DOUBLE FISTED COBRA STRIKE was… emotionally eventful, to say the least. I’ll tell the story here, but first, a little background. Don’t freak out: this story is actually kind of funny.

I hate the medical process. Hate the length, the lack of efficiency, the inaccuracy of most diagnoses, and any alternative medicines people peddle as “natural” or “from a wiser past.” If we don’t have our shit together now in terms of curing the injured and sick, we sure as hell didn’t have it together thousands of years ago. But I digress. Two years in my life, my two worst, were characterized by rushing about from doctor to doctor trying to get a handle on what was wrong. In 2009-2010, my family and I believed I had chronic fatigue, and none of the spinal taps, electroshocks, or even psychologists at the time could determine the true cause, depression. This was an uncontested worst period of my life… until 2014, when I developed stenosis. Eventually, I found a solution at the end of a parade of health experts. I did a lot to problem-solve when the neck issues cropped up: lightened my class load, scheduled more appointments with my therapist, and continued to see doctors. But I did little to emotionally support myself. As a result, I was a panicky, suicidal wreck that had to be hospitalized for depression a month after starting school. So yeah, the medical process and I do not go well together. But in the past two years, I’ve learned how to meditate. I used to resist meditation, now I adopt some of its techniques during any snippets of downtime (provided, of course, that I can’t read instead). I’ve also grown since 2014 in terms of being more honest and expressive with my emotions. Did it ultimately change the One Bad Day of 2/9? Maybe, maybe not. But I can guarantee that what I learned made my non-disastrous days better and happier.

2/9/2016 didn’t start out well, but I had a grip on what was stressing me out. There was some downtime at work in the morning where I could meditate through my school deadline and aching shoulder. My boss, considerate of my tendonitis, made sure I didn’t lift anything heavy that day. Yet around work’s end, I grappled with a sharp, nerve-pinching pain from my right shoulder down to my right elbow. The last time my shoulder was in too much pain to work, I went to the ER and found out about the tendonitis. Smarter and more budget-conscious this time, I decided to skip class after work and go to QuickCare, the University of Iowa walk-in medical service.

My family sometimes teases my mom’s mom about being 29. No, my mom’s mom is not “grandma,” and that’s because she hates any reminders of being old, be it name or age. We make fun of her phobia, but I think I have a similar fear. Not of age as a number, but of entropy. When things break down— especially my body— I get inconsolably upset. And walking a mile and a half with acute arm pain was just the crack in the wall that suicidal thoughts could slip through.

For a while with me (and I assume this is the case with others), suicidal thoughts were panicky, desperate, urgent. As of these past few months, those thoughts have dressed up in their finest business suits and took some speaking lessons. That voice is the voice of a consultant or accountant, someone with wisdom beyond you. “You can take time off of work, you can put some ice on your shoulder, you can kill yourself. All perfectly valid ideas.” But when walking to the doctors, I considered suicide the nuclear option: maybe useful someday, but not when more reasonable measures exist. Notice that I don’t, in this moment, dispute that suicide is “reasonable,” it’s just “less reasonable.” I pressed on to QuickCare.

After waiting an hour and a half at the QuickCare office, the doctor saw me, and then suggested I go to the ER. A mile later, I was there, waiting for another half-hour. I put on a brave face (note: don’t do this. If you want attention at the ER, be a bit of a drama king, otherwise they’ll wonder why even bother with you), cracking jokes and being sociable. Hours of waiting in another white room (night had fallen), followed by the diagnosis for radiculopathy for my shoulder, crushed any façade of mine like a slowly descending ceiling. Radiculopathy, that nerve pinching that I had suffered through all day, prevented me from taking care of my tendonitis, which prevented me from taking care of my stenosis, which prevented me from taking care of depression, which had the potential to take care of me once and for all. And what did I get for my troubles at the ER? More goddamned pills. Honestly, even in the good place I’m in now, I’m not sure why I haven’t swallowed them all at once to be forever done with this.

