I remember the very first time I heard the word ‘depressed.’ My eighth-grade boyfriend was breaking up with me, and he told me he was depressed because he wasn’t with his ex-girlfriend anymore. My heart was broken, and I cried through the second half of National Lampoon’s Vacation, alone in my room. I wasn’t depressed, though.
I remember the very first time I heard the word ‘melancholy.’ It was my high school sweetheart that first taught me this word and its meaning. He was often melancholy, and I began to feel similar things to what he described. I knew I was different in high school. I liked to be alone with my thoughts, even then. I didn’t have many close friends, though, and those I did have were a lot like me, mired in sadness more often than normal teens should be. We weren’t emo, though. I still wouldn’t say I was depressed back then.
I wouldn’t know depression until college, and then I knew it with a vengeance. It came before the breakup with my high school (then college) sweetheart. I wasn’t happy anymore. I wasn’t happy with him, even though I loved him and he loved me. I wasn’t happy doing the design work that once brought me a lot of satisfaction. I wasn’t happy living with my best friend, a girl who was loyal and honest and very sweet and generous. When the breakup happened, though, I went deep.
I had always been a good student, but I wouldn’t say I was naturally smart. I had to study hard and study often to get good grades. I was motivated until that time, and I had high expectations of myself. My senior year in college, though, I didn’t care to go to class anymore. I half-assed assignments, and when my professors were generous and gave me second chances, I wasted them. I had to drop a class because the 8am Monday-Wednesday-Friday German lessons just weren’t working for me. I started seeing a psychologist. Her notes to my professors helped me walk the stage to get my Bachelor’s Degree. I was on Prozac. My diet consisted of Dr Pepper and M&M cookies. I roller-bladed for hours every day. I lost a considerable amount of weight without trying. I would shut myself in my room every night and listen to “Everybody Hurts” or “Everyday is Like Sunday.” Seriously. On continuous loop. When I hear those songs now, they’re triggers for me, and they have the power to put me back in that tiny apartment experiencing all the pain and rejection and sadness all over again. I began to have suicidal thoughts. I was afraid for myself.
I’m a spiritual person–not a religious person–but that college boyfriend had given me a student Bible at some point when we were dating. On one particularly desperate night, I went through the Bible, trying to find a passage that applied to me. I finally found Psalm 69, and although not all parts of it fit my situation, enough of it did to make it relevant and incredibly meaningful to me. I bracketed those parts, and I read them over and over and over again, sometimes twenty to thirty times a night. I’d pray through tears, worried I’d never feel normal again. I wasn’t sure what normal even was anymore, I’d lost so much perspective.
I credit that little piece of the Bible with saving my life, and I still refer back to it in desperate moments. I’ve been taking anti-depressants all of my adult life. Sure, there were months when I thought I was cured and could forego the pills, but I was always fooling myself, and my mother was always the first to notice. “You stopped taking your drugs, didn’t you?” she’d ask. I’d lie at first. Then I’d get the prescription refilled. Then I’d admit the truth to the woman who always knew me best. The pills don’t cure me. They don’t take away the depression. They just take away some of the utter hopelessness and the weight of the world that tends to crush me without them.
The only times I’m truly happy are when I’m writing consistently. Without it, I become overwhelmed and defeated. I feel worthless, like I’m wasting my life away. I don’t know what it is, either. I don’t know if the escape from reality is what I need? Or if I need to clear out the voices in my head? Or if the release of creativity is as much a physiological need as breathing? I’m not sure. I know the majority of other people don’t face this, though, and therefore don’t really understand what goes on in my head. And that frustrates me even more, at times.
Over the past few weeks, I have felt desperate again. I took a month off from writing, trying to catch up on re-reading so I could get into a character’s frame of mind to start writing again. I didn’t expect to be inundated with so many voices, though; with so many characters speaking to me at once. It’s a literal free-for-all in my head these days, and while I should be welcoming it, I’m trying to avoid it because I don’t have the time or energy to let my characters out. My ‘real job’ has become such a stressor that I worry about things long after I go home at night. This is not what I need in a job, nor is it what I wanted when I took it.
I tell people I can’t continue to do this, and I get empathy, but no one truly understands the desperation I feel. There are moments when I realize I’m never going to get to live the life I want to… and I question my purpose at all. Why would God give me this talent and this passion, and saddle me with other things in life that keep me from doing what I love? I don’t know. I can’t answer that. It devastates me, though. Some nights it consumes me. Other nights, I manage to shut out the doubt long enough to brainstorm or write or market or communicate with readers or do something that connects me to the books and allows me to work toward my dream. I work so hard at it. I want this so badly.
My depression is a part of who I am. As much as it affects me negatively, I know it’s somehow related to the emotional person I am. (I’ve only recently discovered that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person.) I embrace that emotional side of myself whole-heartedly, though, and I accept that depression is a side effect of it. I would rather be this person than someone who’s happy all the time and can’t deeply express or experience real emotion. I didn’t realize what a gift this was until I started writing–or rather until people started reading my books. I accept the gift, though. I want to be able to share it with people… but I have to find a way to overcome the desperation, to deal with the parts of my life I don’t like, and to take whatever free time I have and use it for something productive that makes me feel whole. Sometimes, that means writing. Tonight, it means praying.