But Wait–I thought I was DOne with this?
I have always been open with my experiences with depression and anxiety. I am not ashamed of my mental health struggles, but I’m definitely annoyed to be struggling again.
For the better part of a year, I haven’t been enjoying life as I should and it has affected my creative life and my business. I’ve been hiding from you guys, because I haven’t had the energy to give, but for the sake of full transparency, creative vulnerability, and the chance that I can help someone feel less alone, I’m sharing this.
Over the last few months, I’ve still been working on art and trying to keep up appearances–but I’ve been giving it minimal effort. Though, I’m not sure people have noticed I’ve pulled back. The important thing is that I’ve noticed, and isolation isn’t good for depressed people, so here I am telling the internet about my struggles. For me, and for anyone who is experiencing the same thing.
Here’s the Bigger Story…
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about my success with depression. I say success instead of struggle, because for the first moment since developing depression in my teens, I thought I had beat it for good. Sadly, as I know now, I was only celebrating a temporary victory. Maybe I won a battle, but am still fighting the war? (There are a lot of “maybes” here…and some f-bombs.)
In that post, I outlined my “recipe for happiness”, and there are some good tips in there, but I kind of want to punch the version of me that wrote that right now. She was so happy. So triumphant. Riding the high of emotional freedom. Was I faking it? Who was that person?! Where’d she go?!
My magical vacation from depression came from hard work. Honestly the hardest internal work I have ever done. During most of my struggles with depression, I have refused drugs. I took antidepressants for three months in high school, but I didn’t want to accept that I needed something artificial to fix me. I thought I could fix it myself, and I still do. There are many opinions on the efficacy of drugs, and it’s up to each person and their doctor to decide what is right. This is just my personal choice.
In the quest to fix myself, most of my efforts to control my darkness in the past were external. I quit jobs, moved schools, removed toxic relationships from my life, and tried to find a safe place to exist. I focused on changing my environment and got some relief, but I was still struggling.
To fully conquer my darkness, as my first blog post says, I turned my attention inward and got to work. I rewired old thought patterns, I worked through dysfunctional coping mechanisms, and gave myself time to really rest and heal from past trauma. After a few months of work, I slowly started to feel fully alive again. I kept joking that I felt like a twelve year old with a credit card. Full of energy, optimism, and creative goals–and my goodness did it feel amazing! After over a decade of struggling with depression, I had done it! Hallelujah!
Or apparently not completely…
Last summer, I spontaneously started to backslide despite all of the work I did and was still doing. I started to wake up with less purpose, excitement, and optimism. I began to lose my professional ambition, and I started to fall out of my routine. I was in denial for a bit. No, this can’t be happening again. The feeling will pass. But it didn’t.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
but I did everything right?! Right?
Why is this happening?! I exercise, eat healthy, sleep enough, socialize, snuggle my dog, aggressively big spoon my partner in the night, live in a beautiful snow free state, don’t have to stress about bills, don’t drink alcohol often, barely consume caffeine, I worked on my internal flaws, I stay away from toxic relationships, I express my feelings, I dealt with old trauma, and so much more. On paper, I should be the happiest person around.
But here I am.
Maybe I slipped up and fell into old habits. Maybe my internal clock is still following Minnesota seasonal changes and I’m just living through a long mental winter. Maybe I pushed too hard creatively and just ran out of juice. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe I’m bottling up stress. Maybe I didn’t actually deal with my past trauma. Maybe I’m telling myself lies about life. Maybe it was that supplement a Naturopathic doctor put me on. Maybe it’s a nutritional deficiency. Maybe I really am just chemically flawed and need drugs to fix me. Maybe my empathic abilities are on overdrive and I’m picking up on social unrest. Maybe I was born with it. Maybe it’s fucking Mabelline!
Look at all that rumination. Sometimes the cause doesn’t matter. Just the solution–but I digress.
Anyway, I’d thought about taking that original post down. I’ve felt like a weird sort of fraud for the last 9 months, because it projected a version of me that doesn’t seem to exist right now. But I’m going to leave it up as proof that positive change is possible.
Sometimes we make progress, and then regress. Stupid fucking relapse! It just happens. It’s okay. It’s not a failure. It’s not that I’m not good enough. I didn’t do something wrong. It’s important that I don’t punish myself for this–but it’s just really fucking annoying to be here again. If you’re here too or have been here in the past, we’re in this together. Even if we are holed up in separate dark rooms staring at a lit up screen. You’re not alone, and I’m not alone. Despite the way it feels sometimes.
The brain is complex. Humans are incredible creatures filled with a chemical cocktail, and a small change to the chemical ratios can do a lot of interesting things. Like, make a person depressed even though life is going really well. Fun, right?
