Depression and Me: A Conversation Told Through Email

From: Me

Subject: Just checking in

Hey,

Hope you’re doing well. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, what with the eight million things I’ve already given you to worry about. So don’t take this as me rushing you. If we can’t condense the timeline, we can’t, and that’s that.

I just wanted to check in and see if you had a timeline for when you were planning to head out.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having you around.

Well, “love” might be a strong word. “Gotten used to” might be more accurate. But I’m trying to be polite. I hope you can see that. I’m really trying.

It’s just that I’ve got a few things to take care of this weekend, so if you could just let me know what your plans are, I’ll plan accordingly.

Let me know either way.

I really appreciate it.


From: Depression

Subject: (No subject)

Cute.

I’m not a train. I don’t come on schedule.

Try again tomorrow.


From: Me

Subject: Hey, I’m serious

Maybe I wasn’t being clear. Sorry about that. I’ll try to be more direct — sorry if this comes off abrupt. I really do apologize. But I don’t know how else to make you listen.

Fuck off, OK?

I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. I’ve got a short story that needs writing. I need to clean the bathroom, put gas in my car, come up with a good Mother’s Day present.

I’d love to entertain you, but you’re heavy. You’re dense as a neutron star, solid as a ship’s anchor, and when you sit like that on my chest, you make my ribs ache. I’ve told you before how brittle my bones are, but I’m not sure you heard.

Oh, and I’m tired. 


From: Depression

Subject: Kid, please

You can stick it out. Be nice. I came all this way to be with you. The least you can do is make me up a bed on the couch. Maybe cook dinner. Paella sounds good. I don’t have anywhere else to go.


From: Me

Subject: What the ever-loving fuck

This isn’t what we agreed on, you fucker. You’re not in the running for the National Book Award. Keep the plot twists to yourself.

I don’t have the energy for you right now. There’s enough going on without this. Without the cramps twisting my stomach, the weak feeling in my knees after every muscle in my legs tensed past breaking while I was driving home on I-55. I don’t have the energy for these nightmares.

And I sure as shit don’t have the energy to worry about how much I weigh on top of all of this. I refuse to let you guilt-trip me for skipping the gym because I had a panic attack on the way there.

That is not. How. This. Works.


From: Depression

Subject: Yes it is

That’s exactly how this works. You know the drill.

Settle in, hombre. It’s gonna be a long night.


From: Me

Subject: Listen up

Here’s what you’re not getting. I’m gonna break it down for you. Listen good. I’m only gonna say this once.

My body is my sanctuary.

It is my temple.

It is the one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment decorated with pages from my favorite books, paintings of owls looking quizzically in the distance as owls are wont to fucking do, my favorite de-stress playlist drifting through the hallways from my speakers.

It is my home, and you do not get to come in here uninvited.

So consider this your eviction notice. I’ll give you one night to get your things together. I’ll lend you some duct tape to shut up the boxes.

But I’m heading off to sleep tonight, and when I wake up in the morning, I want you fucking gone.

Am I clear?


[0 new messages]

The Unbearable Exhaustion of Being Misunderstood

“Have you lost weight?”

I shift from my right leg to my left, leaning against the wall. The cold plaster rests against my shoulderblades, something solid to hold onto, preventing me from running. An alternative I’d rather like to take, but not a polite one.

“Uh, no,” I say, eloquently. “Pretty sure not.”

“Are you sure? Your face looks thinner. You’re so lucky you can lose weight so easily.”

Uh, no, I think, pretty sure not. 

This time, I shrug it off and keep it to myself, awkwardly steering the conversation in a new direction.

For the record, I’ve weighed pretty much exactly the same for the past 18 months, and my conversation partner had been on a diet for six weeks. I took Psych 101. I know a textbook case of projection when I see one.

But that’s not the point.

Even these days, still, sometimes I’m struck by how much empty space can fit between the people around me and a reasonable thing to say to another human. It feels like someone’s trying to stick a three-pronged electrical plug into a USB drive. The motivation is good and makes sense on a macro level, but something’s just getting hella lost in the execution.

