Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Postcard from Depression-Land


In my freshman year of college, writing was my anti-depressant.

Well, writing and Paxil, but it was the writing that provided instantaneous relief, and distracted me from my own thoughts.

Shy, neurotic, and over a hundred miles away from home, I spent my initial months in the dorm afraid to interact with anyone, wanting to go home and hating myself for being so upset over such an ordinary life experience.  My time outside of class was spent clinging to my roommate and the few friends that had come to Ball State from my high school, sobbing in a counselor’s office, or awkwardly sitting in the same dorm lounge as my friends’ friends, hoping to become comfortable with the group via osmosis.

The average day.
Toward the start of October that year, I began writing fan fiction.  I’d had ideas kicking around in my head for some time, and writing was a more productive use of my time then staring off into space and wondering why I’d ever imagined I could handle attending college.  I expected that no one would read the chapters I was putting online, and that I’d get about halfway through the story, lose interest, and stop.
Instead, I found myself receiving dozens of reviews per chapter, and finishing not only that story, but six sequels, several of which were novel-length, and a handful of single chapter works as well.  I became close to my reviewers and other writers I admired, exchanging emails and trading ideas.  And as I gained friends online, I became more outgoing in my face-to-face life as well, spending my time laughing and talking with dozens of others when I wasn’t in class.  The early days of depression and isolation were forgotten.

Or so I thought at the time.

Based on my own experiences, and those of others that have been recounted to me, I don’t believe it’s ever possible to be fully free of depression.  No matter what medications or therapies that are used to combat it, it’s always hovering nearby like Eeyore’s perpetual rain cloud.  The sun may shine brightly enough to make up for it, or you may be having such a good time that it’s easy to ignore, but there’s always a chance that it will start storming right over your head when you’re at your most vulnerable.

Recently, I had that experience myself.

The return of my depression seemed to coincide with writer’s block, though I can’t say if one caused the other.  I had been updating my writing at an average of a chapter a day for a year now, and it was only natural that I would run out of steam sooner or later.  Of course, I didn’t see it that way.  I saw it as laziness, as disappointing the fans who supported me.  This was my junior year of college, but I was still living in the dorms then, close enough to my friends and their interests to be mostly distracted from the self-abuse I would dish out every time I procrastinated on my writing.

It wasn’t until the summer, when I was away from that support group and living conditions, that I really began the downward spiral.

At work and with my friends, I was fine.  At home, I was a wreck, laying around the house and flipping through TV channels because the idea of doing anything productive with my time seemed too painful and difficult to consider.  I continued to mental yell at myself, now for being lazy and childish on top of not writing.  I lashed out at my friends and family unintentionally, and felt unable to confide in the people I was closest to about my depression.  There was nothing really wrong with me, I reasoned, I was just feeling sorry for myself and I shouldn’t burden others with my whining.

I expected to recover when I returned to college in August.  For a time, I thought I had.  I was excited to live in an apartment, though I was now isolated from the support system that had been so vital to me in my first three years at the university.  My roommates’ schedules kept us more separated than I had expected, and many of my friends had graduated.  Others had gone abroad.  I wasn’t just physically separated from campus, I was also emotionally shut off as well.  Add to that all the pressures of a senior year of college, and my continuing writer’s block, and you can probably imagine my mental health over the past few months.  I hadn’t recovered at all.  I’d just become so apathetic toward my sadness that it seemed like a normal part of my life.

It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt genuine happiness, when I was snapped out of my apathetic haze by two events:  One, a writer friend that I hadn’t heard from in over a year returned to the Internet with a new chapter, citing her depression as the reason for her absence.  Two, a blog that I usually turned to when I needed a laugh, Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, broke its months-long hiatus with Adventures in Depression, detailing Allie’s own struggles with her mental well-being.

Only then did it occur to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I had really smiled.  I might laugh at pictures I found when surfing the Internet, trying to distract myself from my listless apathy, but the emotion was gone the second the giggling stopped.  It’s like painting a rotting log gold: it might look good for a minute or two, but then the paint will flake off and what’s underneath will come right back out.  It seemed to me that there must have been times in the past few months when I had been truly happy, but I couldn’t remember how they felt anymore.  It was as if the depression were burrowing under my skin, sucking out every other emotion to sustain itself.

I had been robbed of the ability to feel good about doing anything I enjoyed.  And in tandem, my depression was preventing me from attempting things that brought me pleasure.  The same Sunday I realized I was depressed, I sat down at my laptop, intending to write the first fan fiction chapter I’d have worked on in months.  I opened a Word document, stared at the blank page, and immediately closed it.  My conscious thought was I can’t do this, because subconsciously, for months on end, when I sat down to write, there would be a voice in the back of my mind mocking my efforts:  Oh, you’re going to write something now?  Good luck with that, I’m sure your readers will really appreciate you finally updating, assuming they haven’t all quit checking your page.  Yeah, I bet that’s going to be a real work of art you’re typing there.  Go ahead, see how that works out.

That absolute sense of futility is, in essence, the core of my depression.  It’s easy to look at a depressed person and decide that they’re lazy, preferring to wallow in self-pity.  There is no way to adequately explain, to someone who hasn’t felt it themselves, how painful even the easiest tasks, like going to class everyday or taking a shower, feel to those in a deep depression.  It’s akin to being trapped at the bottom of the ocean: you might see the light if you look up, but you can’t move toward it when you’re being crushed from the pressure of the water.  I even beat myself up for my inability to function at these times, because after all, there was nothing visibly wrong with me.  I should have been able to move on with my life.

Then came Allie’s blog post, and the realization that I’d been depressed for so long I’d forgotten how life felt otherwise.  That brought back the tears and the crippling sadness, which I never thought I’d be happy to feel again.  But as long as I was feeling, it was an improvement.  I posted on my Livejournal about my condition the next day, to explain my months of silence, and the reception I received there made me genuinely smile for the first time in weeks.

Which brings me to why I’m posting here.  Depression, in part, is such a monster because it’s invisible.  People caught up in their misery like I’ve been don’t want to bring it up for fear that their unhappiness will be branded as silly, or something they need to get over.  I suffered for months on end with that line of thinking.  But I’m reaching out now, and I’m not going to suffer in silence any longer, nor encourage anyone in pain to avoid reaching out.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, L.

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  2. I know how you feel. I have been battling depression since 2009. I definitely have my ups and downs, and when I'm down, I'm constantly beating myself up -because- I'm down, and because sometimes I just don't understand how I couldn't beat it...or why. I also have trouble reaching out for fear that I will lose more friends or that people won't understand, but I've been trying to reach out lately as well. I'm really glad that you are trying to do the same. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

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  3. Mr. Lexapro is my friend.

    Yeah, that is so right, that it's always lurking. I'm lucky to have such a strong support group around me, who understand when I say, "I'm just having a bad day. Tomorrow will be better. Or maybe the day after."

    I'm always here for you, dear heart.
    MA

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  4. Just remember we love you and as Marian says are here for you.

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  5. Awe, Lauren. I wish I'd been following your blog more closely when you originally posted this. But here I am anyway. You are the best roommate ever, you are a talented writer (as is made obvious by this blog, for one, I really love your writing here), and you are a treasured friend of mine. Nothing will change that.

    I had the same problem, when I moved off campus. It's a huge adjustment, at least it was for me. I felt cut off and lonely, even though there were 3 other friends living under the same roof with me. I hit rock bottom last summer when I nearly drowned under the weight of my summer courses and loneliness. So I know the feel.

    I wish we could talk more often-- You know I'll always lend an ear if you want to rant/vent-- email me or facebook message me or call. ^^ *hugs*

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