by: Elyse Dawson
My mom used to say that I was a “sensitive” kid. When I was younger I would keep myself awake at night worrying about hypothetical situations involving burglars, parent murderers, and living dummies. One night, I refused to sleep because I convinced myself that my heart would stop in the middle of the night and I wouldn’t wake up. This carried on for years until I met a psychiatrist and was prescribed Prozac for moderate to severe depression. I was nine years old.
This diagnosis lead to a lifetime (well, nearly sixteen years) worth of looking at life through a thorn-tinted glass. For a long time this seemed like a burden, a cross to bear that kept me at arm’s length from most “normal” functioning people, but now I’ve grown to view my depression as a yellow brick road of sorts. There have been lions and tigers and the occasional witch along the way, but the path still glitters in its own right, lighting up a few lessons along the way.
This is My Perspective
And everyone else has their own as well. My depression has made me empathetic, to a fault, at times but on bad days I’m very good at playing devil’s advocate. The sky is not blue, it is a slate wasteland. Good fortune is mere happenstance only to be followed by imminent doom. Probably involving rollerskates and a glass-ridden sidewalk. On the flip side, people without depression tend not to deal with depression very well. I’ve sat in rooms and listened people argue over the validity of mental health treatment where the solution is simply that people need to do is “just snap out of it.”
Throughout high school and most of my young adulthood, my knee jerk reaction to such comments was to show the dark side and rain all over any parade, big or small. If I could understand how they felt at their brightest, why couldn’t they lower their mood to meet mine? It finally dawned on me that they didn’t want me pissing on their party about as much as I didn’t want their sunshine while I slumbered in my coffin of despair. Sometimes this disconnect makes me feel lonely or as though I’ll never be able to fully relate to someone else, but at the end of the day it reinforces that I am an individual having a unique experience. Just like everyone else.
Friends are the Best Benefits
I’m not a very good friend. Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate my friends. My longest committed relationships are my friendships. That being said, one of my closest buddies pointed out how depression has affected even my platonic relationships. “You’re not always there. When you’re in a bad place you just want to be alone, you’re hard to get a hold of. I don’t take it personally, it’s just part of being your friend. It’s worth it.” This loving and insightful comment made me look back on my behavior during depressive bouts. At my lowest moments I don’t want to perform, I don’t want to do anything, least of all bring people that I love down with me. My friend’s commentary made me worry that in my self quarantine, I was unintentionally being neglectful during my lows. At the same time, he reinforced my individuality, self worth, and our friendship. I tend to be a great party favor since I’m extremely sociable and can usually get along, or at least hold a conversation with anyone.
Depression has taught me quality over quantity. I am a very busy, sometimes self involved, flighty person. The handful of people I consider good friends know these things about me. What’s really crazy is that they also love me in spite of them. I don’t feel like a liability to them, they are simply giving me what I need, knowing that I will do the same for them in my own time and way. We respect each others’ boundaries and the roles we play in our social and emotional landscapes while understanding that those parts will fluctuate at times. It’s alright to be depressed around my friends. I’m still me and that’s what they love.
Take Yourself On Dates
In order to cope with my relentless young mind, my mom thought it would be helpful if I constantly had a book, a game or something to busy myself with in case my imagination started to drown me. As a result, I got an award in elementary school for reading over 1000 books, I have beaten a fair share of old school RPGs, drawn hundreds of pictures and filled nearly a dozen journals. If it weren’t for my depression, I might not have named the woods I played in as a child after the setting of my favorite book (Narnia, of course), or fought and made friends with boys over whose Pokemon was stronger, found solace in Van Gogh’s life and work, or developed and crafted so many enriching hobbies, including my chosen profession of theatre. My buddy made a strong point: I tend to retreat into solidarity during a low swing.
However, that kind of hermitting isn’t calculated or fulfilling in any way; it’s merely a symptom. I enjoy quality time with myself. It gives me an independent personal experience that I can use to relate to others later.
In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way she suggests taking yourself on “Artist Dates” as a way to cultivate your creativity and process. Instead of finding yourself bored or with a few spare hours that you twiddle away on Facebook lol-ing at ecards, Cameron suggests that you set a date and time to do something enriching on your own and hold yourself to it. Despite the raised eyebrows, I can’t help but feel a dollop of pride when I tell someone I’m going to see a movie by myself or take myself to my favorite restaurant, because I don’t know very many people brave enough to show so much PDA. Let alone to themselves.
You’re Toxic, I’m Slipping Under
While I’m lucky to have my current supportive circle, it didn’t come without cultivation and a tremendous amount of weeding. When you’re unaware of your depressive triggers, it’s easy to simply be sad and fall into the routine of self loathing and put all of your woe-is-me-ing on display in hopes of a quick fix from an outside source. People who get caught in that cycle after many years without choosing to take the reigns of their own depression are toxic. And I cannot be around them. Somewhere along the way, these people got sad and, perhaps at one point, they experienced genuine depression. The problem being that instead of bettering themselves, they’ve chosen to manipulate others. I’m not suggesting that they’re beyond hope, I just know how pivotal it is to hold yourself accountable for your own mental health. I do not have an addiction, I have an affliction. Self care leads to caring for others and building lasting relationships so why wouldn’t you want to fortify a solid foundation?
Make Mountains Out of Little Things
Good and Evil, Light and Dark, Comedy and Tragedy. It’s very easy to reduce huge life themes to black and white binaries, but depression gives me an uncensored peek into the grey. I laugh harder and louder than most people I know. My sensitivity allows me to catch details and nuances in the mundane that can elevate the grain of a wood floor to rolling portraits of U.S. Presidents without the aid of hallucinogens. Depression can make dull things utterly lifeless and heavy things unbearable, which has taught me to never take for granted how stunning the ordinary can truly be. I know that this comes easy to some people, but to discover that joy for myself was like putting aloe on a sweltering sunburn.
My depression has aided tremendously in my self awareness throughout my life and I’m aware that others can come to the same conclusion without being depressed. I simply ask that anyone reading this: please do your part in spreading mental health awareness and fighting depressive shame (and pity for that matter). Ask questions and be willing to talk about your own experiences with all types of depression. Yes, everyone gets sad, but never assume your experience is the same as someone else’s. Just be present. I still struggle with maintaining positivity on a day to day basis, but when I look at how far I’ve come and how this seeming curse has helped shape who I am today, I can’t help but feel a little relieved that things just might turn out okay. Depression is a condition but no matter what condition a road is in, it still leads to somewhere.
Elyse Dawson is just working to afford her acting habit. A graduate of Wright State University, she moved to Chicago post graduation to see how the other half lived and liked it better. She occasionally dabbles in her blog as American Psychette, (http://americanpsychette.blogspot.com/) and often charades as an Administrative Assistant. Her main sources of sustenance are pizza and puns in mass quantity so that she can maintain her bubbly and dark personality. And she can totally whoop you at Sega Genesis.