The thing about depression is that it has become sort of ubiquitous–at least from my point of view–a normified mode of mental illness, oft depicted in movies and novels, seeming to insiders and outsiders both a common human experience, something that happens a lot. A common thing.
That’s not how it feels from the inside, except maybe when examined from across the way on a good day. From the inside it feels like being hollowed out a little bit, sure of nothing, dipped in hot wax and then left to walk around without letting anything crack. It’s the feeling that nothing you touch will ever turn into something good, the feeling that the worst will happen and already has, the feeling that the people who love you are wrong, somehow, the feeling of incorrectness. I’ve heard it described as a pit before, and though I usually reject other people’s descriptions of things I can describe myself that one feels sort of accurate. I’m either down in the pit or I’m up on the surface. When I’m on the surface, the pit is unimaginable. When I’m in the pit, the other world ceases to exist.
I’ve been afraid to talk about it the entire time I’ve been dealing with it, partially because it felt like my fault and I was embarrassed, but mostly because I was afraid of seeming to exploit my own feelings in an artistic way. Funny how worried we get when we are trying to make things that other people will see and think about, even though that‘s the whole point. I’ve judged others before for the way they have talked about their own mental illness, thinking their ways either self-indulgent or overly romanticized or too raw or all three. I feel a little differently now, but only sort of. There are so many ways to go about it, and I don’t agree with all of them. This essay may seem terribly off-putting to you, and I can’t control that. The thing about it, though, is you can only really talk about it when you’re not stuck in the middle of it, and it’s hard to even remember how terrible it feels in the middle when you’re skirting the edges, when you’re twelve feet away. It’s hard to remember exactly what it is unless you’re in it, so it’s hard to speak honestly about it. But I want to try. If I were writing to you from the middle of the depression, from the depths of the thing, you’d be hearing a completely different story, a completely different combination of words, of chromosomes even. And I don’t know what that would be, I really don’t. I don’t think I want to know what that would say. I don’t think I want you to either.
But, no matter what I say about it or how, it is impossible for me to be honest about both who I am now and who I have been for the whole past year without talking about anxiety and depression. They are a watermark on my history and my present, now, a film over a year of my life, a drone, a hum. They are present, and I would hate to call myself a writer who writes about myself and not attempt to write about it. I would hate to keep hinting at it, mentioning it in passing, because that has always felt worse than admitting the situation head-on. To not speak directly of this thing that looms large in my life is to be dishonest, withholding, and that is not the project that I have been working on as a writer / maker / human. I am building things out of just the lumber of my life, and right now about half of the lumber of my life is colored with depression. So I’m building a half-blue house, and I ought not pretend otherwise. Especially because color tends to be visible whether you intend for it to be or not. I’m sure you’ve noticed more than I’ve even meant for you to.
So, I will say straight out right now that I have been sad and sick for a year, and the culprit is anxiety and depression in fits and starts. It embarrasses me to say it, which is maybe why I haven’t before except for weirdly vaguely or in passing. But I don’t want to be precious or vague about it. I want to own who I am in all my person-ness. I am a real person and I am also depressed and I also like to write and make things and I try to do it all in a semi-public way because that is just what it is for me, and I think when you’re an artist you don’t really get to decide what or how, you just sort of cobble together what you can make out of what you’ve got, nothing more, nothing less, and the choice of what to make/say/do is actually usually pretty clear. Right now, I’m writing, and I’m writing about depression. I’m coming to you now from somewhere just on the edge of the pit. The writing is helping, it usually does. But when I’m down there, in the pit, I can’t write a thing, no, I hardly have fingers anymore, and I’m certainly no longer an artist. Down there, all the lumber of my life feels rotten, unsuitable for any sort of coded structure, unable to hold any weight. But from up here it looks pretty satisfactory, sturdy even. Right now, writing feels possible, even advised. Right now, I can write about depression. So I will.
I do fear the sort of inevitable response or lack thereof that I will receive from putting this writing in a semi-public space. Either knowing comments, even thankful ones, or silence. There is no response, really, that I feel especially comfortable with. But writing is my most reliable way of communicating, I know this about myself. I feel my best when I have said something in type-written, loosely-edited words. Speaking extemporaneously, even to people I love, about things that feel complicated in my brain (aka almost everything) almost always makes me feel false and self-conscious, like I haven’t at all said what I meant to say, like I maybe don’t know at all what I’m even talking about. My feelings make me inarticulate when I’m trying to use my voice. I am an unreliable verbal narrator, which is why I really hate talking on the phone. I hang up and feel like only about five percent of what I said made any sort of sense in my heart, rang with any sort of truth. But when I’m writing, I do know what I’m talking about. When I’m writing, I can say what I mean. Sometimes I go back and read essays I’ve written and I think, “Ohhhhhhhhhh, that’s how I feel, that’s what I think.” I can’t remember on my own, sometimes, actually almost never (I have an absolutely dismal memory) but my fingers can remember sometimes, or I was smart enough to capture a flash of truth in a moment, and suddenly I feel my life meaning something, making sense. If I were trying to talk to you on the phone about depression right now I would say something like, “Yeah, it’s been really hard but… I’m doing okay. I think. I don’t know.” That’s not how I want to offer myself to the people I love. That’s not the story I want to share about how things are for me.
