Tag Archives: Depression

The Allegory of the Artist with Depression

You’re baking a cake and it’s not going well. All the ingredients are perfect, your oven is exactly the right temperature and you’re using state of the art utensils but at every step you ever so slightly fuck it up. The butter isn’t creaming. You lost count of cups and might have put in too much flour. Despite the fact that this is the hardest you’ve ever worked on something in your life small mistakes keep cropping up.

Finally the cake is out of the oven and let’s face it- it looks disappointing. Not awful, just flatter and duller and dryer than it’s supposed to be. You want to toss it away, to be done with it but before you can do that everyone you know is in your kitchen and eating this flop of a cake. Hell, there are even some strangers there digging into big wedges of cake.

And the worst part? The worst part is that they love it.

Despite all your fuck-ups they still love the cake and so you tell yourself, “Maybe it isn’t so bad.” You take your first bite only to find that this is the most revolting thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. Yes the taste rots on your tongue but it does more than that, it creeps through your body so that every fiber of your existence is in revulsion.

All around you people keep eating this cake with joy. Seeing everyone else’s joy makes you feel worse about yourself. What’s wrong with you? No, what’s wrong with them? They’re wrong about this cake or they’re lying to themselves in a misguided attempt to make you feel better about yourself or maybe they’re stupid.

And you keep baking. You keep baking cake after cake after cake and each one is worse and worse and worse and everyone else can’t stop raving about them. Despite the compliments you want to stop, to break off this painful routine but you can’t. Whenever you try to stop you just end up back in the kitchen baking, whether it’s your own compulsion or you’re lured back by the kind words of those around you. Perhaps you even reach a point where you forget how to make good cakes. After all you’ve made so many bad ones that it’s all that you know.

You hate it. You hate the process and the result and you especially hate the part where people lie and say they love your cakes. You hate it and you keep doing it.

Why I Really Intensely Want to Talk About My Depression

Since starting this blog I’ve written three posts that specifically address my depression, referenced it a few times and Tweeted about it quite a lot. The truth is that for every time I’ve mentioned my depression on my blog or Twitter there have been been like fifty other times I’ve wanted to bring it up. Almost every time I’ve wanted to bring it up I’ve quickly shut myself down. Quite honestly I was afraid of being seen as a whiner or a complainer who was trying to get sympathy for myself. (There’s a very strong part of my identity that’s pure Vermont Yankee who would rather suffer with a stiff face then admit to any turmoil or pain.)

But there are times when I’ve let my Yankee facade down and talked about my depression online and I’m a bit confused as to why. Rather, I was a bit confused because after a few days of contemplation (read: several hours on public transit between Northern Vermont and Amherst, Massachusetts) I think I’ve discovered a new knowledge about my relationship with depression and why I’ve felt strange urges to publicly talk about.

I grew up hearing that depression was natural, that it wasn’t taboo or strange. At home and at school I was told that mental illness wasn’t supposed to be stigmatized and that with support depressed people could work through their pain. Nice but not very useful since I was given very one dimensional descriptions of what depression actually was. Oh sure, it was feeling sad and whatnot but when examples were given they were so extreme and tended to follow the same linear pattern. First a person had some sort of traumatic event (Death of loved one, extreme bullying, shark biting off arm) and then they were very depressed (Self-harming, hospitalized, basically catatonic) and then someone (Friend, professional, fairy godparent) helped them and they were fine. A to B to C and home in time for supper.

When I began to experience depression (A time that I date to around age 12, if not earlier) my depression wasn’t caused by one specific event. On the whole my childhood was quite nice and if I had a slightly different brain chemistry or something I wouldn’t have become depressed. My depression also didn’t look like the depression that I heard about. There were no books I could find or class talks held that described feeling general self-hatred, anxiety, pain, the ability to go from happy to crushingly sad in the same time that it takes a Kobayashi to eat a hotdog. When my depression started I simply couldn’t recognize it. And that really, really sucks.

It wasn’t until I was around sixteen that I realized that I had something going on that needed a professional’s help. Even then I didn’t want to admit that I was depressed. I had accidentally learned that depression had to be caused by trauma and to claim I was depressed when there was no obvious cause felt like weakness or asking for attention. I’ve been through three kick-ass counselors and one amazing psychiatrist in the past four years and with each of them I’ve said something along the lines of, “But I’m not depressed. I’m just being a whiny little baby.” Their replies were supportive and made a point of telling me that I was wrong (Though in therapy speak. They didn’t just go, “You’re WRONG, Samuel.”) All of their help was wonderful but we were trying to overcome more than a decade of me telling myself that I couldn’t have depression because it didn’t fit with my model of what depression was.

