5:50 am: Alarm goes off. Hit ten-minute snooze.
6:00 am: Alarm goes off. Hit ten-minute snooze again.
6:30 am: Backup alarm goes off. Wonder what you did wrong that the ten-minute snooze didn’t work. Make mental note to pay more attention to which way you swipe the button on your phone, maybe you’re turning it off by mistake. Make mental note to delete alarm and set it up again, maybe it glitched somehow. Mentally bet yourself that you’ll immediately forget both mental notes. Resolve to yourself to get up at the first alarm tomorrow, you have to, your hair is getting greasy and you really need a shower.
6:35 am: Jesus, your hair’s even greasier than you thought. Consider the merits of wearing a hat. Consider that it’s going to be warm today and the only hats you have are hand-knit beanies. Remind yourself that it’s possible to take showers in the evenings, too, dipshit.
6:36 am: Wash your hair in the sink.
6:40 am: Finish brushing teeth and stare emptily into the mirror for a second, trying to remember what comes next. Notice you forgot to put in your earrings. Recall for the billionth time how your friend said that gauging your ears would make the earring-holes look like cats’ buttholes. Agree for the billionth time that she was right, your earlobes do look like cats’ buttholes. Make mental note to put in earrings. Maybe match them with your shirt or something.
6:41 am: Push the actual cat off the bathroom counter for the billionth time, that’s not where you belong silly kitty and you know it.
6:42: Fucking A those claws are sharp.
6:45 am: Stand in front of an open drawer in jeans and a bra, holding a still-folded pair of socks. Debate merits of various tee shirts. Realize tee shirts don’t have merits, they’re fucking tee shirts. Grab the one off the top.
6:45 and a half am: Fuck, that’s what you wore yesterday. Grab the second one. Pull the cat out of the drawer, jesus christ cat what if you get stuck behind the drawer somehow, that’s no place for kitties, you could die or something
6:45 and three quarters: Close the drawer. Open the drawer. Grab the folded socks out of the drawer, you’d forget your damn head if it wasn’t attached.
6:49 am: Finish tying your shoes as quickly as possible. You have to leave in one minute exactly or you’re going to miss the bus for sure.
6:50 am: Realize as you’re locking the front door that one shoe is tied noticeably tighter than the other. Too late now. Fuck it. You’ll fix it when you get to work.
6:52 am: Put in headphones and start audiobook. Realize you never put in earrings. Restart the chapter because your inner monologue about cats’ buttholes distracted you from the story and it’s a good part.
6:58 am: Arrive at bus stop. Smile awkwardly at the lady you lent a cigarette to and made small talk with that one time. Feel guilty that you don’t really want to talk again. She’s got her headphones in too though, it’s probably fine. Maybe.
7:01 am: Check OneBusAway. Scheduled arrival for the express bus, 7:01 am. Expected arrival in three minutes.
7:04 am: Check OneBusAway. Expected arrival in two minutes. Ponder the possibility that people on buses do not experience linear time.
7:10: Get on bus. Try to smile politely, cheerfully at the driver while also tapping your pass on the waist-high reader. Fail at both. Now you’re holding up the line, good job.
7:10 and a half: Try not to step on anyone while walking to the back of the bus. Try not to sit on someone’s coat as you squeeze into the middle seat. Fail at both. Good job.
7:10 and three quarters: Find the one small angle where you can look out the window, without looking too close to someone else’s line of sight where they might think you’re staring at them, but also without cricking your neck for the whole ride.
7:30: Give up and stare at the floor.
7:32: Give up on that and just close your eyes.
7:40: Disembark bus. Adjust shoulder bag to account for the crick in your neck. Walk another several blocks to work. Briskly. You’re late.
7:46: Hold the elevator door for someone just a little too far down the hall.
7:46: Come on buddy, the least you could do is hustle just a little bit.
7:46 and a half: Oh, he’s not going up. Let doors close. Press button futilely a few times, mildly panicking alone in the elevator, until you remember you have to scan your access card because it’s the morning, dipshit.
7:46 and three quarters: Wonder at what time the elevator lets people ride it without having to scan an access card.
7:47: Probably 8.
7:48: Open office door. The lights are off. You’re the first one here. Again.
