On Depression, Need & Difficult Things

Lotus by Bahman Farzad

Lotus by Bahman Farzad

There are things that I haven’t written about because they’re too personal. Depression is one of them. For me, writing about depression is harder than writing about sex because, regardless of how much I love it, sex is something separate from myself. It’s something I do and enjoy. It doesn’t form my foundation. Depression does.

Depression made me who I am. It put me on different paths than I might otherwise have taken. It made me grow in crooked, creative ways. I don’t know who I’d be if depression hadn’t forced me to struggle with myself but, in the end, I like who I’ve become…most of the time.

I’ve avoided writing about depression for a lot of reasons, all of them hazy and complicated. Then, last week, I received an email from someone in response to a few of my posts. It was a good email – a lot of time and thought had clearly gone into it, but one part, in particular, stayed with me. Towards the end of the final paragraph, the person wrote:

“You have so much perspective. You must come from a very emotionally privileged place. I wish I did.” (Quoted with permission)

Reading that saddened me because the emailer seemed to be saying that they lacked a quality they could not have. It also made me call into question how I’ve presented myself in my writing. I know that depression (and the skills I use to manage it) inform everything I write. It even effects my style – I’ve learned to distill my emotions and I try to do the same with my thoughts when I write – but that doesn’t mean any of this is apparent to anyone else.

In a bit of comic timing, that email came just as I was tipping into a depressive episode that I am still enjoying (and by “enjoying” I mean dealing with) now, even as I write this. The timing made the subject inescapable, so I decided to write about it because that’s what I do.

In one way, the emailer was right – I do have a lot of perspective, but it’s not because I come from a place of emotional privilege. It’s because I don’t. I had my first anxiety attack when I was six and continued to have them into my twenties for reasons I won’t get into here. My parents didn’t know what anxiety attacks were, let alone that a child could have them, so once it was established that I didn’t have asthma, they encouraged me to stop worrying and left me to my own devices. Though well-intentioned, I internalized this as a rejection. Get enough of that as a kid and you get fantastically depressed. Which I was.

Fast forward to university. I started my first semester strong, but by the time the holidays came around, I was deep into my first depressive episode. When I came home for winter break I was way too thin and I slept ALL the time. My parents were worried (because they really did care), but when the doctor said I was anemic, they got me iron pills and ended the conversation.

I flew back to New York and the depression got worse. Eventually, I saw a counselor who diagnosed me in one session, which was a relief because I finally had a name for what I was trying to deal with. I was so relieved that I called my parents to tell them, but they glossed over it. They didn’t know what to do with “my problems”, so they acted like I had the flu and hoped I’d “feel better soon”. I didn’t – not for a really long time.

What surprises me even now is that I didn’t feel ashamed, despite my parents’ reaction. I felt anger, hurt and frustration, but never shame. What developed instead was the conviction that this was my problem to deal with. The worst thing I could do is need someone’s support. Needing became a dangerous thing.

As a result, I built an emotional scaffold that allowed me to function superficially while limiting access to my real (depressed and messed up) self. I dismantled that scaffolding a few years ago, but the impulse to withdraw is still something I struggle with because needing is uncomfortable for me. It is an awful thing to need something desperately and have that need denied. As a result, I made myself into the kind of person that other people need, rather than allowing my own needs to have a voice. Even now, needing someone or something does not fit my self-image.

The other reason I learned to withdraw was that, for a long time, I felt out of control. There are different kinds of depression. Mine is chronic, which means that sometimes my neuro-chemistry get wonky and I get depressed, even when everything is situationally great. The fact that depression is at least 60% physiological for me was difficult. I would get irrational, unreasonable and short-tempered, even on medication. I suffered, so I made everyone around me suffer too. Finally, I got tired of being bad for people, so I hid through episodes until I could put on my public face.

Now, at 37, I have an easier time of it. There are a handful of people I talk to when I’m heading into the depths but, for the most part, my depression is under control, even when it’s bad. I run 5-6 days a week and have done for years, and I have a mindfulness practice that keeps me balanced even when I’m in rough emotional shape. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard, but I’ve spent so much time cultivating rationality, reason and calm, that those things are reflexive to me now. Which brings me back to the emailer….

The perspective I have is hard won, which is really good news. Because it’s the result of work and not luck or privilege, it’s attainable, even if you’re a hot mess (and baby, I was a hot fucking mess). That said, maintaining my equilibrium is active, daily work – work that I’ll have to do for the rest of my life. No matter how much I achieve, my greatest accomplishment will be getting and keeping my shit together. It is, hand’s down, the hardest thing I have ever done, and the most valuable thing I will ever manage.

