Trigger warning: this entry discusses topics like depression and suicidal thoughts. Please refrain to read about it if you are triggered by them. Also, seek help. There is someone out there, a hotline, a support group, a therapist, a doctor, that can help you or at least offer you guidance to obtain it. You are not alone.
Disclaimer: I’m only talking about my own personal experience. I don’t claim to talk in the name of every person that goes through depressive episodes because I’m not an expert -just a fellow sufferer- and the experiences are particular to each person.
I know this might be an odd time to talk about this, it’s not a mental health awareness month, and I should be celebrating the recent release of my book. Regarding the former, I believe that mental health is a topic that should be addressed at any moment, not just during a month or a week. Mental health problems don’t disappear for the rest of the year. As for the latter, well, the way I’m feeling right now is not allowing me to enjoy the moment as it should. Thus, this blog post is a way to get things out of my chest, in some sort of therapy. Which goes to one of the roots of why I write: writing for me is my therapy and the way I have to express what dwells inside my head in a healthier manner, compared to other means. There is another reason why I’m writing this, but I will address it at the end. For now, just talk about what’s like to live with depression.
I have suffered from recurrent bouts of depression plus anxiety since I reached teenagehood (maybe earlier). I have gone to therapy and taken meds as prescribed by doctors. Writing so far has been the most effective way I’ve found to deal with it in a healthy manner. And now I’m writing how I feel when I’m in one of my down periods.
Now, imagine that you have a roommate inside your head, a voice that persists and nags you all the time. Most of the time you ignore it, or if you are lucky, keep it quiet. But then one morning, the voice becomes louder. You feel low on energy, so getting up from the bed feels like a bigger chore than usual. You drag your feet to get on with your day. Then something happens -a disagreement, an argument, a misunderstanding, bad news at your job- that increases the volume of the voice. And then it goes downhill from there.
Every mistake is magnified, take out of proportion even when your rational mind tells you it can be fixed. The voice won’t let you listen to reason. Every triumph gets minimized. No matter what you achieved that day (or the day before), it pales in comparison with your mistakes. No matter how much others try to cheer you up, to point out the good over the bad, you still feel down. And then the others feel frustrated, get angry even, and tell you off. Not out of malice -not always anyways- but because they don’t understand. Because for them, all the issue is in your head and you need to get over it. Because they are not feeling what you are feeling, because they lack empathy for the situation. Because they can’t hear the voice.
You don’t say anything, try to keep it down, a smile perhaps, to take the attention away from you and your issues. Because in our current culture -an in Mexican culture the situation is even more toxic- you are taught that you have to bottle up, buckle up and move one. And for the most part, you learn to move on, despite how shitty you are feeling. If you are lucky, you learn to be resilient or have a support group, or your therapist is good. Maybe the meds worked or the techniques you use to ‘build a ladder’ to get you out of the hole work this time.
But none of them will work all the time.
Some days the voice wins the arguments inside your head, presenting you with the worst scenario or making you feel like those close to you would be happier if you weren’t around. You start feeling like a nuisance. Everything you do, say or chose is a mistake. Like your mere presence annoys or hurts others and if you try to reach out, you only make matters worse -the so-called hedgehog dilemma-. You overreact to everything, you might become aggressive or seek conflict to five minutes later regret what you did and feel even worse. If you retreat, you end alone -and accused by insensible people- that because you want to be alone, you will end alone. If you couple that with your anxiety, you start imagining that you will die alone. And then is when the nasty thoughts as I call them appear: you muse how it would be if you simply walked away from home, to disappear from the life of those you feel -or make you feel- that you are hurting. And you start making plans to make that happen. Or you start thinking about how it would be if you died. If someone will miss you, someone will remember you. If someone would care. And then is when you start musing on how you would do the deed. Because who would want a failure around them?
And all of that chat with the voice happens inside your head, while you put a brave face to the rest of the world. It doesn’t have to be a smiling face. Maybe your face reflects the sadness you feel inside. You excuse yourself saying that you have a cold or migraine. You start searching for an excuse to be left alone, maybe sleep. But your sleep won’t be a refuge because the voice is still inside. You go to sleep wishing you never wake up again so you don’t have to hear the voice or feel like you are a waste of space or screwing up things. And the voice never leaves. You know why?
The voice is your own.
And it seems as it has control over your perspective… all the time.
That’s how I feel when I’m undergoing a depression bout. So far I’ve been lucky to learn to keep myself in check and after a good scare, reach for help or seek things that can cheer me up. To write down my feelings and allow myself to let go. But every day is a struggle. Depression is not something that goes away with your good wishes. It is something that has to be dealt with. You need to remind yourself every second that you are stronger than you think and you can get through this. That’s why this panel resonated so much with me the first time I read it and made me cry.
A few of the reviewers of my novel have pointed about Fionn’s feelings during the book, his depression, about how he feels like a failure. A writer writes about what they know, and I know how I feel like a failure every day. Maybe that’s why I push myself so hard, beyond what’s healthy for my body and mind. To stop feeling that way. Writing Fionn’s journey helped me to deal with a few issues that have made me feel like shit as an adult. However, it hasn’t been enough of late. This year, for multiple reasons I won’t bore you with, has been so tough and exhausting that I’ve been barely able to celebrate achieving the publication of my first novel.
So I’m gonna do what has worked for me so far to keep myself in check an avoid letting the voice win: go to therapy, reach out my support group and write. The sequel novel will be a more personal affair, as Alex -the character that’s more like the real me, annoying habits included- is a chronic depression sufferer, despite -or perhaps because of- of all the things he can do and has done. The first book gives hints of that. Now I will explore the issue in depth because basically, I will talking to myself about how I’ve been feeling all these years and about my unhealthy habits, about pushing myself into exhaustion and still feel like a failure. Don’t worry, the book won’t be a sad affair. I’m using the story to deal with my inner demons, not to make anyone feel sad or trigger someone -it won’t be 13 reasons why-. It will be still an adventure. Just one that will explore a personal topic because really, if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m gonna explode. So better to deal with it in a healthier way and if it helps someone else, cool.
No, I didn’t write this blogpost to call for sympathy or pity or plug my book. Rather I’m writing this to explain my rationale behind my writing, why it is taking me so long to get it done and why the next book will be more personal. Because it will be my therapy session. Hopefully, I will be able to pull it off. And hopefully, me talking about depression in a more open way helps to further the discussion, eliminate the stigma and show that everyone can suffer from it and it is not a sign of weakness. It is something very human, something that has to be talked about and more importantly, something for which people needs help and understanding, a lifelong condition that needs above all, better understanding.
You are not alone.