I have just returned from a place where darkness and negativity had taken over. But I’m back, sitting upright. Today I will write and slowly pound out each word one letter at a time. I’m force feeding myself little gulps of motivation. This post is not a call for sympathy, but a profile that shares how it can feel to live with depression and anxiety. I may look like I’m having fun, or this blog might seem like it’s written by someone who has figured out how to be self-important and filled with positive energy. But depression can take on many forms, it can look like and sound like me. Someone who has fun, enjoys life, with an abundance of energy, filled with dreams and ambitions. And other days, I can look sad, feel angry, alone, and am filled with all manner of negativity. My goal as a writer is to journey into truth, the changing nature of life, and how identity can be obscured by emotions. Because, here I am again, already doubting what I felt so strongly just a few weeks—when I was ready to write, engines on, gaining speed, ideas flowing.
I’m told living a creative life is an exercise of faith in yourself. But this faith is blind, offers little solace, and requires a massive amount of fortitude. To create without understanding the purpose, ignoring the futility, but soldiering onwards, resembles insanity. There is no real way to control the progress, there is no cleared path or manual on how to achieve creative success. The thousands of books written on this subject will never fill the void of self-doubt that creep into every artist’s mind. For the source of self-doubt is individualized, in some it’s calcified and difficult to root out with simple advice. Sure these books and motivational quotes offer some tips, insights, encouragement. I read them and recognize myself, I gulp up the soothing words, like a comfortable bowl of pasta.
But when I am rolled up in pain, positive words do not reach me.
These words sound hollow, stupid and ridiculous. They’re shrill voices say “just change your story, don’t limit yourself, honor your best self, be true, follow your bliss, chase that dream, happiness and achievement is available to all those that believe! If you just believe and motivate and write that journal, pin that dream board, hug your inner child, it’s all here for you, YOUR BEST YOU!!!”
And I want to scream,
I can’t hear you!
What do you know?
I’m wrapped in an eggshell,
the world is my enemy,
I can’t do this.
I can’t do this.
This is how bad it’s gotten. The other night a stranger made me cry. It was Friday, a cap to a week I white-knuckled and tried to smile my way through. I don’t think anybody recognized that my mind was filled with a ticker tape of negative thoughts. I didn’t want to be present or “in the now” because I couldn’t go there. I thought I’d topple over if I tried to feel the pain. So I marched onwards.
I was left tickets for the symphony, Beethoven’s Ninth, vestiges of a failed night out with my husband. He said, “take the child, it will bring her some joy.” My intuition tried to reach me, but I ignored it. Instead, I pushed myself to attend. Already late, I took a wrong turn and drove a whining child through the hills in a desperate search for parking. I found a lot, it cost $20, I only had $16 and I was forced to back out against a flow of incoming cars. I continued to drive in maddening circles. Once we found a spot 45 minutes had passed, my body was a live wire of nerves and clammy sweat. My child kept asking me to slow down, and as she put her hand in mine, I held back tears as we frantically made our way through the darkened amphitheater. The usher pointed to an aisle, we walked down the stone steps and I tried to time our disruption between interludes.
I was hyper-aware of the glares and the silent judgments. “Why are you so late? Who brings a child to a symphony? You are a jerk, an idiot, an asshole.” We found row 6, but it turned out we were on the wrong side of the aisle and a nice woman said “It’s okay just sit here a bit.” She must have read the stress on my face, she patted my shoulder, it was the first time in hours that I took a breath. I needed her niceness and I sat in the aisle and we watched a world-class symphony play in the warm fall evening. I really didn’t want to find our seats and move from this comfortable spot. But just as I was starting to relax, a man tapped me on the shoulder, he hissed “Where are your seats?” I pointed, and his horrible wife glared at me too and he said “You can’t sit here, it’s a fire hazard.” And then I wept, I put my hands on my face and wept right there in front of him. Shoulders heaving with tears dribbling down. The nice woman told me “It’s okay, just sit.” But in my humiliation, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and ran up the steps. We found our seats in the middle of the row amongst annoyed people. I felt trapped, on the verge of a panic attack, with a squirming child who liked some portions and sighed heavily with boredom through the quiet sections. I didn’t hear a note of the music, I just wanted to run, run, run through the hills and scream;
Mind your own business!
Your rude words could be the last straw!
Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!
It struck me later, that we were in an outdoor amphitheater, with open air seats made of non-flammable stone, and if there were a fire, everyone could’ve easily evacuated. The man that made me cry was just a jerk-off. He and his sour-faced wife probably thought I hadn’t paid my fair share to sit in their snooty section.
But this is not the point, a stranger made me cry, because I was on edge. But it was the moment I realized I had gone too far into the land of depression. I had to figure out how to turn back. I was left with no patience, no reserve of composure or ability to function in public. I scared my daughter, who took care of me and talked quietly and held my hand. Because I live with constant pain, there are times that it becomes too much for me to contain. It can send me to bed for a full day.
I know the source of the pain, deep long childhood trauma that nobody in my family will validate. I live with self-inflicted wounds brought on by my own mistakes as an adult as well. This past record of misdeeds fuels an intense desire to be perfect, flawless, creative, beautiful, mothering, nurturing, the very best of everything and to fail yet again is an utter, abject disgrace. I have mounds of guilt and shame that don’t seem to erode over time. I’ve tried to live with them in a semi-state of denial because dealing with the past bores me and distracts me from my family and writing.
By now you’re worried. Please know I have therapied, medicated, self-soothed, acupunctured, talked, discussed, meditated, begged, prayed, cried, breathed, opened up wounds and figuratively bled out my veins. Yet the pain returns. And all of those well-intentioned words, they don’t help. I’m sorry, Oprah, and Brene Brown, and Elizabeth Gilbert and every other person who espouses that we can get passed all of our obstacles if only work at it, little by little. If we honor ourselves. And dream big. Stay vulnerable, or whatever profitable catch phrase they sing to high holy heaven, are all supposed to help me get passed my personal limits and reduce the pain. But they haven’t.
I want to believe that limits wash away.
I want to believe I can be free from the past.
I want to believe positivity will clear my mind,
like a warm shower after weeks in the wilderness.
So what I’m left with is the unknown, as in nature and art. Because feelings ebb and flow, the way trees interact with the seasons. Thoughts are unreliable. A day under the covers is not a bad thing. Guilt is just a useless habit. Negative people are powerful and abundant. Positive words are pointless in times of distress. This too shall pass. Sadness, anger, pain, isolation will return. Maybe I can keep on writing. It will get interrupted. We all have limits.