The Importance of Sharing Your Experiences

National Alliance on Mental Illnesss (NAMI) shared this on their Facebook page yesterday:

“Me telling my story today is a testament to the power of providing outlets like IOOV [NAMI In Our Own Voice], where people can feel safe putting words to their experiences when everyone else expects them to remain silent.” ~ Hakeem Rahim yesterday following testimony he provided to Congress. (Emphasis my own.)

“Everyone else expects them to remain silent” is a powerful way of putting it. Everyone deserves to feel safe when talking about mental illness.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy for me to talk about what I struggle with. It’s not. I’m not even suggesting you all start opening up to everyone about mental illness. I do think finding one or two people you can trust to talk to, who won’t judge you and who are empathetic, can make a world of difference.

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If you or someone you know is having a difficult time, I’ve gathered some resources from Tumblr. Or you can chat with someone live (and for free) right here.

As always, I love hearing your stories, especially if something I’ve said has helped you in any way. Feel free to contact me here. (Note: I am not always able to respond to email due to my schedule but I read and cherish every message I receive. It also should be said that I am a writer, not a therapist, so I cannot offer any professional opinions.)

 

There’s No Easy Way to Get “Well”

A little more backstory on why I took an extended break from the blog:

J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger

I became a recluse. I’m not about to compare myself to J.D. Salinger, but I will say I understand him. If you don’t know, he’s the author of The Catcher in the Rye. As his book’s popularity grew, Salinger withdrew from the public. He published less new work and cut off contact with people.

I did the same thing. In an attempt to handle what was happening to my life–and maybe to escape the good things and the success–I thought it would be best to retreat somewhere where only a few people could contact me. I went to work every day but I was working in a large corporation where I didn’t know many people and most of them didn’t know I was a writer. I stopped talking to most people–old friends, new friends, online friends. I didn’t go outside much, that is until I adopted Olive. She forced me outside every day and now that it’s been several months, things are a lot better.

Even as I’m writing this, I honestly don’t know what is going on in my mind. Sometimes I feel “present” and other times, like I explained to a new friend, I feel like my mind visits two different, foreign zones. It’s almost like I hop back and forth between the two, unrelated spaces. Sometimes my mind is aware of where I am and sometimes time has passed and I have no recollection of what happened or what’s changed. It’s not always scary, but I wonder what I’m like to other people.

Imagine what I would be like if I wasn’t medicated. Or is it the medication complicating things? Even under my doctor’s care (and short term therapy), I don’t feel “better.” I don’t feel “normal.” I don’t relate to many people and I rarely feel “understood.” I have days where I can get up and work and be quite productive and I have other days where I feel sick. My “sick” days are when I’m moody or depressed. Sometimes I’m so moody I just push everyone away. The depressed state is a bit different. I usually feel like the whole world is against me, everyone hates me, and it would be better just not to exist. You can see how easily someone who struggles with feelings like this would make for a terrible blogger. After all, we’re supposed to ignore trolls and not let them affect us. No one is immune to hate.

Despite what I share here, I’ve done a damn good job at coping with my illness. But often, it gets to me. It gets to me even more because I work hard at trying to make myself well and trying to fit in. In a society where everyone’s goal is to appear like they have the perfect life, it’s hard to feel like a misfit because of my difference. Disorders of the mind aren’t something you can work at and make go away. You can’t pretend they don’t exist. Hell, you can’t even make them go away with expensive pharmaceuticals. You suffer through them. 

One of the reasons I said no to a few TV production companies last year (when asked to create a show based on my personality and work) was that there’s no easy answer to getting well and if part of my story is my “recovery”, then wouldn’t that make for bad TV? Everyone wants the quick answer. They want to be lied to. But the truth is, there’s no self-help book that will fix everything. Even with medication, we–those who struggle with certain illnesses–aren’t “fixed.”

Read Next: What It Feels Like to be Depressed

We All Need a Little Therapy

We all need to talk sometimes. We all go through dark times. So many readers reach out to me to talk, so I thought I would share some resources I found over on Tumblr that will help if you’re going through a difficult time.

In the United States, the following resources are for free and CONFIDENTIAL counseling:

If you are not located in the U.S., check out Tumblr’s Counseling and Prevention Resources. If you are, or someone you know is, in immediate danger, please call a local emergency telephone number or go immediately to the nearest emergency room.

