I imagine many folks enjoy art in itself. Maybe it takes their breath away. Maybe it shocks their bourgeois sensibilities. However art affects them, they move on—back to their families, 401k’s and streaming video subscriptions.
Against reason I’m driven to create my own art—a gratifying but often frustrating endeavor. Sure, I’ve been proud of a poem or essay here or there, but when I step back to judge my oeuvre against established writers I’m thoroughly unimpressed.
This is probably my depression speaking. To combat a severe lack of confidence my therapist has me on a new drug called Self-Esteem, a generic form of Empowerment. I’m still learning how to take it. Everyone—the most recent psychological literature suggests—has the same intrinsic value. This includes me apparently, but it takes four to six weeks before my gut fully absorbs the concept.
Perhaps my hesitant nature—an inability to assume a position of strength, to let words flow beyond my control—bolsters my writing. A deep consideration of language might constitute a conscious ethical choice. My ideas, unsure of themselves, reflecting the anxious tone of my unique artistic presence. Mastery of an uncertain craft.
From (and against) a place of fear and pathological aversion to criticism I put pen to paper and begin anyway. To reluctantly own myself, to inscribe my name in doubt: the mark of not just a struggling artist but a deeply conflicted human being.
What’s your hurry? Late for work—a soul-crushing cubicle—death by a thousand paperclips?
I’m bound for therapy. A mood adjustment. Much assembly required.
The other day, in the Trader Joe’s lot, my Sunfire wouldn’t start. Had a telling conversation with my mechanic.
“This is the fifth time in twenty-seven months I’ve been towed here. Am I doing something wrong?”
Talk about a guilt trip.
I’m fine, he says. All taken care of.
“It was the starter. We reassembled it. Any questions?”
He charges less than my psychiatrist.
At night I dream of a blog post. Why do I automatically blame myself for everything? Original sin—the whole God-is-dead business? That’s on me. An asteroid’s nearing earth? My bad.
“The Fault in My Car.”
Don’t know how to start it.
So I’m writing, dear tailgater, because we’re so close now.
Ease up a little. I promise we’ll make the light.
I don’t shy away from discussing the realities of my depression. This blog is a fine example of my candor. I find writing about my struggles to be a major part of the healing process.
I often tell people I care about (not long after I realize I care about them) that I suffer from depression. Sometimes I use it as a test. If they’re still standing near me instead of running away, they’re meant to be in my life.
My friend Dzmitry, whom I’ve known for about eight months now, had a test for me recently. He challenged me with a seemingly simple thought. “Maybe someone told you a long time ago you were depressed and you still believe it,” he said, urging me to see myself from a different perspective.
Dzmitry doesn’t notice my depression. In talking with me early on, nothing seemed amiss, even though I sensed my illness lurking in the background, hell-bent on fracturing a friendship before it could form.
What if I saw myself as a person with depression rather than a depressed person? What did I feel so powerfully that Dzmitry didn’t see in our meetings?
Of course, I can’t deny the physiological effects of my illness. Someone did indeed label me depressed a long time ago and I believed him because of the pain I felt and the discomfort I displayed. It’s one thing, though, to admit that I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life, and another to assume I’ll always be miserable. But this is how depression affects me: in feeling like shit, I often tell myself that feeling shitty is my destiny.
The power of Dzmitry’s suggestion—that a diagnosis of depression might become a self-fulfilling prophecy—helped me reevaluate my illness. In the process I found comfort in Dzmitry’s friendship, in his being there next to me. And I was glad that this time I didn’t run away.