Monday, January 5, 2015

Writing With Depression

Most people wouldn’t think it, but the last few months I have been living in my own little circle of Hell. Not in the way that you would notice just by looking at me upon first glance, at least not right away. It happened in little strokes, little itches, little digs; festering like a scab that I couldn’t help but pick at unconsciously.

When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with depression. But when you’re a that age, it’s a challenge to differentiate depression from teenage angst, so of course it got cast aside by both mine and my mother’s lack of acknowledgement for mental health. As I got older, the feelings didn’t disappear. In fact, they became something else. Like the scab, a series of unfortunate events shaped them into an incurable mark.

Depression is a hard thing to explain to people who don’t have it. In a way, I’m grateful for that. I wouldn’t wish the things I think and feel on anybody. The best examples I can give are provided by the talented Allie of Hyperbole and a Half, who authored Adventures in Depression Part One and Two. Additionally, Depression Quest is a scarily accurate depiction of what life is like living with this insidious disease.

But it doesn’t explain what life has been like for me personally. It doesn’t chronicle the aforementioned Hell that I’ve been living in, on repeat, for years if not my whole life. It’s different for everyone and yet it’s all the same — we’re living with monsters in our heads that are slowly trying to kill us. And for some, the monsters win. It’s a long and grueling battle, and one that no one should have to suffer alone.

For a long time, I did suffer it alone. Because in that horrible place where my depression was winning, it told me that I deserved the sadness — I deserved the loneliness. I deserved what was coming to me. It didn’t matter how true or false it was, I lived in a cage with this beast rattling against the bars, shaking me...

Every. Day.

For years.

So you see why I wouldn’t want to wish this feeling on anyone. Why it comes in a horrible wave, and I lock myself up in that cage and throw away the key, hoping for the storm to pass. Until I realize that it doesn’t pass. It will never pass. Not until something or someone comes along to quell this horrible urge to make it stop the only way I sometimes know how.

When I was awake, I was living a terrible nightmare. When I slept, I was just trapped in another horrific dream. I have many night terrors, waking up with my heart racing, yelling or gasping for air. Some nights, I would lay awake unable to sleep at all, and those were always the worst. That is when I’m trapped once again with that Depression Monster, gnawing away at me. What’s even worse about it all is that there was no safe place to escape to.

Depression is insidious. I’ve had people constantly tell me that it’ll be okay, it gets better. “It’s not your fault.” No matter how many times such kind words are repeated, and try as I might to make it my mantra, I can’t shake the inevitable. Eventually it rears its ugly head, and I’m dragged back down underwater, unable to breathe.

They always tell you that it gets better. That’s false advertisement if I ever heard one. It’s like people expect the healing process is supposed to come by waiting around hoping for it all to go away with time. But no matter what I did, it didn’t go away. I had friends, forced myself to be social. Got a job, had myself a paycheck. Sure, it felt like every day a piece of me was dying a little more, but I had some semblance of self-sufficiency. Maybe even balance.

The problem with depression sometimes is that, again, it’s an insidious beast. There was part of me that slowly killing myself with a mantra of its own: You don’t deserve to have friends who respect you. You don’t deserve to be happy. You don’t even deserve to live. And it’s a horrible thing, coming to that conclusion. That you don’t want to die, but you don’t feel like you deserve to live. Once a part of you has come to that inference, it becomes impossible to reason with it. Suddenly every little terrible thing that happened, I decided happened because I deserved it. Every good thing that happened to be, I would inevitably sabotage. I lashed out even when I was not aware of what I was doing, because in my mind I didn’t deserve that shred of happiness.

It always bothered me, when people react to suicide and say, “It’s such a shame. They had a family. I guess it wasn’t enough.” I’ve been up and down, and I can say that even in my highest moment I still battle against the Depression Monster telling me what I do and don’t deserve. Doesn’t matter whether it’s right or wrong, the Monster doesn’t care. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Yes, it’s a shame. It’s a shame to know that, even when I am surrounded by loved ones, sometimes the Monster likes to tell me that it’s not enough.

