“I thought of all the lines,
All the right ones used at all the wrong times,
But that’s alright,
Depression’s just a sarcastic state of mind…”
– “Romeo and Rebecca,” Blink-182
I’ve always found it easy to pinpoint an exact moment when I became “afflicted” with depression and anxiety. When my mother, Patty, was diagnosed with melanoma and, a year later, died, it seemed to mark the moment when my psychological state became irreversibly shattered. Considering I had just turned 19 at the time and was about to return to college for my sophomore year, it seemed like an obvious place to start. I could point there, think to myself (and explain my “condition” away to the world), “I was just devastated by my mother’s unfair and untimely death and never knew how to deal with it; there’s nothing wrong with me…” It was a simple way to shift the blame, shed my responsibility for my illness, and avoid the crippling reality that I’m fully culpable for it (as I’ve always believed).
But if I’m really honest, that’s too easy. It’s too neat. It’s too convenient, and if there’s one defining quality of mental illness, it’s the unbearable inconvenience. It creeps in at the worst possible moments, pops up when you least expect it, rears its ugly head at crucial spots and just demolishes you. So I didn’t “become” mentally ill when my mom got sick or passed away. Because if I’m really honest, it goes back even further, since I’ve been an avoidant miserable prick from my tween years onward. There’s never really been a time when I felt truly happy, or fulfilled, or content with who I was and what I was capable of accomplishing. Depression had laid dormant in my mind for years, waiting for its moment to strike with uncanny patience and precision, like the Night King. Winter was always coming, whether I was ready for it or not.
Honestly, I can’t think of a time in my life when I wasn’t desperate to fit in, and be loved, and accepted, yet constantly thought to myself: why would that happen? Why would you be accepted? You’re a loser, you’re always going to be a be a loser, and any flashes of hope otherwise are a mirage. That self doubt was ALWAYS in my mind, harping on the fact that I wasn’t cool enough or smart enough or worthy or deserving of anything but loneliness and rejection. Even before my mom passed away, my ambitions and hopes and goals were always soaked in a heavy dose of self loathing, weighing me down, nagging at me that, hey, you really think you can accomplish that? There was an ever present fog in my brain that zapped all self esteem away at any given moment.
Sure, everyone has doubts, but it’s more than that. It was never just a normal thought process of uncertainty, that feeling of fear of the unknown when you pursue something that involves risk but is worth going for anyway. It was a day to day thing, a moment to moment process, where I needed to overcome this notion that I just didn’t fit in. That I was different, weird, lesser than the rest of the people I encountered. And everyone knew it.
And to feel like such a weirdo, such an outsider, was patently ridiculous on the surface. I was a good athlete (two-sport captain *cough* Glory Days *cough*), an honor student from first grade through high school, tall and not super hideous looking. I had a good family, loving and supportive parents who never really left me or my sister wanting for things. Frankly, my life and upbringing was easy enough that I should have been happy. I SHOULD have felt good about myself and who I was and what I had accomplished (I’m able to put on a wonderfully convincing, sarcastic front of supreme confidence at times, though. Just a front, everyone…)
But I didn’t, and still never have. There have been fits and starts of happiness and a light at the end of the tunnel, like an ill-advised but not regretted move to LA a few years back attempting to break into screenwriting/acting (if you’re wondering how it went when I was out there, Google my name and get back to me). But I’ve never felt I deserved happiness or self confidence, and it was more than just feeling like I didn’t belong or have difficulty fitting in. Because that’s life: you grow up, you try on different personas and parts in your daily life in that journey of self discovery, and eventually shift into adulthood, confident and ready for the world. Right? That’s what I was always led to believe, at least, and there’s a lot of truth to that. Adolescence is difficult and growing up sucks, but it IS necessary and inevitable, something we all need to do. Personally, moving midway through 6th grade at an awkward age, to a smaller town where everyone knew everyone forever, was a difficult transition. But it would be for anyone.
Because it wasn’t just growing up, or moving to a new place, or struggling to learn how to fit in and my place in the world as I made my way through puberty. I was, somehow, actually different, and lesser than, and destined to be shunted to the side of society and everyone knew it. I feel like Hester Prynne sometimes when it comes to mental illness, like I’m wearing my own scarlet patch that says “CRAZY” and, whether I’ve confided in someone or not, they know what’s wrong with me (guess there’s no way around that now!). I feel ashamed, deeply so, when I feel depression weighing me down, because dammit, I should have this under control!
But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just BE happier, I can’t just CALM DOWN, I can’t just GET OVER IT and stop being so sad. I shouldn’t be ashamed, and I’m not lesser than, and it doesn’t make me a worthless person that I have to deal with these issues. Almost as crucially, I DO have these issues and will acknowledge it’s there, that it’s a reality, that it’s a disease I am burdened with (and it’s a hell of a burden). I feel helpless at times, like I’m drifting alone in isolation I created, because in the past I did create that isolation. Acting like I had caused my own depression and that I was at fault for things not getting better in my brain only made things worse. I pushed people away, withdrew from friends and family, and became fiercely private and protective of my mental state. If no one knew what I was doing or how I actually was, then no one REALLY knew what was wrong with me. I could hide my problems, hide from the world and lie to myself that I was doing the right thing. Except that was denial, and denial isn’t helpful; it’s bullshit.
I’m extremely doubtful of myself at the moment, at my abilities to make this site and these blogs work. Doubtful that I’m even a fraction as talented as I need to be to make a career as a writer, like I’ve always dreamed and wished I could achieve. I mentioned at the start that I’ve believed for a long time that I’m responsible for my depression and my anxiety, that I caused this personal defect somehow because I’m destined for failure (destined for failure, destined for failure). But that’s not true. I didn’t cause this, I didn’t get “infected” because I’m a defective human being, and there’s nothing wrong with me. To use an old human services line about normalizing mental illness, you wouldn’t feel ashamed if you had a kidney or liver disease, would you? And depression or any other mental illness is a disease of the brain. There’s no shame in having a disease and dealing with it to help things get better. But ignoring it, or any other problem, and acting like it will just get better and things will just happen? That’s not gonna help me, and it doesn’t help anyone.
I am a person with severe depression and anxiety, have been for a long time, and most likely will be for the remainder of my life. I’m not sure why, or how, or what reason there is that I have to deal with these things, but it is what it is. There’s nothing wrong with me, and I’m still capable of achieving great things, whether it’s with these blogs or other areas. It’s ok that I have these issues. It’s ok and I’m ok, and things are going to be ok. At least for today. ‘Til next time…