Pastor Rick Warren’s Son Commits Suicide

matthew warren

Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Valley Community Church Pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide, the Southern California church announced Saturday, April 6, 2013. (Courtesy Saddleback Valley Community Church and ABC News)

I’m sure you’ve all heard the very sad news that Pastor Rick Warren’s son committed suicide Friday night. I was so very sad when I read the news, because I suffer from depression and I understand how hard it is to stay afloat sometimes. Many people aren’t able to and it breaks my heart. Treatment doesn’t always work and finding a treatment that does work takes years, usually progress is slow, if at all. For example, I’ve been on medication for my depression for a few years, maybe four? Until a year ago, I hadn’t felt significant relief. I do now, but it’s been a roller coaster of emotions and managing side effects and symptoms.

If there’s one thing that’s challenging about depression, it’s the fact that as a depressed person you’ll be largely misunderstood by people who love you, by strangers, by bosses, and by friends. This, coupled by the feelings of overwhelming loneliness make for a very hard life.

Rick Warren’s mentions the persistent pain of his son Matthew in an email:

“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?'”

The church released a statement of its own yesterday saying, “Despite the best healthcare available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life.”

What’s important to talk about with Matthew’s story is this: Rick Warren and his family sought the best healthcare they could for their son and he didn’t find relief. It’s easy for families to blame themselves when a person kills themselves, but sometimes even the best treatment won’t work. The Warren’s aren’t to blame–if anything they are an example of a family who did everything they could, judging from their statements. It’s exhausting being on-call for suicide watch and as much as families help those they love, it’s ultimately out of their hands how the situation is going to play out.

In many Evangelical circles, suicidal people are labeled “attention seekers” and blamed for their depression, or worse yet, dismissed. This is plain ignorance. I have yet to meet a suicidal person who just talked about it for attention. If someone is talking about suicide, or having suicidal thoughts the best thing you can do for them is talk them out of it and (thanks to my friend David for this line) tell them not to make any decision like that until they’ve waited 24 hours. Usually the feelings of depression can subside in 24 hours, and even though they will return, it’s a good exercise in learning: for family/friends and the person suffering. For many years I’ve “held on” a few more hours and realized my emotions changed and I was feeling better. Not that I ever switched to euphoria and happiness, but the point is if you are depressed you need to understand how your mind and body works. You will feel some relief and you need to start charting those patterns on a calendar or mentally and understand that your moods swing, so where there’s a very low low, there will be movement toward relief. Just give it time. Know your patterns and ride them out. If you need to sleep through the dark times, go to bed. If it helps to talk to someone, find the one person in the world who will listen at any hour of the night and talk to you about your feelings or your sadness (again, David is often that person for me).

Sure, people won’t understand. In fact, people will be downright cruel. You don’t have to tell everyone, but tell the people who care the most, who are sincere and kind hearted. Tell the people who know how you feel, who’ve experienced it as well. And maybe you should tell your parents. For years I didn’t and then I realized they cared a lot and wanted to do everything within their power to help me. Some of my friends haven’t told their parents because their parents don’t really understand stuff like that, but in some cases, telling their parents was the best thing they could’ve done.

My friend and I were recently outside feeding her horse. She was talking about her mom growing old and developing dementia. “It helps to have something to take care of.” She said. Her mom had been driving the kids home from work and this was keeping her mom alive, she felt. It’s true. My job and my pets help me. Whether it’s knowing I’m needed and appreciated for the work I do, or knowing that no one is going to take care of my cats like I do, it helps me try to fight it out.

I’m not sure if there is a cure for depression, but I do know from experience it can be managed. Yes, there are side effects to medication and yes, you may feel your emotions numbed and sometimes your creativity might subside. Medications can often increase anxiety or make you hyperactive. Even with treatment, your life won’t look like other people’s lives and they won’t understand why. In fact, things like dating are particularly hard for people like me. People don’t understand why we’re sad all the time and worse, they think we choose to be sad on purpose. They don’t want to hear about it or talk about it and they think we’re just stubborn and having a pity party. None of that is true, although embracing sadness rather than fighting it can be empowering.

