In the wake of Chris Cornell’s apparent suicide, mostly everyone in my various writer-ly (totally a word) has been talking about their experiences with depression. Though there are a lot of commonalities, most of us tend to have experienced it differently. Yes, there’s the whole “lack of energy/motivation” and the whole “my brain won’t stop yelling at me” thing. However, the black dog is something I have fought off and on for years and my experience is only faintly similar to what I’ve read from Kate Paulk among others (whose links I cannot find).
She talks about how she externalizes her depression to make it seem as if the ideas that it shouts come from elsewhere. For me, though, it’s different. I know they come from my own brain. I just happen to realize they’re from the incredibly stupid and selfish part of my brain and I have gotten rather good at ignoring them. So, no worries that I’m going to do anything stupid. I’ve witnessed first-hand what that does to the people who outlive the deceased and there is no way in hell I’d do that to anyone.
No, for me, the worst bits are the physical parts. There are days where it takes all the energy I can muster just to sit up. Moving hurts. Nothing is interesting. Nothing can capture my attention or my imagination. Every step, every thought feels as if I am struggling to swim through syrup. All I want to do on days like that is stay curled up in my bed and daydream or sleep.
But, I generally force myself to get up and get moving. Yes, it’s going to hurt like a wicked bitch. However, eventually I grow somewhat detached from the pain and can mask it or ignore it well enough to do whatever I need to do that day. Days like that generally find me tearing through fanfics, spending hours at Khan Academy, editing my older works, or binge-watching Marvel movies until I feel the pressure fading enough that I can breathe easily. I can honestly say that The Avengers, Dr. Strange, and Loki have helped me keep it together long enough to wrest control of my body back from that damned dog. A few times I’ve considered sending everyone involved in those films a fruit basket or something but I’m sure they all have better things to do than deal with that so I have managed to refrain from it. Being broke also helps a bit, there. 😉
I suppose it also helps that I’ve made peace with my demons and the skeletons in my closet. I’ve also gained considerable control over my emotions to the point where neutrality is my default state. I may experience mild moments of amusement, exasperation, irritation, or joy over the course of any given day but, for the most part, my neutrality protects me. It’s a nice, thick shield that keeps that damned dog from laying down on my chest and suffocating me. Without my control, I don’t think I would have made it this far. I just wish I had learned it sooner. It’s helped me pinpoint when I’m about to enter a flat spin and spiral downwards until I crash and enabled me to stave it off by distracting myself from whatever emotion is about to blindside me. That’s partly why I have gained some little mastery over higher mathematics, why I’m working on understanding dimensional mathematics, why I know so damned much about physics, astronomy, cosmology, criminology, abnormal psychology, anthropology, the behavior of crowds, nuclear physics, history, literature, and why I can speak so many languages. I do these things to distract myself from overwhelming emotions, to give them no chance to knock me off my feet and drag me under their currents.
It’s how I survive and it beats the hell out of my adolescent survival trick of simply dissociating and running on auto-pilot.
Yes, I struggle with depression still. However, I have managed to reach a stage of reasonable contentment and tranquility. I know that the happiness that most others experience will probably never be something I can share. I know the sacrifices I have had to make to stay (relatively) sane and functional. I know that my circadian rhythm is screwed up beyond any real hope of repair. I accept these things. This is simply how life is for me. There’s a certain loveliness in the shades of grey that too frequently surround me and they make those brief splashes of color all the more beautiful and precious.
It is a bit odd that so many of writers are broken and bent like this. I don’t know if it’s something that our brains require of us so we can write or if we can write because our brains are this screwed up. That will be something to ponder, I suppose, the next time I need a good distraction. 🙂
PS — If you are undergoing acute depression or have unmanaged chronic depression or ever feel suicidal, please, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or the Samaritans at (212) 673-3000. Whoever you are, where ever you are, you have something left to do and you need to figure out what it is.