The Phoenix and the Crucible

The Arch, Northwestern University

The Arch, Northwestern University

#depression #suicide #sexualassault #eatingdisorder

About once a year or two I find myself here again. It’s been a little over two years now. I don’t live in New York anymore. I have a graduate degree now; the diploma hangs in my office along with the one I got here. I joke that it’s the most expensive piece of paper I’ll ever have, but I don’t just mean the tuition. The cost that diploma carried with it weighed even heavier than my six-figure student loans.

Considering how everything happened, I should hate it. It was supposed to be my refuge, the place where I’d finally be able to be myself. Instead I got almost the full catalogue of college hazards: depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality, disordered eating, sexual assault, sexist shaming and harassment, bullying, homophobia. Almost every adverse event a person of my demographic could experience in college, I did, some of them multiple times.

So now when I think of Northwestern I inevitably picture a kaleidoscope of papercuts that, taken together, tore apart my confidence, self-worth, and desire to live. Getting sexually assaulted and worrying that I’d cheated on my boyfriend. My assailant leering at me across the table at the student group meeting, the student group that wouldn’t deny him a leadership role because, after all, I never reported it. My editor asking me if I’ve seen today’s op-ed in the Daily, the writer of which felt empowered to insult my intelligence because he felt that my blog post was too angry. Losing my best friend when I asked her to stop making homophobic comments to me. My supervisor sheepishly telling me that in their RA evaluations, my residents complained that I dressed inappropriately, presumably to try to get back at me for writing them up when the stink of their pot was so strong in the hallway that I couldn’t ignore it and still keep the job I desperately needed. (“There’s nothing wrong with the way you dress,” she reassured me. The whole thing would’ve been less offensive if there actually had been.) The way the men I slept with treated me afterwards, every single one. (The idea of casual sex is still mildly triggering, and the thought of someone wanting me just for sex is still triggering enough to keep me awake for hours.) The things I put my body through to try to make it look right. Getting groped at parties freshman year; it would be years before I felt comfortable drinking and partying again. Sobbing alone in the snow after a failed exam. Hoping I fucking got pneumonia from it and died. Cataloging all the places on campus where I could kill myself. Winding up in bed with a knife with no memory of how I got there. How humiliating it was to reach out to the one person I had at the time, who could barely conceal their irritation as they tried to make sure I didn’t end that night in the hospital or in a coffin.

I had to stop myself from continuing to write that paragraph, because there are so many of those stories and eventually it would just seem gratuitous. But that was my life for four years. It *was* gratuitous.

What ended up destroying me even more than all that was how casually cruel my classmates were. These people will be your network for life, we were all told. I met plenty of great people, but of course what I remember most is the cruelty. Being emotionally vulnerable and open at Northwestern is all but an invitation for people to gleefully rub salt in your wounds. I don’t know how I managed to not only stop myself from becoming hard and calloused, but to celebrate my vulnerability even louder. This sort of writing I’m doing right now came from that. I do it in defiance of my classmates’ vicarious embarrassment, their averted glances, their ridicule, their patronizing advice that I should become someone else. Fuck you. Instead I became even more of myself.

Yet I can’t hate it. I came out of that crucible like a fucking phoenix. By senior year–the only year I even remotely enjoyed–I had become more or less who I am now, the version you know and love, or at least tolerate. For whatever it’s worth, college is where I finally became someone people could actually like.

(Even now, I question that. Did I become someone people could finally like, or did I become someone *I* could finally like?)

(I feel like almost everything about me now comes from what happened then. I’m so adamant about boundaries because of how mine were crossed. I’m a feminist because of the unrelenting sexism. I’m an anti-racist because no matter how bad I had it, I saw how much worse the students of color had it. I’m a therapist because none of the ones I went to back then could ever help me. I hate casual sex because of how I was treated during and after it. I hate pot because after I was essentially forced to write those residents up for it or else lose my job, they and their fucking frat brothers decided to harass and bully me for it for my remaining THREE YEARS of college. Over a fucking recreational drug. I always think about that when people say that pot is a harmless drug. Harmless to whom? It harmed me before I ever even tried it.)

