Writers on Mental Health gives a window into real experiences to paint a picture of mental health without taboo, stigma or caricature.
Topics include therapy, medication, depression, anxiety & more. Each installment takes the form of an essay or interview.
This past weekend I pinpointed the stupidest thing I ever did. It wasn’t the time I traveled to Paris for a bizarrely chaste weekend with my French then-lover. It also wasn’t the time I got YOLO tattooed on my arm, in Elvish. Nor was it the time I quit a well-paying job at the University of Washington to go work for a lolcats website. The stupidest thing I ever did was not stay on anti-depressants.
Like Monica in episode ii of Writers on Mental Health, my actual personality is excitable. I love a lot of things. Most of them involve me alone in my apartment, but I love them. But every morning I would wake up in a panic that life isn’t a thing I can outrun – it’s an endless sequence of days, and you can’t finish trimming your nails and washing your body and watering the plants and figuring out what to eat for lunch before you have to do it all over again and this was unbearable and paralyzing.
The Manic Street Preachers song So Dead is tattooed onto my knee and contains a quote that’s resonated with me more than any other descriptor of depression: “It’s not that I can’t find worth in anything. It’s just that I can’t find worth in enough.” Optimistic teenage me thought the thing that would finally be “enough” was romantic partnership, so the end of my first serious relationship was not a great time. I was 20, and I got a Prozac prescription.
I still considered life a pretty bad concept on Prozac, but I could get out of bed – and write, and paint, and actually socialize with people. Several months later, a new boyfriend told me I wasn’t actually depressed and pressured me to stop taking zombie drugs. So I did, and I could still get out of bed. I was very proud of this. I got out of bed every fucking morning. I got out of bed and went to work and paid my rent on time. I bought the nice cat food. I was a functioning adult with an apartment and a job and a savings account (who had not managed any significant artistic output since, coincidentally, age 21).
I spent the entirety of my energy, throughout nearly the entirety of my 20s, on getting out of bed. Turns out I’m way more of a zombie when not on drugs.
Two years ago, I started Prozac again. I recently added Wellbutrin, which took the edge off the existential dread I woke up with every morning. I’m writing creatively for the first time in years – my chapbook My Heart in Aspic came out in July, and I have a forthcoming full-length collection with Sator Press. I draw; I’m learning to do handpoked tattoos. I read, a lot. I garden, poorly. I am creatively fulfilled. I don’t feel deliriously happy – anti-depressants aren’t molly, and I’m not doing snow angels on a shag rug or anything. I just finally have enough space in my head for my thoughts, and for my art, and for myself.
I wish I had addressed my mental illness sooner. I feel weird just typing that. The “mental illness” part, not the part about addressing it. I’ve had depression since I can remember and anxiety since my late teens, but there’s that whole climate of how you’re just “sad” and should bootstrap yourself out of it or whatever – after all, you can get out of bed, can’t you? I carry so much guilt around identifying as a person with mental illness... but then I remember that, quite literally, depression is one thing that’s been consistently with me, for more than 20 years now. I have held it in my very body. It is my twin, my shadow, my worst best friend. It is a house I have long lived in. There are few things to which I have more of a claim. So I claim it.