It was after I realized, lying in the hospital bed, that no one could help me— that I would be alone trying to pick up broken pieces of myself— that my façade finally cracked and I broke down crying. The doctor walked in to see me like this, and made sure to give me time to compose myself before he kicked me out. Doc calls a taxi for me. After a few gulps of water, I reasoned that one of my stressors was the looming blog deadline. Surely, I could finish that and feel better. I turned on my laptop, dug up DOUBLE FISTED COBRA STRIKE (I actually wanted to post it for a year now, but the attacks in Paris [first ones] put that plan on hold), and made a quick post to Word Salad Spinner. And you know what? For the time, I actually did feel better.

Before entering the ER, I had kept my mom up to date on my journey. The ER had no reception. After walking out of the building, I called her and told her of the diagnosis. She said that times may be tough, but I could get through this as long as I took care of myself and did the right exercises. Mother: if you’re reading this, know that I love you and think the world of you, and know that that was the worst, most wrong thing to say at that moment. Why? Because this is me:

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All my life, I thought, I’ve been a slave to problems. Have to do this, have to do that, must work to feel better, need to pick yourself up. Would you like to waste your life as the boy with the finger plugging the dam? Endless boredom, numb fingers, just so a little water doesn’t get through? The legend says that someone comes by in time and plugs up the dam, but good luck telling that still, timeless picture about that hope. And just as you’re getting used to your pointless existence in a painting others find mildly amusing at best, another hole’s going to come along and you have to break your hand just to position another finger over this new hole, and the village you’re protecting from a flood doesn’t deserve to live if this is how they value your life.

My mother suggested plugging up a hole with a new finger. I responded “No,” followed my a more enlightened and offended “No I don’t.” I hung up.

Two things happened. One: I really wanted to listen to and sing “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” by Tom Waits. Even after all the shit I went through on 2/9, I still consider that ditty a great song, perhaps even an anthem for where I am right now. This jaunty little tune accompanied Thing #2: The solution. The nuclear option.

Sometimes, the suicidal accountant gets into casual clothes and becomes a good friend you see at the bar. This has happened before. Standing outside the ER, I was happy. What flavor of happy? Years ago, I spent three hours with a friend solving an extra-credit geometry problem for school, and went home exhausted but satisfied. Imagine that, but like I figured out entropy and the march of time. I’ve finally done it! The problem was solved, now I was going to go home and never have problems again. So I’m happy, I’m smiling, I’m singing

When I’m lyin’ in my bed at night, I don’t wanna grow up!

            Nothin’ ever seems to turn out right, I don’t wanna grow up!

            How do you move in a world of fog that’s always changing things…

The taxi arrives, and I have an energetic, cheerful conversation with a cabbie who lamented the woeful habits of Iowa City pedestrians and had strong opinions on the Clintons. The cheer starts to wear off. In the cab, I liken my situation to posting DOUBLE FISTED COBRA STRIKE for my blog. Sure it’ll be painful to get through, but think of how satisfied I’ll be when it’s over! I pay the cabbie, get in my apartment, and find myself indifferent to the fact that my roommate’s not at home. I’m singing

Get the toaster and extension cord, I don’t wanna grow up!

            Fill the tub ‘till you got a wet floor, I don’t wanna grow up!

They may be happy, they may be business-like, but at the end of this long day, suicidal thoughts are only seductive for a few moments. Waiting for the cab, driving home, paying the cabbie, unlocking my door, getting inside, taking my toaster to the bathtub, finding an extension cord, filling up the bathtub, all of these delaying factors gave the parts of me that wanted to live the opportunity to scream. Here was my situation: me vs. the rest of my life. Logically, while I’m sitting in the tub and the toaster’s cooking on top of my toilet, I should drop it in and win the battle. But these pesky emotions are in the way. How do I subdue them in time? How do I calm myself down? I came up with an answer. Here’s what I did.

I meditated.

I tried to meditate myself to death.

I told you this was a funny story.

