Being Open

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Earlier this week, I had a couple of bad days in a row. My family threw me a birthday party Saturday night, and, even though it was low-key, I woke up gray the next morning and stayed that way for the next 36 hours. I wasn’t extremely sad, but I was empty. My body felt anxious. I could keep the anxious thoughts at bay, but my body still felt anxious. My stomach was upset, I had chills, and I was twitchy. I felt panicky, and vaguely afraid. I tried to meditate and sleep, but my body remained anxious. I tried tv, music, and movies, but I felt too distracted to engage.

On the second day I was supposed to have a playdate with a friend and her son, but I felt too anxious to drive the hour long trip. I was afraid to cancel, but I was more afraid of driving when my mind and body were not under my control. My friend graciously allowed us to reschedule, and my daughter lovingly accepted that we had to cancel because I was not feeling well. Both of their reactions were a shock to me. I expected to be rejected and criticized. I expected my friend and daughter to hate me for my weakness. Instead, both of them were understanding and loving in their own ways.

I realized that my openness about my illness allowed for these responses. I do not usually talk to my friends about my depressed thoughts or feelings, but I am very open about the fact that I have a chronic illness. It is one of the main reasons I do not work outside of the home, so it tends to come up early in the getting-to-know-you phase of friendship. When I honestly told my friend that I did not feel capable of making the drive because of my illness, she understood without further explanation. Depression will impact your daily choices, so it makes sense to me that people regularly involved in your life should know about it. It helps me avoid lying to keep it a secret. And because I have been open with my friend, she also sent me some encouraging words rather than just rescheduling the playdate.

My daughter is a different story, though. She’s only 6, so her understanding of my illness is much different than my friend’s. And yet, her response was also loving and kind. During my last episode, my daughter was 3; she saw that I was sad a lot, and I told her that I had an illness that makes me sad for no reason. Miraculously, she just accepted it. She immediately showed me sympathy for being sick, and treated me as she would if I had a cold. She has continued to act the same way anytime I have had bad days over the last 3 years. She still accepts that I am ill rather than just sad, and she still shows sympathy. When I told her we could not go visit our friends because I was not feeling well, she showed more concern for me than for her own situation. I was blown away. Overall, my daughter is a normal 6 year old, but her love and kindness toward me and my illness seem beyond her years.

When you feel compelled to keep your mental illness a secret, you set yourself up to have to lie about your circumstances. But if you are open about the existence of your condition–no need to go into the gory details–you may be surprised at the acceptance you find. If you treat your illness with the seriousness it deserves, you will find it easier to let go of the shame that causes you to keep it a secret. It won’t necessarily make it easier to admit when you’re facing a moment of weakness, but it might set you up to receive more understanding responses from those affected by the ripple effects of your illness.

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Birthday Reflections

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It’s my birthday today. I’m 34 years old today. Birthdays are hard for me; I’m not sure why. Holidays generally are difficult, but birthdays especially. On any holiday there is an expectation that it should be better than a regular day–feel better. But that isn’t how it always plays out. Holidays often just feel like regular days with a meaningless bow on top. The childhood joy has disappeared. The holidays haven’t changed, but I have. I can’t feel what I used to feel. Maybe this happens to all of us. I don’t know; I never really talk about it to anyone because I don’t want to put a damper on someone else’s holiday. Christmas is better now that my daughter is into it; her joy is palpable, so I feel like I can share in it. And her birthday is fun, too; I like to throw her fun parties, and I enjoy that. But my birthday? My depression tells me it’s a waste of a day; I don’t matter enough to be celebrated. Every year since I turned 19 I have momentarily thought this. The supporting evidence for this thought seems to be my inability to experience joy at my parties, presents, and well wishes. Again, my depression tells me that I know my own worthlessness better than my friends and family who celebrate my birthday. If they knew, they wouldn’t be celebrating. I feel like on my birthday I should evaluate myself and my failings as a human being, and I never come out ahead. I can always find innumerable things wrong with me, but, even if it’s only while I write this, today will be different.