And you know, maybe I could’ve had a college experience that wasn’t almost entirely horrible and still become someone I respect. Maybe I would’ve still become a therapist, a sex educator, a progressive writer and activist, an unstoppable defender of human dignity and autonomy. Maybe I would’ve. Maybe I wouldn’t have. Maybe I’d be a journalist covering the tech startup scene. Maybe I’d be a professor and researcher. Maybe I’d still be someone great, just in a different way. Maybe there are many paths that lead to the same place, or maybe I would’ve gotten lost in the shortcuts and detours.

That’s why I regret it and I don’t, and I miss it, and every time I walk through Ohio State’s campus back home I remember the full ride that was waiting for me there–the path I didn’t take–and I imagine who I’d be if I’d spent the past seven years in the city that has made me so happy and healthy at last.

I can’t hate it. I miss it like I miss everything and everyone that ever hurt me when I really thought they wouldn’t. I miss what it represented before the dream became reality, and then nightmare. And I miss the parts of it that were truly good. Because for all that my darkest times happened there, it was also there that the worst of the fog lifted for good.

So I walk through the arch with a shudder, but not for the last time: I know I will pass through this place again, and again, and again.

Minding the Gaps

#depression

After finishing grad school in May, I had nothing to do until I found a job, so I came home to Ohio to live with my family until something happened. At first, I was dreading the shit out of this and even had an enormous breakdown on my first night back home, because you know, what’s the point of living if you’re not in New York and all that.

But then I discovered that it wasn’t so bad. I read a lot. I biked and swam and laid out by the pool. I went to Columbus and sort of even had a social life there. Getting everywhere wasn’t such a fucking trek, and people actually had time to hang out with me. The days grew long and the corn grew tall, and I was having a nice enough time to start thinking about why I’d moved to New York in the first place.

(This isn’t some Ohio version of Sweet Home Alabama, especially since there’s no childhood sweetheart involved. Yuck. [But did you know that there are in fact queer women in Ohio? I didn’t.] I may in fact end up staying here, but it’ll be for job reasons, not life reasons.)

I made the decision to move to New York at a very particular time in my life. I was very depressed, I had no sense of belonging or community and few (if any) stable friendships, I was pretty convinced that I would never find a partner who wanted anything other than occasional casual sex, and I firmly believed that no matter which field I chose, work would be a miserable lifelong slog that I would hate. I had pretty much given up on fixing any of the above problems. It just seemed like a given.

Maybe on some level I thought that moving to a place like New York would allow me to finally find the friends I’d been longing for all my life–people like me certainly didn’t fit in in the Midwest. But more than that, I thought that moving to a place like New York would make my loneliness more or less irrelevant.

Where else would I be so utterly unremarkable as a queer progressive Jewish atheist? Where else could I blend into the crowds, even late at night? Where else would there always be things to do, even if I had to do them by myself? Where else could I walk for miles and still not reach the edge of the city? Where else is it socially acceptable to cry on the subway? Where else can I safely go wherever I want without the protection of some dude? Where else could I stay out all night if that’s what I wanted to do? Where else can you go when you have no friends and don’t belong to anything or anyone?

What I honestly couldn’t consider at the time was that one day I might have friends, and communities, and even partners. I thought I had to pick a place to live based solely on how happy I could be there entirely alone. Being alone in New York is better, in my opinion, than being alone anywhere else.

That is one of the clearest examples I’ve ever had of the way depression warps your thinking. Depression made me assume that I would never have these things that I wanted, so I would have to create my life while keeping in mind that there would be these obvious holes in it. Mind the gaps. Move to a city where nobody will notice that you have no stable attachments to human beings outside of your immediate family. Who needs community when there are museums and parks and bookstores?

(Of course, that doesn’t mean that moving to New York was the wrong choice, or that staying there would be the wrong choice now. I may have chosen it for some pretty fucked-up reasons like I will never ever have actual people in my life who give a fuck about me, but the fact remains that New York is an amazing place, especially for a queer atheist. I love it more than any other place I have ever been.)

By the time I actually moved to New York, my actual life circumstances had been much better for about a year. I had friends and partners and communities, and there was no reason to assume I would lose all of them anytime soon. But I’ve stayed stuck in that way of thinking. When I initially contemplated moving to Columbus (since finding work there is much easier) my whole brain recoiled at the thought. It made me nauseous. I imagined driving to work and working and driving home and maybe stopping by Kroger for some groceries and then sitting in my apartment (admittedly much nicer than any I could afford in New York), alone, all night, with nowhere to go because there is nothing to do.

