On Depression and Writing

I keep wanting to write something insightful, or witty, or important about lessons in sobriety, or patience, or grace.

But each time I start, I get about a paragraph in and delete the entire thing.

Because while I’m writing about surviving a weekend away with family, or feeling whiny about being surrounded by booze everywhere I go (and unknowingly eating cheesecake that had bourbon in it), or having another realization about alcohol’s place in society, I don’t feel like I’m being honest with myself. At least not right now.

What I really want to write about is feeling depressed, and the act of writing while depressed, and how hard it is to share my writing when I feel like there’s nothing worthwhile in my words. I’m fighting to make myself believe it’s worth it to push through the self-consciousness I feel when I manifest the ache deep in my belly into words. In a way, it ties directly to my drinking and my desire to numb myself out, as I’m learning that the seemingly disparate dots of my messy life are actually more connected than I thought. 

Throughout my adolescent and teenage years, writing was an act of self-love. It was a pillar I could always lean on. Later, during my 11th and 12th grade years of high school, that act of self-love was expanded outward. As a scared 15 year old at my new Arts High School, I sat among a group of my peers and began, over the course of two years, to unfold my young story in front of them, as they did theirs. The words we wrote weren’t nearly as important as the trust we built upon them. As young adults, we formed our circle around each other and embraced our truths together. And with this, that act of self-love spread outward to include others.

But then, high school ended, we were released into the wild of this world where life began abruptly and without warning, and that swelling heart inside me began to deflate again.

I’ve struggled for the past 10 years to feel like my words were worthy of giving out to the world – really, that they were worthy of writing down at all. Through an abusive relationship, a failed marriage, and an ever-worsening drinking problem, I turned against my former identity as a writer and tried to force myself into a box that would make my identity easier and more palatable for others.

I began to see poetry and writing as foolish and flighty. I was more concerned with doing things the way I thought society wanted me to: go to college, get good grades, graduate and find a good job, sign up for the 401k, get health insurance and always go to the dentist, be professional, be a good wife, get ready for babies, now grit your teeth through your divorce and get on with life now that it’s over with, etc. etc.

And all through this, Depression has been the steady undercurrent running just below the surface.

Depression has told me time and time again that there’s nothing worth writing for, and that to think I could write something touching or important would be the ultimate act of self-indulgence and narcissism. Every time I took pencil to paper, Depression was my eraser. Every time I longed for that deeper conversation, Depression told me not to look too desperate, or weird, or air-headed.

Depression had me fixated on chasing dangerous relationships and addictive substances as a way to relieve temporary pains. Instead of allowing me the room to practice that self-love of writing and release, it chastised me for being too self-concerned. “Why do you think your life is so important to write about? Likewise, why do you think anyone would ever like your poetry? It’s nonsense.”

On and on these automatic thoughts kept coming, a reliable authority to stop my words before they opened the door.

“Don’t let them see that,” it said, “you’ve worked up a nice little identity for yourself as a professional and a wife, don’t wreck it with that bullshit”

“But, I just…” I’d start to protest, “I noticed the way the tree roots sink like bones into the forest floor, how the leaves sweep them like gentle hands across a lover’s face, and I wanted to capture it somehow” I responded.

“Fine,” it said. “That’s what Instagram is for.”

And so the pattern continued for years.

“Don’t you dare let them see you,” it scolded me. “Don’t start thinking your prose is worth a second of their time – or yours.”

“Writing is pointless unless it’s making you money,” it chided, “and a blog about copy writing and content strategy is way more important that one about free association or memoir.”

On and on.

I say this all with the distinct understanding that Depression is just Me. There is that voice in my head, but the voice is mine, and I let myself talk my way out of self-expression on any level that scratches any further than the surface, because I’m afraid.

Because I think to myself, what will my boyfriend think if I start reaching deeper – he hasn’t ever seen that messy side of my brain before. What will my friends think, the ones who have known me to be so logical and straightforward? Will I seem desperate and attention hungry? Will my words be good enough?