Maybe what’s getting lost is the thread of my metaphor. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It’s not really a complaint, anyway, more a bewildered observation: that dear God, some people do not know how to talk about food and bodies and mental health. Three things that, in my daily comings and goings, are really important to talk about at least OK.

Have you lost weight?

I bought this cake but I don’t want it. Here. You’ll eat it, right?

Wait, hang on, why are you crying? You always look so put-together and in control.

(Excuse me, with that last one? Don’t make me laugh. It’s disconcerting to laugh and cry at the same time.)

When I’m lying awake in bed, way too late at night, I let my mind wander. And what it wanders to, more often than I ever expect, is a place where everyone understands one another perfectly.

Where I no longer need to pretend to be motivated when all I want is to crawl back into bed and stay there until summer.

Where I can be perfectly, unrestrainedly happy, even when everyone around me is having one of the Top Five Worst Days in Recorded Human History.

Where people will look at me from across the hall in my apartment building and realize 1) that person did not lose weight, and 2) it’s probably a pretty terrible idea to ask strangers about their weight without being prompted.

Because if there’s one thing more exhausting than having to cope with a brain that operates differently than the brains of most of the rest of the world…

It’s having to pretend like you don’t.

Having to pretend that chatting with other people about their diet and exercise regimens is fascinating conversation.

Having to pretend that changing plans at the last minute in a way that messes with my exercise routine still throws me for a loop, even though it shouldn’t, even though I wish it didn’t.

Having to go through my day being pleasant, approachable, responsive to feedback, eager to learn, and then coming home at 8 p.m. to lay on the couch and idly google variations on “how to stop feeling sad.”

I’m doing fine. Really. Seven out of 10 days are pretty good, and the three that fall at the low end of the bell curve, well, I can handle those.

But it would make it a metric fuckton of a lot easier if we as a species could set up a couple of groundrules:

  • Do not expect others’ relationships to their bodies to match your own.
  • Do not expect others’ moods, breaking points, or needs to make sense in the context of your own emotional paradigm.

But really, Bill and Ted put it best:

  • Be excellent to each other.

Don’t be a jerk. Give people space to hurt. Give people space to cry. Give people space to grow.

And we will grow.

Just maybe not in the way you expect.

A Note from the Author: Help a Sister Publish a Novel?

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Read on, and this old-timey illustration of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572 will, I hope, make a bit more sense.

Hey, faithful readers!

First, an apology I’ve been so erratic in my updating schedule for this blog. Life. It is a multifaceted, complicated thing that gets in the way of doing the things I care about.

And another apology, because I’m not actually adding a new post right now. Rather, I’m phoning in a favor.

Some of you may know (I’ve written about it briefly) that I moonlight as a fiction writer. Others of you may have observed that I am passionately obsessed with the Elizabethan era, based on the sheer number of times I have alluded to Shakespeare on this blog. (Macbeth, my people. It is relevant to everything.)

Well, if you’re interested in fiction and folk wearing ruffs as I am, I’ve got good news:

Because you, dear reader, could maybe help me publish my historical fiction novel.

I was lucky enough to be selected randomly as a participant in National Novel Writing Month’s Pitchapalooza. What does that mean, you ask? It means that I submitted a pitch for my historical fiction novel, titled The Devil and the Rose. And if enough people vote for my story, I receive an introduction to an agent or publisher that fits my genre.

That’s right: It’ll only take you 30 seconds to HELP ALL MY DREAMS COME TRUE.

Wondering if The Devil and the Rose would be something you’d like to read? You can read the full pitch here, but here’s the quick and dirty version: Young rakehell university student Christopher Marlowe is conscripted into the service of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. His task? Uncover plots of regicide and Catholic rebellion in the household of everyone’s favorite Stuart nemesis: Mary, Queen of Scots. Oh, and also launch his career as England’s most celebrated poet. Oh, and also don’t let word get out that he’s gay.

I can’t imagine how complications would ensue.

Want convincing? The judging committee considered my book “a really fun story about a great era that holds lots of interest to lots of people, with a fascinating iconic superstar playwright who died tragically young at the center of it,” and added “the writing has a wonderful panache and style, which makes us feel comfortable believing that [the author] can actually pull this off.”

YO. What more endorsement can I give?

