You know those people who say that geniuses had to suffer to be geniuses? They are wrong. Case in point: I used to study Virginia Woolf in an English PhD program, and I came across a few fans of her work who thought that her suicide was terribly romantic. First, there is nothing romantic about suicide, ever. Second, she was not able to write the way she did because she was mentally ill. She wrote in spite of it. My heart breaks every time I think of her suicide note. Her husband, Leonard, wrote this, after her death in 1941:
The words which she wrote are: ‘I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time.’ She had a mental breakdown about twenty-five years ago; the old symptoms began to return about three weeks before she took her own life, and she thought that this time she would not recover.
Even in his grief, he felt compelled to write that to a newspaper after it tried to claim that she killed herself because World War II was coming–they quoted the letter as saying “these terrible times.” But as terrifying as the “times” were, she clearly meant that another bout of “madness” was too much to face. No one knows exactly what Virginia Woolf suffered from, but depression was certainly part of it. The poor woman also heard birds singing to her in Ancient Greek, so there was more to it than the kind of depression I have experienced. (Source: I’ve read tons of diaries and autobiographical writings and biographies, so it’s in those, and I’m not in grad school anymore, so I don’t need to find a page number. And yes, she did speak Ancient Greek, despite being self-educated.) Some of her characters experience things similar to what she remembered from being “mad,” but she did not write while it was happening. She couldn’t. Whenever I read that note, I think about what we might be able to read about her or by her if she had had more time. What I just quoted is just a few sentences, but “time” is everywhere. She could not face the time and energy it would take to live through another “terrible time.”
I do not compare my own writing to what Virginia Woolf wrote. My point is really that depression sucks time, energy and reality into its vortex and never gives it back. I had an idea for a post that I’ve forgotten. I don’t even remember when I had the idea, just that it was there and is now gone. But I keep hearing that it helps some of you out there to hear about what’s going on in my little world. And this is what is going on: no matter how hard I try, I am not able to think clearly. I run out of energy in the middle of things. I forget to eat. Hours go by like minutes sometimes, and at other time, minutes go by like hours. I have set alarms on my phone to remind me to take my meds and to eat, because I can’t trust my own sense of the passage of time. It is so hard to do anything that I am not sure I would keep writing here if I had not started this project before this bout of depression.
I learned, before I felt depressed, that writing here made me feel connected to people just like me. I learned that the act of writing and hitting that button that says “Publish” helped me feel like I had accomplished something. I know from my experience with anxiety that if I say my fears out loud, to the dog or to the air, they seem smaller. Outside my head, in the light of day, they are not as big. So it’s important not just to write, but to publish. I am thankful that the internet allows me to do that. To say all of this “out loud.” I have never been able to keep a journal going.
I know many people, many of them mothers, who have a hard time justifying to themselves a project that helps only them. That is not really ok, since self-care is so important for every human being to feel ok. But even though I know that writing here is good for me, I am working so hard to focus my scattered mind and write something today because I know it helps you. When I am too tired to get myself breakfast, I can still somehow get up to change my son or at the very least, feed him. I simply find it easier to do for others.
But this is one of the ways I can trick Depression and its Lies: if I tell myself that this is for the friend who will not talk to me over the phone or answer email but will read this blog, I write. And in writing, I help myself. I just wrote over 800 words that reminded me of the time I beat this at age 22. I remembered that I am smart, well-read and well-educated. I remembered that I have friends and family who wait for these posts because they love me, not because they need something from me. All of that gives me back the pieces of myself that Depression tries to tell me have disappeared.
In the middle of writing this, the baby decided that he was done with his swing. It’s hard to type while holding a baby, go figure. I put him in our Moby wrap, where he nursed and is now sleeping peacefully. Somewhere in that time, the doorbell rang. I was putting on (yoga) pants by the time I realized that I was about to actually DO IT: take the baby and the keys and go outside both locked doors to collect a package.
Friends, I put on my shoes, grabbed my keys, shut our apartment door behind me, shut the entryway door behind me and collected that package. I shook a little bit, terrified that I would lock us out again. But I looked down at the keys in my hand, and I told myself that it wasn’t possible. I felt the fear, but I did not believe the lie. I used my keys to unlock the first door, then the second, and here I am, sitting at this computer, writing the post that I told myself was only for you.
With depression, everything is harder. But it is not impossible. No matter how terrible times, we can always recover.