Of course, that’s not how anyone I know actually spends their time in Columbus. They go to meetup groups (or run meetup groups), play in bands and orchestras, go to bar trivia, watch sports, play tabletop games, ride bikes, take classes. Yeah, you probably won’t have that great a time if you try to walk 14 miles through Columbus in one day, like I’ve done several times in New York (alone, of course). There is no Central Park. There are much fewer museums and I’ll see them all pretty quickly. There aren’t a dozen or more indie bookstores, and certainly no Strand. There’s no Starbucks on every corner where you can go read or write alone. It’s not beautiful.

To live in Columbus, I would have to do something very scary, which is actually allow myself to rely on other human beings for connection and fun and a sense of belonging.

Three years ago, depression would’ve said that that’s completely impossible for someone as awful and despised as me.

Now I know better.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

#depression #selfharm #suicide

At some point in college–years ago, now–I remember finding some of my old poems on DeviantArt. I wrote a lot of poetry in high school, but after I went off to college, the ability to do it mysteriously disappeared and I haven’t written a single poem for at least six years.

Whatever ideas you may have in your head about poetry written by teenagers, I was fairly good at it. I preferred to write structured, rhyming poems, and even tried sonnets and villanelles. It was fun. I gave them to partners sometimes.

As I looked over those old poems, I didn’t feel embarrassed or silly about them. Actually, I felt a little terrified, because I noticed something I’d never noticed before: they were completely full of suicidal imagery.

I don’t mean vague metaphors, although those would also be concerning. I mean lines like “I laid down on the railroad tracks / And waited for my train to come.”

Where did that come from? In those years before I ever consciously felt suicidal, why was I putting that stuff into my poems?

And then I felt even more spooked because I realized that dozens of people had read those poems. My partners read them. My friends read them. My teachers read them. They were published in my high school literary magazine.

Nobody fucking thought to ask why the fuck I was writing poems about willingly getting run over by a train? Or falling from a great height? Or going to sleep and never waking up? Really, nobody found that in the least bit concerning?

And then I thought, of course they didn’t. Because that’s Just What Teenagers Do. Because Hormones and Angst. Because They Don’t Know What They’re Saying. Because They Just Want Attention. Because it’s #JustTeenageThings to graphically imagine killing yourself and then put that in a poem that dozens of people read.

And look, I don’t know, maybe plenty of teens wrote poems like that and then went on to have absolutely no mental health problems whatever and live happily ever after. Or maybe they did have mental health problems but they had nothing to do with the thoughts that led them to write those poems.

All I know is, it could’ve actually made a huge difference if someone had noticed that and asked me about it. Maybe a few years later I wouldn’t be contemplating where the best place on campus to kill myself would be. Maybe by the time I was sitting on the couch in my dorm suite, looking over those old poems on DeviantArt, I wouldn’t be on antidepressants (there is nothing wrong with being on antidepressants, but it’s still nice to avoid it when you can). Maybe all of my friendships and relationships wouldn’t have been tainted by depression in some way, maybe today I wouldn’t have laid in bed till 1 PM trying to get myself to give a fuck about anything at all, because years later, I’m still not actually “recovered.”

Maybe I would be giggling as I tell this story to my friends: “Can you believe that back in high school they sent me to therapy over some dumb poems I wrote?” and everyone would say, “Wow, that’s so ridiculous, they make such a big deal out of nothing!” And I would never know what a bullet I dodged, and this, despite all my irritation, despite the money my parents would’ve spent, despite the embarrassment I would’ve felt, would be a victory. This is better than spending years wanting to kill yourself and then living the rest of your life in that shadow. Trust me.

We need to start thinking prophylactically about mental illness. It is easier to help a teenage girl who says, “But what’s really the point of life if I don’t have a boyfriend?” (yes, this is what I said, who’d have thought I’d grow up to be so gay) rather than an adult woman who says, “All of my relationships have been failures, I’m never going to get a job I actually like, I’m going to spend the rest of my life regretting all of my mistakes and also everybody hates me because I’m so sad and pathetic all the time.”

See, the time to unlearn all of these awful ways of thinking would’ve been then, not now.

But it didn’t happen that way, because not one of the dozens of people who read those poems stepped up and took them seriously. “Teenage angst” is a fucking punchline in our culture.