Obviously, this method didn’t work. It was actually a beautiful moment in a Gollum-dances-into-the-fires-of-Doom way. I drain the bathtub (still angry at myself for giving in to the more vulnerable parts inside me). My therapist texts me; it seems like my mom contacted him after I hung up on her. We have an hour-long session, I order a bunch of gluten-free pizza, and I call it a night. Looking back, my body reacts to this moment like if a car almost hit me— a brush with death, but nothing you need to radically alter your life over (except be a better Iowa City pedestrian).

I’m sure you all have some ideas on how to problem-solve this. Don’t bother. One, I already talked with my roommate. They’ll (non binary) try to be home when I text them so I’m not alone coming back from the ER or doctor’s. Secondly, trying to problem-solve instead of emotionally support myself is what got me into that dilemma. Updating the blog felt good for a moment, but wouldn’t I have been better off breaking my promise so I could spend some time recovering? And yes, one solution is to have pieces ready in advance to post. I will do so, and I’ll likely have 5 week’s worth of material to post once I finish editing my fiction project. That’s beside the point.

I’ve mentioned before that writing won’t always solve your emotional issues, just alleviate them a bit. I’m grateful for every like and comment on this dingy I’m sailing across the Internet with. Cataloguing this event may let others gain some insight into depression, but it’s the bare minimum I can do to help myself. Instead of seeing depression as a problem to be solved, I need to see it as a child in need of nurturing and comfort.

So yes, there may come a day when the punctuality of this man fails. I may miss an update for this blog. But know when that day comes that it’ll be for the good of my health, not for the worst of it. When I free my creative self from anxiety and depression, this blog will be an extension of my creative vision, not just an imaginary “do this to be in good health OR ELSE” checklist. And overall? I’m damn proud of this blog, especially since I’ve reached the point where I can write a post about myself at my most vulnerable. This day I write. But maybe take the next day to help your inner demons instead of fighting them.

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Stay around in my old hometown, I don’t wanna put no money down,

            I don’t wanna get me a big old loan, work them fingers to the bone,

            I don’t wanna float a broom, fall in love and get married then boom,

            How the hell did it get here so soon,

            I don’t wannnna grow upppppp!

On Writing With Depression: Helping Others

Did you all have a good holiday season? Depression-wise, I did. New mental strategies from my therapist help me go strong. But let me tell you about someone I met during our Thanksgiving dinner party. We’ll call him Hamlet. Hamlet’s a different story.

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And a WAAAAAAAY different story than this.

Hamlet is Polish, and English is his second language. For 15 years, he has been without a job, his engineering credentials in Poland useless in the US. He spends his time, then and now, sitting at home, wallowing in depression without a job or a family to occupy his mind. He often calls his mother up and talks for hours on end about his feelings. He is also a devout Catholic. Later on in this story, I’ll discover that he went to a therapist years ago, whose ultimate advice was that he’d pray for him. He has been waiting for Jesus like a dog standing over his master’s dead body.

This is that state Hamlet was in when my mother asks me to help out. During the Thanksgiving party, while most people are eating in the spacious basement, she takes me aside to our host’s untouched dining room and mentions that Hamlet, like me, is going through depression. She believes I am a good enough go-getter to engage with Hamlet, share depression tips with him, and perhaps help him. I decline this offer at first. Then, for reasons I’ll get into later, I ask for more information on Hamlet so I can start a conversation with him. She obliges. After a truth-seeking mission, my mother comes back to me and tells me that Hamlet likes movies. This is a good opening— I can tell Hamlet that I’m looking for movies that stimulate feelings of depression, and I’ll appeal to his movie buff side by asking him to recommend flicks. From there, I’ll warm my wait into giving advice.

I find Hamlet outside, staring off into the rows of suburban houses while some other Polish relatives smoke and talk inside the garage. I ask Hamlet if he has a moment. He sighs and joins me in a walk, though he grumbles about not really wanting to talk. I’ll make this quick then, I say. I ask him about depressing movies, but he says he’d rather watch happier stuff. Here, I move in for the real target. I say his “I don’t want to talk right now,” sounds like the words of several (imaginary) friends of mine who also have depression (at this point in his condition, Hamlet is faking nothing. He’s a real miseryguts). I tell him of my depression, and then pull up a list of what I do to get out of depressive episodes. Around the time I reach #5, he sighs. I ask him if he wants me to stop He says yes. He thanks me, but says that it’s not as easy for him. I say it’s not easy for anyone with depression, then re-enter the bulky house, leaving him alone again.