It’s not easy to talk about my experiences and sometimes I wonder if it aggravates my symptoms. Because of that, I’m going to leave this post comment free. If you need to talk, please reach out to someone in your circle of friends or family. If you need help, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to your friends/family, a professional therapist, or your doctor. There are other options, too, if you’re feeling really down: have someone take you to the emergency room or call the suicide hotline: In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). There is nothing wrong with you and it’s more common than you think. In fact, some of your friends or family may deal with the very same thing.

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US): 1-800-273-8255 

International Suicide Hotlines: http://www.suicidehotlines.com/international.html

Suicide Hotlines http://www.suicidehotlines.com/ 

Why Call? Can it possibly help? http://suicide.com/suicidecrisiscenter/whycall.html 

CDC Depression Stats: http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/

NAMI Major Depression Fact Sheet: http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88956 

Depression: Ask the Doctor (NAMI) http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=89093 

From “Ask the Doctor” (link above): 

I am worried about suicide for my depressed relative. What should I do?

Suicide is a central risk in depression. “Safety first” is a good rule of thumb. Be sure to talk with your relative if you have this concern and strongly encourage him or her to get an evaluation as soon as possible. Untreated depression can lead to suicide. Fortunately, most people with depression respond to treatment.

 

 

Suicidal Tendencies

It was the summer before my 24th birthday. The summer everything changed.

In nearby Lafayette parish, a Catholic priest had just been accused of molesting a young alter boy. The country wide scandal took several months to reach the Deep South, as most progressive things took longer to reach here, and the day it hit the news the pastor of our church preached an angry sermon on Catholics and how they were doing wrong not letting their priests marry. Our Pastor thought his church was the only one who did anything right, because he thought he was the only doing right in “the eyes of God” and that our church were the only Christians going to heaven. I think he was just trying to get members in his church, as Catholics were the largest religious majority in Louisiana, but that was neither here nor there. Pastor Daniel had a God-complex and a hideous ego. Although it was true that Catholic priests had been molesting young boys, and it was a scandal, no one found out about our church and our scandal that Pastor Daniel was leading. There were no physical marks of rape, no DNA evidence to make a case on, but there was plenty of psychological damage among those of us who left the cult before “they” said we could. We’d been mentally raped, brainwashed, made to “drink the Kool-aid” so to speak, and yet we didn’t have any physical markers to take to the courts, and technically we’d come there to the cult of our own free will.

None of us knew it was a cult when we went there, and few of us struck up the courage to leave. Those who did leave were made outsiders, and cut off from all their friends and all acquaintances. We were the “spawn of Satan” or “rebellious” if we left…if we disagreed with the Authority of God, our Pastors.

On the night I contemplated leaving, I replayed my dad’s words to leave. He called me a month after his trip to Louisiana to meet my boss, Pastor Daniel. My dad didn’t like Pastor Daniel. “Lisa, I don’t like the way he spoke to me about you—as if he’d assumed the role of father in your life. That’s just not right,” my dad’s anger could be heard through the phone line, “I mean, what right does that arrogant man have to tell me that he’s going to pick out my own daughter’s husband? He doesn’t have faith that you can meet someone decent on your own? I know I’ve never told you what to do in your life, but Lisa—you need to get out of there. Come home.”

My dad was right. Pastor Daniel just wasn’t right. But my life had become wrapped around these people, and saying good-bye prematurely meant ripping away seven years of my life’s history away and becoming invisible, or worse yet, rebellious and unfit.

I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, parked on the dirt road that was flanked with sugar cane and fireflies on either side of me. Tears poured down my cheeks as the thoughts ran through my mind. I knew I couldn’t get out of here, without my life falling apart, and I was afraid of the only other option—but it seemed like the only way out.

The frog-filled swamp stretched out long and ominous before me: calling my name, and beckoning me to enter. Just gun the car and drive into the swamp, the water spoke to me like an old friend who had my best intentions in mind. I reached for another Kleenex from the passenger seat, as my whole body shook violently with sobs and my head pounded with pain. I tried to search for any other options, but there just seemed to be no other way to escape.

I looked around for anyone in sight. To the south of the road where my car sat were the dorms where all the students slept. I was supposed to be asleep, as well, making sure there was someone responsible watching over them. My fellow staff members were there, tucked into their single beds and surrounded by the students in their bunks, peacefully resting, unaware of my desire to escape, and the misery staying here was causing me. I was the only one awake that piercing dark black night. I was the only one deliberating how I could rid myself from their negativity. I was the only one trying to get the hell out of there. I was also the only one sitting alone by the dense fields of sugar cane, under the dimly lit star-filled night sky, thinking about killing myself.

