Writing With Mental Illness Part 1

What can I say? I suffer from depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from combat, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and probably a slew of other illnesses that haven’t been diagnosed. The illness I want to touch on is depression, and what it’s like to write on depression.

Most people are fortunate enough to not have to suffer from that insidious illness. They often relate depression to being sad, and I get that. Depression makes people sad, and when you don’t have any empirical knowledge about it, you relate it to what you know—being sad. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Sadness is a superficial emotion that can last from a minute to a few days. Most of the time it can be cured with a simple joke or change in perspective. When we lose a loved one, the sadness can take a bit longer than a few days, but it ebbs and fades over time until we can visit our memories of them with a smile in our heart.

Depression resides in the soul. It can no more be banished with a joke as hunger can with a picture. We can’t just “get over it”. Being depressed is an extreme inability to feel happy when there is nothing wrong. Being depressed can feel like drowning when there’s no water, bleeding out with no wound, feeling constricted when you’re as free as a kite, dying when you’re full of life. Depression doesn’t make any sense to the depressed, and that makes it worse.

“Why are you sad?”

It’s a common question I hear, and the answer is, “I don’t know!”

“Well, then you have nothing to be sad about.”

No shit! It’s called depression. I don’t have a reason, and I don’t need a reason, although I wish I had one. My favorite was when my ex used to tell me, “Oh geeze, would you stop already? You’re not in Iraq anymore. Get over it!”

People who suffer from depression KNOW there is no reason to be “sad”. We can’t help it! Some days I wake up, knowing the entire day is going to be a struggle to motivate for anything: Make coffee? But it’s way over there… Cook? That seems like a monumental job. I just want to sit on my couch and do NOTHING! Writing… Much easier to scroll my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Besides, they have funny videos of cats getting a brain freeze, and I could really do with a few laughs right about now.

Depression is an insidious, self-perpetuating disorder. I wish I knew how to cure it. I wish I knew if there was a cure. At first I thought depression could be cured with physical activity and a healthy diet, and I suppose that works for some people; however, in the most active and healthiest time of my life I was also the most depressed. I thought writing might do it, and it has to a certain extent, but the heavy cloak of depression still drapes over me. I tried pharmaceuticals, and that helped for a while…so long as I was willing to be an emotional zombie. But then I started to crave feelings, and the depression hit me again. Now I cope with cannabis, and it helps get me through the day.

Many people try and find the cause of their depression. The single act that triggered the disease. It’s basic human instinct. We break our arm, we know what did it, how it happened, what to do to fix it. We get sick from food, we know what food it was, and we avoid it. We feel sad, we can immediately identify the cause and work to fix it. Many people with depression seek to find the root cause with an idea that, if they know what caused it, they can take active measures to rid themselves of it. Like the flu, or an ear infection. Such is not the case.

I have a plethora of demons from my two years on the front lines of combat. They will haunt me till my dying day. Sure, they exacerbate the problem, but they aren’t anymore the cause of my depression than any other single event in my life. Those events are factors that can trigger my feelings of depression, but they aren’t the cause. I don’t know what the cause is. Maybe it’s something as simple as the hardwiring of my brain. Maybe it IS those events, although I really struggle to believe that due to the fact that I often feel depressed without any of my demons, rearing their ugly head.

I like to think of depression as an incurable ailment, like losing a limb, or that disease that turns your skin white (vitiligio). There is no “curing’ it, there’s only learning to live with it. Struggling to fix the unfixable is the ultimate lesson in futility. It’s demonstrative of our own pride as humans that we should be able to fix it. I mean, we can launch probes beyond our solar system, map DNA, CHANGE DNA, cure a number of diseases and ailments…why not depression? Well, for as much as we’ve advanced in technology, we still can’t fix everything. We can’t regrow an arm. We can’t travel back in time to fix our mistakes. We can’t do a LOT of things. But what we can do is learn to live with who we are.

Learning to live with depression is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Understanding that it’s not going anywhere has empowered me. Sure, I still feel depressed, and I still wake up not wanting to do anything, but I understand that now. I understand that I don’t NEED an explanation. I don’t NEED to find the cause. I don’t NEED to blame anyone. I just need to understand that this is who I am. When someone loses a limb, they have to relearn how to perform their daily tasks and change their entire lifestyle to accommodate their unfortunate accident. People who suffer from severe allergies have to carry an epi-pen wherever they go. They have to plan their events, avoid certain activities, etc. The modify their life in order to cope with their ailment.

No one wants depression. It’s overwhelming, and the world’s apathetic approach of “just get up and do something” only makes matters worse. No one wants to live with multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, or Huntington’s disease either. Learning to cope with any mental illness is a monumental challenge that can easily feel overwhelming.

But there is hope.

Not in a perfect life. But nothing is ever perfect (a philosophical topic I’ve delved into quite extensively), but especially not life. Our hope germinates in the form of coping, and I hate to get all Nietchze on you, but everyone kinda has to find their own way of coping. Most importantly, never give up. It’s a lot like becoming a published author. You can’t give up. You have to keep working at it. If your first novel isn’t finding any traction and your number of rejections starts to fill a calendar, start another novel. You are a writer, and writers aren’t finished after a single story. Put your finished manuscript, the one that just consumed years of your life. You quiver at the thought of revising it one…more…time.

But that single book isn’t the reason you are a writer. You are a writer because you love to write. So write! Set the finished manuscript down and start anew.

You can’t give up.

Not in writing.

Not in life.

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