Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Depression Helped Me Feel

This is part of an ongoing series about depression. I'm also tweeting my journey at #yesistruggle.

There's something inside me that scares me. Something deep and dark and powerful. It's the same thing that makes me cry out for justice and fall into depression at the same time. It makes me feel unstable and sends me flying through a world I can't control.

Until a few years ago. Some time during college, things began to change. The anger was numbed. At first I thought I was growing up and becoming more emotionally stable.

My preferences changed. From fantasy novels, I turned to Wodehouse and Durrell. I stopped listening to metal and orchestral and switched to Sinatra and Gershwin. I sank into the art forms of the Silent Generation.

My ability to write poetry--the writing form devoted to pouring out raw emotion--slackened throughout college until I couldn't write any at all. I would stare at the blank pages trying to come up with something to say, something I felt. I couldn't find a single passion-wrought metaphor to put on the page. It was a little disconcerting, but I was getting better at nonfiction. I wrote articles instead.

Other artistic abilities diminished. I stopped drawing and painting. The biggest change, the one I should've noticed, was that I slowly stopped writing fantasy. I persuaded myself it was because of college, and then work. This was real life and I was busy. That stuff was all old escapism.

But I began to feel disconnected from others, experiences, and my heart. Deep feelings didn't come as often as they should, and left too quickly. A friend's mom was dying and I couldn't cry. My cat disappeared forever and I couldn't mourn.

The farther I drew from my heart, the less relationships meant to me. I'm an introvert and I usually have few friends, but I hold them closely. I found it now too easy to move on from people. I was alone. Even that solitude didn't have the painful poignancy it should have.

I went through depression in 2011. I felt like an interrupted line. Everything was humdrum and usual, and then it wasn't. Something inside me broke, but I never figured out what. I was too far disconnected from my heart to discover what was making me feel so isolated, angry, hopeless, and sad. That scared me more than the depression did.

I had fallen asleep. Something was wrong, but I couldn't ask my heart what it was, because my heart and I no longer communicated.

It was random chance, or an act of God, that woke me up.

In 2013, I was writing a 1950s comedy (Silent Generation stuff, remember). It involved lots of research and sitting there scratching my head to come up with jokes, because I'm not a very funny person and my main character was hilarious. I had to put it aside because we were moving from California to Virginia.

On the 3,000-mile drive we needed entertainment, so I secured the beloved Harry Potter series in audiobooks. It was a first time I read fantasy in a long while.

We arrived. We set up house. We got in a major car accident. I was finally recovering from all of this by the end of October, and you writers know what that means: National Novel Writing Month was just around the corner. You're supposed to start a new novel for NaNoWriMo. I needed a fresh start anyway. So I did something crazy: I decided to write a fantasy that had been on the back-burner for years.

I plotted and planned. Then words poured out of me. So. Many. Words. Out came a story of desperation, fear, and courage. Loss, discrimination, and life-and-death choices. I pulled the old music out of hiding. I blared it on loud, songs that get me riled up and passionate. And, guys: I started feeling things.

They weren't good things. I'm in the South, surrounded by a culture that is racist, sexist, and homophobic in ways I didn't think existed anymore. I meet people who actually think they know God's Absolute Truth. They believe they're entitled to smack people over the heads/ostracize them/call them foul names in public. Because, you know, we go to church on Sunday, so we're holy.

Anger burst out of me. Horror at the world I'm in. Sadness that I can't change it all by myself. Mourning for what I see around me. Excruciating joy over the tiny victories, followed by more dark brooding over what to do next.

I was flung into this thing I'm in right now, this depression, this hating the world some days and having zero energy or patience to deal with anyone. My heart aches daily. I'm torn apart by what I read. I cannot sink into apathy for a minute, an hour, a day without feeling guilty and irate. I want the world to change. I want people to wake up. I want to make a difference...

There's a point in my recent novel where one of the characters says that fear, anger, and love are the strongest forces in the world. With them, a person can do anything. "Perhaps," he says, "they're best called passion."

I didn't know at the time that I was writing to myself. This is passion. I feel lots of things, and they're dark and deep and uncomfortable. The black spaces inside me dared to ask questions, and those questions led me to places I never thought I'd go, but the answers set me free. Should I make a stand against this particular injustice? Yes. Will I ultimately make a difference? Probably not. But facing that sets me free to try, knowing that I am one tiny person and it's okay if I fail at changing the world. I will have succeeded in doing what is right.

I've found my heart at last, thanks to depression, fantasy, and culture shock. It carries heavy burdens. I have to constantly wrestle with my mindless fury at the people around me, remembering that this is not my culture and I can't claim to fully understand. I yell with all my voices before remembering yelling isn't always the best thing to do.

Here I am. Clinging to life, to friends, to feelings. Writing things that ask deep questions, instead of merely making people laugh. I am finding myself in the deep.

I am alive again.

Word count: 1,079.



I feel I should add a post-script about Wodehouse, Durrell, Sinatra, Gershwin, and all their artistic siblings. I don't want you to think I've turned my back on them. I'll always love those authors and that music. Yet funny as they are, none of them ignites my passion for life. They are escapism for me. The Silent Generation was trying to forget all the horror of the World Wars, so they wrote funny things and played lovey-dovey music. Their paintings are abstract and clean, because they couldn't look at real life around them, rundown and dirty. The only Life Questions they could bear to ask were answered with existential answers, a new philosophy that fit the apathy and helplessness they felt.

While there's nothing wrong with escaping every once in a while, you can't build a whole life on it. I listen to my Silent music once in awhile, read the books when I need a laugh. Then I return to my messy, angry, impassioned life, refusing to forget. The world needs my passion. The world needs my tiny corner of change.