Except I never grew out of it, and eventually nobody was laughing anymore. Least of all me.

~~~

This is not something I’m willing to discuss privately with anyone, no matter how well I know them. If you have a response to make, please leave it as a comment rather than contacting me in some other way.

The Emotional Performativity of Social Work Education

For me, the most stressful thing about social work school has nothing to do with homework, exams, or internships. It’s the constant demand that I share my emotions with near-strangers for everyone’s supposed educational benefit. And if I’m not experiencing emotions at the given moment or about the given topic, I must invent them, because nobody believes me if I say I don’t have any emotions. Moreover, that’s the wrong answer, because if I’m not having any emotions, then I cannot engage in the required “processing” or “reflection” and complete the assignment.

I understand why this is such a large component of social work education. Most people lack self-awareness, and therapists without self-awareness can do a great amount of harm to their clients–for instance, by subconsciously using the therapeutic encounter as an opportunity to get affirmation and then lashing out at a client who fails to provide it.

By nature, I have too much self-awareness. Without intervention, I am too aware of every slight emotion and reaction, every passing thought, every potential reason for those emotions, reactions, and thoughts. I’m constantly weighing possible sources of cognitive bias in my head. I’m constantly modeling how I must look and be perceived by others, physically or psychologically. In its worst excesses, the self-awareness leads to unstoppable rumination, which leads to depression.

The way I have been able to survive depression is by learning to ignore, postpone, or shut down my emotions.

But of course, this is not The Right Way. That would be to just “learn how to sit with the emotions as they come” or whatever, or methodically talk myself out of them every time. Quite frankly, I have neither the time nor the energy. My way works. I am (mostly) happy, I am productive, I am attentive to others, I am (mostly) focused. So what if my methods are unorthodox?

Other helping professionals really dislike this. If I’m distracting myself from my emotions, or–worse yet–not having them to begin with, surely they will all suddenly come back and crash down on me like a collapsing building because I have failed to properly do the work of Processing and Reflecting upon them?

But it’s been years of me successfully managing emotions and that still hasn’t happened. I truly don’t think that it will. The idea that it will is probably a vestige of psychoanalytic thinking.

And yet, my professors and supervisors seem to think we’re either “resistant,” lacking in self-awareness, or else just cold and inhuman if we’re not constantly experiencing a lot of emotions connected to our work.

Something happens with a client and my supervisor asks, “How did that make you feel?”, and I can’t just say that it did not make me feel anything. My supervisor simply wouldn’t believe me. Either I’m repressing it, or I’m being withdrawn and not participating in the educational process like I should, or something else bad.

But I really didn’t feel anything. I generally leave my feelings at the door during therapy sessions. Sometimes I have some feelings afterward, but rarely, and when I do, they’re usually gone by the time I come back to the office the next day.

So I have to perform emotions. “I felt sad.” “Why do you think that is?” “Because it made me think of times when I have experienced _____.” “Well, you know, it’s very important not to overidentify with our clients.” “Yes, I know.” All lies, except the last part.

“Please write a five-page essay about your own experiences with _____ and how that may impact your practice.”

“How did it feel when ____ dropped out of the group?”

“How did you feel when ____ terminated counseling?”

“I’m wondering if that session brought up any feelings for you.”

“How did you feel after watching this video?”

I can’t wait till I graduate and my emotions can finally be mine again.

“I’m wondering if this brings up any feelings for you.” Yeah, I’m fucking pissed off because I want my fucking privacy back.

“How might this impact your practice?” I dunno, maybe I’ll respect the fact that there can be many different effective, “healthy” ways of managing your emotions besides venting them.

“Please reflect on this topic in terms of privilege and oppression.” It is a privileged position to have feelings that are “acceptable” to share. We simultaneously marginalize and pathologize the feelings of women, mentally ill people, people of color, queer people, etc. Our feelings become something to be analyzed and “fixed.” Excuse me if I don’t feel comfortable sharing mine with an authority figure.

Further, the cultures of dominant groups determine which methods of coping we consider “healthy” and which we do not. According to the dominant frame, if I am not willing to share my private thoughts with a supervisor or professor, I’m the one who needs fixing, because there is something wrong with a person who is “distrusting” or “resistant.” No, my ways of managing feelings cannot possibly be healthy or effective for me personally, because they are not what people with authority over me are used to.