7:49: Almost 20 minutes late. Fuck it. Make coffee anyway.
7:55: How many different ways are there for an automatic espresso machine to avoid doing its job?
7:56: At least one more. Wonder if baking soda removes coffee stains, or was it just grease stains?
7:57: Use up the last of the creamer. Make mental note to buy more. Remember mental note to delete and re-set alarm. Make mental note to remember that mental note later.
8:00: Do the thing.
9:15: Do the other thing.
9:20: Ugh, almost forgot that thing. Do that.
10:00: Go outside for a smoke. Try not to make eye contact. Someone asks for a smoke anyway. Tell them it’s your last one. It’s always your last one. Hope they’re not still hanging around this block at lunchtime.
12:05: Oh good, they’re gone. Smoke. Buy lunch. Bring it back to your desk because you don’t want to sit somewhere and eat alone in a sea of suits talking about their business-related business.
12:05: Oh good, the suits in the office are talking business-related business. Glance significantly at the empty conference rooms as they part just enough for you to get to your desk. Try not to murder the suit who’s leaning on your cubicle wall.
12:06: Where did you get lunch? Lucky Noodle. It is neither lucky, nor is it noodle. Inwardly kick yourself for the horrible dad joke. Kick yourself because that it’s not the first time you’ve told that joke. Stay so busy kicking yourself that you don’t even care that no one laughs. They’re right not to.
12:35: Wonder, not for the last time, if bamboo chopsticks are compostable, recyclable, or none of the above.
12:36: Compost? We’re going with compost. That can’t be the worst thing that goes into a city compost bin today.
12:37: Pretend to work while you finish reading that article you started over lunch.
12:50: Fuck, that was a longer article than you thought. Decide to skip your last break to make up for it.
3:00: Remember you forgot to get creamer when you were out for lunch. Make a mental note to get it on the way in tomorrow. Remember your mental note about the alarm thing.
3:45: Leave 15 minutes early, because you skipped your last break.
4:15: Wonder how it is that the bus home is so much longer than the bus in. Wonder if it’s actually a longer ride, or just feels that way because it’s at the end of the day. Wonder if time maybe actually is non-linear and timekeeping is just a man-made construct.
4:16: Oh that’s right, the bus is super late in the evenings because fucking everyone in the goddamn world rides it.
4:19: No please, don’t worry about taking up space sir, your elbow between my ribs is quite refreshing and will certainly keep me awake and standing for the remainder of the trip.
4:36: Try to politely, cheerfully wave goodbye to the driver while also gauging the distance between your foot and the curb without really looking. Fail at both.
4:37: Don’t light your cigarette until you’re past the park. People will think you’re deliberately poisoning their children.
4:39: You’re definitely the trashiest person in this neighborhood. At least since the truck with the Trump bumper sticker stopped coming around. Not that you’re actually trashy, you’ve just never seen anyone else in this neighborhood with a cigarette in their mouth. Or anyone under the age of 60, for that matter. Or anyone who looks like they might not own the house with the view of the water that is every house in this neighborhood.
4:40: Oh look, the million-dollar house is up for sale.
4:41 So are two others on this block.
4:42: Maybe it’s me. Trashing up the neighborhood. Scaring the neighbors out.
4:45: Unlock the door. Immediately discourage kittens from scratching at the rug. Encourage them toward the cardboard scratcher literally six inches away. Wonder if catnip really does anything.
5:00: You have the house to yourself for the next couple of hours, you can do anything you want.
5:05: Anything at all. Just… pick a thing.
5:07: Eh, it’ll come to you.
6:45: Only realize you’ve been hate-reading Facebook for two hours when you hear the key in the lock. Greet partner. Suddenly remember that you wanted to knit and write and read that comic and listen to that audiobook some more, you’re at a really good part, and you were kinda planning to surprise him by having dinner ready when he got home. Dammit.
7:00: Watch TV while eating pizza.
10:00: Consider going to bed early.
10:05: Consider staying up late because who cares.
10:15: Fall asleep watching a movie. Apologize to partner. Get up to brush your teeth and get ready for bed.
10:25: What is so sleep-inducing about the couch that is simply not true about the bed?
10:29: Does toothpaste have caffeine in it?