No, that’s not true at all. The Monster doesn’t think, “It’s not enough.” The Monster thinks, “You don’t deserve that.” That’s where it gets hard explaining depression to people who have never suffered it, or understand it. Why would we want them to? Why would we want to burden others with our problems, if we don’t feel that we even deserve your understanding and love?

Writing had always brought me solace. The place I retreat to in my head is so vivid that revolving my life around fictional people became a coping mechanism and a lifeline until my mother and grandfather passed on. The tidal wave of grief swept that solace away, and eventually I found myself in a rift unable to comprehend time, words, or anything that was in front of me. There were days where I would walk around in circles in the house, unable to understand my surroundings. I drank a lot. Cried my eyes out on the floor after too many whiskey sours. I pulled my fair share of stupid stunts — some I remember, some I do not. I crawled into my little hole where it was just more convenient to be. I used to have a great memory. Now it’s a fog. It’s hard to keep a functioning schedule when sometimes you can’t remember what your reason for going into a room was for, let alone complicated tasks that goes with employment, or plot ideas that come with writing. And it’s hard maintaining a job without pissing people off when you are occasionally stricken with short-term memory, unable to retain information because you’re so trapped in your head that nothing makes sense anymore. It always hits me the worst during the summer, the time of year where my mom and grandpa passed away. It’s been like this, every year.

Somehow, however, I managed to be able to write again. I found it in me to put words on a screen and find my voice, thanks to the support from fellow writers. It helps. I have friends, and all of my fictional companions that help keep my head above water. It helps.

As summer came and went I found the ever popular phrase of “It gets better” to be more painfully wrong than ever. The publishing process for my first novel providing only a mere distraction kept me going, sure, but that’s what it was. A distraction from the Monster that was nagging on the back of my mind, once again telling me about all the things I do and don’t deserve. I can’t function, and there are days where it hurts so much that I am unable to escape my bed due to the physical agony of it. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. A few times, I went on for days without sleep. When I can’t sleep, I can’t write. I can’t edit. I can’t work. I had hardly any strength to sit upright, let alone be a living human being. What more, I was lashing out again. I felt like I was a different person — a monster — and people were starting to not even recognize who I was. My complexion was awful. My eyes were dead. I couldn’t see or hear or focus. My skin felt like there were needles jabbing into me from every angle. A lot of the time I would curl up and wait for it to pass, which could take several minutes to hours.

Finally, I promised my loved ones that I would get help. The whole process was exhausting, trying to figure out just where to start. First I toyed with seeing a therapist. That was a mistake. Not only did it feel like I was being interrogated, but she practically told me that I was exaggerating my existing symptoms, that I was too young to have them. Upset, I decided to go another route by seeing the doctor who had diagnosed me with depression and PTSD six years ago. By then I was so bad that I could hardly carry myself, but fortunately felt safe and comfortable enough with my old doctor to get what needed to be done actually done, without any judgment.

So I’m on medication now. It’s not a cure, but I’ve come to the grim realization that there will never be a cure. Because the truth is, my hardware is broken. The depression has been a virus constantly taking over my system, and the medication serves as software to help flush it out from time to time. Some days hit me worse than others. On my good days, I’m able to at least sit upright long enough to feed myself a little. Others, I’m shaking, or tired, and strangely I’m finding myself more partial to the exhaustion than the daily panic attacks and lashing out I became so prone to. It’s sad when you find yourself preferring lethargy and numbness when the alternative is so, so much worse. But that’s just where I am at right now.

It’s taking a little longer than I would have liked. Writing has been my dream for so long, but this demanded more attention. I almost didn’t make it past September, and the night I published my book I was at my worst while pretending to still be human. It has been a long fight. It still is. I figured it would be a little therapeutic to write it all down in a place like this, and I could finally work towards a better path than the one I started heading down a few months ago. It’s a start, and I suppose it’s improvement.

My second book is done, if nothing else. I’m more than proud of it. With any luck and a little help from the people I love, I’ll be able to wade through this sinking sand for us to see it through. That’s life for you.

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