There is an unwanted guest inside my head. He used to hide in corners, but now he’s become more comfortable, he’s stepped out into the light, made a home for himself in there. One moment I’m seated at my desk, chin propped on one knee, preparing to write. The next, I dare not place my hands on the keyboard lest they begin tapping anxiously, the dark sludge making its way from my thoughts to my fingers, leaving a mess on the screen.
When I try to think of a way to describe depression, the first word that comes to mind is gravity. Gravity becomes stronger; it moves beyond the point of keeping me grounded. Now it’s trying to push me into the ground, a great big hand reaching down from the sky and forcing me down. Suddenly, I am lying down, an unresponsive lump on the bed, a few dribbled sentences sitting before me, waiting in vain to be refurbished.
We’ve all heard the line about people creating art through their pain. We absorb anecdotes about painters, actors, musicians, writers, who take hold of the bad stuff, that murky, tangible, irrepressible mass, and mould it into something astonishing. We make it out to seem as if that bad stuff is worthwhile, almost precious. Why let our hurt sit and age alongside us when instead we can grab hold of it with both hands and transform it into something prettier, packaged and presentable?
Author Natalie Goldberg stresses the importance of writing down the things that you may not be ready to reveal. And you may never feel ready to reveal them, but at least write them down, she says, before they contaminate all your other writing. You must write down your secrets and look at them on the page before you, because, Goldberg warns, “when they are at your back, concealed, they can only haunt you.” The secrets might look a sorry sight, scrawled before your eyes, but they are milder in their nakedness, no longer the daunting whispers creeping behind you.
Creating a blog this year has given me a courage I didn’t know I needed. I figured I was quite capable of sharing my thoughts when I needed to, but growing and nurturing a blog about mental health has brought to light all the things that I have feared sharing through my words. The blog is undemanding – it doesn’t snap at me for ignoring it, or try to shake me out of these unwarranted stupors. Instead, it waits quietly, gathering dust, until I come back to it. My mother doesn’t look at my blog unless I send her a link to a post of which I’m particularly proud. She says she feels like she’s prying, although it is a public blog. And I’m grateful that she feels this way, because through blogging I’ve come to realise that telling strangers about my mental health issues is a lot easier than speaking about it to the people who would care most. I think of my grandmother who might read this, my grandmother from whom I’ve kept my mental illness a secret. I would await her response with unease, yet I know that handing her a piece of my work is easier than stammering out the struggle straight from the mouth. We write because we have to speak, and I’ve always preferred writing over talking. It takes a concerted effort to convey your thoughts through writing, but it feels safe and empowering.
In her book, The Right to Write, Julia Cameron speaks about how when we are honest in our writing, our words will be precise. “When we are disguising to ourselves and others the exact nature of what we thought or how we felt, our prose goes mushy along with our thinking.” We put thought into the letters that spell out the truth, because they matter. This doesn’t mean that with honesty comes ease. With honesty comes pressure, self-doubt, hope, exhilaration, and dread. But there is a driving force behind writing, an indescribable need to do it, and whether it takes a year or a day, all the truths, the little ones and the big ones, will sneak their way out of my head before depression can latch on and hold them back.
I hesitate to write this. That treacherous creature inside my head tells me that I mustn’t. Yet my hands itch, eager to put something, anything, on the page, lest it sits there, bright and white and desolate. I hesitate. I think of the little blue pills in the side pocket of my backpack, the dirty dishes in the sink, the fiercely cheerful sun blaring down on this day, willing everyone to smile. I hesitate. I think about the days when breathing feels lighter. Perhaps, for the time being, these days are scarce, but I will take caution not to dismiss their value. I hesitate. I think of all the other people in the world who are dealing with a problem like mine, of the years spent feeding on these rotten feelings that try to tamper with our progress. I go on.
Header image: Deborah Vlock