12:30: Try to pretend you’re not still awake when partner comes to bed.
5:50 am: Alarm goes off. Hit ten-minute snooze.
6:00 am: Alarm goes off. Hit ten-minute snooze again.
6:30 am: Backup alarm goes off.
In the heart is a forest.
In the forest lives a beast.
A great grey mane,
a wild white tooth,
my beast has a mouth that will mangle the truth.
In the heart is a forest.
In the forest, a tree.
A great green head,
a wild wide branch,
my tree has a bird no snare can catch.
In the heart is a beast.
In the beast is a growl.
A great deep bark,
a wild death groan,
my beast makes noises when I sleep alone.
In the heart is a bird.
In the bird is a song.
A sweet night song,
in the wild, cool air.
My bird sings a song nobody can hear.
In the heart is a tree,
at the tree lies the beast.
The great sharp claw,
the wild yellow eye.
The beast guards the bird and the bird will not fly.
Anyone who knows me – hell, probably anyone who’s met me – knows I am bad at asking for help. Not just bad at it, really… like, allergic to it. I’m the person who juggles 50 pounds of groceries and the house keys rather than asking someone to carry a bag or two. I’m the girl who drives herself home with a broken ankle rather than call a friend to come pick her up. (Yeah, that happened.)
I’ve just got this weird sort of stubbornly self-destructive independent streak. In a dude they might call it cowboy pride or something. And it’s super bad when it comes to money.
Just the thought of asking someone in my life for money is enough to put me on high-anxiety mode. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. While my parents never really taught me how to budget or plan finances, they were good at telling me what we could or could not afford. I started to feel ashamed to ask for anything non-essential, and pretty soon I just stopped asking for anything. I started working at 15 so I could pay my own way. If I was going to waste money, at least it would be my own.
It got harder as I went through college. My dad got laid off from the company where he’d been a top performer since before I was born. My parents couldn’t send me to a university like they’d planned. The company stocks they were going to use all plummeted in value just before the layoff – that nest egg was essentially gone overnight. I worked to pay my way through community college, and they struggled to help me pay my tuition.
They also took over running a local business -one that was well liked and pretty popular. It seemed like a safe bet. The previous owners, though, had no idea what they were doing. They falsified the financial statements they showed to my parents. The stores were circling the drain when my parents bought them. My family worked their asses off for years just trying to get them to turn a profit. Of course, being the oldest and out of the house, that meant I was on my own financially.
Fast forward to today. I haven’t asked my family for money probably in the better part of a decade. I can’t even imagine starting that conversation. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve been struggling. Between the hassle it took to get into my new place after leaving my husband (the week I’d planned to stay at a friends house turned into a month) and a change in pay schedule at work, I have been emotionally and financially exhausted.
I mentioned to my husband that I may have to quit therapy for a while. It was down to either that or not eating for a couple weeks, since rent and deposit on the new place cleaned me out. My therapist is an incredibly kind woman who takes barter as well as cash – I’ve paid for therapy in pickles and hand-knit scarves before – but I have enough of a struggle just dealing with that bit of generosity. I’d honestly rather just pay the lady. Plus, I can’t pay my student loan or rent in pickles, so there’s only so far that can carry me anyway.
Well. I found out earlier this week that my husband went and did something amazing. He sent a quiet message to as many of my friends as he could reach, explaining my situation, and asking for donations. He told them not to say anything to me, that this was without my knowledge and that I would probably kill him if I found out.
I won’t put any numbers down here, but I now have enough to pay for a month of therapy in advance and still buy bus fare this week. I’ll be able to make it to next payday without overdrawing my account or maxing out the meager bit of credit I have left on my credit card. And I can eat.
This is what true love looks like. It’s not necessarily romance. It’s not flowers and chocolates and wine.
My husband – the husband I left, the husband whose heart I broke – was willing to find me the help I couldn’t bring myself to ask for. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank him enough. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank my friends enough. I don’t even know who pitched in, or how much – and honestly, I don’t want to. It’s all I can do to just accept this gift gracefully and humbly say thanks.
It is so hard to get out of my own head sometimes.
