Sometimes, the depression I have over the winter slowly fades away with each sunny day. Sometimes, it disappears suddenly and all of that energy I was lacking over the last two months appears. All at once. And I spend all of my free time over four days creating a large painting of flowers.
It’s been a while. I don’t really have an excuse except for this: Depression is a hell of a thing. Or what I mean is, depression is hell.
I went almost all summer without writing hardly anything. I didn’t do any painting either. No drawing. I didn’t bake. My garden was a mess, planted and then forgotten about until the tomatoes hung rotting on the plant. I slept late, pulling myself out of bed at the last minute. I kept my house clean-ish. I took showers and I kept my children alive. That was the high-functioning part of it but even that was drudgery, a slog. It was trying to get somewhere while always feeling like I was wading through chest-high water.
Eventually, the depression subsided.
I don’t mean that I waited around until I miraculously felt better. It required work. I went to therapy every week and saw a psychiatrist who changed my medication and this time I didn’t fight the concept of being medicated. I worked on being kind to myself, on not beating myself up for the loss of productivity. I read a lot of books, but only those that were funny or had happy endings. Everything else felt like a trigger. I worked through each day, one at a time
I’m grateful for the people that were there for me and supported me through this miserable time. Even more than that, I’m so glad that they didn’t give up on me. This might not be my last episode of depression but my hope is that each time I have them they become shorter and less severe.
Also, I want to remind anyone else who is reading this and is suffering through depression, you deserve happiness. You are worth whatever effort it takes to get through it.
I’m painting again and back to writing every day. I have exciting things to look forward to. What I mean is: I’m back.
I sang karaoke last week.
Okay, maybe sing isn’t quite the right word. I could look for a better verb but I think just knowing that the correct verb is not sing should give you a pretty good idea of how it all went down. This is not an activity I often do. In fact, it was only the second time in my life that I did it. The first time I was drunk, didn’t know the song and couldn’t even come close to keeping up with the words on the screen.
Over ten years has passed since that performance. In that space of time I have slowly changed from the sort of person that gets up on a stage in front of a group of people to the sort of person who is constantly analyzing everything I do and say to make perfectly sure I’m not being ridiculous or foolish.
See, I have this person inside of me. I call her my Gollum and she is a vicious, angry little thing who watches everything I do and passes judgment on each action. Sometimes, her judgment is instantaneous, a running commentary in the back of my head. She’s like those old men in the muppets, just a lot meaner and not very funny at all. Sometimes, she wakes me up in the middle of the night to go over a list of everything I said and did during the day. Maybe, you have a version of her. I hope she’s nicer to you.
Anyway, this time, when I got up to sing, I told her to take a few minutes off. That yes, I knew exactly how I was going to look and sound up there and I didn’t need her to remind me. She sulked, but she was blessedly quiet and for the space of a song I didn’t worry about how I was going to look or what I was doing.
It was scary and exciting and fun.
Here’s the important thing I learned: Most people don’t want to see you fail. They want to see you get up on stage and give it all you got. They want to see the triumphant smile. They want to clap at the end. If there happens to be a person or two rooting for your failure, you can immediately disregard their opinion because obviously they are monsters and you should never care what monsters think. If you’re like me, that also goes for the biggest monster of all, the one inside of you.
I’m not saying that you should do karaoke and if you don’t, you’re missing out on something. What I am saying is do the things you want to do without worrying about looking ridiculous or failing. Put yourself out there. Instead of being so sure what it is you can’t do, maybe see what you can do without that inner critic stopping you.
It’s going to be scary and exciting, but hopefully it’s going to be fun.
Later, when Gollum wanted to tell me just how bad I was, I just laughed at her, which seemed to shut her up for a little bit. I also asked my husband not to ever show me any photos or video he might have taken. Gollum doesn’t need that sort of ammunition.
For the second year in a row, I participated in Inktober. Last year, I had done a sort of half-marathon, only churning out about fifteen piece of work. This year I doubled that number. I tried to push myself to approach ink in a different way, despite wanting to just use an ink and a brush. Here are a few of the things that I tried.
Continuous line drawings
I liked just moving my pen along with what my eyes were seeing, without worrying too much about what my finished picture was going to look like.
Similar to the continuous line drawings, these were really just explorations of my subject matter, with once again not worrying about the end result. I think of it as working to connect my eyes to my brain to my hands and to be able to more correctly draw what is in front of me. Worrying less about what it’s supposed to look like and concerning myself more with shapes and shadows and lines. I also did a series of speed drawings, which are always a great way of loosening up when drawing.