I wish I had been exposed to a greater representation of how depression can manifest itself and what can cause it. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m blaming the adults in my life for teaching me a limited version of depression because I hold no ill will towards them. The issue is that there isn’t a varied representation of depression out there. That’s why I want to share my personal experiences with depression.

Depression is awful no matter the form it takes but not being able to recognize your depression because your mind has only one model makes it all the harder to begin to treat it. This is why I get so excited when I see people with depression taking their stories to a public forum. It’s damned important for these stories to be shared and I beg all people with a history of depression who are at a place where they can talk about their experiences to please do so. We need to make the public aware of all the various types of depression that exist (I suspect that this is something that would be useful to many other mental illnesses or disorders but I only feel comfortable talking from the point of view as someone with depression.)

I wish, I truly wish that I had been exposed to more people’s stories when I was growing up. The trouble is that I can’t go back in time and teach pre-teen Samuel that his depression is valid and real. What I can do is share my own stories in an effort to help the pre-teen Samuels who are here now and who will come in the future.

I Went to the Library Today

I nearly started to cry in the library today. Inside the fiction stacks I began to feel the familiar pressure build in my chest and I blinked rapidly, not wanting to lose the dignity that I cling to so obsessively. It was all too much.

The heaters and humidifiers hummed as they worked to keep the temperature stable. Behind the ajar door marked “Interlibrary Loans- Staff Only” came the sound of heavy, thick piles of books being moved from wooden tables to metal carts. Newspapers rustled and computer keyboards, muffled by the rows of shelves that separated me from them, clicked. Occasionally  there was a faint laugh and more frequently someone coughed. Winter coats made the sound that only synthetic waterproof fabric can make, a scratching sound that I cannot stand.

This library-induced need to cry isn’t an isolated case. I’ve been in libraries before. Some not as beautiful as this and some more elaborate than this. Larger and smaller libraries. Louder and quieter libraries. All, at one time or another, have brought me close to tears. When my mood becomes unstable it’s easier for me to become swept up in the quiet tragedy of the library. My mind becomes obsessed with reports of dwindling numbers of patrons; of famous authors calling their local library “obsolete” and calling for them to close; of memories centered around searching through the physical card catalogue, memories that can no longer be lived. It’s all I can do not to tear books off of their shelves to see the last time they were checked out. Of course the black ink dates stamped in the back will be out of date as the modern library uses scanners and e-mails now.

Do not think of me as a regressive librarian who is grumbling at newfangled changes. I enjoy how online catalogs and barcodes make my trips to the library run more smoothly. What I miss is the tactile sensation of flipping through well worn index cards to find the book I want. (Or do I miss my childhood which is to always be associated with standing on tip-toes to reach the upper drawers of the card catalog?) I don’t get angry at people who only come to the library to use the computer and have never checked out a book. I believe that providing internet access to the local communities is one of the most important responsibilities of a library and that this responsibility falls well within my ideas of what a library is. It’s not the modern library that makes me want to cry, it’s the chemicals in my brain forcing me to focus exclusively on the sadder aspects of life that makes me want to cry.

Standing in the stacks I find it all too much. The books around me become large, no, they’re always larger than their physical presence. Books are the size of their authors, of their history, of their readers, of their story and right now they’re too big. It’s not that they’ve grown but rather that at this moment I’m shrinking. There’s not enough room for me in this world. Ideas I harbor of writing, of becoming a librarian are instantly dismissed as utterly stupid. How could I ever think that I could become involved with this world? I’m not a mortal who looks to Olympus, I’m in the Asphodel Meadow and longing to be alive (longing for life must be stronger than the river Lethe.)

This shell of unneeded tragedy cracks as I touch a book’s spine. If this was a fairytale this moment when the pad of my finger touches the plastic cover would be the moment when Spring returns to the kingdom, when my family awakes, when my true love transforms from crow to Prince. This is not a fairytale and this is the moment when I realize that I need to go to the B’s. I’m in the G’s, only two rows away from where I need to go. It’s the Brontes that I want. Their stories will pair well with the winds and grey sky outside of this stone library. More importantly they’ll connect me to a world I can relate to.