Hanging in my living room, I have a great collage that I made about 10 years ago for a college class. Of all of the art of any medium that I’ve made, this is absolutely my favorite. I spent weeks on it, and was immediately pleased, as was my professor. It’s a piece about me with literary and artistic influences primarily from British Modernism. It’s about the importance and yet difficulty of connecting with others in both modern and post-modern times. The collage is primarily text that I wrote–diaries and poems–with literary quotes and images mixed in. 10 years ago I deeply felt a longing to connect with others but it also seemed nearly impossible. I had accepted depression as part of my life, but I still kept it hidden. This collage was the first time I made a public statement regarding my depression even if it was done indirectly. I would never at any time in the past or now say aloud some of the things I put on the collage. It’s crazy, romantic ramblings of a girl swimming through a sea of depression. I still haven’t read them aloud to anyone, but they’re there in my living room for anyone to read if you study it closely enough.

I love the collage because it really is a piece of who I was 10 years ago, a piece I crafted into something I think is beautiful. But it isn’t only beautiful because of the moment it captures. I continue to love it because it reminds me of how much I have grown. I no longer feel like the girl who wrote the text of the collage, but I love her dearly for being brave and trying to create something beautiful out of her suffering. Now, though, I feel much freer than I did then, and, if not the beginning, making and presenting the collage was an early step in loosening the chains of stigma. At 34 I am almost completely open about my mental illness. I don’t talk a lot about my dark thoughts, but I refuse to hide the fact that I experience them. 10 years ago I was afraid of rejection, now I am encouraged by acceptance. My brain tells me the same lies, but I am so much better at not listening. I still experience feelings of isolation, but I know I am not alone. I am a much stronger woman than the girl who made this collage.

So, on my 34th birthday, I once again choose love. Love for the girl I was, love for my ability to make something beautiful, love for my growth, love for my journey. I survived one more orbit around the sun, and I didn’t give up. Maybe, for once, I’ll bask in the spotlight of my birthday rather than counting my flaws. And if I doubt my worth, I can just look at my collage and remember how far I’ve come and how much stronger my voice is now. And when I look at it that way, 34 feels pretty good.

What to Do for Your Depressed Friend

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My close friend sent me a buzzfeed list today titled “23 Things You Probably Shouldn’t Say to Someone with Depression.” (http://www.buzzfeed.com/annaborges/you-cant-just-choose-happiness?bffbmain&utm_term=.ui8gBNXO5#.clPjbzLZM) I love articles that bring loving exposure to mental illness. It’s a pretty great list, but I do want to go a bit more in depth than the list. It could be better, and, to be honest, I don’t think it’s proactive enough if you’re a true friend. If you have learned anything about me here, I hope it’s that I’m a fighter and I won’t face depression sitting down even if it knocks me out for weeks at a time. But a depressed person can rarely fight alone. So here are a few changes/additions I would make to buzzfeed’s list for friends of the depressed.

“Have you tried…?”
I actually say this to depressed people all the time, but I do have a lot of therapeutic experience. I have tried a lot of things, so I want to tell people about what has worked. If you don’t have experience with mental health therapy; do quality research, and please begin with medical/scientific research rather than homeopathic research. And instead of telling or emailing your research to your depressed friend, put it into practice. You think a sunlamp would help your friend with SAAD? Don’t tell them; buy them a sunlamp and take it to their home. Ask if you can try it out together; then leave it there and don’t ask if they’re using it. If your friend is willing to try counseling but is afraid or reluctant, consider paying for the counseling and drive them to the appointment. Then wait in the waiting room patiently to drive them home; your safe presence matters in a fearful or uncomfortable situation even out of eyeshot. Don’t ask questions, just drive and pay if necessary. You can’t force your depressed friend to try a new therapy, and advice often comes across as critical, but you can give them gifts, books, giftcards, etc and offer to join in if appropriate. It’s okay to feel like you want to help fix your friend’s problem, but you probably can’t. What you can do is give them resources to fight with no strings attached and no questions asked.

