It’s been one year since Robin Williams’ death. Three hundred sixty-some days since the reality of depression rocked most to their core. For those of use who battle(d) depression, Robin’s passing elicited an all-too-familiar feeling. Some were discouraged, “if Robin can’t win this fight, what hope do I have?” was a phrase uttered by many. It’s really easy to succumb to depression. To let it envelop you wholly, pull you under it’s seductive, mysterious, alluring spell. It’s
harder hardest to fight. It’s hardest to pull yourself out of bed and choose to live another day. To breathe another day. To not-die-today for one more day. To Carry on.
It’s easy for those who have never battled depression to tell us to “get over it” or “it’s not that bad” or brush off our feelings as if they’re nothing more than a distraction. A nuisance. But for us it’s visceral. It’s written on our bones and seeps through the marrow. It’s who we are. And it is who we are that helps one another. It’s our shared experiences that bond us all together, that remind us we are not alone. We are not islands. We are not abandoned souls clinging desperately to the cliffs of community, waiting for a hand up or an invitation in. We are already there. We are here. We are together. We can win this battle. All of us.
This is my story.
This is my fight song:
I was an awkward androgynous punk rock teenager who lived for Bjork and Beck, Ginsberg and Kerouac. For feeling and fleeting romance and unrequited everything. In the winter months I lived on ski slopes, my sanity teetering precariously on the edge of my snowboard, my cheeks a permanent shade of wind burnt pink, softened only by steaming strawberry lattes at the coffee house nearby. I spent the summers with friends; lazily dragging my nine-year-old-boy’s body alongside their fuller, more female forms, in tepid lake water – drying on docks in the last light of dusk. I drove to the middle of nowehere to write. Something. Nothing. Anything. I was always writing. I was overeducated and under taught. Stimulating but not stimulated. I was supposed to be thriving in the perfection of my idyllic, picturesque, quintessential midwestern town. But I wasn’t. I was barely surviving.
I was suffocating.
The day I lived was like any other; the warmth of summer was still clinging to the crisp, cooler breezes of fall as November blew across my mother’s apple trees, the overripe fruit kerplunking on the lawn, feeding and fattening the deer my dad would hunt in the weeks to follow. Election coverage droning on the nightly news, someone beating someone else, this state going blue, that one turning an unexpected shade of red. Crickets and frogs still chirped outside my window, the last reminder of a season ended. Ending. Everything was perfect.
Until suddenly it wasn’t.
There was something about a boy, or a your-ass-is-grounded-for-life sized long-distance phone bill. Something painfully insignificant but hugely earth shattering that led me to go Girl: Interrupted and chase a bottle of Tylenol with a box of Benadryl, as if it were the only solution to my woe. I tipped my head back to swallow a few more pills and realized I was out of water, so I headed out of my room, passing the bathroom without a pause, forgetting entirely that it was there. I walked into the kitchen where my mother was making dinner. She was cooking her usual faire, something wholesome and savory and stereotypically Middle American. The smell of chicken and thyme permeated the floorboards; sweat was beading on the glass over the sink, dripping down the window in perfect Morse Code dots and dashes. The sound of simmering sauce punctuated, with the most perfectly timed staccato rhythm, the yells from Wheel Of Fortune in the next room. Vanna White slayed me. All those dresses. Never wearing the same one twice. Episode after episode. Smiling. Happy. My parents opting, yet again, for mind-numbing syndication over a meal together at a table. I added that to the heap of all-that-was-terrible and grabbed a glass. Maybe there was something about my stature, the way I was holding the glass, my bulbous, swollen eyes and dripping nose. Maybe she just had a sense. Maybe the timing was just perfect. But at that moment, before I turned to go upstairs, my mother looked over her shoulder and saw me. I stopped to look back at her, my eyes wild. Scared. The instant our eyes met I realized the gravity of what I was doing, what I had already done, and it hit me that my escape plan was faulty. In that instant I knew that mine would not be the only life that my death would claim.
I looked up at her – my beautiful, flawed, crazy, wonderful, loving, hippie of a mother – and uttered quietly, with a calmness that surprises me still, for her to call 911. She didn’t ask why. She didn’t scream, but instead lurched forward, whizzing past me without missing a beat and dialed. I collapsed to the floor. My mother wrapped her small body around me and, while she rocked me with the gentle cadence of her sobs, I waited to die. I waited to be saved. I waited for sirens. I waited for absolution. For lightness. I waited for nothing.
The only thing I didn’t wait for was exactly what I needed most.