The term killing myself sounded so harsh, but I guess in reality it would be a harsh thing to do to my family and my friends, those I had left that is.  My family, however, lived in California and I lived in the blasted mosquito infested hellhole of the U.S. Swamps and gators; frog legs and crawfish. Yes, the Deep South. Louisiana. The only good about Louisiana was Tim, and he wasn’t allowed to speak to me anymore because Pastor Daniel felt he was unfit for me to date, unfit to be a pastor and Pastor Daniel said God spoke to him that I should be a pastor’s wife.

My story obviously didn’t end here…but the concept of it was true. While I was in the cult, I did want to kill myself. I had reached the end of my rope and I’d asked the directors of my ministry group for vacation time to gather myself together after serving selflessly for about seven years with hardly a break. I was burnt out and breaking down. I’d never felt so low, so depressed, and never before that point felt suicidal.

When I finally made it out of the cult and home, I told my dad that story and he hugged me so tightly and said he was so sorry he didn’t get me out of that cult before, and that he’s sorry he let me stay there so long.

It wasn’t my parents fault. I’d become so tightly connected to the director of my ministry training group that I felt they were my family, my life, my friends.

I was wrong…when I needed them most, they let me down. More than that, their brainwashing, mind-control, yelling, belittling and abuse left me with PTSD and after effects that I’m still working on recovering from to this day.

As a 17 year old girl who was a high school honor student, 10th in her graduating class, active in her church youth group, never smoked, drank, done drugs with a real future in front of her to a nearly thirty year old woman who has to see a therapist who specializes in cults for the anxiety, depression, and fear that rules her life due to the abuse done from the directors who mentored her for years…it was not the transition I thought would happen when I first left home to join the ministry.

 

 

Got Dumped?

Friday night was a night like no other, except that the boyfriend and I had been fighting a week earlier. That being said, he and I made up and I was looking forward to a long night of romance and sex. I even had a romantic night lined up–dinner sea-side watching the sunset, eating his favorite dish of shrimp pasta.

I’ll skip all the gory details mainly because I don’t want to retell the story. It just makes me depressed. What is important is that he dumped me after a big fight and I do believe it was partly because I had been more forthcoming about my struggle with depression during that time in an attempt to BLAME myself for our fight so we could move past it. Lesson partly learned: I will not take the blame for something I didn’t do.

In his breakup speech he said something about seeing things in me during our fight that made him “uncomfortable” and he mentioned they were things I couldn’t change or he didn’t want to ask me to change. I had just recently written this blog about my struggle with depression.

Depression can’t be cured but it can be managed. I’m extremely forthcoming about my depression because I’m just that way. I’m forthcoming and honest about most things. I’m direct, sometimes when it hurts. I learned to be direct because I spent almost a decade being pushed over and hurt and not speaking my mind.

To sense that someone I loved deeply may have broken up with me because I struggle with depression is incredibly hurtful, and naive on their part. It’s hurtful to know that I worked hard to forgive him and his shortcomings but he didn’t have the same love or respect for me to forgive mine. It’s also naive for him to think that my depression is unmanageable and also that he doesn’t have any flaws or things that make me feel “uncomfortable.” I felt uncomfortable when he told me he was going to film a TV pilot with these 2 girls and he might stay in their hotel room. But that’s beside the point. Asshole.

 

Blogging and writing is a tough job. A writer must be honest with his or herself in order to be able to draw a reader in. A memoir writer like myself has to be able to talk about her own life transparently. She must see her own flaws as they are, take responsibility for things she’s done to hurt others and have the ability to create art from them. The art may be flawed or rigid or beautiful or painful but it will be art if she has the skill and insight to create.

My partner may not have been able to see his own flaws as well as I can see my own. Part of living with depression, in my case, is living with incredible self-introspection. In fact, as we talked Friday night I realized he couldn’t see any of his own flaws or at least wouldn’t admit to them. That’s not the toughest part of a break up though. It’s having someone you love deeply tell you they don’t love you anymore (with their actions, even when their words say something else), realizing you won’t spend every day with them anymore, and know that everything you trusted and held important in moments before that is all coming crashing down around you and you can’t stop it.