“Let’s just go grab a drink and take your mind off it.”
This is an easy one to fix. Instead of asking them to go out and forget, take a bottle of wine etc to your depressed friend and tell them you’re there to listen. Depressed people have difficulty being with people, and they have difficulty forgetting their pain, but we still need friends. Be willing to change up your social schedule to accommodate supporting your friend without leaving them behind.

“Don’t worry, you’re strong enough to get through this.”
Maybe the phrasing is wrong here, but the general idea is okay, I think. It’s stupid to tell a depressed person not to worry. It’s a debilitating illness–that’s pretty worrisome. How about just saying, “You are so strong in the face of such struggle.” Assure your depressed friend that they are strong, but don’t make it about strength to get better in the future, make it about the strength they are showing in the present. Recognize that it takes enormous strength for a severely depressed person to even get out of bed some days. Give them credit and praise for what they are already doing rather than what they could do in the future.

“Have you been taking your medication?”
Ugh! This is like asking a woman if she is on her period. Not cool. But, if you are a caretaker rather than a friend, I think this is okay. The difference between a friend and caretaker is like the difference between a hospital visitor and a nurse–one brings flowers and the other has to change bedpans. Don’t try to be a caretaker if you’re just a visitor. Don’t ask personal health questions. However, many depressives, including myself, are sometimes resistant to taking medication even when it is very necessary. If you are a caretaker as opposed to a friend, it is okay to lovingly remind your depressed family member of their medication, just do it in a smooth, subtle way when you’re loved one is not distressed. Timing is everything.

“Maybe you should focus on exercising and eating right.”
Physical health is an important part of whole body balance, but again, rather than offering advice, act on your ideas. Don’t tell a depressed person to exercise and eat right; eating and moving are difficult things to do when you’re severely depressed. Bodily sensations are generally unpleasant to a depressed person. Instead, cook a healthy but tasty meal and take it to their house. If they can’t eat at that time, offer to put it in the fridge or freezer for later, no questions asked. Invite your depressed friend to go on a walk, anywhere, anytime, and at any pace they choose. Offer to pick them up at home and drive. Walk somewhere where your friend feels safe, even if it’s just around the block one time. Every little bit helps.

“You’re being too hard on yourself.”
Yeah. Don’t use these words. Don’t criticize at all. Instead just be gentle. If they are self-critical respond with something positive they do now and how wonderful it is. Look at the details. Of course depressives are hard on themselves; that’s just part of the gig. You have the opportunity, instead, to tell a depressed friend what they honestly mean to you now in the present. Don’t dwell on the past or the future, find the good in them now because it’s there even though they can’t see it.

“It gets better just hang in there.”
Another good idea said in the wrong way. Basically it’s pretty true–if you hang on and fight with medication and therapy it will probably get better. But saying that seems flippant. The general problem is that depressives feel and think deeply, so superficial comments mean very little. I’ve said it before to caretakers, but it works for friends, too–dig in and dig deep. Get personal if you’ve ever survived depression. Connect your depressed friend with a survivor you know, or find literature about depressive struggle and survival. Acknowledge that this might be a fight for their life and that simply hanging on may be impossible without help and genuine encouragement.

“Happiness is a choice.”
Nonsense! Happiness is an emotion, and in depression you simply can’t control your emotions. But that’s not the end of it. You can help your friend train to one day experience happiness again. Don’t send memes or inspirational quotes out of context. Again, this comes across as flippant. Make their favorite meal, watch their favorite movie, listen to their favorite album; engage in anything (harmless) that provides something resembling happiness. Simple engagement is a big step for a depressive. It may last an hour or a moment, but it matters. One laugh after hours of tears can be so momentarily freeing. Or 10 minutes of discussion can be a temporary escape from isolation. And it is a reminder that there’s something more than just depression. Happiness isn’t a choice a depressed person can make, but providing support is a choice a friend can make.