And if I’m really not having any feelings, that’s even worse. Then I don’t care. I lack empathy. I’m repressed. I’m pathologically numb. I can’t possibly be cut out for this work, because being a therapist means constantly feeling things on behalf of our clients, doesn’t it?

I don’t think so. I think my ability to keep a clear head in session is actually an asset, not a deficit. Of course I express empathy for my clients, because I have a strong sense of justice and fairness and I know that the things they go through are wrong and unfair. I know that they deserve better. I know that it must be very hard for them. I don’t need to feel anything to know any of that.

And because of that, I never get caught up in seeking reassurance or affirmation from my clients. I don’t need them to get better quickly so that I feel good about myself. I don’t need them to tell me I’m the best therapist they ever had so that I feel competent. I don’t need them to open up immediately, be polite and deferential, stop being so upset because that makes me sad, keep their voice down lest they hurt my feelings.

I’m able to actually just be there for them rather than mentally swimming around in my own issues.

But that doesn’t make any sense to anyone, so I sit in class and in supervision and perform emotions like a good social work student.

Liar, Liar

#depression #mentalillness #gaslighting

When I was a child I was a terrible liar.

I didn’t try it often, but when I did, my parents told me so. For a while, this discouraged me from lying.

But as I got older, lying became less of a trivial indulgence and more of a survival skill. I lied so people wouldn’t know how mentally broken I’d become. I liked to maintain family relationships. I lied to my first serious boyfriend when I was 17, told him I wasn’t an atheist so he wouldn’t leave me.

I don’t like to lie, but sometimes I feel like people leave me with no choice.

I lied to men so they’d leave me the fuck alone. I lied to professors about late papers, said I was sick because they’d never guess the sickness was actually depression.

I lied to friends. Yes, I’m okay. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

I lied to interviewers and employers. No, never about my credentials or skills. But about my feelings and identities, yes.

I lied to lovers, said I didn’t like them “that way” at all, figuring they’d exploit my feelings if they knew about them.

People–primarily men–insist that I should endeavor to always tell the truth because something-something Immanuel Kant. They say that if someone can’t Handle The Truth then I should Just Ignore Them and Move On. Even if it’s my boss. Even if it’s my mom.

When you have a mental illness, lying is often necessary because your thoughts and feelings just aren’t acceptable. Because you get tired of having to explain them to people, only to have them say, “That isn’t really justified though” or “That’s not exactly fair.” I never fucking said it was.

The most frequent lie I make is turning a negative thing into a positive. “Well, the internship wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I learned a lot and gained lots of useful experience for the future.” “Yeah, the party was lots of fun.” These embellishments and selective answers come tumbling out of my mouth so easily now that I’m not always sure that they’re inaccurate anymore.

But I say them because I was never given the space to say anything else.

“Honestly, I really hate my internship.” “Oh, but there must be good things about it too, right?”

“I miss college a lot.” “But it must be so much better to finally be done with it, right?”

People turn my truths into lies. “Come on, it’s not that big of a deal.” “You’re not really bisexual.” “You don’t really think that.”

(How dare you tell me what I do and do not think.)

If you are a white man, I can almost guarantee that you don’t know what it’s like to have everything you try to say about your own experience considered suspect by default, always in need of proof or correction or clear argumentation presented in a bulleted list. It is tiresome, and above all it is boring.

Maybe telling the truth is intrinsically “better” than lying by some measure. Maybe you think I owe it to you. Maybe I “ought” to be strong enough to either argue my opponent into silence or Just Forget About Them And Leave.

Or how about this, instead: I don’t see any reason I should have a moral obligation to tell the truth if other people don’t seem to have any moral obligation to respect it–and to respect me.

I Don’t Want To Talk About It

#depression #mentalillness

I feel like an ungrateful jerk when I say this, but I dread the moment when a friend says, “Do you want to talk about it?”

I dread it because I have to lie and say no. I do want to talk about it, at least sometimes. But I can’t.

It used to be that I measured the strength of a friendship or relationship purely by how willing the person was to listen to my bullshit and how well they responded when I vented it. I truly believed in the idea that True Friends will be able to listen to me at my most raw and vulnerable, because that’s how True Friendship is often described when it comes down to it. You can Be Yourself around a True Friend. Well, Myself was often very, very sad.

“If you can’t handle me at my worst then you don’t deserve me at my best,” and all that.

And then I lost a ton of friends and partners who couldn’t handle me at my worst.

They were good people, maybe not as good at communication and boundary-setting as they could’ve been, but then who is at that age? This wasn’t a case of shitty shallow people just not being willing to deal with any negativity; this was a case of normal people not being able to deal with someone’s mental illness.