I know y’all didn’t subscribe to this blog to listen to me shout about why Doctor Faustus is the best critique of Catholic morality this side of Luther’s 95 Theses. (Although I will do so, enthusiastically and at length, if you ask.) So if poets in doublets aren’t your jam, by all means, pass me by. But this has been my dream since the ripe old age of five, and I’m trying to get better about asking for things that matter deeply to me, so I’m hoping you’ll forgive me.

And for my fellow Shakespeare junkies looking for some new fiction, well … help a sister out?

Here is where you can go to view my pitch.

And here is where you can go to vote.

(I’m Allison Epstein, by the way. It just occurred to me that I almost never use my full name on this blog. But yeah, that’s me.)

To everyone willing to take the time, I personally thank you as deeply, profoundly, and profusely as I am able without my heart exploding.

Thank you thank you thank you!

6 Easy Ways to Do Something Kind for Yourself Today

Kindness

1. Compliment a Friend

I really do believe that most of us suffer from some degree of impostor syndrome.

We all have skills, talents, and unique ways of contributing to the world, but acknowledging and valuing them can feel immodest — like there’s something inherently sinful about acknowledging your worth.

So cut through the self-depricating voices in your friends’ heads, if even just for a second. They’re your loved ones for a reason. It doesn’t hurt to remind them why.

I’m still riding the high of a compliment I received this afternoon at the exact moment I needed it. And knowing you have the power to give someone else that feeling of value and importance is something to cherish — and something to be proud of.

2. Drink Some Water

Trust me. As a person prone to migraines — and a person who constantly forgets to drink water unless there’s a bottle directly in front of me at all times — this is a little thing that can make all the difference.

Stay hydrated, y’all.

3. Get One Thing Done

Not everything on your to-do list, mind. It can be overwhelming, looking at the list of personal, professional, interpersonal, financial, and whatever-else-have-you responsibilities piling up. And you don’t need to tackle everything at once. In fact, I’d argue you probably shouldn’t.

But the satisfaction of knocking one thing off your list can create a strong sense of agency. No matter how overwhelmed or stressed I feel, at least I got that one thing done today.

It can be the laundry you’ve been putting off for weeks. Calling a friend or family member. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Confirming your next session with a therapist. Actually doing the damned dishes for once.

(Why can’t I do my dishes in a reasonable span of time? The world may never know. *sheepishly sneaks off to do the dishes*)

4. Take 30 Minutes to Be

In our hundred-mile-an-hour society, productivity is king. And while there’s something to be said for activity to break through depression, it’s also important to remember that you don’t always have to be doing.

You can just be. It’s all right.

Whenever I can — and I admit, I’m not great at this yet — I try to set myself a 30-minute span to just do whatever my heart and brain want.

Sometimes it’s taking a shower, even though I already took one that morning.

Sometimes it’s calling a friend just to check in.

Sometimes it’s reading Game of Thrones fanfiction. (I make no apologies for my life or my choices.)

None of this means that you’re wasting time. You’re taking a moment to care for yourself mentally. And what’s more valuable than that?

5. Turn Daily Moments into Escapes

I’ve mentioned it before, but I swear by podcasts. I have a 2-hour roundtrip commute (hey, worst city for traffic in the continental United States), so I use podcasts to transform my commute into an escape from the world.

I’m not worrying about work or anything that’s gone wrong in my life. I’m catching up on the news, listening to stories from people I’ve never met, enjoying improv comedy. It’s a built-in time every day for me to get in touch with things I enjoy.

(Is this an opportunity for me to shamelessly plug my favorite podcasts? Absolutely. Try Welcome to Night Vale, the Thrilling Adventure Hour, Another Round, Snap Judgment, Judge John Hodgman, or The Bugle.)

Even if you don’t have a similar situation in your life, there are ways to turn your routines into daily moments of escape. Turn on your favorite music while you do household chores. Walk your dog a different route every day and enjoy getting out in nature. If you work from home, convert your workspace into a calming area of your house with scented candles, pictures of places that inspire you, or whatever makes you happy.

(Also, I’m fighting really hard not to make “Scented Candles” item number six on this list. You might not understand my thing for scented candles, but Buzzfeed does.)

