I originally began this post 10 days ago with the intention of sharing it last week. But I held off hitting the “Publish” button because I’m currently in talks with a potential client for a major project and I feared that my post would affect the outcome of our discussion. Seems silly, right?
Yet sadly, that’s the common thought process a person struggles with when they live with depression. Will people treat you differently if they know you’re not a ball of sunshine every minute? Will a company hire you if they think your mental state will affect your productivity? Will your decision to share your adversity lead to you expecting special treatment in return?
These are all valid questions I suppose, but they’re also the reason why May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The annual theme confronts the issue of stigma in our society against those who suffer from psychological illnesses and their overwhelming need to hide it from the world.
I “came out” about my battle with Major Depressive Disorder last year after Robin Williams left us. And although I’ve yet to feel an explicit backlash to my revelation, I always worry if the next person who learns of it will see me as a risk with each interaction. I’m still in negotiations for that new project, and my hopes are that this post does not spur their decision to run the other way.
Because the last thing we need in the fight for Mental Health Awareness is to stay in the shadows for fear of stigma.
Here’s how my post originally began ….
I returned from vacation two weeks ago hoping to take a few days to get back up to speed before diving into my next project and new assignments. Yet, like many who return from inspiring holiday locales, I found myself suffering from a post-vacation malaise that dipped into a depression I couldn’t shake until now.
With responsibilities looming and deadlines crying my name, I forced myself to do the bare minimum to stay afloat and not burn anyone who was trusting me to deliver on my word. It wasn’t easy. It never is. Depression may be one of the few — if not only — ailments where the sufferer is expected to carry on with the same level of enthusiasm and joie de vivre as they did before the illness began.
For those new to my blog, I am an artist and I live with depression, and although I’m not alone in this fight, I am sadly alone in my fight. Most people who live with depression (whether it be PDD, MDD, dysthymia or another general anxiety disorder) manages to find a way to keep moving forward, if only by one tiny, microscopic step by tiny, microscopic step. This can feel like a great accomplishment when you come out the other side, but when you’re in the thick of the struggle, it can seem like you’re giving all depressed people a bad name.
The last thing you want to do is be a cliche, right? An artist who lacks discipline and commitment to their product or art must simply be lazy. Just brush it off and get back to work. Easy as pie.
If only it were that easy.
The reality is every moment spent not sitting in front of your assignment is one wracked with guilt. And if you’re not earning a livable salary off of your art in the first place … you feel even worse. You blame your inherent weakness for your failings, seeing the more successful artists as the ones who never miss a deadline and will always get the work done regardless of their mental health. They’re not making excuses. They’re just disciplined and somehow, clearly, much more talented.
That line of thinking won’t snap you out of it. Instead, it only sends you plummeting further into the chasm of depression that appeared out of nowhere days before. So you sink deeper, wondering if this it. Is this the end of your facile attempt to achieve your dreams? Why can’t you just get it together?!
But then, by some strange miracle, there comes a day — sometimes it’s a week later, sometimes it’s a month or nine — when you start to feel like your old self again. You hope it’s not a fluke. You hope the next day isn’t a repeat of the emotional wave that knocked you down in the first place. But you notice one important difference: you actually have hope. A voice in the back of your mind says the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train. It’s a blue sky so bright you can’t help but smile.
That one good day of feeling like your old semi-productive self is followed by another. Then another. And another.
The next thing you know, you’re finally making headway on what seems like an intractable to do list that wouldn’t budge the week before. You start to feel like maybe, just maybe, you can call yourself an artist again — if only in a whisper. Your disappointment in your constant state of rest gives way to a brief feeling of pride at your ability to accomplish anything at all while your mind was stuck in neutral.
You begin to remember you’re more than your condition. You remember that you’re human, and feelings of despair, fear and loneliness are not wrong. No. They’re just as valid as feelings of joy, confidence and passion. Instead, you know every day is a smorgasbord of infinite possibilities.
But most importantly, you realize that depression is a journey, not a destination. You’re an artist, dammit! You made it out the other side and your talent came with you. You live with depression. And sometimes, you have to go through it to get to it. 🙂