Another fun way to loosen up was to use scribbles to put in values. I drew the woman on the left while waiting for my son to get out of dance class and I imagine people must have thought I was a crazy person scribbling furiously in my sketch book.
Because I’m so often drawn to drawing people, especially portraits, I tried to do a few landscapes. I like painting landscapes, but drawing them in black and white wasn’t really a lot of fun for me.
The best and most exciting part of Inktober this year was finding a new style of drawing, especially my preferred subject matter, faces. Using different line widths and using the spacing between those lines I was able to create different values in my work. I wouldn’t have discovered this new style if I hadn’t forced myself to continue to work with pens for the first half of the month. This has become one of my new favorite ways of drawing and also has led me to approach my painting in a different way as well.
Throughout the year, I don’t often get an opportunity to draw as much as I would like, as I use the bulk of my spare time for writing, but I’m always happy to participate in Inktober. It’s a great way of getting back in the habit of regularly making art and it also pushes me to discover new ways of creating.
“The light is red.”
“Oh,” I said, slamming on the brakes.
“Did you not hear me tell you that the light was red?” my husband asked.
“I heard you. I just think my brain decided to process what you were saying later.”
We sort of laughed about it. The light had turned green before I had even come to a stop. There was a good chance that had I blown through the intersection, it would have been close enough to green so as to not be dangerous. Still, I was on a flat stretch where I could see the traffic light for a long time before I came up on it and it was a road that I was very familiar with. I both saw the traffic light and heard my husband mention it three times before I actually moved to stop the car.
The other day I went upstairs four separate times to brush my teeth. I kept finding myself downstairs having never brushed them. It seriously took all day for me to complete this small task and it only happened because the mossy buildup on my teeth exacerbated by the excessive amounts of sugar I’ve been eating was getting out of control.
I don’t know what is going on in my brain. I’m not doing a lot of thinking. That’s for sure. I find the days just slip by. What did I accomplish today? How did I accomplish so little?
It’s like when I used to have dreams/nightmares about waiting tables. I always dreamed that I had too many tables and too many customers who needed something and I just couldn’t seem to fill up the water glasses. The whole dream felt like I was walking through chest-high water with weights around my ankles.
Fortunately, I still have it together enough to make sure my kids are fed, hydrated, clothed and bathed, but I have to give a lot of credit to my husband who has had off of work the last week or so. And if my daughter went an entire day in her pajamas, what’s the harm? She was comfortable and we put clean ones on her before she went to bed.
I’m basically functioning at the survival level. That sounds dramatic, but I just want to be clear I’m not at the clean house level (shout out once more to my husband who is picking up the slack) nor am I at the all the laundry is clean and put away level (although, to be fair, is anyone at this level?). I’m not even close to being at the I write novels level or even the I paint pictures level. Going for groceries or planning meals for the week feels impossible. How was I able to accomplish this before? Did I have some sort of algorithm? I get to the end of the week and I’m close to making a meal out of cheerios, frozen peas and tofurkey slices.
I don’t like talking about this. I want you to think that my life is just one beautiful, sparkling Pinterest board. I want you to picture me at home with my precocious children, making crafts and baking cookies. Not wandering the house like someone who has just survived a tornado. Not looking at my kids and husband as if I can’t even comprehend the words coming out of their mouths.
I also don’t want you to think that this is what my blog is going to be about. Post after post after post of Amanda wallowing in her own self-pity and doing nothing to fix it. I didn’t want to share the first post about being depressed and I don’t want to share this. I know that this loss in concentration is part of the depression I’m feeling. I’m sharing it because I want anyone else out there who is reading this and feels the same way to know that at least you aren’t alone. Maybe I’ll figure out how to get through this and I can share it with you. Maybe you have some ideas to toss my way. Maybe we pull each other up out of this mental haze.
This is what I’m going to try: I’m going to give myself until the new year. Then, I’m going to start making goals again. I think I might create a bare minimum that I want to accomplish in the next few months and just try my best to do that. I also think I might try to be a little more disciplined about when I go to sleep and when I wake up and what I eat. I think I may also start creating lists and keeping track of what I accomplish and what I don’t. Eww. This is beginning to sound like New Year’s Resolutions and I try my best not to ever do those. Just trust me when I say that I’m going to keep trying to find a way to get my focus back and if I find the answer, I promise, I will share it.
Finally, to the people who urged me to seek help for my depression, thank you for caring. Thank you for encouraging and even pushing. I am doing something about it.
Until then, if you see me wandering around the streets with a vacant look on my face, could you please point me back home?
