I'm hesitant to write this post because it's not a happy, hopeful, inspirational post. It may actually tick some people off. But I'm going to write it and share it anyway and let the chips fall where they will.
I have serious, long-term depression and anxiety. I also have narcolepsy. I'm engaged with various traditional therapies to deal with my illnesses. I've read a lot recently about the beneficial effects that activities such as drawing and knitting can have on brain chemistry. I've read that these activities can have a positive effect for people with depression, stimulating the release of neurotransmitters and acting as mindfulness practices that help people focus in the moment. I've read that many people have "gotten over" their depression by doing these things. I think there's a lot of merit in all this. I know "making" activities have helped a lot of people. But what do you do if you're not one of them? What do you do if you're trying everything you're supposed to try, medically, therapeutically, and creatively, and nothing's working?
I hesitate to write about my experience because it makes people uncomfortable and, usually, they try to "help" (read: fix me) which makes me uncomfortable. I hear "keep trying because there's light at the end of the tunnel even if you can't see it". I hear, "try harder". I hear, "life is filled with ups and downs, it constantly changes, and this will all pass". And I hear, "you bring so much beauty into people's lives and have so many people who love you".
"You have so much to live for."
None of these responses indicate to me that the person saying them actually understands what it's like to live with something like crushing, long-term depression. I'm not talking about a "normal" person's ups and downs and not being able to cope. I'm talking about a life lived against an internal soundtrack of despair that doesn't go away. For me, living with depression also means living with "anhedonia", or the inability to experience pleasure. In spite of everything, until a couple of years ago when it all came crashing down, I have always managed to be a very high-functioning depressive. Now I don't have the resources to fake it.
I know I'm not alone in dealing with any of this. Recently, the St. Louis music community has been grieving the loss of a young pianist who took his own life. I didn't know the young man but I was struck by the familiarity of the responses I read on social media. I was frustrated by them because they're the same responses I always hear when something like this happens. They're the same things people say to me. I heard about the tragedy of a life cut short by suicide. And I felt like asking all those people how they felt about the tragedy of a life lived in despair.
Culturally, we don't deal well with mental illness. But imploring someone who might be depressed and really struggling to talk to you and then offering them platitudes like "this too shall pass" is not helpful. If you're really interested in helping try a little empathy. A little compassion. Try listening. Understanding springs from this ground and understanding, in and of itself, can feel helpful.
Right now I'm really just going through the motions. I keep trying to knit. I keep trying to take pictures and blog. I will most likely work in my garden as the weather warms up. Every now and then I try to dance. But none of it really touches me. Nothing makes me feel better. It just keeps me busy.
© Karen Opp James. All rights reserved.