They want out. They’re leaving.

Grief and Other Hideous Effects

Every morning I go to the French doors at the back of my house and I look upon the wide expanse of desert that surrounds me. I look down at the patio, and I don’t see Ella so my gaze runs out to the East, where my mom and I set a cat trap with salmon. I lost my cat two weeks ago, and although I know her likely destiny was prey to a California desert predator, I keep looking for her to show up.

Grief does funny things to people. It’s an emotion that I didn’t clearly recognize I was going through the years after leaving the cult I was involved in. Some people said they thought I felt rejected and that was why I became depressed. Of course there was rejection upon leaving.  Upon disagreeing with the senior pastor, he cut me off from communication (like he’d done to so many others in his past). Why?  He became disappointed in me because I was unwilling to come back to Louisiana and I was unwilling to live my life according to his rules. Fragments of conversation trickle down the chain of command there in Louisiana, where eavesdroppers at household conversations and bystanders at after-church discussions mix truth with lies with assumptions about why people leave the church. Eventually, the game of telephone dilutes any truth of why anyone left and people are left to their own assumptions mixed with he-said, she-said which is never generous to the person who leaves the “place of blessing” or “out of the anointing” or “House of God.” Negative assumptions breed rejection, and what I felt was rejection from people I’d grown close to for much of the history of my young adult life.

More powerfully than rejection, though, was the grief I experienced from an amalgamation of losing my friends, people I considered close (like family), and discarding and deconstructing the teachings I now disagreed with.

During a journey of grieving and depression, I allowed myself to be expressive, angry, searching and honest.

I began to grieve and mourn the loss of people I’d considered friends for many years of my life, and I began to grieve the loss of what I thought was my “faith” and what turned out to be a need for people’s approval. As I began to intersect the faith I’d been taught in the cult with the faith I’d felt in my heart was right my entire life, I began to see a great chasm that needed to be reconciled. So, I set out to find my own truth—the things I believed about love, people, dreams—without placing pressure on myself to meet someone else’s approval.

I felt that to become a blank slate was something that would help me ascertain what my own beliefs were, as opposed to what I was taught in the cult.

I deconstructed the idea of Christianity completely.

I took it all apart, piece-by-piece and was left with a sort of artists table with a clean canvas and materials to construct with. I had paints of all colors and tones, magazine cut-outs, fragments of books I’d read, pictures I’d seen, people I’d known, and experiences I’d had. With a clean slate in front of me, I took my old materials and examined them. I turned them to the right and the left and looked at them from the back, and the front with a critical eye. I read from experts in the field of religion, feminism, humanitarianism, literature. I compared them with human beings in history and the present time who were models of exceptional citizenship, who treated people fairly and respectfully.

Many of my old materials needed to be discarded. They came from a long line of historical violence, a present day close-minded manner and an anti-intellectual path that I no longer wanted to walk on.

As I felt more liberated, I acted more liberated.

The years of grief were mixed with years of feeling buoyant, vibrant.

There were years I’d sit at a writing desk and feel like a dried out old pen, because I was worried what the people from my past would think. How would they judge me? What gossip sessions would occur because of what I was about to write? What prayers of concern would go up to God from them on behalf of my soul, because I was now changed from the Lisa they knew? I had no voice to speak—only fear, yet I had words that were jamming up in my head and twisting like pretzels to get out. When I would begin to write, the nightmares would come. The mornings I’d wake up with fear that they were real. I was back there. The women were coming for me—ensuring I didn’t escape.

Grief isn’t something you navigate out of like short river boat ride. Grief is complex and misunderstood: the outer shell of humans experiencing it often not showing signs and other times causing people to fall apart, lose their ability to reason and calculate and concentrate.

Grief can also be like a painting:

grey,

black and hazy,

with a few strokes

of white

and blue

lighting up

the picture.

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to

be…Grief is different.

Grief has no difference.

Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden

apprehensions that weaken the knees

and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

This Just In: Sex Sells & Why I’m Afraid of Love

I’ve been incredibly popular with men in the past decade, in part because I was following the prescription for fame and attention: be half naked and flirt a lot.

Halloween. Note the pearls I'm wearing. Gotta keep it classy.

And as any woman knows, it’s always good to show off your boobs.