“I know you can beat this.”
Simple change: “I will help you beat this.” How can you possibly know if a very ill person will survive? You may have faith in your loved one, but illness is illness. We can treat illness, but, in this world, we are at the mercy of our ailing bodies. Don’t scarily tell your friend how dire their situation is, but acknowledge the seriousness of it. Many people do not win the fight with depression. But support makes survival more likely. If you really care about your friend, let them know you’re committed to helping, and follow through.

Buzzfeed says these are the things you should say to a depressed person:
“I’m here for you.”
“I’m sorry you’re hurting.”
“How can I help?”
“You don’t have to deal with this alone.”
“I can only begin to imagine what you’re going through, but will try to understand the best I can.”

Most of these are pretty good although a bit vague and noncommittal, but I really struggle with the last one. To be honest, if you have not been depressed, then you cannot understand no matter how hard you try or how much you research. How do I explain the nagging desire to die? How do I explain the depths of personal brokenness? How do I explain being split into two parts, one trying to aggressively smother the other. It’s a mess. It’s horrifying when your brain–the home of your consciousness and identity–is trying to drown itself. You cannot understand. Tell your depressed friend that you cannot understand their struggle, but, more importantly, tell them that you won’t stop helping despite your inability to understand. You don’t have to understand, you just have to provide unconditional love and support. And there are so many of us who have depression that will understand, and we’re out here ready to empathize when you can’t. Find us and reach out on behalf of your friend. Put your money (and your actions) where your mouth is. Don’t say you’ll help and then walk away. Don’t say stupid stuff, but also please don’t keep silent. Show love, authenticity, and gentleness. And above all, listen so that you will better know how to help your friend.

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

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Feeling lost. Disconnected. Not sad, just foggy. I’m off balanced in two ways–chemically and behaviorally. I may need a change of medication (this happens to me every once in a while) but I’ve got to find a psychiatrist first. I have 3 recommendations from my counselor, I just need to call. I think I’m afraid of rejection or having to wait months to get in, and I hate the trial-and-error process of finding the right combo of meds. Those are all excuses though. I don’t know why I’m resistant. I don’t want to 100% admit that I can’t handle it, and I have this gnawing feeling that I’m just suppressing my true self with drugs. This is a depression lie. I am my well self not my depressed self, but that feeling loves to taunt me every day when I take my medicine. Frankly, it’s awful. Part of me hates my medication because I need it, but I also know that it is saving my life. But do I really want to be saved? I think I spend too much time thinking existentially.

The answer is yes; I do want to be saved. I just have little doubts sometimes. I hate these little doubts. They’re like demons (literal or figurative, take your pick) on my back taunting me. Have you read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis? It’s like that kind of attack. My weakness is being preyed upon. All the “I love myself”s don’t seem like enough sometimes.

That’s why I have to remain strong and fight, because every moment I am not fighting the depression is winning. Depression has endurance; it will keep coming even when I’m too tired to run away. In fact, it picks up it’s pace every time I stop fighting.

And depression isn’t just tears and sadness. I sound pretty messed up today, but I haven’t shed a single tear. I feel too empty. The weather is beginning to change here. The mornings are cold, damp, and overcast. It has been burning off by the afternoon, but the mornings often set the tone for my day. I call it the snow globe effect. Everything closes in with gray and white. I feel trapped and isolated, unable to see the world stretch out before me, unable to feel connected to the hundreds of thousands of people around me.

