I do my best, but sometimes it gets to be a lot and I think that maybe I wouldn’t move if a bus were coming at me. Lately has been one of those times. (I don’t feel like going into that right now, though. Go read My Best Friend is Dying and Grief if you really want to know.)
I don’t want to talk about my depression online, mostly because I feel like I’m just whining for attention. Talking about it makes me feel like I’m in high school all over again. I feel like I shouldn’t dwell on the negative when it comes to my depression. I feel like doing so just drags me back down into that pit I’ve taken years to crawl out of. Further, the way I deal with this disability is… not the common method as far as I know and given that I live in the South (albeit a more progressive area) I don’t like to be lectured on what religious beliefs I should be using instead. However, I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’ve learned some things over the years that might be useful for other people suffering from depression to know.
I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember. I didn’t have an actual word for it most of that time. I just knew I was alone and lonely. I turned the frustration I had at the world on myself. After all, moving from one place to the next as a child meant that I didn’t have a nemesis or mortal enemies to blame for why I felt bad. The only consistent thing in life was me, so therefore I must be the problem. Even though looking back now as an adult, being the new kid in every grade made me a prime target for bullying, which might be where a lot of this stems from.
To cope with this horrible emotional hole I was stuck in, I developed several methods over the years.
Day-dreaming: I’d make up friends. I’d make up people who would listen to me and play with me. I had a friend that was only with me when I could remember her name. She was an Elvin princess who liked to hang out with me in order to experience life on Earth. She was from another world and would tell me about how her world was beautiful and full of nature. Earth was pretty, too, but not in the same magical way. The trees in her world had blue leaves and the flowers glowed. I never questioned why she would hang out with me, but I appreciated the company. I do still remember her name…
Writing: After I discovered that reading could be enjoyable, I’d begun putting my fantasies onto a blank Word document. I frequently drove myself to tears writing my terrible stories. The catharsis was good, but still I was wallowing in misery. I never wrote anyone from my real life into my stories because I was writing to get away from them. I don’t know how good my stories were. I’ve got hard disks with copies of my old stuff on them. The technology is so old now, I’m not sure how I would get access. The series I wrote most often included a self-insert character that could do anything she wanted. She was beautiful, tall, long thick hair, and everything I wasn’t. People loved her, she was a force of nature, a hero that saved those who needed saving whenever she saw trouble. She stepped in and did the right thing, whether it was what anyone else wanted or not.
Mental imagery: This was the beginning of when I’d grown tired of living in agony. Life was much like walking through a sandstorm. I could see vague shapes of other people in the dust, but felt like even if I called out, no one would hear, my mouth would only fill with sand, they were too busy with their own concerns and wouldn’t help me anyway. Every day, the wind would pelt me with sand, wearing down who I was and my energy until I was nothing. Many days I imagined just falling face-down and letting the sand bury me because continuing was pointless anyway.
The problem was that something inside me didn’t want to give up yet. Things kept getting worse and worse at one point. I’d been torn apart by a bad relationship, fired from a job, and still needed to pay bills in order to have somewhere to live. I felt like my chest was being torn open by my soul as it tried to escape my still-beating heart. I had my reasons for not killing myself that night. I really wanted to, but I’d deliberately put safety backups into my life. I had a friend living with me and I cared enough about them to not make them be the one to find me the next morning. So, something in me still wanted to fight.
The biggest hurdle to getting better was that there was a stigma against taking medication. I felt like this was all in my head. I should have figured out how to live with myself by now on my own. Everyone else seemed capable of functioning on a daily basis without having to go cry in the bathroom at least once before lunch. Yeah. Depression IS in my head, but it took me far too long to realize that I was ruining my life and relationships by refusing to get medication. That’s my biggest regret. If I’d had better mastery of my emotions, what could I have achieved sooner? I probably wouldn’t have lost as many jobs or lost out on as many opportunities as I have. There are so many things I started and abandoned because I couldn’t follow through. I hate that I wasted so much time.
Enough on that though. I wanted to talk about how I started getting better!
As I said before mental imagery was my key. After getting on medication, I began changing the mental landscape I’d given myself. No longer a sandstorm with a ruined dead tree at the center. I gave myself a peaceful place in the mountains overlooking a lake. I built a tower. At first my tower didn’t have windows, but then over time I opened it up to the light. I like being able to see into the distance. I need the sunlight and the wind. I need to reach into the sky and touch clouds.
Just like I rebuilt the landscape, I rebuilt how I thought of myself. Within my mental tower I began putting bad thoughts into cardboard boxes and taping them up. I’d throw them out the window. I didn’t need these evil things in my head, ruining my paradise. The world is harsh enough. I didn’t want these thoughts cluttering up where I live too.
The final thing was when I asked myself some serious questions. Do I have any basis to say I’m worthless or a hag or any of the mean things I’d tell myself? No one ever said any of these things to me that I remember. So why was I? Who was I punishing?
The answer is that I was only hurting myself and it wasn’t even fixing the things I hated. The people being punished were the ones who loved me, not the ones I wanted attention from. The fact that I wanted attention wasn’t a problem either, but how I was seeking it WAS. Honestly, there were better things I could do with my time and energy than sit and hate myself in the dark.
The answer is that I was only hurting myself and it wasn’t even fixing the things I hated. The people I was punishing were the ones who loved me, not the ones I wanted attention from. The fact that I wanted attention wasn’t a problem either, but how I was seeking it WAS. Honestly, there were better things I could do with my time and energy than sit and hate myself in the dark.
Like I said at the start of this, I have days where I don’t know how fast I’d move if a bus were hurtling towards me, but my good days outnumber the bad. I use my imagination to deal with the anxiety and depression that leak through, even on medication. Mostly, I write. I can live new lives through my characters and grow and change with them. Instead of heaping abuse on myself, I destroy them and it is a much better use of my time. Writing lets me express myself through a filter. Unlike these essays where I just feel exposed. Where I feel like I’m standing in the front yard in my panties. I prefer to hide behind the characters. Maybe I do sympathize with Likka. Maybe I don’t. It’s a work of fiction so I don’t have to say one way or another. Whether its healthy or not, it’s how I live with my depression.