Fast-forward five years; I’m in college, sort of. I have a boyfriend, sort of. I know what I’m doing with my life and where I want to…shit. No. Scratch that. I can’t even write that with a straight face. I was clueless as fuck. No. Really. I had no idea what or where or when I was going or who I wanted to be. Typical early twenties-itis. Then two planes hit those two buildings and everything sort of got hurtled into perspective in a massive THWUMP. Life bitch slapped me across the face and I wasn’t even old enough to drink. I was staring down the barrel of a gun with “What Do You Want To Do With Your Life, Girl” etched into the side of it, and it didn’t take long for that barrel to turn into a chasm. I dug my heels in and steeled my resolve. Which worked only momentarily. Before long I was losing control, I was slipping dangerously close to some invisible edge that I knew was sharp, too sharp, actually, so I started swallowing pills again. The kind of pills prescribed by a doctor (my doctor) that alter your brain chemistry and soften the blow of living a life so entrenched in feeling everything a little too intensely. Once they reached peak saturation in my bloodstream I didn’t feel anything. Not joy. Not sorrow. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t cry. I had become comfortably numb. I was twenty years old and had turned into a goddamn Pink Floyd song.
Fast-forward a decade(ish); I’m in the twilight of my thirties. Married. A couple of wombfruits. A nice house and a good career and a great creative outlet (or two or three). Friends. An (okay maybe entirely unhealthy, albeit fun) infatuation with donuts. All the things I was supposed to go after in life were tidily arranged in a line of “here is why you’re happy.” Except I wasn’t. At first, I thought it was the winter. That Seasonal Affect Disorder had grabbed hold and the polar vortex was sucking the joy out of me. I waited for spring. For the ground and my mind to thaw. Then spring came, and turned slowly to summer. I thought I had beaten the winter blues. Tucked another depression victory neatly under my take-that-you-fucking-asshole-disease belt. The sun was shining. The weather was flawless. We had just moved into a new house in a great neighborhood. I had the best season of my business ahead of me. Then one morning, without the slightest hint of warning, I awoke in a cavern. My chest was tight. I couldn’t breathe. I knew. It took me longer that I anticipated to realize that it wasn’t the winter. It wasn’t a shortage of Vitamin D. It wasn’t short days and long nights and cold so intense it could crack your bones. All of that was gone and yet there was a gaping hole filling up what was once overflowing with happy. Depression had me under its spell again. By the time I knew what was happening, I was almost buried in blackness. I had patched and taped and covered and smiled over it too long, and the wave was upon me. I had lost myself in the blackness again, and I was hell bent on getting out.
I battled depression quietly all summer, and the spring and winter before that, if I’m being honest. I surrendered countless nights to insomnia. I lost my appetite on some days only to find it return, voracious and insatiable the next. I went through mood swings and anger and a heavy fucking case of the never-not-good-enoughs. But I battled. I journaled and I talked to others. I clawed and gnawed and kicked and screamed my way out, and now, in the throes of yet another winter, I’m sitting at my computer on a cold Tuesday evening, with the sound of my wombfruits and the smell of over-cooked tator-tots drifting through my home, writing to you. And I’m happy. Not in the contrived my-therapist-tells-me-to-use-positive-words way. Or in some patched up but still broken way (though, let’s face it, we’re all a little broken, aren’t we?). But in the real way. In the way that we convince ourselves doesn’t exist when depression grabs us and swallows us whole. This happiness is quiet. It’s knowing. It’s rooted in my marrow. Despite the straight-jacket-ness of a depressive-disordered person’s hardwired bio-chemistry, I have found happiness again.
The point of this soliloquy, though, darlings, isn’t that I’m happy, though that is a topic we can get to another time. What matters today, right now, is that I am here. That I am not afraid to talk about where I’ve been or what I’ve been through. I’m not going to pussyfoot around it anymore, or avoid telling people that depression is a thing. It’s real and tangible and visceral and life-threatening. I’m not going to deny that it’s a part of my life. Like my big teeth or one squinty-eye, or wobbly bits, it’s with me now. It’s who I am, but it does not define me.
Since Robin Williams’ death it has become increasingly important for me to tell people that I battle depression. I want to decrease the stigma and get people talking about it. I want to answer their questions and let them know that it’s the wicked siren of disease, luring in any willing victim. Singing beautifully, hauntingly, desperately towards us, calling us home.