I blame my jerkbrain. That motherfucker’s been having a field day. In the past few weeks, it’s had me convinced of some pretty wild stuff. To the point where I sometimes worry that maybe I shouldn’t trust my own feelings.
I’m not gonna lie, it is really hard to be writing this post right now. My jerkbrain is telling me, “Hey, it’s all meaningless horseshit anyway. Nobody reads what you write. It’s not very good. It’s not very meaningful. You’re never going to get anywhere with it. You should probably just give up. You should probably stop writing. You’re never going to figure out how to write a screenplay. All those grandiose ideas you have, for making queer and feminist media? Never going to happen. You’re an idiot and you have no idea how the world works. The work is too hard, you’re not talented enough, you’ll never make it. Better to just settle into a career you don’t totally hate and call it good enough. Get used to being mediocre, kid, that’s all you’re ever going to be.”
Holy shit. It just keeps going. I could probably sit here and just type out every negative asshole bullshit thought that runs through my head for the rest of the night. And most of it doesn’t even have to do with this post.
I am beginning to quietly suspect that I’ve been depressed for a majority of my life. The voice that I can identify as Jerkbrain now sounds eerily similar to the voice that was talking to me when I graduated high school and decided that a career in acting was just unattainable for me – I wasn’t pretty enough, talented enough, well-connected enough, educated enough. It’s the same voice that told me I’d never make it as a writer, either – not talented enough, educated enough, well-connected enough, pretty enough. It told me I’d better follow this guy around and let him control me and manipulate me, because I’d never find anyone else who would love me – not pretty enough, talented enough, etc. Depression is an expert at self-perpetuation.
Believing in oneself is a learned skill.Believing that you can do a thing, that you are good enough to deserve a thing, that a thing is within your reach… it’s not something you just do. How do you learn to build your trust in yourself? How do you learn to be confident? How do you build self-reliance and self-knowledge?
I guess you just have to practice. Practice being reliable, for yourself and for others. Practice speaking positively of yourself. Practice taking a compliment with grace, without demurring or deflecting. Hell, if it means you stand in front of the mirror and say cheesy affirmations for half an hour, do that. If it means you take on a project or challenge that’s a little outside your comfort zone, do that. If it means you drag your ass out of bed and upstairs at ten o’clock at night in the middle of writing a blog post so you can make yourself some dinner because you know you’ll feel less desperately bleak afterward, do that. Even small steps still take you somewhere.
Because I know this: no matter how hard I believe in myself, I may never achieve the things I want to achieve in this life. But if I don’t believe in myself, I definitely won’t.
There are weird things going on with my heart lately. In the metaphysical place-where-I-feel-feelings sense, not the literal muscle. My physical heart, as far as I know, is doing just fine.
But I’ve got this weird ache. It feels a little like loneliness, but a little like freedom too. I am untethering my life; casting off the lines and floating up into the sky. It’s terrifying. Exhilarating. And lonely. But not necessarily bad lonely – just solitary. I keep trying to tell myself that I need solitude. Time to stand on my own two feet. Chart my own course.
At the end of the day, when everyone who inhabits the spaces of my life goes home to their own dreams and desires, I am left to face myself in the gathering darkness and ask: what do you want? The question is enormous. I was never taught how to make decisions for myself. There was always someone else to consider, someone to defer to.
What do I want? How do I get there? If I acted thinking only of myself, where would I be and what would my life look like? What dreams would I dream for myself?
It’s not like there’s nothing I want from this life. I’ve just lately been realizing that I’ve put my career and professional dreams on the back burner for over a decade while I searched for that fairy-tale romance the movies promised us. Like somehow finding a husband would land me a role in that movie somewhere, or get me a job correcting the spelling and grammar in novels by newly-discovered authors. Funny enough, though, the harder I searched for that perfect relationship the more I sacrificed of myself in order to find it and keep it. Being alone was worse than being mediocre and meaningless and unfulfilled. Somehow.
Don’t think that I look back on the years I spent married as wasted. I learned a lot about myself, about how I function in a serious relationship, and about my limits. I learned how to speak up for what I want and need. I learned how to even figure out what I want and need. I still have a wonderful friend in the man I married, and I am finally at a point in my life where the life I’m living seems authentic and my own.