My boobs

But let’s be honest, I was fresh out of a cult and wanted to give a big FUCK YOU to the purity movement I’d lived in for seven plus years.  So it was only right that I did what I did and trust me, I’m okay with all the attention I got. It doesn’t make me any less human.

People have said over and over they don’t know why Kim Kardashian is famous. Yes, you do. I believe her fame emerged after her sex tape. And Paris Hilton. And then let’s take Coco from Ice Loves Coco.

Screenshot of ass from Cocos World

The reason these women are famous is because sex, nudity, and ditsy behavior sells. It makes you famous.

I went through a dumb blonde phase (see photos above) where I insisted on pretending I was stupid, pretended to get bad grades, and really pretended to care about asshole dudes. But the problem was that I was just pretending. I am not stupid and I didn’t get bad grades. I may or may not have cared about some of those assholes.

I learned very quickly that the male attention I got during those days was for one reason and one alone: I was sexy. I was also thin. As the years went on and my depression compounded my issues, I gained weight. Sure, some people still think I’m sexy and some still hit on me, but there has been a huge decrease in male attention over the past few years. I believe my own mother said that if I lost some weight I’d find a good man.

The odd thing about my weight gain is that it’s directly related to wanting to be invisible. After being miserably hurt by those I loved, I didn’t want to go through it again. I didn’t realize I may have purposefully gained weight so I didn’t have to be around people, or trust them, or even get male attention. But this is one thing my therapist proposed to me a week or two ago. We just started talking about it and I’m not sure what all is truly behind that desire for invisibility but it’s very clearly present in my life. It also manifests in other ways, too, but the weight gain is most noticeable.

Back to fame. I know a girl who recently made herself semi-famous. She has no talent that I know of, but she’s taken very sexy, half naked pictures of herself. As a result, she’s everywhere and can get any media attention she wants. For awhile, that was my plan. Lose some weight, get famous. As a writer, fame would be very helpful. It’s a plan that certainly works, but as I started getting to know myself a bit more, I realized it’s not for me. I do love being half naked or whole naked, but I don’t like being inauthentic. I don’t want to live my life as an act and for me, acting stupid would be an act. Being naked would not be an act. I’m naked right now and I often write naked. But not to turn you on.

I’m not saying that girls who sell out for fame by being naked are wrong or stupid. Sometimes, I think they’re quite smart because they are marketing GURUS. I often wonder if it is an act, though. How much of them really wants to be famous for who they are? Or because of a talent they may be hiding because it’s not “what hot girls do”? I’ve noticed a lot of celebrities have very good hearts and sometimes even brilliant minds.

So when Katy Perry said today that she’s tired of fame, I get it (not the fame, of course). I’m sure she may even regret it sometimes. But because fame is this monster that can often turn against you, you have to play the game or the game will kill your career.

So, while I’m still pretty, I’m pretty fluffy. And I am not a huge fan of sharing my fat pictures with anyone but here’s one:

It’s easy to hide after becoming fat and as anyone who has ever gained weight knows it’s even more difficult to take it off after putting it on. I’m healthy and I’m secretly happy with my fluffiness, yet I know I’ve stacked to odds against me when it comes to finding love. But you know what? Sometimes I wonder if that’s why I did this to myself–to prevent myself from finding love again. If you don’t find love, then you don’t have to deal with someone not loving you, rejecting you, or abandoning you.

On the other hand, somehow through all of this, I’ve found myself. I wear my glasses with pride instead of thinking they make me look ugly. I read feminist books and don’t care if that makes me unappealing to the straight male. I am smart and I’m not afraid of being who I am, regardless of how others judge me. I don’t often wear makeup, I refuse to wear stilettos anymore and I may be more interested in reading or debating than what others tell me I should dress like or look like. Because of all that, I’m very happy.

Advice

Over the years, I’ve given out a lot of advice to you, my dear readers and friends. I think I’ve covered everything from suicide to sexuality to how to argue your point with a Christian. I never set out to do this but I will say it’s a natural extension of who I am and this trait comes from my mother. My mom is the best at giving advice and seeing situations for what they are.

So, in an effort to embrace what I’m good at, I’m going to post an occasional column here that talks about issues you want to the know the answer to. A sort of “Ask Lisa” place that people can look at down the road, because I assure you for every question you’ve asked me, a dozen other people have asked the same one.

