Had you asked me a month ago, I would have told you that I had been depressed for a few years. Which, of course, was true. With the occasional reprieve offered by a “good” day or week, depression has been a constant companion. But it’s only recently, as I come to a strange degree of comfort, do I finally recognize that I have been in an exhausted, joyless shell for more than half a decade. And, for the first time since then, I can honestly say that I feel wide awake.
It’s hard to say when this all started happening, or what the catalyst was. There was no “ah-ha” moment. I mean, if I was to pinpoint an overall tonal shift was the day I was sent to a work meeting that 1) I had no business being at and 2) was utterly unprepared for. As I sat there listening to a group of strangers go on about admission numbers and application data bases, I fought off a panic attack. I was very aware of my own mortality and how many things I want to accomplish. It pissed me off that I was stuck somewhere I couldn’t leave, that I couldn’t follow my own agenda. I mean, it really, really pissed me off. Somewhere in the middle of hour 3, my hands started to shake with anger.
The second that meeting ended, I bolted for the nearest coffee shop for my lunch break and cranked out a battle plan to finish my manuscript. It was the biggest, most pointed emotion I had felt in months. Funny how rage can be such a big motivator. I shot off a series of text messages to my best friend, crying out against the injustice of my life. My rankling did little to change my circumstances.
In fact, starting to buckle down and work on my novel did nothing to assuage my panicky feelings, especially on the days when I was particularly exhausted and unable to accomplish as much as a perfectionist such as myself would like to complete. As the days started to come faster with few changes in my life, my anxiety grew and grew. It got to a point where I was unable to do anything more than get up, walk the dog, get dressed, sit on my bed until it was time to go to work, sleepwalk through those 8 hours, come home, cry in the shower, and sit on my bed until I fell asleep. The fact that I didn’t interact with many people at work exhausted me. I would come home unable to talk to my roommates. My depression was eating me alive.
As I’ve gotten older and had the chance to speak with people I find wiser and more insightful than I am, I have realized that the secret to most things in life is honesty. And here, at this time, what I needed was to be honest with myself. The truth: I wasn’t happy. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for everything positive in my life. Things like getting this job and moving to Boston are things I will forever be grateful for, but that doesn’t mean that they made me happy. I felt very isolated, very alone, all those classic calling cards of depression. Having been depressed for as long as I have, there are plenty of coping mechanisms that I rely on; but those mechanisms didn’t keep me from having a panic attack every few hours.
Change became necessary if I wanted a shot at any kind of life. So, I pressed on with the editing and the writing, despite the isolation it brought me. I decided that pursuing my dream of becoming a published novelist was worth all of my determination. I gave it everything. On a particularly chilly Saturday afternoon in the Boston downtown library, I finished my edits. And you know what? I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel anything for a week. That sleepwalk feeling saved exclusively for work crept into my day. My friends celebrated my success, praised me, cheered me on, and I felt absolutely nothing. This project that I’ve been working on for over ten years was finally in a place that I was actually pleased with and I felt nothing for it.
What kind of cruel twist of fate is that? But instead of plunging down into ever deepening sadness, I talked to myself. Why didn’t I feel excited? Why didn’t I feel joy? What were the underlying factors that were contributing to my absolute malaise and disinterest? After days of introspection, I finally got to the root of this particular problem: I’m afraid of success. That’s sort of a weird thing to admit. People aspire to success all the time, don’t they? Sure. But for me, failure is easier than success. There’s no expectation in failure. With success comes this need to continue a trend. More importantly, success means that you have to admit to yourself that you did something good and are worth celebrating. Success means a degree of selfishness that I’m uncomfortable with on a fundamental level.
I had to start doing some reading on how to deal with success, because I’ll be damned if I let my own insecurities get in the way of my happiness. I’ll not bore you with the long winding road of discovering how to cope with success, especially since our society is preoccupied with obtaining it. The solution I found that made sense to me was sharing my success with those people who have helped me on my journey. To diminish the work I’ve done would be to diminish all of the support the people around me have given. So, I’ve been working on that, a little at a time. I take compliments and appreciate them. I let that newly found positivity motivate me to write a query letter. I sent my manuscript to some agents, hopeful that at least one will want to sign me.
And then this amazing thing started to happen: I felt joy again. It’s not a fleeting joy, either. I wake up and feel happy. I walk to work and feel happy. I sit in my room by myself and feel happy. I feel happy the way I did a very long time ago. Since I finished my manuscript, I’ve allowed myself space to exist in my joy. I started gaming again because I like the chance it gives my brain to tend to its business without my active participation–honestly, this has been key, I think. I go to shows by myself and strike up too-intense conversation with strangers who are woefully unprepared for interrogations into their lives. I reach out to my friends just to let them know I care. I am reading again. I am writing weird fiction. It’s incredible to feel alive.
I know as well as the next person how hard depression is to work through. For many, it’s a lifelong battle that needs to be kept in check by medication, mindfulness, therapy, and a whole host of healthy coping mechanisms. I also know that so many people in the world don’t have access to these things or feel the stigma of shame that has yet to shake itself from a society so focused on presenting the best version of itself. I know that my story doesn’t change anyone’s circumstances, and for that I am sorry. But I can no longer deny the celebration in my body–to do so would discredit my work and the support of my community. This is a testament to me emerging from a pit. This is me shouting from the rooftops. This is me telling you that I’m here for you if you need me. This is me telling you that it can get better. This is me telling you that it will.