When I drank, the drinking was enough to distract me from wanting to write. I’d usually pour myself a glass of wine, pick up the pen, but then lose my motivation as soon as the first few sips went down.

When I drank, the Depression was enough to keep me there.

Until it wasn’t anymore.

Slowly, through my sobriety and desperation to purge my thoughts onto paper, I’ve been uncovering that creative side of me again. I’ve been opening up to the side of myself that has been trying desperately to push the boulders of logical reasoning aside just long enough to get some air.

When it comes down to it, I’m terrified of letting anyone close to me see what bubbles beneath my cool and composed surface. I don’t want to look like I’m out of control – even though I feel like I most desperately am.

That’s really a very strong theme for my entire life.

Through my divorce, I tried so very hard to appear cool-headed and calm on the outside, all the while teetering dangerously close toward the edge of a complete meltdown for almost a year afterward. I can only count maybe twice when I reached out to a friend because I felt so terrifyingly alone and unsure of what to do with my open floodgate of emotions. Even then, I apologized for bothering them.

Through my drinking days, and in the days since I quit, I’ve tried to maintain the facade that I was, in fact, a very controlled drinker, and that I only quit because it was affecting my ability to lose weight, or because it was making me grumpy in the afternoons. What I haven’t told many people is how during the early days of my divorce, I used to consume the equivalent of an entire bottle of wine within an hour’s time, just to make myself fall asleep. I never talked about drunken escapades with strange men, in a weird search for validation and love. I’ve never revealed how, during my heaviest drinking days, I thought about how nice it’d be to simply stop existing. I never talked about that horrible scratching desire for just another glass, just another shot, just another bottle – just to make things feel manageable again.

Oh, how unmanageable they had become.

When I was dating an abusive man during college, my “okayish” facade was a bit weaker, yet still I tried to make sure everybody knew that I was totally fine, everything was cool, and that Eric was simply having a bad day (every single day, for weeks and months at a time). I waited years to open up about the fact that he raped me, that his uncle molested me, that he ashed his cigarettes on me and used sleep deprivation to break me down. Because for some reason, I felt as though his actions reflected poorly on me as a human.

During high school, I never let anyone know that I had bulimia. I still haven’t really let anyone know – none of my therapists, none of my close friends. I think I’ve only really told two boyfriends. And it’s still this burden of shame I carry with me. Because how – how could someone like me, with so little to be sad about, have so many things go wrong?

Through many of these years – the later years – I did not write.

And I hadn’t really written at all until recently. Until this blog. Until I realized that there was a space where I could spill my guts out and there would be someone else in the universe who maybe, sorta, kinda understood what I was talking about. Where I no longer had to pretend that I don’t have a giant bag of shit of my shoulder that I’ve been needlessly carrying around.

It’s been here that I’ve found a way to expel a lot of the demon bones rattling around in my head.

It’s here that I’ve found myself complaining, and it’s been here that I’ve had others tell me with honesty, “hey, it’s okay to feel this way. thank you for sharing your experience. we’re glad you’re here.”

And I could just cry. Because it’s honesty, here, and it’s real. And maybe I’m still anonymous and I’m still scared to be vulnerable and completely open in real life, and I don’t always win over my Depression, but when I do, it spills out here and somehow it usually makes sense.

It’s here that I’ve felt like I could connect the dots between my alcohol abuse and my past traumas. It’s here that I rationalized my loneliness. And it’s here where I rediscovered the importance of spilling whatever sits crumpled and musty in my soul, like a pile of neglected laundry to be cleaned and aired out gently in the wind.

This weekend, that courage spilled over into my real life. I’d like to call it an accident but it really wasn’t.

On Friday, I created an Instagram account for my creative writing, thinking it to be a safe space to mesh my love of amateur photography with some nonsense poetry and words. Despite feeling like a total fool, waving my arms and telling people, “hey! look at me! I’m a writer again!” I started that account and I’ve promised myself to pursue that creative side of my soul, regardless of the outcome.