There are no books by the Brontes. I’m so shocked that I check the shelves twice more, touching every book from “Bo” to “Ca” just to make certain that my eyes aren’t lost. The online catalog informs me that the Brontes are located in the lower level in the 800s. The shame I feel at needing this computer to tell me where to go is unbearable. I should have known that 19th century literature wouldn’t be located in the fiction stacks, I’m not your average library patron. Mortified I walk down the stairs. Here the shelves are metal and some have large posters from the 90’s that offer simple breakdowns of the Dewey Decimal Code. I dawdle in front of them, slowing down my pace to touch each laminated poster and feel the return of library classes from many years ago. In fact I suspect that this yellow poster with white lettering is identical to one used in my school library, or close enough to make me feel nostalgic for my early days in libraries. Those were the days when I believed that librarians could be dragons, that swords could fall out of books, that Dewey’s order was the thin line that separated us from anarchy. I still believe these things but they’re less literal and more metaphoric now.

In the 800’s I make a point of looking at every book. I suspect that these titles don’t get the attention that they were once used to and I feel guilty that I don’t visit more often. Chaucer, Hardy, Eliot and their compatriots are interspersed by biographies of these authors.

The Brontes no longer seem so important to me. I look over their titles, consider re-reading Wuthering Heights and then inspect Jane Austen. Maybe Doyle? No, too modern. I pick up Cranford. It’s a title that I’m familiar with only in the sense that I know of references to the town it takes place in. The first page is intriguing (a town in the early 1800’s that’s run by Amazons?) and soon I’m smiling, not just at Elizabeth Gaskell’s humor but at the similarities I feel between this town and my rural home.

With Cranford in hand I head upstairs. I’m not ready to leave the library and I go to the third floor for no other reason other than the sign that says “Special Collections/Robert Frost/Emily Dickinson/Third Floor.” The door to the special collections is closed. I think I could just push it open and go in but I suddenly can’t face Frost, so unhappy at Amherst, or Dickinson, too emotional for this moment. Fingers dragging along the polished railing I go back downstairs.

I’m a Yankee and uncomfortable with displays of emotion in public. Hell, I’m uncomfortable with displays of emotion even when I’m completely alone. That’s why I need libraries, that’s why I need Elizabeth Gaskell. This visit has taken me through emotions that I repress. In the presence of Virginia Woolf and Junot Diaz and Piers Anthony I admit to anxieties and fears that I regularly refuse to admit to myself. Libraries are the repository of the human experience, of the full range of our emotions, of the Marquis de Sade and Danielle Steel. They are the closest I’ll ever come to so many parts of life as they collect the sum of our existence into something accessible. In libraries I find prayer, salvation, hope and Cranford.

The Privilege In My Depression

This post will contain some real-talk about depression, specifically my depression. If that makes you uncomfortable then… don’t read this…

My depression has been with me for as long as I can remember. Childhood memories, every photo, all are touched by my ravenous pet. Perhaps I’m projecting my recent emotions onto my past but I can’t help believing this reality. It’s easier for me to accept a depression that I was born with, a genetic quirk that I can treat with prescription medications, than to think of it as caused by something in the past few years that’ll need years of therapy to exorcise.

At its weakest my depression is a terrible imaginary friend whispering degrading comments in my ear from when I wake up to when I sleep. At its worst, well today I’m going strong and would rather not dwell on my darker days.

The spectrum between my two extremes is volatile and can change by the hour (though my medication does help to keep me at a level emotional footing.) I can drop from Maria von Trapp-levels of joy to a skulking Gollum with ease. Some days I walk around with a vile monkey on my back that pulls my hair and scratches my skin. At times I wander through my day asking myself, “Why? Why? Why?” There are mornings where leaving my bed makes me flail my limbs around in anger and frustration, which only increases the anger I feel towards myself.

My biggest breakthrough in the past few months occurred last week when I realized, “I have Privilege.”

I am a white, cis-male (I don’t always present as my gender is expected to but I can butch it up if needed) who is financially stable. There are self-care measures that help and I can do them. I have the privilege of being able to go to a coffee shop for a decaf coffee and a blueberry muffin. I can watch episodes of Deep Space 9 while hiding in my bed with a mug of Earl Grey. If I need to take a three-hour walk I can. Not only this but because I still qualify to use my parents’ health insurance (also- having parents with health insurance) so I’ve been able to afford medications, counselors, even a psychiatrist.

