This post owes quite a bit to Mur Lafferty, who talks about and validates various forms of depressive states over at I Should Be Writing. (If you don’t write, you’d probably still get something out of ISBW, because Mur is a fucking rockstar.) Alas, I’m listening to it in Itunes and don’t have a link, but the first half of ISBW 320 is about what Mur refers to as “stealthy” depression, and is worth a listen.
I’ve been thinking about the ways depression has shifted during the course of my life. Take Three Breaths is a story largely about depression, which I only realized when I re-read it weeks after finishing it. I identify as a suicidal depressive. My brain catalogues methods of killing myself as if this running list is as involuntary as breath. I tried to stop, when I was pregnant, because I didn’t feel that it was a healthy pastime for someone hosting a human life. What I eventually realized, though, was that this list is an excellent internal barometer of my emotional state. Some days the thoughts are intrusive. Some days, they’re merely present.
Insert necessary disclaimer: I’m not actively suicidal. And I haven’t been, but for a few hours here and there, for years. Suicidal ideation is more of a coping mechanism. It’s a reminder that every day I live by my choice. Life is not a burden I’m meant to bear, but a daily affirmation of my path.
I became aware of my personal depression when I was eleven. I was very desperately suicidal at thirteen. The rest of adolescence is a blur of feeling crazy, unnatural, and coping as best I could. (Oh, how I wish gender fluidity had existed in an acknowledged way then. I could not reconcile my gender at all. I have no idea if things would have been different, but I have to suspect they would have. At the very least, dressers full of clothes that made me feel shitty impacted every single day of my life until I was old enough to brave the men’s section of the discount stores.)
Depression has been my constant companion. I suspect it will always be with me, carried along in my bones and muscles and cells. I no longer wait for it to disappear one day, and accepting depression has been a tremendous relief. I’m thrilled to death for folks who move on or get over or beat depression–good on ya. But like anything else, everyone’s experience is different. I’m especially indebted to the post “When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option” for talking about this so eloquently. (But don’t fucking read the comments. Fuck me. Because the schmuck who’s “beaten” depression after having it for less than a year–hi, you know what, sonny jim, your experience is not the rule. I should never, ever read comments. I don’t know why I do that.)
I used to only write about suicide. I don’t think I wrote a single work of fiction the year I was fourteen that didn’t explicitly discuss suicide. Tens of thousands of words about suicide. These days I write a lot of things, and I also joke about a lot of things that aren’t necessarily funny. Like suicide. I could say joking is a defense mechanism of my own inner demons, a way to disarm my shadow self, but in all honesty, I joke about some shit that other people take seriously, cause sometimes that shit is fucking funny. (Please see “Scott Tenorman Must Die” from the classic program “The South Park.” Aw, look at that, the fine lads at SP Studios–and I use “lads” gender-neutrally–have made the entire episode available online. Sweet. Even though I know how it ends, I still love it.)
Ending paragraphs with parenthetical statements. (I should really get that under control.)
Depression isn’t always flashy like the movies. It’s not always ground zero of your own personal lethargic apocalypse. These days, for me, depression is my shoulders slumped against every word spoken to me, bracing for requests or the expectation of a response I don’t remember how to form. It’s a day when instead of curling up in my bed and keeping my eyes closed, I drag myself from spot to spot, eyes only on the next place I can rest before toddler life shifts to a new locale. It’s vision stained around the edges with darkness and an inability to process more than one auditory input at a time.
More than anything, I know depression because it distorts my instincts. Normally I would nod and smile at someone; on a bad day I can’t quite get my mouth to adopt the correct expression, can’t quite meet someone’s eye. This is, in every sense, a better format for depression to take in my world. The cycle is familiar, and I can maintain confidence that it will pass for the first thirty-six hours. If it pulls on me longer than that, I begin to worry.
I don’t buy that every creative person must have vast gulfs of deep, incurable darkness. Anything that starts “every artist is” or “every artist does” is bound to be bullshit. I know that the fiction I write is informed by depression. The fiction I write is also informed by “South Park,” clearly. Everything we are, everything we do, bleeds through onto the page. I’m a suicidal depressive who has mostly good days, but I never turn my back on that shit. Not ever. Because that’s the moment it’s gonna sink its teeth in, like a fucking weeping angel. Constant vigilance, baby.
[Insert inappropriately cheery message about how all of life is joy here.]