I thought that was good enough, but on Saturday, I got another existential itch, telling me that it actually wasn’t.

So of course, I acted impulsively again, and I created a writing Meetup group.

You read that correctly. I didn’t just join one, or RSVP to an event. I created one. As in, I’m going to run a writing group.

Me. The desperately introverted people-pleaser who is terrified of rejection.

So once I got through the adrenaline rush of creating the damn thing, paying the dues and writing the group description, I sat there and exhaled loudly at myself.

Oh. Oh god. Wait, what did I just do?

Cue the excitement, anxiety, and intense feelings of overwhelming dread.

“Did I just make a humongous mistake? Wow, I feel like such a fraud. This is going to be such a flop. I think I should just pull the plug before it has a chance to crash and burn. You know, to save myself the embarrassment.”

And that, again, is my Depression (negative Me) talking. That’s the bitch I’ve been trying so desperately to get rid of, but she just won’t move out. So, I’ve resorted to tough love for now.

“We’re doing this,” I tell Depression (myself) over and over again, “so just get over it and shut the hell up already.”

Sigh. Okay.

Here we go.

Day 107.

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13 thoughts on “On Depression and Writing

  1. You are a phenomenal writer. I so understand drinking because you are depressed and being depressed because alcohol is a depressant. And the feeling that we aren’t “worth it.” For me, writing is what makes me feel worth it. I write about everything. But the posts that are important to me are the memoir essays, where I can tell a personal story and read other personal stories and in this way make connections. I’m glad we’ve “met.” Keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Barb. Writing makes me feel worth it, too, despite my conflicting feelings caused by being down. Now that I’ve been sober awhile, I can feel myself being drawn back into it, especially sharing my story and reading stories from other peoples’ lives. It helps it all feel much more real and worthwhile when it can be shared with such impact. Glad to have “met” you too! I’ll be seeing/reading you ’round the blogosphere 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely understand how you feel. I too saw my depression and my drinking keeping me from writing. I doubted my abilities to the point where I didn’t write for years. I think your writing is beautiful and honest. Continue to write! I tell myself that every day. Therapy doesn’t get any better than a little time with a pen and some paper! Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. WOW! Your story is my story. You are amazing. Your writing is insightful. Someone on a comment on my blog said something that I keep repeating to myself, it was something like – “There is a lot of pressure to do sober “right”” There is no right. Be easy on yourself. Write it out. Keep doing what you are doing. Go easy on yourself. There is no right. I would so go to that meetup if we were in the same town. Congrats on pushing yourself. So proud.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so kind! I do sometimes feel like there should be a certain “way” to be sober to do it right, but I know that’s nonsense. Just gotta keep getting these thoughts down and out of my head – editing and all that can come later. And I wish you were able to come to my meetup! Perhaps I can hold a little virtual meetup at some point with us writers. Wouldnt that be fun, though perhaps against the anonymous spirit 😉

      Like

  4. Thank you for writing this! Even though I said bye to the booze, fighting that nagging voice of negative me is a battle that doesn’t always go so well. Just knowing I’m not the only one struggling helps more than I can say. Too many days I let that voice win and never put a word on the page. You are an amazing writer. Don’t let that bitch win. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds comfort in the words you have to share.

    Like

    1. Let it out! (I know, I know – easier said than done). Sometimes it just takes a “screw it” attitude. I’ve gotten to the point of making myself do it despite all of my feelings of fear or inadequacy. It has worked so far 🙂

      I really appreciate your kind words. I do hope to see more writing from you soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your honesty, and you know it’s not just you carrying round a bag of shit, afraid to put it down. I started therapy again when my latest relationship broke down and I promised myself I would be 100% honest. All of it. And I have, and it’s better. Write and write and let it all out. Love lily 🌷Xx

    Liked by 1 person

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