Sometimes I think it is easier to pair up. It is so much easier to give someone else what they want than to forge your own path and follow your own bliss. Especially if you’re doing it alone. That aloneness can really get to you. It can convince you that you’ll never get what you want. It’s scary to forge your own path without a partner there to share the load. It’s hard to walk your own path, knowing there’s no one there to guide or encourage you. It can be tempting to settle into the path of least resistance instead – to find the spouse, have the kids, dedicate your life to the tedium of surviving… rather than seeking out the thrill of really living.
So there’s this weird little ache in my neurotic little heart, telling me to keep looking for that fairy tale ending. It’s telling me to get swept away. It’s telling me my own dreams aren’t worth following, because I’ll never get them anyway. I am doing my best to ignore it. I know where that leads. Instead I am doing my best to remind myself of the freedom I feel when I’m walking on my own through the city; the feeling that I can go anywhere, be anything. The feeling of being untethered. The feeling of standing on my own two feet. The feeling of floating free.
It’s time to see how far I can fly.
So, an email chat with this lovely lady got me thinking. Why don’t we know how to be alone?
She and I are both going through similar things: mourning a transition in close relationships in our lives, getting used to the idea that we may have to be and live and exist on our own for a while… for maybe a long while. We’re both frightened by the prospect, both nervous about moving through this new world of aloneness.
I spoke with my therapist about that very thing this week. I find myself positioned between my past self and my future self. My past self is young and afraid. She doesn’t believe she can care for herself. She knows she’s going to be lonely. She worries she’ll fall apart. On the other hand, she’s a romantic. She loves and values the people in her life, reaches out when she’s in need, allows others to take care of her.
My future self is confident, comfortable with being on her own. My future self enjoys the people in her life but is ultimately self reliant, needing and relying on no one. She can take care of herself, motivate herself, reach all her goals. She follows her own path and doesn’t make life decisions based on what others want from her. In all honesty, though, this supremely independent future self is also a little bitter, mistrustful of those close to her because she’s learned that others will always let you down. She doesn’t let herself get too attached to people. She’s convinced herself that she can’t – and thus, won’t – trust other people to come through for her or be there when she needs them. So she convinces herself she’ll never need them.
Neither of these women is fully me. They both have strengths and faults. They’re each wrong about certain things, and wise in others. My challenge right now is finding the balance between them.
Bottom line is, it takes a lot of courage to be alone. It takes a lot of trust in oneself, a lot of determination. But being alone is not without its perks. It means the freedom to self-determine; to make the choices that work for me and only me. I think women are often taught to sacrifice their dreams and desires on the altar of Family, Responsibility, or Relationship. There’s always someone else we have to take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, encourage… And in return we’re given the vague impression that it will come back around somehow, that there will be someone to take care of us, watch over us, look after us, nurture and encourage us. I think there are probably more lonely women who are in relationships that lonely women who are alone.
So I will take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, and encourage myself. First and foremost. By myself. Without expecting or hoping that there will be someone else there to do it for me. And when loneliness does strike (and it will)… I’ll do what I need to do to get through. I’ll call a friend. Play an instrument. Paint a D&D mini. Go for a walk. Learn a language. Write a blog post more than a day in advance. Browse the internet until my eyeballs fall out. Develop interests.
I’m good at being a friend to others. Let’s see how good a friend I can be to myself.
So I’ve decided to try and eliminate “I’m afraid” from my vocabulary. As in, “I’m afraid my date will find me unattractive,” “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me,” “I’m afraid of the dark.”
Instead, I’m replacing it with the phrase, “I’m aware.” As in, “I’m aware of the possibility my date may find me unattractive,” “I’m aware my girlfriend may someday leave me,” “I’m… aware of the dark.”
This serves two purposes. The first, and most relevant, is that it re-phrases certain fears. “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me” is a phrase laden with insecurity and anxiety. It’s ever-present; there is no time frame around her leaving. It could happen at any moment. It connotes a desire to hold on, to prevent the leaving from happening. It connotes a clinginess, a neediness, an ever-tightening grasp.
“I’m aware that my girlfriend may someday leave me” is not only a more accurate phrase, but also a calmer and less insecure one. We’re aware. It could happen. That’s kind of okay. Sure, it would suck if she left – but we were prepared. We knew. She’s free to leave, here. We can let her go. And we’ll survive being left.