Inside, I find my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, and Hamlet’s mother (we’ll call her Gertrude, in keeping with the theme) in the dining room. They’re all awaiting results. I tell them about my lack of success, and they thank me for trying. I leave, thinking that the whole thing’s over for now.

An hour later, I pass by that room again looking to avoid the crowds in other parts of the house. Gertrude, grandmother, and aunt are there, all shouting at Hamlet as he stands at the doorway. Hamlet looks ready to cry. The three women, when I enter, turn to me and tell me Nick, tell him that you’ve got a job, and that Hamlet needs to get a job too. Throughout that long conversation, I keep telling the three women that they’re technically right, but that they’re not helping Hamlet by ganging up on him and adding to the din of critical voices inside his head. My mother, who was smart enough not to be there, worried about this sort of thing happening. Throughout that conversation, Hamlet tries to leave, but the ladies shout for him to come back. Their shouting doesn’t stop. In this conversation, I learned about the bad psychologist, and I offer my only useful contribution to that conversation, that said psychologist was bad. I try to get Hamlet to talk more instead of just becoming the recipient of criticism. But my thoughts on internal parts and unrealized voices can’t even reach his head to fly over it. His English is simple and mine is complex. His faith is simple and mine is compromised. He finally breaks away from the women for good, and I leave too.

I talk a lot about my own depression, but not much about how to help others. That’s because I don’t know how to. Lindsay Ellis gives a good list of what not to say to someone with depression, and flat out admits she’s not sure what to say. My memory was strong enough that I remembered what not to say, but I forgot the overall message about making the situation as little about myself as possible. It’s natural for people with similar burdens to want to band. Me and you, fellow writer with depression, want to express our feeling while also helping out others. How do we do that?

Hamlet, in this case, didn’t want to be helped. Ok, he wanted to be helped by Jesus, but in this case a higher power (or my mother, close enough) sent me, her middle son, to the man to bring tidings of free writing and Vitamin D. The Lord can be direct if She wants to be. Should I have forced myself to stay? Should I have barged in, the Big Damn Hero, to say, “You need help!” Of course not. But during the outside conversation, when Hamlet refused my email address in case he wanted to stay in contact, I thought “Well, here comes another few months of him watching TV in his underwear.” But you know who else refuses people in need: therapists. My therapist too. The session we had before this incident, he talked about how sometimes a case is not a good fit for patient or doctor, and how he had to send clients to another professional. If you want to play therapist, you need to sometimes acknowledge that there are people you can’t help for reasons that are as unfair as they are true. Hamlet was waiting for Jesus, and I am not Jesus; I barely even qualify as Luke. I can’t help everyone.

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I know ads like this are always made by people preying on the needy and hopeless, but seriously, fuck you.

When I mentioned this incident to my therapist, he suggested that I ask why I was putting pressure on myself to help others. I really wish aunt, grandmother, and Gertrude had considered this. Hell, I wish I considered this when I started talking. Why did I want to help him? Or, more to the point, why did I put pressure on myself to help him in that particular way? I could’ve just said, “I’m here to listen.” I could’ve just talked to him like a normal person instead of like a secret agent. Or, better yet, maybe I should figure out what’s going on with myself before I start handing out advice.

I think that’s part of the reason why I write, and why I try to be the hero and maintain good relations with others: to create a fellowship.

After this incident, I can think of 5 main reasons why I write:

  1. Because to entertain is the best thing in the world.
  2. To show that I’m not worthless, that I’m good at something.
  3. To understand myself and my depression better.
  4. To emphasize with others and see what makes their gears grind.
  5. To use points 3 and 4 to communicate what I’ve been so poor at communicating before (ideas, depression, feelings, etc.)