So please, please understand that when I write about difficult things, it’s not from a pedestal. It’s from down in the muck. My roots are in mud and depression and self-loathing and disgust, and it took an act of will and a concrete reason for me to grow up out of that. Buddhists use the lotus flower to symbolize that process of digging your roots into the blackest parts of yourself, and allowing something beautiful and resilient to grow out of it. That is what I’m trying to do. If I’m successful, that will be the metaphor for my life.

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26 Comments

  1. @Mariejeanne26Ff

    June 30, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Thank you for writing and sharing this post, it is a valuable insight into this illness, and comforting to read that you have found a coping mechanism. I find it positive and inspirational, and as always, beautifully written.

  2. Wow, this is such well-reasoned, thought-provoking piece, especially given that it sounds like you’re having a rough time of it at the moment. I hope you feel better soon. x

  3. This is a powerful piece of writing, Malin. I’ve had bouts of depression but they were situational (car accident / a long way from home and homesick) thankfully it’s not a long term issue for me. However, I have close family members and friends who do have to deal with it as a part of their life and it is bloody hard. It’s also a sad fact that a lot of people have no idea how to react to it, talk about it or help out with it. It is easier to ignore it or pass it off as a ‘physical’ problem “you’re just not feeling well” etc. This attitude is often born from ignorance more than anything, but it can be damaging and blatantly more information / education is needed about the subject.

    I think it is also worth mentioning that supporting someone with depression is hard work too. It is important for the caretakers to be mindful of themselves too.

    I wish you well in your journey towards your beautiful, blooming lotus flower 🙂

  4. Oh, Malin. I love, love, love this very personal and brave reflection you’ve shared. You do write with wonderful perspective, and as your friend, I know you actually have immense perspective too—and it’s evident you’ve worked hard to gain and control that. I love your lotus metaphor and I believe you will achieve that in your life, just from what I’ve seen in this span of knowing you. You are wonderful, love. Thank you for sharing this with all. XOXO-Jade

    • Thank you, Jade – for your beautiful comment and your support and for being who you are in my life. I’m so lucky to have you it’s ridiculous. xoxox

  5. as always, and what i always love about your writing is that you write about yourself honestly and eloquently…

  6. Well, there are many lessons to be learned here! Especially about that certain kind of bitter self deprecating perspective that would allow you to suggest to someone that they must come from a place of emotional privilege. Hmm.

    I have all the the stymied need and none of the independent resourcefulness, if that makes any sense. I admire you so much for developing these coping skills. I’d come to your class, Malin!

  7. Wonderfully put…
    And, I believe will resonate with many, myself included.

  8. As commented somewhere else, we never see all of a person, never understand everything that makes a person who he or she is. Each of us have our histories, carry the baggage with us from our childhoods and know that many things have make us to what we are today. Thank you for sharing this, Malin, for baring your soul in this. It made me look at my own situation… at not being as strong anymore as I was, for living under years of stress… and it made me realize that the changes I am about to make for me, are necessary. They’re necessary for me to find my balance again, and for me to heal as good as possible.

    Thank you for this post.

    Rebel xox

    • Thank you, Rebel. Your comment means a lot to me. It can be so hard to make the changes we have to make, especially when it’s a matter of needing to find balance and restore a sense of equilibrium. I hope the changes you’re making go smoothly and that the healing process helps you find what you want and need. Sending you many hugs. And thank you again.
      Malin xxx

  9. I think you are a remarkable person Malin, the woman I know is strong, passionate, intelligent, gentle, caring, inquisitive, fun, sexy and kind and I love her very much for all those things and for this; The ability to show herself, her vulnerabilities, her struggles, her truths. I am proud to know you and call you my friend.

    mollyxxx

    • Thank you, Molly. I love you too. I feel so lucky to call you my friend. You just made me tear up in a very, very lovely way. You are wonderful. xxx

  10. Wow. This WW prompt really brought out some beautiful, passionate, vulnerable responses…like this one! I am so impressed by your ability to talk through such a difficult mental health issue. I avoid talking about it, as well. It shows what a stigma mental health carries with it. The more we talk about it in healthy ways like this, though, the more the world will hear…especially readers (like your emailer) who may need to hear it, to know that they are not alone. I think it’s necessary and healthy. And it amazes me how many fabulous writers are dealing with depression and bipolar disorder. Thanks for sharing! Such an inspiring post. xoxo, Brigit

    • Thank you, Brigit. It’s a difficult thing because everyone seems to experience it a bit differently while sharing a lot of common ground. I’m happy the post resonated. xx

  11. I’m so glad you decided to share this. It took bravery. *Hugs* xox

  12. “I made myself into the kind of person that other people need”

    Wow, did that resonate.

