This was the question that greeted me when I opened my "Q&A A Day" journal on April 1st. In the days leading up to this moment, I had discussed the potential cathartic release that could result from blogging about my recent mental health rut. Talking about who I really think I'm fooling - my friends, family, others - when I try to put up a front that everything is okay when it isn't, even though it will be. It's an idea that I've toyed with well before I even started this little baby, but one that I've constantly avoided for a few reasons.
1. The phrase "too blessed to be stressed" and others like it make me feel like I shouldn't.
2. I worry about what my co-workers or family would think (or say, or do) if they stumbled upon this post.
3. Sharing is really. Really. Hard for me.
But, here's my first, earnest try. For anyone who has ever googled "how to work with depression." For anyone who has considered causing, or has caused, themselves intentional self-harm, or worse. For anyone who has felt the impossibility of moving through nothing more than the average day. This post certainly will not heal you, but I hope that if nothing else, it makes you feel like you're not alone.
Where to start.
Social media. I love Twitter and I love Instagram. Not just because I'm a millennial (kidding, I have no way of knowing whether or not I would love them both if I was a Gen Xer or a Baby Boomer), but also because they bring me laughter. I spend a lot, and I mean A LOT, of time alone. During days - sometimes full work weeks - when I've had no actual in-person human interaction, I can open Twitter and find myself faced with the funniest gif/meme/tweet that I have ever seen in my life (my life = that day, I'm just dramatic). I also love contributing to the overall humor and the visual aesthetic of my social media timelines. Shocker for those that know me. LIkes, comments, praise aside, it's really just fun for me.
Until it's not. I'm coming out of yet another self-imposed quasi-hiatus from social media. I say quasi because during the beginning of it, I still attempted to maintain my blog presence by posting features and posts. Eventually, as has happened numerous times before, the weight of the external positivism pulse started to overwhelm me to the point where I could no longer pretend to post things that didn't reflect how I was feeling. I had gotten to a point where my appetite was minimal to non-existent most days. I was avoiding text messages of those closest to me who could tell what my absence signified. I would try to socialize or do things that I thought would make me happy (going to church, hanging out with friends, going to the movies), only to find myself wracked with tears before, during, and/or after any or all of these activities. And this occurred in spurts for months, carrying through the holidays, my birthday, and the beginning of what was supposed to be spring. So, I stopped. And what do I mean by the positivism pulse? I'm self-defining it as the widespread, frequently espoused view that being positive is a cure-all. That no matter what you're going through, or aren't, no matter who you are, or aren't, you should refrain from introducing your toxic emotions and bad moods to other people, especially to those on your social media timelines.
I see this messaging often, posted by both strangers and loved ones whose job it is not to ensure that my feelings are preserved each day as I scroll. But, I personally believe that there's as much value in racial and gender sensitivity in social spaces as there is in mental health sensitivity. So, I'll try to explain why sometimes that hurts - why sometimes it makes me feel like I'll never be fully accepted by our society or by myself if I continue this way - in a few words that I wrote directly in my personal journal:
"I usually don't feel comfortable writing because I tend to write when I'm in dark places. I tend to write and tweet and post to either distract from the pain of, or to intensify the lonely sentiment surrounding, my periods of depression. I've written that fact here, I've told that fact to my friends, I've told that fact to my therapists. I even tell myself that I don't like the sight of my own handwriting, which I've tried to change multiple times, year after year. So, now the question isn't "how do I make journaling okay?" but rather "how do I make me okay with me inside or outside of this journal?" For comparison is not the only thief of joy; when you struggle with depression, you end up stealing it from yourself all by yourself without anybody's help.
Ain't that something else...
I'm finally realizing that we don't all start at zero. Some people do; they have their baseline, as my sister, Meg, says. Some people start at 10. Their personal light is amazing; their light fills up rooms before they do and seems almost artificial in its bright fluorescence. And some of us are working on finding our zero and building from there. Some days we start at -50. Some days we start at -100 and we wish with all of our hearts that the day just wouldn't start at all. But no matter where we start, we're a special group and I'm becoming okay with the fact that we need a little (a lot of) help getting to zero and beyond. Help from our zero plus friends and family. Help from medication that will help us re-wire our emotional capacity for happiness. Some days we'll do a great job of asking for help and some days we just won't.
That's okay. A mantra I have to repeat to myself. I will keep trying. An it won't be perfect. But, that will have to be okay."
I share this not to refute the benefits of being positive. Positive mindsets, positive actions, positive people, make the world a better, more pleasant place for each of us to occupy. Instead I share this to reinforce my belief that positivity is a process for many. For me, the pressure of feeling too negative or too emotional often results in complete isolation. And it has since I started dealing with depression over 10 years ago. I hear echoes of "if you ain't got nothing good to say, then don't say anything at all" in my head and I mentally translate "say" to "be" or "think" or "feel." So, when I'm feeling dark, I retreat, not wanting to diminish the light of others. Not wanting to make other people uncomfortable. Not wanting to impose upon the joy of those around me as I wonder why it's so hard for me to sustain my own no matter how hard I try to.
Isolation can be refreshing. It can breed reflection and self-understanding. But, as with everything, it's best in moderation. As the lovely Alana Kalynn, author of "The Beginning, Middle, and - The Beginning," (available for purchase here) wrote in her book: "Time to yourself is healthy, too much time can result in you not only being disconnected from the world but [also] disconnected from your own reality." Being at home, in isolation, day in and day out for the better portion of the past few months has done just that - caused me to dip into one of my lowest lows, to disconnect from my reality. My blessed reality. The reality of "at least you have a job," "at least you can pay the bills," "at least you live in New York," "at least you're able-bodied," "at least you can afford to travel frequently," "at least you have all of this privilege, despite some of the adversity that you face." These blessings have both lifted me up and crippled me from feeling like I could ever express pain or dissatisfaction, even when both are written all over my face and posture. But, as I realize that there is light in opening up, I also realize that there is light in continuing to push, slowly still, for sustainable joy.
And to know that other people are pushing with me. If this post resonates with you, if you're experiencing or have experienced any of what I've shared, know that even when life feels impossible, and sometimes for no reason at all, there is hope. There is hope in knowing first and foremost that God is loving, He lives within each and every one of us, and He sustains us even when we don't deserve to be sustained, and even when we don't know or acknowledge that He is there. There is hope in friendship. I don't know where I would be today without loved ones who would drive and travel by train for almost an hour to come lift me up in-person when they knew I had reached my rock bottom and/or had become a danger to myself. I don't know how much progress I would make without their encouragement and accountability regarding my therapy and psychiatry needs. Leaning on them means everything to me. There is also hope in knowing that depression and anxiety can be uniting forces, before, during and after spells involving them. Yes, they can be extremely dangerous, if not life-threatening, mental health issues. However, I've found that connecting with others, whether strangers on social media or friends, who have undergone similar struggles has reminded me that even when I feel like my "negativity" is my own fault, it's not mine anymore than it is anyone else's.
Depression just is - without cause, often times without control. I have physical and emotional scars now that remind me how ugly it can get, but I also have strengthened relationships that will continue to carry me through any future lows and valleys. I have a sustained understanding of the importance of therapy, particularly for myself as a woman of color. And I have a renewed interest in investing as much as I possibly can in my own self-improvement, no matter how long the process may take me or how much it might cost (financially and emotionally).
Let us continue to love on, to check on, to embrace physically and emotionally, our loved ones who struggle with depression and our loved ones that don't. A little sunshine never hurt anybody, even when it's not a cloudy day.