Eventually something in me snapped, and my entire outlook on it changed. I no longer judge the strength of a friendship by how much the person can listen to me vent and cry. I almost never do anything I’d describe as “venting.” I do not consider it important to have someone I can “vent” to. I do not consider it important for friends and partners to see that side of me.

Am I bitter? Yes, a little bit. Many people who suffer from mental illness tell me that they don’t know where they’d be without their loving friends and partners who listen supportively to all of their completely unfiltered crap. It seems that my crap is of such an especially strong variety that nobody is able to handle it for long.

As if to test my resolve, plenty of people in my life try to convince me that they really can listen. “Yes,” they all say, “I know other people have let you down, but trust me, I want to be there for you.”

For a few years I fell for a few of these lines. Inevitably, “listening” and “being there” went along with “being determined to fix,” and you can’t fix a mental illness. So they’d try to fix me and they’d fail and they’d get frustrated and sooner or later I was such a source of negative feelings and it wasn’t worth it anymore.

It became a boy-cried-wolf situation. Every once in a while someone still tells me that, really, they’re a very good listener and they won’t get frustrated and they won’t expect to fix me and I really can talk to them.

I don’t fall for it anymore.

What is it about me? What is it that makes people so desperate to fix me that they lose the ability to set appropriate emotional boundaries and take a step back when they need to? What is it about my particular problems that make people think that they must fix them immediately or else it’s the end of the world?

I mean, certainly depression makes me feel that way, but as I said, plenty of people with depression nevertheless manage to vent to their friends without destroying everything.

There is a lovely Captain Awkward post that my friends and I often pass around at relevant times, called “The Sandwich Means I Love You.” It’s about a person with depression who worries that they are becoming too much of a burden on their friends, who are always helping them and generally being really great and supportive.

I love your friends. They are wicked practical about emotional matters, and when they say “Keep the pills at my house,” or “I will make you a grilled cheese now” they are really saying “I love you.

I’m sorry your Jerkbrain is translating that differently for you. I think it is hearing “I love you…for now…as long as you don’t actually like start to depend on that love and count on it too much and maybe become a burden? Enjoy this grilled cheese of temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment.

But your friends? They’re just saying “I love you.” Really.

This post consistently makes me cry happily, but the truth is that I don’t really believe in it. I mean, I believe that the people who post it on my Facebook wall are being as honest as they can be, but I also believe that when they support me it’s more of the “temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment” thing. Because that’s how it has historically been.

And it makes me sad when I share this and people accuse those ex-friends/-partners of being horrible or selfish or ableist or any number of other bad things. The truth is that dealing with depression is fucking horrible, and if a person with depression is telling you all of their thoughts and feelings, that’s not very far off from the experience of actually having it. The hopelessness. The going around in circles. The fact that nothing seems to ever help at all.

You are not a bad person if you can’t deal with this.

But this is why I feel like I can never fully open up to anyone again. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s adulthood.

Except, I guess, for all the other adults who seem to manage it just fine.

“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over; Smile Because It Happened”

Is anyone actually capable of following this advice?

I’m genuinely curious, because I’ve never been able to. As a child I would inevitably waste the last day of any family vacation crying because it was ending, and then crying because I was wasting the entire last day crying, and then crying because it was actually over and I had just wasted the entire last day crying.

Of course, that was probably for two reasons: 1) I genuinely found the majority of my day-to-day existence pretty dreary and miserable, not in the “maaan I could sure use a vacation” sense but in the “my classmates and my teachers are bullying me” sense; and 2) as perhaps follows from 1), I had some sort of proto-depression that later became full-blown depression.

Now I cry at the ends of other things, like visits with family or partners, stays in a particular place (moving is horrible for me), jobs and school things, and sometimes relationships (though, by the time they end, I usually don’t care very much anymore).

No matter what the actual thing that’s ending, there’s always this same horror that that might’ve been the last good thing in my life and now there will be no more. It’s not rational; it just is.

“Smile because it happened” assumes that the reason it can or should feel okay for good things to be over is because now you have all those happy memories of them. That might be the case for people who get any joy out of thinking about happy memories. I don’t. My brain immediately jumps to sadness that that thing is over or gone.