I don’t know for sure why my brain went off the happy trail, but I do know that ruminating on what went wrong will keep me trapped in the darkness. What matters is how I’m going to get back to being that bubbly 12 year old with a credit card again. She is fun. I like her, and I will find her again.
Search and rescue is coming!
Why am I telling you this?
Normally, when I write blog posts, I have a purpose. Some sort of inspiring or helpful takeaway. I don’t like just hearing myself speak and I definitely don’t want to be all woe is me. All I have to say right now is: I’m not okay. If you’re not okay either, that’s okay. You’re not alone. I’ll be okay soon, and I hope you’ll be okay too.
Also, I’m sorry for being gone. I suppose that is the title of the blog, so it’s a pretty important point to touch on. I’ve been dropping the ball on this whole creative entrepreneur gig. So this post is partly an apology to those of you that support me.
I haven’t been painting as much as I should, and when I do sit down to create, I just get mad. Try as I might, my brain is like “FUCK THIS! Go do something else. How about nothing? Let’s do nothing. Or eat. We can do nothing or eat.”
I haven’t been responding to comments and messages on social media in a timely fashion. Because, it takes energy–and that is in short supply. Emails sit in my inbox, unopened for days–sometimes weeks. I’ve let some opportunities just slip right by, because I was too tired to even attempt to grab onto them.
When I sit down to write a blog post, my brain just goes blank. Depression has this way of robbing you of anything you found enjoyable before. My depression takes my ability to communicate. I’m already introverted, so it takes a lot of energy for me to interact with people, but turn the depression on and it’s hard for me to even put sentences together.
Words are hard.
For those of you who support me on Patreon, I am sorry that I haven’t followed through with writing new content. Believe me, I think about it all the time, but I just can’t get the words to shake loose. Though, I’ve got some ideas that I hope I can bring to life soon.
I have a lot of okay/good days–days like today where I can wake up early and actually articulate basic thoughts, but most days I feel exhausted before I even get out of bed. I wake up and groan. I go to bed and groan. Just a lot of awkward internal groaning over here. But I’m trying and I still manage to ship orders within 24 hours of getting them–so I’m going to go ahead and pat myself on the back for that…
But don’t worry About me
The darkness takes on many forms. It’s a gradient. From the deepest darkest black you can imagine, to a light shadow like a cloud covering the sun for a brief moment. I think it’s fair to say I have experienced a broad spectrum of darkness.
At my worst, it was paralyzing, breathless, hopelessness. Spending hours, even full days in bed. Unable to do even the most basic tasks. My body would feel heavy, my muscles replaced with sand. Every movement was a burden. I’d cancel on plans with friends and family. I have quit multiple jobs. Had panic attacks at my work desk and in college classrooms. Cried in a doctor’s office while they handed me prescriptions to “fix” my chemical flaws. At times, I was basically catatonic. Some days, I just would lie in bed in silence while I watched the sun rise and fall out the window.
That is not me right now and that hasn’t happened for years. THAT is when you can be worried. As proof, here’s a visual of my current mental state:
See, it could be much worse. My bad days used to on the far left. So in a way–I guess I did conquer the deeper levels of my darkness. If I keep distracted, I feel okay, but if I’m left in silence and really sit with my own thoughts, the darkness is all like “Hey, I’m still here!”
Or, when I try to get my brain to do any of the financially productive things required for an adult to survive in the real world, the darkness gives me a bear hug and knocks the wind out of me. Like:
*squuuuuuuuuueeeeeeeze* “Hey friend, I see you wanted to be productive today. Let’s not do that. Look at how tired you are.”
Moral of the story, I haven’t been okay, and I don’t know definitively what brought my darkness back, but I can say that I’m going to kick its ass again. And when I do, I’ll write all the blog posts, make lots of art, respond to social media comments within 24 hours instead of 5 weeks, and get back to waking up without a dark cloud over me. I will not accept that this is who I am forever. I conquered it in the past, and I will do it again.
I wish this post was more about fun artsy things, but maybe you’ll feel connected to this and feel like you’re not alone. Maybe it will be helpful to know someone else periodically falls apart too. Don’t hide or suffer in silence if you’re struggling.
When I wrote my recipe for happiness, all of those things really did help me, and they will continue to help me as I move forward. Today, I started writing a much longer recipe. I hope to share that with you soon. If any of the resources I have can help you, then my struggles can have a positive purpose, and that’s pretty cool.
But don’t worry about me. Just forgive me for being inconsistently present. And thank you for being patient with me.
If you want to support me in this strange time, my art store is still fully open and I do have energy to ship things. Patreon is also a a place where money happens.