Here’s the thing. Everyone says “Depression lies.”
Hell, I’ve said it, and I occasionally even suspect it’s true. I also know that the best lies, the most compelling lies, have threads of truth. I can objectively interact with and think about other people who struggle with depression and anxiety and know that they have worth they can’t see, so the possibility exists that I do, too. I root for them when I can’t root for myself, because I understand where their brains are - they’re hearing only the truth of the lie and believing the whole thing.
My brain is there too. I had a good run this time, at least. I can recognize that. I went from actively trying to end my life in 2016 to surrounding myself with friends and family and pursuing my goal of being a “real” writer. Things were steady, at least. And then I reached that goal - I was published, my youth’s work was complete and out in the world. I made it to the top of the mountain … and then I fell off the other side.
I haven’t opened up about this yet. I probably shouldn’t now, to be honest. But I’m sure as hell not writing anything else worth reading these days, and everything’s worse in the dark, right? Bring shit out in the open and it starts to look different. More manageable.
So here it is.
The path to publication for my trilogy was like a twenty year pregnancy. I grew new life within me. I nurtured it, believed in it, and I put it on the page, and at the end of the struggle, finally … publication. I held the books in my hands. I saw them in the hands of other people. I heard their compliments like a new mom hears visitors praise her newborn.
Fun fact: the depression that came after my first daughter was born was immediate and immense, blindsiding me and resulting in … well, dark times. Yes, my child was beautiful and brilliant, but I was a wreck, and wildly unqualified to care for her. At least, I thought I was.
I’m a survivor, though. Have been as long as I can remember. Depression was nothing new, this was just a stronger brew. Then I got pregnant again. Not going to lie, I almost didn’t survive after my second daughter arrived. It was a bleak damn time. I still have the scars, and afterwards the darkness moved even closer to the surface. Survivor or not, it was closer on my heels than ever, and sometimes it caught me.
This time, though… Post-partum depression is not even remotely a joke. It is real, it is terrifying, and it can swallow you whole. Twice was more than enough - I didn’t get spayed because I didn’t want more children, I did it because I honestly feared that another round of that kind of depression would kill me. I took the precaution, which is why I didn’t expect to drown in it ever again. But that’s exactly what happened when that third book hit its release date. Book baby, indeed. Complete with hormonal upheaval.
Without the constant support and encouragement from my family and closest friends, I might not have made it this far. My oldest daughter lost her father to suicide in 2007. I saw what that did to her, and one of my biggest sources of self-loathing with regards to my last “dark time” is how I honestly thought that my own suicide would be a good idea, that she’d be relieved. So on the other side of that event, I swore I wouldn’t get to that headspace again. I made a promise that I wouldn’t try again. I promised to live.
Now, as much as I’ve survived this far, as much as I’ve come through, getting to a point where I feel like death is even an option should be unthinkable. To feel like death is PREFERABLE? That it will make everyone else’s lives BETTER? … the thought shouldn’t even enter the picture. Except it did. It does. It’s the undercurrent to my every waking moment, and has been, for weeks.
Hence, no social media. No book promotion. No phone calls, few texts. This is me, digging in my heels and refusing to quit even though I can’t think of a single compelling reason to do so. Waiting for Thursday only gets you so far. I kept my promise today. I kept it yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. I’ll do the #AKF thing and try to keep it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. My success rate’s 100% so far, so I’ve got that going for me. But it’s exhausting.
Yes. Therapy. I know. I’m working on it. I reached out to people. I told them where my head was. I baby-stepped my way to insurance coverage, and was then thwarted at the mental-health gate because I had to go to a medical doctor for a physical BEFORE I could address the issues that prevent me from doing basically anything. Did I mention that doctors are one of those things? I’ve endured so many fat-phobic medical “professionals” along the way that I have a full-on panic attack just considering the idea of having to once again hear how ALL of my issues could be magically fixed if I took up less space without them ever once saying “oh hey there, person constantly battling an eating disorder, let’s figure out how to help you WITHOUT triggering months of starvation, whaddaya say?”