The weirdest thing about it, though, is that it’s a thing that really only exists in me. There is only one Amy version of depression/anxiety, and I’m the only one who knows anything about it. The only other human who has glimpsed it in a true way, I think, is Isaiah, the dearest of the dear, willing to sit at the top of the pit and call down to me repeatedly until I hear him, lowering rope after rope, hand after hand. (Perhaps God gave me Isaiah when he did so that I would survive this, even thrive despite it, and I don’t know what to say about that except that no version of dealing with depression without Isaiah feels real or possible at all).
I’m in the midst of trying to get un-embarrassed about it, of trying to figure out how to get help, of trying to capitalize on my time outside the pit while not forgetting or pretending that I’ll never go back down there again because I will. I don’t know how it will be for me to start to attempt to climb my way to a new country where there are no pits, and I feel very aware of being in the thing where when you’re dealing with depression/anxiety you can’t remember what it felt like to not be dealing with depression/anxiety. But, I’m working on it, all of it, slowly and with varying degrees of difficulty. I’m also drinking coffee every morning and scrolling instagram way too much, and I may be weird about making plans, and I still really like to eat pizza (despite my new anxiety about white flour).
There are a few things that feel to me really important to personally think and work on right now and they are these things: sewing, thinking that I am beautiful, thinking that things I make and say could be beautiful, dancing privately and publicly, feeling comfortable in my body, feeling comfortable with the things I say out loud, eating often and healthfully, standing up for myself, being honest about when I need some time away, spending time with Isaiah, letting myself be angry when I feel angry, seeking out therapy/medication, remembering God, saying things that feel true. I am committing to letting the art I make and the things that I put out into the world angle toward these things and what they mean to me, unapologetically. I am going to practice being less embarrassed. I am not going to worry so much how my working on all this stuff semi-publicly looks to other people, even the few people from high school who still make me feel really insecure (maybe I will unfriend them!!!). I am going to say “no” more. I am going to speak up when I am feeling uncomfortable. I am not yet better, and I don’t even know how it will feel when I am. I am writing all of this at 3 am, because for some reason it feels more possible to write about now than it ever has before, a gift from the God I’m trying to remember, the God like a grandmother who knows all about me and my pit, the ground sparkling like sapphires.
If you’re reading this and you often also interact with me in real life, know that I am, at all times, trying to do my best. My best may look pretty crappy right now, especially where you and what you need from me are concerned, but because I feel pretty crappy right now, even on good days, and my even talking to you and walking around and not weeping are a major personal triumph, I’m just going to go ahead and thank you for sticking with me. I may not take super good care of you, and I don’t necessarily need you to take super good care of me. I need only to be encouraged in person every so often by you and given space to be unreliable and flippy-floppy. Maybe ask me about what I’ve been making with my hands. I like to talk about that. I also like to remember old things, and I may become sad and quiet, and I hope that’s okay. I also may need to leave where we are and go home, and I also hope that’s okay.
If you’re reading this and you don’t also often interact with me in real life, I’m not super sure what to say to you except I hope that you see in this something small and beautiful, because that’s what I’m beginning to see in myself, despite or in spite of the pit. I’m glad that you’re here and reading these words that feel somehow, somehow possible to write. I feel committed to sharing myself with strangers, aka you, and I don’t even know why. Maybe you know more why than I do, that would be sort of cool. If you have any major thoughts about it, maybe sometime you could email me a poem you like or something.
To everyone reading this, no matter who you are, I am disabling comments because I don’t want to be textually encouraged or validated in response, and I truly am not looking for any sort of advice or anecdotes about depression/anxiety etc. unless you’re a therapist or related to me by blood or unless we are hanging out in person and talking about it. Thanks for understanding that.
More life, more figuring out messy life, more weeping to pave the way for more almost-joy. Thanks for listening to my little voice. Thanks for being a person who listens. I’ll be over here working on the things I listed, trying very hard, mostly failing. I’ll be over here building with my half-rotten half-blue lumber something maybe beautiful and definitely real. If you need me, I’ll be over here.