 

All of those reasons, save for #1, concern how I interact with others. What I do to feel less alone. And that’s why I reached out to Hamlet, why I write these types of posts, why I try to be as helpful as I can in real life: to make sure people don’t go through the same things I went through.

But people are not me. I’d say that’s the flaw in the Golden Rule (blimey, I talked about religion a lot today, haven’t I?), believing that everyone is like you. And Hamlet is not like me. Same goes for you too. I can tell you what it’s like to be this writer with depression, and how that influences my writing and my character, but I’m not ready to solve anyone’s problems. If you’re looking for writing advice, then there it was. Instead of going into a project with a message to convey, and pointing that nail into the thick skulls of your readers, treat readers as human beings first, instead of means to an end of your suffering. Find out what your ideal reader likes. Talk with her, instead of to her. You can still be didactic and have messages, but books are not treasure maps where you use your decoder ring to find the solitary chest of gold in an otherwise deserted island. There’s a reason Baum wrote the entirety of The Wizard of Oz instead of just an essay on the gold standard: all the other aspects of the book make it bigger than just one economic filibuster. And if you’re going to be a writer, there are times where you’ll have to be bigger than yourself too.

Motivation vs. Commitment vs. The Third Option

Eventually, you all are going to learn to not trust me.

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For example, I might tell you to go straight right here.

About a month and a half ago, I posted some advice regarding whether one should write when one feels like it or if one should stick to a rigid schedule. And look who you’re getting advice from: an unpublished author who still has much to learn. This blog is more than an advice/review/awesome stories hub. It’s a document of my progress as a writer. And I’ve progressed to the point where I think blind commitment isn’t an easy, fix-it-all solution.

Most of this new writing strategy is for the benefit of my mental health instead of my writing life. My therapist and I, working though the various inner parts that exist in me, discovered viciousness in the critical part. Critical parts should act like a gentle nudge to your heart. My critical part, psychologically and physiologically, acted like a battering ram. My anxiety leads to depression, and my critical parts lead to anxiety. So, in the past few months, I’ve shifted from bowing down to the critical parts to raging against the critical parts to comforting the critical parts when they act up. I began to see the critical parts (an interpretation based on a dream of mine) as a dying old man, grabbing onto my shoulders with desperate occasional lunges while I dutifully stayed by his bedside at the request of my family— the people who developed my conscience and, as an indirect result, gave me the dying old man. Nowadays, instead of letting the old man pull me down, I console him while I slowly, in my head, remove his hands from my shoulders. I lay him down. He’s dying, he can’t rule over me anymore. That’s what I go though when the critical parts try to bully their way into making me do something, even if it’s writing.

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So that Tumblr post that tells you to force yourself to create? Maybe not best for me at this stage of my life. And something else worth noting: I’ve exceeded all my writing goals these past few weeks just by writing when I feel like it. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I also had hella lots of assignments due in all of my classes. But this time, instead of stressing out over the projects, I went with the flow, listened to my heart’s desires. Used the Force, in other words. And I came through the whole process, of major projects required from classes all at once, less stressed than I should have been. The only time I fell into depression this November was when I said No, Nick, you’re going to have to postpone bedtime for another four hours so you can work. After you sleep, you will continue working until it’s all done.

Am I forced, then, to choose between my art and my health? Not forever, no. One day I’ll be able to listen to my critical parts without wanting to shut down. But for now, I need to let free the part of me that really loves to write. It exists, no doubt. But forcing yourself into writing can splash water on a furnace of creativity, only creating smoke to make the furnace less effective and everything else smoky.

The third option, when it comes to when you should write, is to force yourself to follow your heat’s immediate and fleeting whims. Write or edit when you feel like it. But whenever that feeling strikes— and for writers, it will happen often— pick it up and lose yourself in the process without hesitation. Even if “you’re writing the wrong things.” Even if “you should be working on other projects.”

I’ve kept my weekly goal with this blog, and now you know it’s not because I’m forcing myself to.