That’s why the only thing I can do is just to not think about things that are in the past. (Unless, ironically, they’re uniformly negative, because it doesn’t really make me sad to think about sad things that are over now.) This means I compartmentalize everything and largely avoid thinking about family, friends, or partners who are not here and who I can’t see often, or past vacations that I took, or cool opportunities that I had.

And I probably realize this as these things are ending. I realize that I’ll never be able to think about those happy memories without becoming very sad, so for me, the end of a particular experience is truly the end in a way that it might not be for most people. It’s not just that I won’t get to literally experience that same thing again; I also won’t really get to ever think about or remember it, except in certain controlled ways (and then rarely without tears).

I don’t know if this is a depression thing or a me thing. It doesn’t really make sense outside of the context of depression, though, because I think that a more mentally healthy person would be able to understand that good things will happen again. I am not able to understand that on any sort of serious level. I’m only able to repeat it to myself over and over like I could repeat “Unicorns exist” or “I have a million dollars.”

But then again, maybe if “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” were a thing that normal people could actually do, Dr. Seuss wouldn’t have felt the need to say it.

Feelings of Hopelessness

#depression #mentalillness #suicide

One commonly cited symptom of major depression and persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) is “feelings of hopelessness.”

“Hope,” and by extension “hopelessness,” is one of those vague concept-nouns that most English-speaking people “just know” the meaning of, but it’s probably difficult to imagine what it’s actually like to have no hope. How that looks. How that feels.

I am one of those people about whom others speak using phrases like “bright future” and “high achieving.” When I graduated from college and joked that my diploma is the most expensive piece of paper I will ever have, my brother said, “But what about the deed to a house?” He said it with a tone like it’s self-evident that I will someday own a house.

I don’t think I will own a house. I don’t think I’ll ever own anything that costs more than a few thousand dollars at most, but that’s okay. That’s not really the issue.

I’m sure that the reason people are so optimistic about my future is part privilege and part the fact that I genuinely do come across as a capable person who works hard and accomplishes things. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t see what they see.

On “good” days, I just don’t give a fuck about what happens to me more than about six months out. It’s not anything I have any interest in. I’m sure it won’t be especially great or happy or fulfilling, so I have no reason to think about it.

On bad days, I’m actively afraid and horrified about my future. I don’t think I’ll ever find a stable relationship close to home. If I decide I want children, I will not have anyone to have them with, nor the money to give them a good life. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to live anywhere I’d actually enjoy living. I think that my job, if I manage to find one after I finish my degree, will be awful, dreary, boring, low-paid, even abusive. (Sadly, this does seem to describe many jobs in my field, though certainly not all of them.) I think that my friends will start their own families and largely forget about me. I think that my own family will always be just out of reach, an expensive plane ticket away, growing older without me there.

I think about the frankly ridiculous notion that you can either have a low-paid but fulfilling job or a high-paid but unfulfilling one, and my friends’ frankly useless reassurances that “Well, at least you’ll be doing something you love, right?”, and I just know that I’ll be stuck with a low-paid and unfulfilling job for life, miserable while at work but with no money to do anything pleasant while outside of it.

Tell me truthfully–if you were certain that your future was going to look like this, would you be all that interested in seeing it happen?

Although I’m not suicidal at the moment, I have been in the past, and I can say that this profound sense of hopelessness influenced it. (There are other factors that contribute to suicidality, obviously, such as feeling like a burden to your loved ones, being in so much pain you can’t stand it, etc.) If the endpoints of the spectrum of my feelings about my future are “meh I don’t give a flying fuck” and “oh god please don’t make me,” well, what really is the point?

For now, the point is that I’ve managed to convince myself that my hopelessness does not follow from the evidence. There are reasons to be worried, yes, maybe not too terribly optimistic given the economy and the political climate and the profession I chose and the city I want to live in, but there is no reason to believe that I will never, ever, have anything I want in any domain of my life, be it family or finances or friendship or romance or career or location or leisure. That just doesn’t make any sense. Nobody with as much privilege as I have, and as many social resources, gets fucked that badly.

Right?