I am supposed to do something everyday for my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. I tend to seriously neglect my body when I’m depressed. Some episodes I have trouble eating, and other episodes I binge eat. I rarely exercise because I don’t like to feel my body; it’s too much stimulation. But I have to be better about these important things. Emotionally I have days where I feel happy and fulfilled; other days I feel empty or sad. I have been writing everyday despite how I feel, so I am feeding pleasure to my emotional self. Mentally, I am working on therapy, doing my counseling homework, and practicing some of my skills. Spiritually, I have been trying to pray more and read more of my Bible for encouragement. But, overall, I am spending too much time on emotional pleasure and not enough time on physical care and physical work. I’m doing some housework everyday, but, of course, it never seems like enough. I feel worthless sometimes. Unable to contribute meaningfully.

I’m losing my balance, and balance is terribly important for a chronic depressive. The more I try to do the harder it is to keep doing it. I feel so tired.

What is my advice today? Please keep going no matter what your brain is telling you. No matter how exhausted you are–keep going. That’s my plan. I may feel low all day, but that doesn’t mean I will feel low tomorrow. And if I am low again tomorrow I will tell myself the same thing–keep going. And I’m calling a psychiatrist today. No more of this. I must get better. For my daughter’s sake, if nothing else. I’m sorry to be so doleful and boring, but I promised a record of struggle and perseverance. Today I struggle. But today I also persevere. And it’s just today I have to get through. I won’t be defeated by today because, as Scarlett O’Hara says, “tomorrow is another day.”

Ready to Suffer and Ready to Hope

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I think people are afraid. Of me. Of the things I’m willing to say. It may seem–especially from my first post–that I’m drowning. But I’m not. Not yet. Depression hasn’t overtaken me; it’s just looming.

It’s like I’m standing on a beach watching a giant wave come toward me. I can see it coming. I can try to outrun it, but it’s a big wave.

It seems kind of romantic–facing the ocean, feeling the mist, preparing to face the wave. Existential suffering can be tragically beautiful. But I’m not just reading Neitzsche and questioning myself. I’m not facing ¬†enlightenment. I’m facing a threat of darkness. It isn’t romantic; it’s frightening. And I take it seriously. It’s one thing to wish you didn’t live in this world. It’s another to plan your way out. That’s what deep, settled depression threatens to do to me.

In my first blog, I asked how could I face this again. There is no easy answer to that question, but that doesn’t mean I have to be frozen in fear. I have to be brave. I choose to hope. Hope that I can fight this off, hope that I will survive if it takes over, hope that I will be further refined by my suffering, hope that God will take care of me.

There is a song I keep coming back to over the last few months. It’s called “Shake it Out” by Florence + the Machine. As someone looking at the threat of more depression but choosing to fight, it really speaks to me. If you have a minute, give the video a watch at this link:¬†http://youtu.be/WbN0nX61rIs

Just like the song says, I choose to be ready to suffer and ready to hope. I’m facing the wave, I see it. I might as well get ready for it to hit me, in case I can’t outrun it. But I am also ready to believe I can survive whatever hits me. I don’t believe that all the time. There are days, even weeks, where I don’t believe I can survive. Last Friday was one of those days. But when I can, I choose to hope. In even the tiniest moment of light I choose to hope.

When Depression Turns You into an Asshole

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There is this great Kanye West song called “Runaway”. (Here is a link to the video: http://youtu.be/Bm5iA4Zupek )
It’s great for a lot of reasons, but I want to use it as a starting point for talking about when depression turns you into a jerk. [Insert Kanye joke here.]

The chorus says “Let’s have a toast for the douchebags/ Let’s have a toast for the assholes/ …Baby, I got a plan/ Run away as fast as you can.” Sometimes when I’m really hurting I get bitchy. I can see it, but, instead of correcting it, I own it. I hold on to it tightly because I think I’m really as awful as I’m acting, and what I want is for people to see how terrible I am and save themselves by running away. I think that all I can do is cause pain. I am nothing but a burden, and I want other people to see that “truth”.

It’s like those movie scenes where an animal is being released into the wild, and the human caretaker has to act hateful toward it so that it will do what is best for itself and return to the wild. I think I’m saving you. When I’m really ill I feel like I can only meaningfully contribute to the world by taking my wicked self out of it. This is a LIE! I am not an asshole. You all send me texts, emails, and messages telling me you like me, but sometimes I still act out my pain–perform the hurt I feel.