So yeah, there are challenges ahead.
I’ll have friends that I pissed off or disappointed or confused by going silent for months, whose emotions I don’t have the energy to address. My anxiety will increase about that with every day that passes, and it will require more and more energy to reach out to them, so I won’t, and then I’ll feel even more guilty and anxious, and so on and so on.
I’ll continue to be depressed because saying “hey, friendos, I’m depressed” isn’t a cure for anything and can occasionally lead to ‘well you shouldn’t be, so just stop’ or worse, ‘you just want attention.’
I’ll have anxiety about being depressed, because god, Tanya, it’s been weeks, aren’t you over that YET? What do you mean you still struggle to get out of bed and constantly fight the urge to self-harm? No one cares about your nightmares, Tanya, everyone has them.
I’ll struggle to do the simplest of tasks, fighting literal panic to call the doctor for a physical, schedule my car maintenance, and update my resume which after the past few years may be completely unsalvageable (just like me.) As a fun side-quest, I’ll feel guilty about my inability to do these things, and the constant drain I am on the mental energy and physical resources of everyone who helps me.
I’ll have anxiety about having anxiety, as well as anxiety about saying anything about my anxiety because it doesn’t help anything, Tanya, you have no reason to be panicking so just suck it up and DO something about your garbage fire of a life. Just do the thing, Tanya, it’s not that hard.
I’ll hate every word I manage to write because there’s no point without publication and writing for fun feels like a gigantic waste of time, but I’ll keep writing because if I don’t write, the darkness comes much, much closer.
I’ll practice drawing because it’s a way to be creative without the expectations I set for myself when I write, but I’ll still hate everything I draw because everyone else is better at it. Comparison may be the thief of joy, but I haven’t had joy in a few months, so to me it just feels like a super painful reality check. Again, waste of time - I’ll never get to the level of proficiency that others have, so why bother?
And that’s it, isn’t it?
The key, the tagline for the half-star rated movie that is My Adventures With Mental Illness: Why Bother?
Here is what my brain tells me, on a constant loop of randomized dialogue, every moment of every day.
You provide nothing unique to the world.
Your existence benefits no one.
You are always replaceable, and the replacement will be superior in every aspect.
You contribute nothing to society at large.
Your worth is solely dependent on your production / contribution.
If you’re not contributing anything, you don’t deserve to live.
You are an active drain on your support network.
There is nothing you can contribute to the world that will make a difference to anyone.
You are preventing everyone who loves you from being happy because they’re forced to worry about you.
You don’t deserve their love or attention.
You will never be enough as you are.
You won’t be enough even if you change.
No one notices you.
Also, everyone notices you and they think you’re worthless.
Other people have it so much worse.
You don’t deserve accommodation or special treatment.
It’s all in your head.
There’s no point in trying, you’ll fuck this up too.
They’d be better off without you.
On good days, I can ignore the litany. I can’t say with confidence that I know it isn’t true, because I suspect it is. All of those things are real and correct statements. I can occasionally believe that there are other, equally true statements that I’m just not thinking about, that might mitigate the inherent truth of the others, but … not everyday.
I remember that at some point in the past, a point where I was medicated and speaking to a doctor regularly, the voices were so quiet I only heard them on the worst of bad days. The rest of the time I could believe that my ideas were worth something, that there was meaning - or at least value - in writing and cooking and working and playing.
I’d like to think I can get there again, I just have to survive the gauntlet - can’t afford therapy without insurance, can’t keep insurance without a job, can’t keep job without therapy, can’t get therapy without physical, can’t face physical without therapy. Piece of cake. (#thatwassarcasm)
So why write this at all?
Because depression is real. Yes, it’s all in my head, because where ELSE would mental illness be? Because I got through this once and I’d like to think I can do it again. Because someone else might be in this boat too, and maybe when they read the same stuff that’s being whispered in their head, they can use the distance to fight it more effectively. Because putting things into written words is often the only way I can clarify my thoughts. Because this is who I am. Good days, bad days, dark days, darker days - I may have nothing else to give, but I can be honest about what it’s like.