Naturally, because I am me, my plan went awry. The day after I wrote my last post, I spun into a depression deeper than the one I was already in, and a few days later, I had an official diagnosis and a prescription.
It's funny how much it affects us to hear the truth, even if we think we already know it. I've been depressed, on and off, for roughly six years, but without a medical professional's professional opinion, I could easily pretend like I was fine. So I did. For six years.
But when I went to the doctor two weeks ago, on a Friday, I showed up ready to talk. Or, at least, write. On my sign-in sheet, I checked the box that said I'd been feeling ANXIOUS/DEPRESSED. Both/and.
The nurse did the depression screening, one that I later discovered is the standard way to check for clinical signs of depression these days. It asked how often I feel certain things like hopeless, how often I have no interest in doing things, how often I feel like a failure, how often I feel I'd be better off dead. I answered "nearly every day" to all of these questions, still thinking it was normal and not a big deal until the nurse paused and said: "We're going to get you some help."
After that doctor's appointment, on a Friday, I couldn't handle anything all weekend. I laid around even more morose than usual. Something about being told that my depression was real and it was serious—there was no debating, my doctor was sure, no "maybe you're just a bit sad right now," just "let's try this medication"—made me hurt.
But by far the strangest thing about starting antidepressants is constantly trying to gauge progress. Whenever I have a thought of death now, I wonder, Am I thinking about death more than usual? Less? The same amount? Because, of course, a cruel side affect of antidepressants is sometimes an increased desire to off yourself. That I'm anxious about potentially increased suicidal tendencies is perhaps a sign that my meds haven't fully kicked in yet.
So needless to say, I haven't accomplished much of anything. I can't write, because I feel the weight of not-writing anxiety on my gut when I start getting words out (including right now).
I can hardly read, because I can't concentrate, and even when I can, I almost always forget everything immediately.
I have been reading Rebecca Schiff's marvelous short story collection The Bed Moved when I can put my mind to it. In another circumstance, I'd have finished it in a sitting or two. But with this compromised memory and attention span, it's taking me a bit. I love the book; I love the ways she plays with words and puns to make such carefully pinpointed observations. My favorite, from a story about a girl who writes for the school newspaper, talking about the pressure to be impressive and figure shit out: "We lie in applications. We lie in interviews. We lie everywhere but on top of each other."
But, honestly, I'm mostly doing the work I have to do and watching a lot of Sex and the City. This is my first time watching through the show, and though it's very obviously nearly twenty years old sometimes, I'm still enjoying it a lot. I'm enjoying it even though it's all about sex and friendship, two things I can't really be bothered with right now, though I wish that weren't the case.
Sometimes it's enough, just for a while, to watch others have fun in a way that you can't. I can't help but wonder if I'm wasting my life. But right now, there's not much I can do about that.
My anxiety has been ba-a-ad lately, in particularly mundane ways. Riding in the passenger seat Saturday night, I imagined oncoming traffic swerving into us, hitting us head-on, killing me instantly. I was up until Sunday morning’s ungodly hours fretting about the cat pee in the carpet in the second bedroom, imagining thousands of dollars charged by the rental office.
I used to think studying abroad three years ago was my first brush with anxiety. The acute nature of that anxiety was certainly new to me—every moment I thought I was going to die—but I was wrong to think anxiety was new to me altogether.
As a child I would lie awake imagining our house catching fire. I, however, made no contingency plans to enact in the event that my walls met flames. My only defense against this invisible blaze was my hands slapped together, my eyes closed, praying in whispers to a god I wasn’t even sure was up there. For all I knew, my prayers stopped at my ceiling. But adults told me he existed, so it had to be true.
I was a staunch rule follower. My mom used to tell me that she always knew when I was misbehaving—that mothers had a sense for their children’s wrongdoings—and though I knew this was scientifically impossible, some part of me believed her. I feared disappointment, so I was the best kid possible, always, whether or not adults were around.
Like, the first time I tried alcohol, I was 14. My best friend and I snuck vodka from the cabinet above her fridge and mixed it with ice-cold apple juice in small ceramic mugs. Her parents both asleep. We took our drinks on the roof, careful not to spill them as we crawled out her bedroom window. I had two sips and couldn’t drink any more. I was certain my mother would find out merely by osmosis the next time I was near her. My best friend finished my drink and neither of us got drunk.
