Present Tense

30 September 2018

I’ve been staring at a blank Google Document for a while. About 28 minutes to be exact. Maybe it is writer's block, imposter syndrome, or the fact that I am at a coffee shop and afraid of other patrons looking over my shoulder that is preventing me from starting. All I know is that a blank page expresses my feelings better than any prose possibly could.

No matter what I’m creating — whether it be a design, an illustration, or a blog post — I am always haunted by the voice of my high school art teacher saying “start at the beginning and end at the end” (he was a wise-ass). However, while I ruminate on this demand, an issue arries: I can't even identify the beginning.

Was it last April when three major life shifts happened in the span of three weeks? Was it last August when my grandfather suddenly died, and I moved to Paris a week later? Maybe it was when I had to fly back to the States for my grandmother’s sudden funeral, the last grandparent I had. Or was it before that? Was it my move from St. Louis to Chicago? My transition from high school to university? Or possibly before then...maybe even further back than I had anticipated.

All I know is that at some point in time, numbness overtook my emotions and severed my mind from my body. I stopped truly enjoying things that used to be my raison d’etre. Chronic fatigue seeps through my veins and I seldom wake up feeling well-rested — even after 10, 12, 14 hours of sleep. I hardly crave food until severe hunger strikes my stomach. Negative self-talk and low self-esteem has become my default even though most things in my life point to the fact that I should be proud and confident in my accomplishments. Procrastination and lack of concentration feeds into my negative self-talk because I used to be a diligent worker, and now I’m a lazy good-for-nothing who has just tricked her way into a sliver of success that she can’t handle.

I quieted these traits and attributed it to my personality, despite the inherent knowledge that it could be a symptom of something deeper. But I also kept beating myself up for these strong parts of myself that I thought I could control or change and became disappointed when I couldn’t tame them. Then, I moved back from Paris and began a grueling eight-month journey to today when I sit and write this.

I've been so incredibly busy. I hate myself a little bit for saying that because I know everyone is on the same boat, and I don't wear my tendency to over commit as a badge of honor. The first six months of the year consisted of 20 credit hours of school, a part time internship, freelance work, and traveling. I thought I was staying afloat, but any time I traveled to another city away from my home and work, severe anxiety would strike. The type of anxiety that quietly starts in the pit of your stomach until it over takes your entire body and mind, screaming for you to be afraid of a danger that isn’t even present.

And then, summer began.

I started a new form of therapy right after my birthday in early June. Going into it, I knew that depression was a common side-effect from the early stages of processing grief. Despite knowing this, I continued forward, determined to work on myself and heal.

It took until the end of June for the effects to really settle in. Glum. Gloomy. Blue. Morose. Melancholy. And other synonyms became my constant state of being. I had to force myself to be with friends, and even then, they would comment on my changed state. Waking up every morning was the biggest mountain to climb. Each day would start with barely being able to open my eyes and dragging my body out of bed for a day that I wished did not exist. It got to the point where I couldn’t even do something like watch television because concentrating on that became such a burden, a chore.

Being one who has consistently dealt with mental health issues, I wasn’t a stranger to depression. Nor was I was particularly afraid of it, but this time, it really wrecked me.

Something changed at the end of July, though. Because of the emotionally difficult period I was going through and my affinity for Radiohead — whose music became my default coping mechanism when I needed validation for the deep feelings I was experiencing— I traveled to Detroit to see them perform for a third time that month.

A shift happened during that Sunday night show. I can’t tell you what triggered it or what made my mind realize this — maybe it was the culmination of months worth of pain and the music I associated with it. But in that moment, I realized that my depression was larger than the two months of this summer, and it was larger than the past greuling eight months.

I had been depressed for over two years.

Dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, is a continuous long-term (chronic) form of depression. Due to the chronicity of symptoms, people who suffer from this sometimes feel like persistent sadness is just part of life. Symptoms may include insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue or low energy, eating changes (more or less), low self-esteem, or feelings of hopelessness. Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions are treated as another possible symptom.

But that isn’t all. I later learnt that it is possible to experience "double depression,” or the occurrence of episodes of major depression in addition to dysthymia.

So there it was. I was experiencing double depression.

After the concert ended, I went back into my car and cried harder than I had in years. I cried for the inherent loneliness I felt. For the grief that is so deep within me but is covered in shame. For how hard I’ve been trying to stay afloat. For the realization that the music I had just experienced was literally the only thing I had to aid suffering. It felt like years and generations worth of pain and grief were released during that sad but sacred moment in my car.

I wish I could tell you how long I spent crying. Maybe it was 28 minutes. Maybe it was only eight. But it felt like an eternity.

The next morning, I drove back to Chicago. Crying intermittently. Ready to move forward.

A few weeks later, I talked to a psychiatrist and got on antidepressants. I moved through August doing the best I could, even though I knew my best at some moments wasn’t what those in my life needed. But I went to therapy twice a week. I woke up every morning, clothed, fed, and cared for myself in a way that no one else would. I showed up for myself in ways I couldn’t imagine, and I am so thankful for that.

Now it is September, and it is the start of a new season. Zoloft is starting to kick in and so is the cool weather. Each day is different. Healing isn’t linear, nor does it look pretty. Some days, it looks like sitting on a stranger’s stoop because the weight of my grief is too much for me to move. Other days, it looks like being filled with an abundant joy while swimming in Lake Michigan.

Depression is a cruel and severe illness. Any mental illness is, really. For it is invisible. It leaves no scars, no blood, no bruises, but it slowly breaks down your mind and spirit. Yet, you’re expected to carry on, and act like business as usual when it feels like your world is crashing down. But it is possible to move past this pain. Many days, I don’t believe it myself, but deeply know it to be true.

I write this because I refuse to hide the broken but honest parts of myself just to make others feel comfortable. I actively choose to combat the shame I am experiencing by placing it out in the open for anyone to see. I am no longer going to hide my grief in the closet; I am going to take it out dance with it. I choose to be vulnerable so that others may connect with my situation and feel validated. So that someone, maybe just one person, will read this and feel less isolated.

If one thing is for sure, it is this: mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter how much wealth, intelligence, fame, power, or even internet followers you have. It can, and will, affect anyone.

I’ll leave you with this Radiohead song that has run parallel with my grief the past few months. It’s beauty and has honesty brought me to tears in many low moments, and hopefully it may resonate with you too:

This dance
This dance
It's like a weapon
It's like a weapon
Of self defense
Self defense
Against the present
Against the present
Present tense
I won't get heavy
Don't get heavy
Keep it light and
Keep it moving
I am doing
No harm
As my world
Comes crashing down
I'm dancing
Freaking out
Deaf, dumb, and blind
I won't turn around when the penny drops
I won't stop now
I won't slack off
Or all this love
Will be in vain
Stop from falling
Down a mine
It's no one's business but mine
That all this love
Has been in vain
In you I’m lost
In you I’m lost

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