I hope that sharing my story can strengthen the resolve in others. In you. To fight like hell. To battle. To tell depression to FUCK OFF. I want to remind you that you’re here. You’re beautiful and alive and perfect. Sure, you feel broken and flawed but trust me, you’re flawless. I want you to know, I need you to know, to believe and breathe and become the truth that, more than anything, you are not your scars. You are not the lies you tell yourself. You are not what depression carves you up to be.
There’s a forest through the trees darlings. Contrived as it sounds and trite as a #soblessed humble brag, but true nonetheless, things do get better. Sometimes they get worse again for a while. Sometimes it’s a rollercoaster. Sometimes the rollercoaster is exhilarating and perfect and everything-it-was-ever-meant-to-be-wahooooeeeee! Sometimes it sucks.
I can’t make you promises. I’m not going to pretend I can, or that I have all the answers. I have only a few. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are all made of stories. Some are linear, while others are jagged and rocky, a cacophony of sound of movement and imperfection. I know that whatever our paths, whatever our pasts, in this moment, we are all infinite. We are boundless. We have everything in front of us, even if it’s too dark at times to see it. I know that self-love and self-care is hard work. It’s the hardest work. But it’s the most important. I know that reaching out to others is the scariest thing ever. Being vulnerable is like being on the 50-yard line of the Superbowl and singing the National Anthem naked. But I know that asking for help, or someone to talk to or sit in a room with you while you watch Hoarding: Buried Alive or sketch or eat your feelings or do something, anything, that makes you feel saner than you’re feeling when you want to give in or give up or scream or cry, is crucial. We are not islands. We are tribal creatures. Find your tribe or lurch out towards the darkness where we all reside and call on them. Call on us.
If depression has taught me anything, it’s that the rules it writes for our lives aren’t etched in stone. They are malleable. Fragile. Tactile. Their existence depends on one simple, delicate and incredibly vulnerable caveat: our willingness to follow them. After fifteen years and three bouts of depression I think I’ve learned most of the rules.
I’m ready to start breaking them.
Today marks three hundred and sixty some x’s in the “WIN” column for those of us still here. Three hundred plus times we’ve opted to get out of bed. To breathe. To keep going.
To carry on.
And because sometimes we all need a little extra help:
To Write Love On Her Arms / Free And Above / Reciprocitea / National Suicide Prevention Lifeline / Contact ME / So Worth Loving / The Giving Keys / Link of Hearts
This was helpful to me. Even though I’ve never battled depression per se, I need help at better understanding those all around me who do. I want to lean into that pain with others and not run from it. Thank you for letting us [me] peer in.
Your story is POWERFUL! And your vulnerability ROCKS!!!!! Keep telling and keep sharing….it’s such a closet thing that people deal with and your words matter a whole heap! :)
WOW. It was like reading my diary. THANK YOU for sharing from your heart. I stumbled upon your site for the first time today, and I couldn’t believe you had just posted this. I’ve written a similar “letter”, but archived it safely and secretly because I haven’t been ready to share. But we need to, and I so appreciate your openness. Depression has played a huge role in my life, but like you said, it isn’t who I am. Thank you, thank you. Such beautiful writing. I hope your happiness and peace continue, and I look forward to following your posts of lovely photos and words. xoxo
This is why you’re my favorite human (and my favorite photographer, but that’s less relevant here). You always inspire me to keep going, even when I’m not sure where that going will be.
I really needed this today and I’m so glad to hear that there are times of clarity and happiness in the rollercoaster.
Keep writing. Keep going. Keep blowing all those around you away with your foolproof use of words in all your stories. Your real stories that help me remember that (oh yeah!) I love reading and I know nobody is perfect and everyone has their personal struggles that they are either willing to share or not. Thank you! Thank you for sharing yours.
Thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes I feel strange writing “me too” in response to someone else’s story because no two are really alike and this is your own time to share, but I have to say it here. Down to the details of skiing, writing too much, and swallowing pills over being grounded BECAUSE of a boy. And now I’m the 20-something that doesn’t know where my life is going AND I have the wombfruits and the not-good-enoughs. It’s rough, and every day is a struggle. But the good moments are so, so worth it. Thank you for being here, thank you for sharing your story and your passion of creating beautiful images with us. In a weird way, your life has impacted me (and so many other internet “watchers” I’m sure) and I’m so glad for it.
My life is a story that NEEDS a voice. It must be shared. Told. Come out of the darkness. God has inspired upon my heart for many (plus) years to tell it. it WILL help others in the same way that your story helps other’s. I don’t know where to start. Please pray for me. I’m here. Carry on….