It used to be that this sort of thought would make my depression worse. I know my pain is my pain and the fact that many people are less-privileged than me does not invalidate my condition, but try telling my depression that. What helped me move past this was the recognition of my other privileges.

As a cisgender, white dude society seems to like hearing me speak. I can use this voice for raising general awareness of depression but I think that area is white and cis. enough. Don’t worry, I have no intention of speaking for non-white and not cis. people. What I can do is use my voice to direct attention away from me and to programs and causes that make the mental health advocacy more diverse, more representative of those of us who need help.

Adopting this mindset hasn’t cured my depression. What it has done is given me a lifeline to cling to: I can do something. “Do” is the important word in that previous sentence. No matter how nice a sentiment is what I really need is an action, work that I can do, movements that I can take.

It’s not too late to get involved with Missive March Madness, my month of letter writing. And by “not too late” I mean that I don’t have 31 volunteers yet. More information in this post.

Pancakes Are My Nicotine Patches

There’ll be no Sunday Steals today. Why? Because it’s my sodding blog, you buggering piece of– Alright, I never got around to making the list for today and I feel the need to write about pancakes.

Lately I’ve not been baking as much as I would like and it’s bumming me out. Not only have I done nothing related to Samuel’s 2013 Great Baking Escapade but I’ve done no real baking. Since moving to Amherst I’ve produced two cakes and… yeah, that’s it… When I made the move I had some delusion that because I was temporarily unemployed I’d suddenly have so much more time to bake. Well, first I had to get my life organized and then as my temporary unemployment became longer than I hoped for I realized that I didn’t have the financial resources to get buy all the flour, sugar, eggs, etc. that I wanted.

Pancakes have been getting me through.

I’ve known about the link between my depression and baking since high school. The alchemy of mixing and measuring has a soothing effect on my mood instability. When my mood crashes and dark clouds roll across my eyes I am buoyed up by the art of baking. My depression comes with a crippling sense that I’m losing control and producing a pie helps me. The first part of baking, the measuring and mixing, helps me establish a grip of control and the second part, placing the pan of pale yellow goop into the heat, helps remind me that there are some things I can’t control. My baking helps keep me to be happy and I’ve not been as attentive to it as I should be.

Like I said, pancakes have been helping me.

Yes, they’re not the cakes that one can frost and slice and serve after a nice roast but they’re useful. Though I can’t afford to be producing all the cakes and cookies that I’d like to I can afford to make a pancake dinner for myself or serve up some pancakes to my roommates on occasion. They’re simple and delicious and open themselves up to exploration. The recipe that I like best is the Joy of Cooking recipe. Please hold on with me

while I go on a brief tangent: When I started university and was separated from my parents’ severely battered edition I turned to Google to get my pancake recipe. What I ended up finding was a highly enjoyable Yahoo Answer’s request for the recipe I wanted. Not only did it provide me with the information that I wanted but I also got my daily dose of snark. Here’s a screenshot:

If you can't read this screenshot than click through to the source.

Look at how angry the original poster is when they realize that Charles C is lying to them. Look at how angry Charles C is when accused of lying. The bitterness that Charles C uses when spitting out “Happy?” is so visceral, so acidic that you can feel it burn. God I love the internet.

Let’s face it. We can all agree that this recipe needs vanilla extract. Now when it comes to adding vanilla extract to my baking mixtures I’m not a big fan of measuring. I just dump it in until I think it’s good and ready.  As I’ve begun itching to bake creatively I’ve started experimenting with what else gets dumped in. My roommate’s re-hydrated blueberries, Smucker’s raspberry jam, cinnamon and nutmeg, etc. Now that I’ve been bitten with the pancake bug everything I look at has started to look like it can go into a pancake. Ground beef? Why not! Yogurt? That’s an old one! Acrylic yarn? Bring it on! Fruit? That’s also an old one! Avocado? Fuck yeah!

What do you like to put in your pancakes? Greasy grimy gopher guts, perhaps? Chopped up birdie’s feet, maybe? Mutilated monkey meat, possibly? Let me know, I’d love some more ideas.

Look, this pancake came out a bit like a heart. It's probably a sign or something, I dunno. I do know that it was delicious and wonderfully nutmegy and cinnamony.

Look, this pancake came out a bit like a heart. It’s probably a sign or something, I dunno. I do know that it was delicious and wonderfully nutmegy and cinnamony.