In a blog a while ago, at the tail end of this latest episode of depression, I asked what I was building up strength for. I took the time to heal my psyche the same way I’d take time to heal a broken ankle. But any depressed person will tell you the most insidious part of it is the question “Why bother getting better?” Life sucks, the time in-between depressions feels unreal and dream-like, and the future feels like a punishment. Trying to get better feels like saving up money to pay off the interest, but not the principle, of a credit card debt.
So what was I building up strength to deal with? What was I suppose to learn from the experience?
Well I’ve finally gained some insight. I was acutely aware during my depression of how I wished people would behave toward me and I’ve been folding that into the way I treat people. And then Simone and I were hit with a lot of shitty news at once and our life was turned upside down. And I coped. I didn’t despair, I didn’t panic, I just started figuring out the steps to get us to a better place. My stilted, frozen emotional state allows me to be very pragmatic and sometimes that’s a gift.
What I’ve realized is that I’m not building up strength, fulling my emotional bank account, to make me happier. I will never be emotionally rich, so to speak. But I can build up enough that when other people are down I have something to offer.
When I was coming out of my lowest point there were people, Simone and Chris mostly, who were an emotional safety net and were willing to loan me their emotional resilience when I had none. And it wasn’t that they did anything special or insightful it was just a lot of hanging out and keeping the mood light.
A long time ago in the wake of a suicide a friend said to me “If you want to talk about it or if you want to not talk about it, I’m here.”
Actually what she said was “… or if you just want to see a great pair of tits…” but my take-away is what matters.
So there it is. I pick myself up when I’m down so that when someone else is down I can use the skills I have to help. Not always with big gestures and heavy conversations but with a calm, positive demeanor and little things like just checking-in when someone seems down.
And just to get away from the emotional currency metaphor, it’s not about acting nice to invest in people so they’ll be nice to me, everyone knows I never act nice. It’s not even about being to nice to others for it’s own sake and because everyone deserves it, that’s part of it but I’m not purely altruistic either. It’s about having value. As a person. Feelings of worthlessness and/or being a burden are a big slice of the depression pie so it’s meaningful to me that I find a sense of value in who I am.
I am a depressed and negative person. Trying to hard to change that becomes lying. And then the lie festers and everything gets worse. But if I can find something in me that benefits others then just by definition I must not be worthless.
I’m capable of being strong, protective, and organized for others in a way I can never be for myself. Because I don’t care about myself. And that’s fine because other people care about me enough. It’s symbiotic. I am because you are.
I haven’t mentioned art or songwriting because this is more about the often neglected practical side of life. In fact I’ve been saying a lot lately that I have a lot of people who will discuss deep depression, the meaning of life, of art, who will offer to help in a vague emotional way but when it’s comes to actual, practical, life guidance and assistance I’ve pretty much just got my step-dad Kevin. He is my Saint Practical. Whether you see existential, emotional issues as more or less important than practical issues, they are easier to deal with when you have a safety net to give you some breathing room.
Anyway I was going to leave songwriting out of this but one more person needs a shout out in this summary. Josanna and I had a couple long talks (and several bottles of wine) these last few months. Rather than be part of the safety net she is someone I identified with and who identified with me. A lot of people, a quantum fuck ton, will tell you they suffer from depression and offer advice or try to empathize and it basically never helps. It usually feels condescending. Josanna is the first person who talked about depression in a way that made it clear she feels what I feel. When we talked was the only time I felt not-alone. I don’t have the right word (which is crazy because I always find the word) for opposite-of-alone but I felt it with her. When I talk about letting my guard down I’m sure a lot of people imagine someone acting happy to cover sadness but the real relief of letting my guard down was talking about nothing. The feeling of nothingness, vast black and infinite, at my core. Yeah, I’m sad often, that’s not depression. The brave face I put on, the lie I was living, the shameful secret I felt obligated to hide was how often I have no feelings.
Then Josanna talked about how only some of us can go to that blackness and only some of us can come back and express it in a song or a painting or what-have-you. And it reminded me of my sense of value as an artist, expressing things for those who have a hard time articulating their own emotional awareness.
But like I said this post, this revelation is more about the practical. I’ve known about my value as a songwriter for a long time and when I was deep into the depression I didn’t have the motivation, discipline, or creativity to write. I’m just starting to feel inspired again, in fact.
So the new work-year is kicking off at the gateway and we’re still getting our feet under us and Simone have packed almost everything we own in the last three days and have yet to find an apartment to move into but I feel good, there’s a lot of challenges for me to rise to right now and I don’t feel overwhelmed.
I feel capable.