I want to encourage you to acknowledge this about yourself if it is true for you. But more importantly, I want you to recognize that you may be pushing people away, and this will not help you fight depression. If you hurt, show it, but acknowledge what it really is. It’s depression taking control. So here are 2 ideas for addressing negative behavior.

Recognize the real issue and address it
I can’t emphasize how important it is to recognize the roots of your actions. What is motivating you to be a jerk? This takes work. I spend a lot of time reflecting on my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I journal and talk to my husband. Depression makes you feel deeply, so I suggest thinking deeply about your feelings.

Saturday morning my daughter came to get in bed with my husband and me. She immediately asked me a question about God followed by a question about Heaven. My husband, an atheist and morning grouch, was frustrated. He didn’t say or do anything, but I can read him really well.

It pissed me off. I was angry at him. I got up and began slamming things around in the kitchen as I made coffee and my daughter’s breakfast. I even cursed at the toaster. My husband and I coarsely exchanged words, but then I began to reflect on why I was so angry. It had nothing to do with my husband’s atheism or his frustration at my exposing our daughter to Christianity.

It’s that I am currently struggling with feeling like I have my feet in two ponds–a Christian pond (my parents, church group, a few friends) and a secular pond (my husband, more friends). I had been holding on to that struggle, afraid to mention it anywhere but in my prayers.

So, I told my husband what I had been feeling, and the tears began to fall, but the fight was over and my anger was gone. I felt sad, yes, but also relieved. My anger could have put a wedge between my husband and me for the whole day, and my depression could have deepened the wedge over time.

Our differing spiritualities is a big issue, but I won’t let it ruin my marriage and family. My husband is an amazing partner and supports me completely–including my Christianity. I would be a fool to push him away, and when I saw how my depression was turning a real struggle into undue suffering I began to regain control. Maybe it sounds easy–it isn’t. It takes a lot of practice, but it’s worth it. Search for why you are hurting and refocus your attention on the real reason you’re being combative.

Find role models
When you don’t know how to act because you are hurting, focus on someone else–someone you can look up to. Not someone in an ivory tower; not someone you put on a pedestal. Choose someone who has overcome struggle and shown love to great extremes. Jesus is a good example whether or not you believe in his divinity. The way I see Jesus through the accounts in the Bible is as a radical preaching love over legalism and showing love despite suffering and alienation. Helen Keller has been a role model for me since I was a child. She faced tremendous struggle throughout her life and not only persevered but also flourished.

It can even be people you know. I have 2 dear (but geographically distant) friends from growing up who I still text with regularly. They are both role models for me for different reasons. One seems to be able to do it all–she helps people in her job, she is great at being an adult even though she’s still in her early 30s, she has a beautiful family and home, she takes care of herself. But she knows struggle, too. And she tackles her struggles with the same focus, positivity, and directness with which she faces everything else. She reminds me of how capable I really am. The other friend has faced serious struggles as well, but she has never let that stop her from moving forward, being herself, and pursuing her goals. She has this gift of being truly unique and genuinely talented. She taught me to be a rebel before I knew I was one. And she inspires me to keep moving forward like she has. Yes, I can call them anytime, but sometimes it’s enough just to think about them and feel inspired and proud to know them. Find people you can look up to and be inspired by.

If you are a caretaker dealing with a friend-turned-asshole, I encourage you to use the same techniques but in a different way. Allow your loved one to feel her pain and give her space and encouragement to reflect. Be ready for deep issues to spring up from silly arguments. When you’re depressed almost everything is an existential crisis. Let the conversation go where it needs to go as your loved on works through her layers of feelings.

