The other day, I posted the following to facebook:
I am probably too old to feel this deeply connected to and inspired by a teen magazine, but whatever. My copy of Rookie Yearbook Two arrived in the mail today. And reading it makes me want to stay up late writing poems and and making bath bombs and doing a million other DIY projects and drinking coffee and eating junk food and talking to people about how much I love Amy Poehler, etc, etc.
Basically, it makes me want to be awake and aware, so as not to miss out on anything, ever, for the rest of my life.
Which is A HUGELY SIGNIFICANT AND POTENTIALLY LIFE-SAVING TURNAROUND because I’ll admit that lately my brain has been all “Ho hum depression. Let’s drink way too much and watch terrible TV shows and let the asshole voices in your head succeed at convincing you that you are a worthless pile of fail.”
I might still be a worthless pile of fail. Or I might still think that I am a worthless pile of fail, at least. But now I’m a CREATIVELY INSPIRED pile of fail. Or something.
I don’t know. The point of this status is that I feel better than I did yesterday because a big colorful book showed up on my doorstep this morning.
With that, I was trying to convey something serious and personal in a way that wouldn’t scare anyone off.
The less rosy and not-at-all-funny version is that I have been really effing depressed lately. Actually, I’ve been really effing depressed for years now (and finally admitted as much in a blog post I wrote about a year ago). At that point in time, there were a lot of things I wanted to do but was afraid to actually try: like dropping out of school and working on an organic farm.
Well, guess what? I’m not in school anymore, and, this past summer, I ran off to Washington State to spend five weeks working on an organic farm (which doubly fulfilled my dream of seeing the Pacific Northwest).
And I’m still miserable.
Now, my knee-jerk response to these negative feelings of mine is to kick myself and say, “Oh, get over it. Quit whining and try harder! Shitty things have happened to you this year, yeah. But you are such a lucky woman– You have wonderful friends. Your parents love you and are proud of what you’ve accomplished. You have so much support and no reason to be this unhappy.”
Which just makes me feel worse about myself because who am I to wallow in self-pity when I clearly have so much?
And that’s what depression is all about: Denying yourself recognition and self-respect. It’s hard–almost impossible, actually–to reach out and ask for help when you don’t feel like you deserve to be helped in the first place.
I have an interesting reputation, based on my internet presence. I sort of turn facbeook on its head by being honest. My “timeline” does not consist of a series of life events that deem me a “successful” person. Instead, it’s a collection of food porn and snarky commentary about Republicans being idiots. But, because I know that I’m kind of a doom and gloom monster, I also try to share my honest observations in a way that’s funny and hopefully relatable. And that, I think, is what makes me approachable, and leads so many people to confide in me.
And so people have said some very kind and poignant things to me. People tell me I’m smart and that they admire me, and that I inspire them.
But there is some kind of fucking block in my brain that keeps me from so much as accepting their compliments, let alone seeing myself as they see me.
So I sit here thinking, “What do they mean? I’m nearly 25, unemployed, and live with my parents. I am the least inspiring person on the planet.”
I know it’s socially inappropriate to fish for compliments, so I politely thank people for their kind words and move on, but I honestly, genuinely do not understand how anyone sees any good in me. At all. Because this depression that I live with prevents me from ever being nice to myself, ever. Not that people notice it. As I told a friend recently, “I’m a failure, but at least I’m a kind failure. And I’m a neat and tidy failure. I clean my room and do the dishes.”
And also (here comes the sneaky, downward spiral of self-loathing again): Why is it that I have a reputation for being so honest when I can’t even be honest about what’s really going on in my head? Why can’t I, if I’m so honest and strong, just reach out and ask for the help I need? Or admit to someone that I actually do not have a sense of humor at all, but instead, use humor to cover up how I’m really feeling?
Because of the sneaky, downward spiral of self-loathing, that’s why.