6. Sleep

If you haven’t noticed, here’s the theme I’m harping on here: Productivity is great, but it should never come at the expense of your own personal welfare.

There will always be one more thing you could get done tonight. You could write two more pages. You could study for 30 more minutes. You could research for tomorrow’s presentation at the office for another hour.

Or you could curl up in bed, close your eyes, and give your body the rest it desperately needs.

The rest of the world will be there in the morning. But your body can’t be running on 11 all the time. Dial it back. Turn off the lights.

And don’t forget to breathe.

What do you think? Did I miss your No. 1 self-kindness tip? Let me know in the comments — I’m always on the lookout for new tips!

4 Small but Powerful Benefits of Eating Disorder Recovery

If there are two things I know I love in the world, they are:

  1. Recovery from an eating disorder, and
  2. Numbered lists.

And when you do a quick Google search of “signs of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder,” your search results will list the main, clinical diagnosis points: weight stabilization, less rumination and disordered thoughts, etc.

But recovery doesn’t always work in broad strokes.

Sometimes it’s the little things you didn’t realize were messed up — until, all of a sudden, they’re not.

These are just four awesome items on my list of recovery benefits, but they’re ones I didn’t really think about until much later. They weren’t the reasons I chose recovery, but hey, I’m sure as hell happy they’re here.

As always, these reflect my personal experience: Your personal mileage may vary.

But if you’re wondering what life in late-stage recovery actually means in concrete terms…

And if you, like me, have an ever-abiding passion for lists…

Well, this one’s for you, my friend.

1. Better Sleep Patterns

In the midst of my disorder, my sleep schedule was whacked all to hell. I’d sleep maybe 45 minutes a night — but would spend a full nine hours in bed, tossing and turning.

This wasn’t because I was ruminating about what I had or hadn’t eaten that day, although I certainly had nights when that was the case.

I was just laying there, staring at the ceiling, exhausted, but totally unable to fall asleep.

Why? Because my ED had screwed up my body’s internal workings so much that it didn’t know when to sleep, or for how long. I’d trained it not to listen to its innate signals, and as far as I can tell, it extrapolated the pattern all the way to sleeping.

I don’t have the science to back this up — scientific method is not exactly my forte — but I do know that after a few years of recovery, nine out of 10 times I’m sleeping about thirty minutes after my head hits the pillow.

As someone who loves sleep like Pitbull likes listing city names, this is no small benefit.

2. Functional Digestive System

TMI warning: I’m gonna talk about poop real quick.

My ED really did a number on my digestive system. I never used laxatives (for obvious reasons, my support team shot that option down), but the effects of not using them went on for weeks at a time, which was kind of awful.

Now, keeping my system regular really isn’t so hard.

And for y’all who are wondering how awesome it is to have a digestive tract that actually digests things the right way, let me just say this:

It’s fucking glorious.

//end poop talk.

3. Enhanced Creativity

I didn’t really think about this one until recently. I was a creative writing major in college, and when I was working on cranking out a short story a week, it seemed to me like my creative juices were flowing pretty regularly.

But I flip through old notebooks from time to time (a dangerous endeavor, not to be attempted by the faint of heart), and I can see the difference.

My characters are more developed now. They’re more confident. More interesting.

And my scribblings in the margins of my school and work notepads reflect a mind considering more than food.

My college notebooks boast wordless scribbles, black squares, mindless doodlings, the occasional frustrated outburst on a bad day.

The notepad on my phone now features marginalia like:

Did Renaissance Jews wear hats?

Villain’s personality: Artful Dodger + Ursula + Loki 

Cross-pollinating a hangover with an exorcism

What does the early modern tradition think about the bottom of the ocean?

Now, maybe these examples say more about the nonsense that goes on in my mind than any rise in functional creativity. But I think the point stands.

And in case you were wondering, yes. Renaissance Jews did generally wear hats.

4. Fearless Media Consumption

I went through this phase — OK, it was like two years — when I read almost every piece of fiction about eating disorders I could find. I would pour through books looking for mentions of people with anorexia, and then reread the passages over and over, without really knowing why I was doing it.