Some basics: you can email me (mycultlife@gmail.com), Facebook or tweet to me your question. If you email me, please include “Ask Lisa” in the subject line and a keyword on what it’s about (depression, religion, fundamentalism, etc.). Example: Ask Lisa about depression. You can include a story or anecdote, just make sure you’re okay with it being posted online.

As a rule I won’t use your real name, but if you would include your state or country of residence, that would be great.

Your identity will never be revealed but please note that your emails WILL be published. All identifying names will be removed and replaced with fake names.

A Woman of Compressed Power: The Redeeming Side of Depression

Last year I went with a friend to his graduate school campus. I picked up Lyn Cowan’s book Portrait of the Blue Lady: The Character of Melancholy not expecting it to be as enlightening as it was.

She opens the book up with an engraving called “Melencolia I” which features the Dame Melancholy. She calls her the Blue Lady and her muse for the book.

Melencolia I is a 1514 engraving by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.
Melencolia I is a 1514 engraving by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.

Cowan points out the similarities between Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker” and the Blue Lady: the postures and moods are similar and not an accident. “…[S]ince both portray something of the essence of melancholy: its weight, its preoccupation with intense thought, the heavy head, and a sense of quiet power and strength which yet does not move.”

The Thinker (Le Penseur in French) is a bronze sculpture on marble pedestal by Auguste Rodin.
The Thinker (Le Penseur in French) is a bronze sculpture on marble pedestal by Auguste Rodin.

Cowan goes on to say that in the Blue Lady we find a different, “even redeeming, experience of the melancholic condition from the modern idea of ‘depression.’ With the appearance of melancholy personified as a woman of compressed power, the whole fantasy of melancholy changes. Through her we can leave the sterile, truncated modern-day conception of ‘depression’ and turn our gaze to meet hers, seeing there the intensity of feeling, the pressing need, the stillness of a moment in which nothing is happening but anything might emerge. She personifies contemplation, meditation, reflection, wisdom which knows how to wait…”

It was through Cowan’s book that I was able to look at my depression, which I now call melancholy, in a different light. Sure, I’m depressed and suffer (it is suffering) from it, but I started looking at myself differently than I had before. I am deeply emotional and often cry an embarrassing amount, especially when I write, but it’s out of those moments that I am able to write the most intense work that resonates with me and many others. And I always write alone when I’m writing these intense pieces. Sometimes I have to read those pieces again, and they still brings tears to my eyes, but had I not suffered from depression I wouldn’t be able to put all of that depth of emotion and transparency and power into the words I wrote. There is a difference between writers who can do that and writers who can’t, and I’ve learned to embrace that in moments like that I can be a woman of compressed power. My greatest weakness has reversed and I’ve embraced the strength it gives me. This is why I sometimes say depression can be my own superpower: “the clinched fist [of Dame Melancholy] concentrates grief, intensity, profound thought, and containment of energy, all of which typifies the melancholic attitude.” (Cowan 21) The depressed are humble and we don’t like thinking of ourselves as profound, but we are. We don’t like to think of ourselves as powerful because we are outsiders and our intensity of feeling is shunned by most people.

This is what it’s like to embrace this idea of a containment of energy and a compression of power and use it to your advantage. It helps to have pills…I’m not sure I could do it without…but this whole idea got me thinking about my weaknesses and how they serve me as an artist; whereas, the artists who don’t suffer, don’t necessarily get the joy of turning those struggles into something powerful that can connect with people in a fascinating way.

This is what it feels like to be depressed and to use the Blue Lady as your own muse: in your art, writing, painting, sculpting, motherhood, work, education, the day-to-day normal parts of life. Whatever you’re good at, you might not be as good at it if you didn’t suffer like you do. This came to mind even as I was watching J.K. Rowling talk to Oprah (the interview from 2010) yesterday about her mother’s death and her grief and she said, very delicately to Oprah, that the books would not have been what they were had her mother not died because her grief defines Harry’s entire life and the stories. Her grief of losing her mother is on every single page; what a person goes through when losing a parent, how the world looks through the loss of someone you love…all of that defines Harry’s world and it was through her grief that Rowling was able to write what has unquestionably become one of the greatest stories of our age.

This is what it’s like…

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For more on depression, read What It Feels Like to Be Depressed, one of the first pieces I wrote about depression in 2012.