Tag Archives: depression

Naked, Drunk, and Writing

When I was a kid it seemed so much easier to get words down on paper. I had impressed my fifth-grade teacher with sunsets described in brilliant hues and that had planted seeds of hope that one day I would be a writer. I carried a journal everywhere I went and scribbled notes about affectations and read the dictionary to broaden my vocabulary. Perplexity was my favourite word.

In grade nine I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, at the encouragement of my English and Humanities teacher. The workshops were forgettable and overpriced but I convinced myself that I was a real writer in a room full of other like minds. There was a poetry workshop in which the guest writer literally told us to look at random objects in the room – ceiling tiles, table legs, coffee-stained nylon carpeting – and compose a poem. My inner asshole scoffed at the joke of a class but I maintained a polite facade in the interest of feeling like an artist.

In my senior years of high school I took on the role of writer, editor, and copy editor for the student-run school newspaper. ‘Saders Ink: the brain child of the intellectual minority student populace. The publication was mostly a place for the honour roll students to bitch about socio-economic inequalities; thus, it was a flop of a project. It turned out the stoners didn’t care much about our political ramblings. Enthusiasm waned and the newspaper just… fell apart.

I didn’t write much after high school. Years passed and life did what life does best and eventually I accepted that I was never going to be a writer. I turned away from anything remotely related to the creative writing community out of self-preservation and focused on logic and fact and method. I was devoid of expression. I landed a job in accounting and clung to the comfort of the process like a life raft. I had never really made peace with my non-future as a writer, because you can’t really make peace with something that you avoid, and soon the wound began to ache in an almost imperceptible way. Like the way your ears pop when you change altitude, or the taste of yogourt that’s just started to turn. I knew something was wrong but I had no way to describe it.

Some years later I started attending group therapy sessions for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Part two of the three-part group was to write your story as a survivor. I really struggled with the exercise; because I had not flexed my writing muscles in so long, I no longer knew how to describe or even identify my experience as a survivor.

I was emotionally stunted and it had begun to show in even simple social interactions. I could no longer carry on conversations because I simply could not find the words. I was loathe to let people in – as cliche as that sounds – because I didn’t know how to speak emotionally. I was adept at stating the facts of my life, “Hi, my name is Shannon, and I was beaten and molested as a child. How are you?” because I could always count on cold, hard facts. But I spoke about myself as an observer, and that kind of separation from your own experiences tends to turn people off.

Neil Gaiman’s advice to aspiring writers is to just write. He’s got the right idea, for sure. Since I first sat myself down and struggled with writing my first post on this blog, I feel that not only can I write, but I am a writer. I have noticed a marked improvement in the quality of verse with each instalment. I have also noticed one other perk: I feel more emotionally confident and expressive.

So, as I sip at the dregs of my merlot, its black cherry flavour dancing on the roof of my mouth, I form a resolution. A promise to myself and to my readers (because you are the ones inspiring tonight’s 4 A.M. wine-infused blog post) that I will break old habits or die trying. I’ve done my time in my self-constructed prison. 2015 is the year of candor. It is the year of memories. It is the year of ash and blood and graphite and wine. This is the year I stop being a victim of my past and I make it my bitch.

This is the year I am to be naked, drunk, and writing.

“If you wish to be more than a typist of words, you have no choice, you must extend awareness further than society wants it to go. You must travel in the mythic and living landscapes that lie outside of and beyond the statistical mentality. You must enter dark waters.” -Stephen Harrod Buhner

Why My Depression Doesn’t Scare Me as Much as it Used To

** Warning: this post contains mentions of self-harm.

Mind Over Mood. Full Catastrophe Living. The Courage to Heal. Healing from Depression. The PTSD Workbook. Those books adorn one particular shelf in my bookcase, nestled tightly between memoirs by survivors of sexual abuse. This is the collection of books I used to hide behind my mini-library of classics: the terrible tragedy concealed by Homer, Ovid, and Sophocles. I used to think of it as my Shame Shelf. Although the books were designed to be lifelines in long, dark nights, I saw them only as spectres of the past, whispering: you’re dirty, and broken, and can’t let go.

My biggest challenge used to be willing myself to get up out of bed in the morning. When you’re suffering from depression, you feel mentally and physically exhausted. Small tasks sap every ounce of energy and once Important Things That Absolutely Must Get Done are relegated to Things That I Might Do Next Thursday When I Have the Energy. The mere thought of activity of any kind feels oppressive. And decision fatigue? The definitely becomes a thing. So, when I would peel my eyes open in the morning, head pounding and throat dry from sixteen hours of sleep that still didn’t feel like enough, deciding whether I would initiate a day full of exhausting thoughts, decisions, and movements was sometimes too much. It became a daily war: to try and muddle through the fog, or to stay in the comfort of my nest?

I’ve done medications. I’ve been on most anti-depressants that you could list off the top of your head if you know anything about them. I’ve also been on a number of benzodiazepines (which I now blame for my rubbish short-term memory). I’m now on what I consider to be an effective combination of risperidone and escitalopram.

I’ve done therapy, too. I don’t know if it’s because the free and (relatively) accessible therapy options are on a tight budget with too many clients, but I found therapy to be largely useless. One-on-one sessions took 2+ years to land a spot in and were either too preachy (literally, there was too much talk about Higher Powers) or too New Age-y (keep your aura away from me, please). Group sessions often focused on things that weren’t important to me, and participants’ rants were permitted to go on too long by group leaders. It also felt like matchmaking wasn’t done very well – they should know not to put cynical, angry people like me in with cryers who don’t yet know how to identify their emotions. Group therapy is not very effective if not all participants are on the same approximate level.

I don’t know when things started getting easier but they did at some point. Slowly. Each small step of progress would take months – and often had to be revisited due to relapses. It took me two years to stop cutting, only to start again after two more years (and then stop again some time later); but, I haven’t done it in a long time and don’t think I will again. The constant anxiety when leaving the house has been replaced with comfort in knowing that I am just another face in the crowd, and that means no one has to know anything about me. The paralyzing anguish has turned into more of a dull ache at the back of my head that I only really notice when I’m being too still.

What I’m trying to say is, there is always hope. And I don’t mean that in a condescending, embossed-in-gold-leaf-on-twenty-dollar-card-stock way. Do not doubt for even a second that the journey from the hell of depression to stability is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. The moment you start expecting it to magically go away is the day you lose. Recovering is damn hard work; and, if you have chronic mental illness, it is a lifelong journey.

The thing to keep in mind is that not everyone can be measured on the same scale. Learn to take joy in the little victories (for instance, after a week of depression and complete disregard for nutrition, I made a healthy breakfast for myself this morning). Start collecting these little victories so they help stack up against the losses.

Surround yourself with friends. Even if you don’t think they want to hear about it. All it takes is saying, “I feel like crap,” and your loved ones will pay attention in a way that might shift your mood. And if the attention and love doesn’t help, that’s OK, too, because at least they will be there when you can’t help yourself anymore.

Those self-help books? Invest in one or two good ones with exercises and work through them slowly. The key to making it through depression is adopting coping strategies. The good self-help books teach you methods for dealing by conditioning you to practice them on a daily basis. That way, you’re not floundering when it gets bad.

If it’s necessary, keep your local crisis helpline number handy. Have it posted several places in your home to remind you it’s there. Make it a contact in your phone so that you don’t have to look it up when the need arises.

There. Is. Hope. Remember that when you feel like you can’t climb out of the pit, I have faith that you can. Sometimes it just takes a while.