I wrote eating disorder fiction myself, and for all the wrong reasons. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.

There are plenty of theories about why people dealing with EDs fall into these patterns, but whatever the cause, I fell hard.

In early recovery, I veered in the opposite direction. Nothing that mentioned eating disorders made its way into my purview…

Or dieting.

Or weight.

Or bodies.

Or food.

I just wasn’t equipped to handle it, and it was easier to push it to the side.

Now, I can flip on the TV and see a preview for a Biggest Loser–style show or new diet pill without feeling the need to hop on the treadmill, or to turn off the set and engage in a healthy coping mechanism.

With every day my recovery grows, it’s easier to watch and read content that used to trigger the living shit out of me.

And it makes it easier to work in an office where diet talk is practically a daily thing, too.

Sure, big-picture recovery is the end goal. But sometimes it’s worth it to celebrate small victories — however they show up for you.

So, fellow recovery warriors, what are some of the small but kickass benefits of recovery you’ve noticed in your own journeys? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on Vulnerability

SCULPTURE & ART (1)“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”

At least according to professional pseudoscientist Sigmund Freud, who is maybe not the best person to turn to for proverbial wisdom.

Freud, I call bullshit.

Just as I call bullshit on your theory of hysteria and your theory of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as a scientific case study, though the whole field of modern psychology is more or less behind me on those.

On this one, I feel like I stand more alone.

We work hard to transform vulnerability into a virtue. Knowing your feelings. Being open. Letting others know the real you. Having honest, two-way relationships with people who know you and care about you.

That’s one thing, but it’s not the kind of vulnerability I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the vulnerability of sitting alone at your kitchen table late on a Sunday night, wondering whether you should take a shower or let yourself have a 45-minute cry, because both of those things need to get done before you go to sleep.

It’s not a question of “if,” but “which first.”

This openness wins you no friends. It gains you no applause in therapy or treatment programs. Dr. Phil does not celebrate sitting alone in your bedroom admitting to yourself that the reason you still haven’t done your dinner dishes yet is that the thought of standing up and turning on the sink just makes you crushingly sad.

I mean, true, if Dr. Phil celebrates something, that’s one of the best reasons in the world you can find for doing exactly the opposite. But I digress.

Sitting with this openness to feeling, I do not sense strength.

Out of my vulnerability comes fear.

The kind of fear takes one misstep and magnifies it into a colossal moral failing.

That looks at a week’s worth of thoughts and actions and reactions and levels a stringent, damning judgment.

That transforms a bag of candy corn purchased at the grocery store into Original Sin itself.

That spends the day dreaming about returning to bed, because at least the world cannot point out my failures from beneath the covers.

Sitting with my feelings means I ruminate about the worst events of the day — not Greek tragedies by any stretch of the imagination, but in this state, too much. I sit and reminisce about a botched customer service phone call, a terse rejection letter, catching someone talking about me behind my back. I mix these memories well, shake them into a highball glass, and nurse a sharp cocktail of self-doubt until morning.

I write in metaphors because that is easier than writing the honest truth.

Playing with words is easier than admitting the dull pressure-pain over my ribs is not because I am getting over a cold. It is because I am afraid of never being a better person than I am tonight, and spending the day being disappointed in the person I am.

That kind of vulnerability does not feel strong. It feels like saying that of course there are happy people in the world, this is the kind of world that requires happiness, but I will never be one of those people.

I can tell myself hundreds of times that I don’t believe this.

I’m not always sure that I don’t believe it.

Some nights, I cannot believe anything else.

Do I feel stronger, having admitted my vulnerability? Honestly, no. But sometimes pouring the words onto the screen gets them out of my head. I can look at them, move commas around, delete passive construction, dissect them under a microscope until they present the distilled version of the pain in my chest.

Like a scientist examining a virus, I may not know the cure, but I know the arrangement of the proteins, the reproductive strategies.

(Do viruses have proteins? A question from your friendly neighborhood English major.)

And like a scientist, I cling to whatever knowledge I grasp, hoping someday to find a use for it.

Maybe from vulnerability comes knowledge. And knowledge is strength, or so a slightly twisted proverb tells me.

As far as proverbs go, I will take what I can get.