Or let’s go with an even more literal version. “I’m aware my girlfriend will leave me.” Here we’ve directly swapped afraid for aware and left everything else the same. While the sentence itself is a bummer – she’s definitely leaving, we already know about it – it’s a much more confident voice that speaks than the one that says, “I’m afraid.” In fact, this sentence almost sounds like the speaker is making a choice. The leaving is a done deal, a foregone conclusion – so no use worrying about it or fearing it.
This highlights another purpose: the groundless fears. “I’m afraid of the dark” vs. “I’m aware of the dark.” The second sounds almost nonsensical – almost everyone is aware of the dark. Or what about “I’m aware that darkness may happen.” Also silly. Using “aware” helps pinpoint fears that are not exactly grounded in reason – fears that needlessly hold us back.
That said, here are some of the fears I’ve been wrestling with lately:
I’m afraid of living on my own and failing to pay the rent.
I’m afraid I’ll end up alone.
I’m afraid of being judged and left out of my community.
I’m afraid no one will believe me.
I’m afraid I don’t deserve to be happy.
I’m afraid I’ve wasted my life.
I’m afraid I’ve made a huge mistake.
I’m afraid of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay.
I’m afraid the divorce will be hard.
I’m afraid I’ll lose my friends and end up lonely.
So, to rephrase:
I’m aware that I may fail to pay rent once I’m living on my own. (I will have to budget carefully, work hard, and remember that I have options if I can’t afford to live on my own.)
I’m aware that I may end up alone. (Part of me is almost comfortable with this notion. The other part of me thinks it’s only a very very remote possibility anyway.)
I’m aware that some people in my community may be judgmental and want to exclude me. (That’s life. They’re assholes anyway.)
I’m aware that many people may not believe me. (This is a lot of big heavy news to swallow. It may take some folks time to process. And if strangers don’t believe me, well… they don’t have to.)
I’m aware that I may not deserve to be happy. (Okay, that’s just patently untrue.)
I’m aware that I may have wasted my life. (Also patently untrue. I’m not done living it yet.)
I’m aware I may have made a huge mistake. (Yeah. Wouldn’t be the first.)
I’m aware of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay. (Well, no. If I knew what they’d think, I wouldn’t be afraid of it now would I? But I can’t control it anyway, and I don’t know what they’ll think, so why spend the energy?)
I’m aware the divorce will be hard. (Truth. But I can prepare.)
I’m aware I’ll lose all my friends and end up lonely. (Wild hyperbole and also untrue.)
So there it is. I have a lot of big changes ahead of me, but they’re not quite as scary anymore.
And, yes, all of the above is true. About a month ago, I finally came out to my husband as a lesbian. The story behind why and how I know I am is one for a different time, and telling it will probably involve the consent of a few involved parties. Suffice it to say this is a period of massive upheaval for both myself and my husband, and I am currently re-evaluating nearly everything about my life as he and I navigate what will eventually be a separation and divorce. I am posting this publicly not to gather support or sympathy, but merely to give anyone who regularly reads this thing a heads-up. I do my best to post every Friday; there will probably be a period coming up here where I can neither vouch for the regularity or quality of these posts. I am aware that I could burn myself out on this, and I like this blog too much to blow it off and just let it die. I’d rather take it slow for a while.
If any of you writerly types would be interested in doing a guest post and giving me a week off, I am certainly open to the thought. Send me an email at pennypennybobenny [at] gmail [dot] com and let’s bounce some ideas around.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll keep you posted.
Greta Christina wrote this amazing post a few days ago on how she re-organizes her priorities to manage her depression. It’s a great read, and I think her strategies are spot-on. Self-care is so incredibly important in a lot of ways, and doubly so when you’re dealing with big difficult shit. So it hit me right in the feels when, at the end of the post, she talked about how she second-guesses this strategy of re-prioritizing: how she feels like the people around her probably expect more out of her but she can’t tell if they actually think that or if it’s just the depression talking. She talks about how she doesn’t have a reliable barometer for judging that; how she doesn’t have a clear sense of which expectations are external and which ones are internal.