I used to think that I had to choose which creative outlet that I wanted to give all of my time. I felt that if I was going to write, then I couldn’t paint or draw and if I was drawing or painting, then I couldn’t write. I thought that this was how my brain was wired. It’s a big part of the reason that I didn’t do much writing in my twenties. Instead, I was a visual artist. I discovered oil paint and watercolor and I went to school for graphic design. Writing was limited to college papers.
For the past two years, I’ve been mostly writing. This meant that I stopped painting. I barely doodled. I’ve loved writing, but I miss painting. I get something different out of each endeavor. Writing is harder work, and can often be very frustrating, but is very rewarding when the story comes together or I find the right words or the right phrases. It’s a workout for my brain. Painting is like a meditation. I can completely unplug from everything around me. Time slips away. The joy I find in painting is in the creation of it and less about the finished product.
I don’t like having to choose between these two pursuits and I think I might have been terribly wrong about how my brain operates. I decided that I probably should be doing both of these things simultaneously. I have this theory that writing drains the creativity from me and painting might just fill it back up.
So, this week I tried to find a balance between visual art and creative writing.
Each day, I first had to reach my word count. Right now, my daily word count is around a thousand words. That’s a nice comfortable amount for me for the amount of time that I can put into it every day. If I push myself I can write as many as two thousand words a day, but I find that’s a bigger struggle and I lose some of the joy that I have in writing. If I reached my word count early enough in the day, I could then spend my evening doing visual art. I returned to the redditgetsdrawn community and did watercolor portraits. I usually only had an hour or two to draw and paint them, but that was enough.
This was what I accomplished this week:
None of that painting got in the way of my writing. Apparently, my brain is perfectly capable of handling whatever I throw at it. I wish that I hadn’t allowed this sort of self-imposed limitation rule my creativity for the last fifteen years.
P.S. Writers who were also visual artists? There’s apparently a lot of them, so I’m in good company.
Did you ever have that dream where you find yourself somewhere very public and you look down and you realize that you don’t have any clothes on? Everyone has this dream, right? For me that dream turns up enough times that I’ve looked up what it means in a dream dictionary.
Here’s a basic rundown of what it means.
- It may suggest you are feeling vulnerable or insecure.
- You may be afraid that you or your actions will be exposed to others.
- You may be feeling ashamed of yourself for something you said or did.
- The phrase, “the naked truth” comes to mind and so you may be “baring your soul” to someone or you are being open and honest with yourself about something.
Makes sense, right? It’s not like if you dream about a cow skeleton which apparently means that your mother in real life is not showing her emotions and is not responding to your needs. I’m not sure how that conclusion was reached and I also am curious how a cow skeleton just appears in a dream. Dreams are crazy things.
The reason that I bring up the whole naked dream thing is because I feel like I’m having one of those right now. Except I’m completely awake.
See, for the past year, I have worked alone on putting words on paper. Not always paper, of course. You know what I mean. I’ve been getting the words out of my head. I’ve been trying to arrange them to actually create people, to build worlds, to tell a story that I would want to read. Some days are great, the words just glide out. Other days are hard and it’s a struggle to reach my word count. But I’ve kept my word counts. I’ve kept my goals and in less than six months, I have finished two first drafts.
I have officially written two novels.
The problem is that I’ve gotten used to being alone with nothing but my words. I’ve become comfortable with hiding behind my computer screen. It’s safe here. There’s no danger of failure. There’s no one to tell me that my writing is bad or wrong or that I’ll never really be a writer. Of course, the flip side to that is there’s also no room for success, no way of reaching out to the world with my words and hoping that I can connect with someone.
When I tell my husband how desperately I want to be a writer, he always asks, “Do you write?”
I know where he is going with his line of questioning so I usually huff out a sigh or roll my eyes. He thinks that if I write, then I am a writer. I think if I am a writer, then I need people to read what I write.
It’s not too different from the thought experiment about a falling tree. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a writer writes two novels and never lets anyone read it, is she still a writer?
I know. I know. It’s different. Plenty of people write because they enjoy it and it doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. Think of all of the people who write in diaries or journals. They aren’t any less of a writer because they keep their words private. But that’s not me. I want people to read what I write. I want to put it out there, even if it’s scary and I feel overexposed and I feel like everyone is going to point and laugh.
I want to be a writer and I want to be the sort of writer who writes things that people want to read. So, that means, I have to suck it up and I have to share. This blog? It’s practice, a way of gradually sharing my words with readers. What I hope it will become is what I hope all of my words will become, a connection out there to the rest of the world. I’m going to ignore the part of me that feels overexposed, that feels vulnerable. I’m not going to be afraid.
So, this first post is it. This is me stepping out there, feeling like I got nothing on except my words.