    Thank you for sharing yourself so freely with us, Malin. One of the commenters mentioned taking a class from you and I happily concur. Your words consistently help me examine myself, my history, and my desires. It’s a beautiful power you have and I love you for it.

    • Thank you, Maria. I’ve tried to reply to your comment five times and I haven’t been able to figure out how to tell you how much what you said means to me. I love writing because it’s a way for me to try to connect meaningfully with people. It feel like we’re all just trying to muddle through, and one of the lovely things about essays and stories is that they can help us see that we’re not muddling through alone. What you wrote just makes me feel like I’m on the right track and I’m very, very grateful. Thank you. xxxx

  13. I can relate to just about every word. For me, it started in my teens. I hate it yet it is fundamental to who I am, I would literally be a completely different person, if I didn’t have this illness.

    There is always light beyond the darkness, but as sure as night follows day, there is all ways darkness beyond the light.

    I’ve often wondered if there is a reason so many of us in this particular blogging community suffer. Does it influence our writing or is it that were used to discussing so called taboo subjects openly, and for some, talking openly about mental illness is even more of a taboo than talking openly about sex is.

    Painful as it is, we live with it, because even when we can’t see it for ourselves, life is too precious a gift to be squandered.

    Perhapps, because our lives are so full of sadness and darkness, we have a greater understanding and perception of beauty and the true value of happiness.

    You are, however, never alone.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    KW

    • Thank you, KW. I’ve often wondered the same thing. Why do so many writers and creative people seem to have depression and / or anxiety disorders? Or maybe you’re right – maybe more people than we realize suffer from depression but people in the kink, sex blogging and creative communities are just more comfortable talking about it. Either way, I completely agree with you – life is precious. One of the most frustrating things about depression is that it can so often keep you from engaging life as fully as you’d like, but struggling through it is worth it. There’s so much beauty and goodness, even when getting to it is hard.

      I like what you said – “Perhaps, because our lives are so full of sadness and darkness, we have a greater understanding and perception of beauty and the true value of happiness.” Depression is a double-edged sword, but that greater understanding is quite a gift. Thank you again.

  14. Thank you for sharing this. I too began depression as a child (first attack at 6) but in my late 40s I discovered that I have a condition (congenital) that as well as some obvious physical problems, means sufferers are 20 times more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and panic disorders. It involves wonky (good word) adrenaline as well as lots of other things, so it means I find sleep difficult. The amount of times I’ve been told to just relax etc… Turns out that while meditation and so on can help a bit, they don’t help as much as they would someone without the condition. I’ve learned to manage the depression and anxiety, mostly, but sometimes it’s very hard to carry on.

  15. You and I seem to be on similar tracks, and with a similar timetable. I’m going to say one of those things I hated people saying to me when I realised how broken I was and that I needed to dismantle things and start again: “but you seem so together” 😉

    It’s never puzzled me that creative people seem more prone to depression – or that depressive people seem to be creative – because this is, after all, the brain we’re talking about. We know less about how it works than we do about planets in other solar systems.
    But we do know that some of the chemicals involved with how we feel affect all kinds of others things – serotonin affects digestion, sleep and so on, which is why depression in some people, and certain anti-depressants, affect those things too. Is it that big a leap to say the chemicals and parts of our brains involved in mood also have some sway over our desire to make and do?

    That’s almost beside the point.

    This is beautiful. It says so much about what it’s like living with another version of ourselves, learning to need in a way that doesn’t overwhelm us or the people we turn to, learning to lean on ourselves when others can’t help.
    It is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and will have to keep doing, and I am awe of people who manage it and so much else at the same time!
    To me, you’re one of them.

    • Thank you for this comment. It seems like depression is slightly different for everyone, so it’s kind of wonderful when you find that your experience with it is similar to someone else’s – especially the need dismantle things and start from scratch. It’s such a hard thing to do – I suspect I wouldn’t have attempted it if I had been less broken! Thank you for sharing your experience – you’re right we do seem to be on similar tracks. I’m glad we’ve gotten to the point as a culture where we can start talking about it. xx

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