So, Greta, this is what I think. (Since you asked.)
Depression loves to make you second-guess yourself. Depression loves to convince you that you can’t make good decisions for yourself. There’s nothing Depression enjoys more than reminding you of all the ways you screwed up and what a mess you are.
For instance, when I ask myself, “What should I do today?” Depression answers:
Well, you need to get some writing done, you’re out of backup posts. You were supposed to keep on top of this and always have your writing done a week in advance. It’s been a busy week? Oh, yeah, sooo busy volunteering for extra hours at your part-time job, and going shopping with your friends and going out to dinner even though you can’t afford it. You lazy ass. If you were any good as a writer this wouldn’t be a problem. Plus, it’s not like you’re breaking any new ground – you just read other blog posts and spend 2378 words saying some variation of “Yeah, what she said.” You never have anything good to say, and you’ll probably just end up surfing Facebook anyway. What, you want to knit? Oh, yeah, because knitting is totally a great way to achieve your goals and make money and pull yourself out of this pit you’re in. What a waste of your fucking time. Plus, I know you want to knit yourself a new scarf but you promised your co-worker you’d knit him a plushie, and I’m pretty sure your friend is still waiting on that sweater you told her you’d make for her birthday, and weren’t you going to knit a blanket for that one friend’s wedding? Oh, yeah, good idea, maybe you should just read all day. That’s productive. You should be cleaning the bathroom, you failure.
Depression makes you doubt yourself. It tells you that you’re not good enough. It tells you that if you’re not doing The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World, then you’re being frivolous and stupid. Depression is the ultimate manipulator: it makes you doubt your reality. It convinces you that you’re lying to yourself. Someone complimented your outfit? Psh, they were just being nice. Someone tells you they love you? Huh, they must want something from you. Someone recognizes your work in a meaningful way? Eh, it wasn’t that good, they just have really low standards. They don’t really know what they’re talking about, it’s not like they’re an expert in the industry.
Depression is also really good at making you believe you can’t live without it. It reminds you that you should be humble, that you shouldn’t toot your own horn, that there will always be people who are better than you at everything. It tells you that people don’t really like you; they just act like it because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. It tells you that you shouldn’t ask people for what they need, because then you’ll be sooo needy and pathetic and gross and everyone will hate you. Depression convinces you it’s your only friend. Depression likes to separate you from your friends and family; the people in your life who support you and love you. It convinces you that they don’t really care about you. It convinces you that they only want to take from you; that they’re not willing to give. Depression tells you it’s wrong and selfish to ask your girlfriend to remind you that you’re important to her. It tells you that your friends are busy and don’t want you bugging them just to talk because you’re feeling down. It tells you you’re lazy and horrible for asking your husband to make lunch for you. Depression tells you not to eat the sandwich.
Depression will always try to convince you that your self-care is meaningless and frivolous. That‘s because Depression is a big nasty jerk manipulator who knows that if you start feeling better, you’ll kick it out of the house. It knows that if you spend some time cheering yourself up, you won’t hang out with it anymore and it will have to go find someone else to suck the life out of. So it does everything in its power to convince you that even when you’re doing something that feels good, you should feel bad about it.
Sometimes it’s important to do unimportant things. Sometimes it’s important to waste time. When Depression hits you and starts calling you names, you are right to re-prioritize your life in ways that make it stop. Does it make you feel good? Then do it. Does it shut Depression up for a bit? Then it’s important. Depression is an asshole, an abuser and a manipulator, and let’s be totally honest here: it would kill you if it thought it could. Sure, getting a manicure might not be The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World… but it might be A Small Step Toward Saving Your Life.
And that? That is important. It’s not the act itself – the getting of the manicure, the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread, the going outside or the calling a friend… it’s the significance of the act. It’s the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread because the walking cheers you up and the bread will be a nice treat. It’s the going outside because outside, it’s harder to believe that you are isolated and miserable and going nowhere with your life. It’s the getting the manicure because that manicure means you are allowing someone else to take care of you in a small way, a way that you maybe can’t take care of yourself. None of these acts are intrinsically important or vital to survival… but they are important in the context of interrupting the cycle of depression. And that makes them worthwhile.