A couple of weeks ago, I emailed a friend, and hinted twice in my message that I might be suicidal. Saying it out loud to someone I trusted helped immensely. It was straight-up cathartic, actually, and I felt a lot better (and a lot less suicidal!) once I knew that it wasn’t a secret anymore. But then I also felt tremendous guilt for scaring her. What an awful burden to place on someone you love, you know? So then I instantly felt terrible all over again.
Last weekend, a friend of mine, who teaches at SVSU (where I attended college prior to transferring to Wayne State) came down to Detroit for the weekend and crashed at my house. After I got a few beers into my system, I might have let my guard down enough to say something not-so-nice about myself, and (this is going to be a confusing sentence, but) I was surprised to see that she was genuinely surprised by what I’d said. I’d clearly freaked her out by allowing her this glimpse into my fucked up head.
“Amelia,” she said, “You were very well-liked and respected in Saginaw. Still are, in fact. Especially in the creative writing community. Don’t you know that?”
Nope. My decision to transfer schools wasn’t a smart move at all. Why doesn’t anyone but me see that? It was an act of cowardice, because after that rough semester I had, I chose to run away instead of confront and try to fix the problem.
But did I tell her that? No. I just shrugged my shoulders and changed the subject.
So, why am I writing this down now, in a public place? Because seeing it on paper (or on screen) like this makes me realize that my view of myself really is skewed and unhealthy in a way that is potentially dangerous. I’m smart enough to know, deep down, that I’m not a worthless pile of shit. I’m just not healthy enough to really feel and believe it. The only energy I have is going toward self-sabotage.
For the record, my depression & anxiety are basically undiagnosed and mostly untreated. I say “basically undiagnosed” because I’ve been through this before: I know myself well enough to be able to tell what it is. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with Major Depression, and later, Bipolar Disorder. I was placed in a psychiatric hospital in May of 2004, and have tried every anti-depressant and mood stabilizer under the sun.
And by “mostly untreated,” I mean that my hippie self decided to stop taking medication at the age of 17– about seven years ago. And I’m still skeptical of pharmaceuticals. But in January of this year, after I was raped, I started seeing a therapist again. She’s the same therapist I saw in high school, which is why I sought her out. I thought reconnecting with her would be easier than establishing a relationship with someone new. For a number of reasons, it’s not working out. She’s expensive, for one. And not trained specifically in sexual assault and trauma, which is what I really need right now.
So like, I have a history with this shit. And it’s not good to deny your history. (I have read a lot of Howard Zinn in my lifetime, okay?)
But because of the stigma attached to mental illness, I have tried to bury it. I have tried to laugh off my hospital visit, therapy, and need for medication as “This stupid phase I went through as a teenager who was oblivious to how sickeningly privileged she was.”
Which, again, just makes me feel guilty for needing help even though I know I’m loved and well-cared for.
So, you see, it’s a vicious cycle.
I’m almost as terrified to post this as I was to post the entry I wrote revealing that I’d been sexually assaulted by a close friend. Why? Because the stigma is that strong, and has that much influence over our collective thinking. How whiny, obnoxious, and self-indulgent of me, you know?
But ultimately, talking about it–not hiding it–is what’s going to help me heal, and make me stronger.
If honesty is really what I’m best known for, then the only way I can get back to being myself is to be honest. And I’d like to get back to being me again– the healthy, funny, smart version of me (not the vodka-soaked one who spends her nights watching The Secret Life of the American Teenager and counts her dying brain cells with each mind-numbing episode).
In the facebook status I shared at the beginning of this post, I credited Rookie Yearbook Two–the second annual compilation of posts from the best of Rookie, an online web site for teenage girls–for making me feel a little less dead inside. I want to close out this post by thanking Tavi Gevinson and everyone else over there not just for helping me crawl out of this terrible hole I’ve dug myself into, but for creating a venue for honest discussion about all the things society teaches us not to talk about or question. Because of your efforts (and especially because Rookie is aimed toward an audience younger than myself), I believe that we’re inching closer to a time and place where we won’t have to “come out” about or feel ashamed of the things that haunt us.