I was always certain I was being monitored, somehow. Watched but not protected. When my grandmother died, family members consoled each other by saying she would be looking after us from above. But I imagined it one step further. For years, well into adolescence, I imagined my dead grandmother up in heaven, her transparent ghost-form standing on a cloud, not just looking down but watching me and reading my mind, reading all the filthy dirty impure reprehensible things I thought about. I imagined her crossing her arms and scoffing, daily, at my disappointment.
I guess this is to say that I finished So Sad Today and it both consoled me and terrified me. It consoled me because I related to it so much and it terrified me because I related to it so much. It's all about sadness and anxiety (she also regularly imagined her house catching on fire as a child, only she made plans to escape) and sex and self and self-hatred. I don't feel better but I feel less alone. Sometimes that's all you can ask for.
Most days, I’m not sure which is closest to the surface: my sadness or my anxiety. Both adored this book. It’s weird and magic and exactly what I needed.
It’s hot as fuck in Portland today. My phone says 93, which means I shouldn’t complain, really, because my phone also says that in New York it’s 91 but feels like 102.
We have a small air conditioner that keeps the apartment reasonable, even though we’re on the third floor. It’s a nice surprise; the last time we lived on the third floor, two years ago, our apartment was horribly insulated, and our AC could hardly keep up.
I’ve not been sleeping well. Or, rather, the sleep itself is fine, but I’m not getting enough of it. My eyes wake up at 7:30 and my body follows suit about an hour later, but my brain doesn’t catch up until around 10.
The same was true today, though it’s Saturday. After a hefty cup of coffee and a cup of jasmine tea, I still felt hazy and part-dead. So I took a short walk around our neighborhood, just long enough for my head to sweat and my legs to feel tired when I ran, light-footed, back up the stairs to our apartment.
On my walk, I passed a juvenile detention center. I didn’t know it was there, but the three fences and the barbed wire and the lack of windows gave it away as some kind of prison. Google told me juvy.
Two blocks away, a sign attached to a lightpost read: “Drive safely! Kids at play!”
Oh the things we take for granted.
I’ve been in a horrible reading (and writing) slump lately. The biggest problem with this reading (and writing) slump is my inability to work myself out of it. I pick up a book (or a pen) and my body releases anxiety from deep in my stomach, like my body is saying, Hey, why are you trying, you’re just going to fail again.
So in an attempt to get out of this, I’ve been seeking out short books, mostly diary-like graphic novels, so I can feel accomplished by finishing something.
Last weekend, I read two graphic travelogues by Lucy Knisley: An Age of License and Displacement.
And today, I read Journal by Julie Delporte.
Reading this kind of work—work that is personal, introspective, and interested in presenting reality as it is—puts me in a contemplative headspace. It helps me get into my own work and get into my own writer-brain, whether that day’s work is deeply personal or not.
I recently took Emily Gould’s Skillshare class on creating a journaling habit. The course is largely inspired by Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock; the course’s project is to write for ten to fifteen minutes daily for ten days with each entry starting with the phrase “Today I noticed” (Julavits starts every section in her book with “Today I”). Naturally, I haven’t succeeded in doing this daily, but the days I have done it, I’ve worked better. In the class, Gould talks about how she often mines her own journal entries for small details or ideas that she can revisit and tweak and place in her fiction. I like this idea, but I’ve found that the practice is more useful for me to simply get me in the seat, to get my brain in that place where it wants to create.
About six months ago, I attended the Tin House Winter Workshop and studied with Dorothy Allison. As a parting assignment, she asked us to think about the things that make us write. Not lofty, self-serving, statement-of-purpose-y things (like revenge or validation or success or reflection) but actual, tangible things that we encounter that make us sit in the seat and get shit done. Things like: albums, poems, books, foods, sexual encounters, films, walks, etc.
I still haven’t sent her my list, all these months later (this is me publicly shaming myself; I will do it, eventually), but I think about the assignment, and the idea behind it, just about every day. I think about it mostly because there are so few tangible things that actually make me stop mindlessly scrolling the internet and write, and, this year especially, there have been so many things that have kept me from writing.
So. This blog. I’m not going to force myself to craft big-idea pieces on here. I simply want a space to get into the ideas for my big-idea pieces, to update progress on those, to hold myself accountable, to talk about what I'm reading and watching and listening to, to write whatever bullshit is happening.
If I’m going to write, I need to write. This—getting words out even if they’re nonsense—is what works for me.
I need to fight like hell for what I want. This is me fighting.