Also, research books, movies, etc. about inspirational stories of overcoming struggle and share these possible role models with your loved one. My dad gave me a great book he read about Abraham Lincoln and his struggles with melancholy throughout his life–and look what Lincoln did despite his own pain. So many inspirational, historical figures have struggled with depression.

Most importantly, please don’t run away even if your loved one is an asshole. Unless you are facing abuse (in which case I strongly urge you to save yourself before you try to save your loved one), don’t run away, but don’t let yourself be a doormat. Vent to trustworthy friends who will support you and show you love. Stand up for yourself but stay available.

In the “Runaway” video–about 3 minutes in–Kanye West climbs up on top of a piano and sings, “Run away from me, baby!/ Run away!” with desperation in his face and voice. It’s like he’s saying, “Please! Save yourself! Get away from me!” It is beautifully sad to me. He seems to understand self-loathing–the kind of self-loathing all depressives know. I want you to know that when you’re a depressed asshole, depression is the problem, but pushing people away is not the answer. Force yourself to step outside of your blinded self-loathing and see what is in control. Give yourself time to reflect on your actions and talk to someone about your real issues. Also, look outside of yourself for inspiration. Don’t compare yourself to others–you are unique–but try to use some of their lessons, ideas, and methods to help you face your own issues. And remember that you are irreplaceable and one day your strength might inspire someone else to keep fighting.

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Are you wondering if your loved one is depressed or just an asshole? Here is a related post with some of my thoughts on that very question titled Wild Mood Swings

Finding Yourself through Failure

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My house is a wreck. Like “I’m running out of clean dishes” wreck. It’s 10:30am, and I still haven’t eaten anything–just drinking lots of coffee. The tv is on, and I’ve been wasting time on my phone. I’ve got on clean clothes but need a shower. I’m being lazy and procrastinating.

The dishes! They taunt me. The sheer number that I must wash one by one. (Alas, I have no dishwasher!) It feels like I will never catch up, so I just put it off.

Sometimes I feel like dishes end up being my primary job, and I think, “I have a BA in English, and yet my job is to wash dishes!” Then I feel like a failure. I can’t even use the degree I worked for.

For a while, the future seemed so bright. I was a college graduate working on my Master’s, surrounded by friends and intellectuals. And now–dishes.

My husband tells me about the college classes he teaches, and I think about what I would do if I were teaching. Then I remember that I didn’t finish my MA; I’m not qualified to teach a class. Failure. So much failure.

It’s not because I didn’t try. For a while I did it all, but depression took it all away. I made some bad choices, yes, but ultimately I was overwhelmed by the stress, and my brain shut down. I could read words, but they meant nothing. I couldn’t write because I couldn’t filter my thoughts. I became obsessive about outlining and anxious about composing.

On the one hand, depression has taken so much away from me. I feel like I have failed at so much. But the truth is that failure builds character. It molds you into the person you are always becoming.

I have faced a lot of defeat, and finding my identity has been a struggle. I tried to be a perfect pastor’s kid, I tried to be in a sorority, I tried to fit in with my hometown’s values, I tried to be an intellectual (twice!), I tried to be an artist, I tried to be an agnostic–the list goes on. But everything I’ve tried and failed at has shaped me. I know what it’s like to feel the pressure of the spotlight, I know what it’s like to not belong, I know what it’s like to fear rejection, I know what it’s like to lose your purpose, I know what it’s like to feel talentless, I know what it’s like to feel unsure. This list goes on, too.

All these things I know, I’ve experienced, and they’ve made me a better person. I like being a nerd, a liberal, a Christian, the wife of an intellectual, the mother of a free spirited daughter. I like living in the pacific northwest and the few friends I have here. And none of this might have happened without depression. Finding out who you are is difficult and constant, but it is also incredible.

Now I’ve been writing for an hour and a half, and the dishes are still staring at me, but I don’t feel like a failure anymore. Dishes aren’t my job–they’re my task. Failure is not Lord over me–it is a tool I use to grow. I am more than my depression, but I am also more because of it.