Once upon a time, I thought I could be a poet. I thought anyone could. Which, I suppose is true. But I was/am a horrible poet, and I had delusions of one day being A Great Poet. That has never happened. I like all the steps of writing poetry, though, the process. First, the purgative brain spew is quite nice. Then, the cutting and grouping and rewording, finding where the pauses go, looking for when to breathe. Everything clicks into place, eventually. Poetry is some of my worst writing, but my most satisfying editing. Occasionally, particularly when I’m having a dark day, I still give it a go, mostly to kick all the bad words off the hamster wheel. And don’t get your hopes up – I am putting very little of that shit in this post. You sadists. But here’s one snippet that I wrote when I was about sixteen. I come back to it often. It runs through my head in the middle of the night, uninvited:
Down to my last cigarette
and there’s no end in sight.
There are demons in the tv.
They provide fantastic light.
Yes, it is awful. Take a second to appreciate that terrible little blip from my adolescence. Read it again, really soak up how bad it is.
Now, shut your giggle hole, because I’m going to tell you why that nibble of suck is important.
It’s important because it’s a moment, pinned down and euthanized like a butterfly. It exists somewhere on paper, trapped in an old journal in a box in a basement in a house in a town that, I’m convinced, tried to kill me. Still, a moment: it was late and I wasn’t sleeping again. I rarely slept. I read books and chain smoked and drank lots of tea, but I rarely slept. Normally, I would have been watching Trainspotting or Empire Records or Pulp Fiction because I know all the words and I could ignore them while I read, but my VCR had died a horrible death that day so I had late night talk shows on mute. For company, I suppose. Even back then I cared very little for the chit chat of famous people on television, if they weren’t Star Wars or comic book adjacent. I remember not knowing who any of the guests on any of the shows were, and by the time Carson Daly came on (does anyone remember that guy? Or his shitty show?) they were all just grinning skulls, pretending to laugh, trying to pass as human. I got really angry. Like, irrationally angry. And I scribbled pages and pages of unintelligible nonsense. Like I do.
It was just a moment, but it was the beginning of something. For whatever reason, that moment with the cigarette smoke and Carson Daly’s pixel rictus was the moment that I realized that my thoughts were not okay. Not “not normal,” but seriously not okay. It’s not okay to get so mad at a smiling handsome talk show personality that you want to hurt yourself. It was when I finally talked to my family about maybe getting some help. That process did not go well (the help, not the talking to my family). The pieces didn’t click together. I never really figured out when to breathe. But fuck, it could have been so much worse. I started seeing a therapist who asked to read my notebooks. I roundly told her she could go fuck herself. She gave me that line about “you have to help me help you.” But I knew that all the garbage spewing from my Kerouac-and-insomnia-addled brain would only help this underpaid hick land me in the bughouse. I might have been wrong. Still, I feel like all my blah blah about death and sex and demons and drugs would have been misconstrued. This is, after all, the woman who tried to convince me not to go to college, told me artists couldn’t be trusted, and eventually kicked me out of her office without a referral to another therapist saying, “I can’t help you, you need medication” (I was already on quite a bit of medication). Oh, and just for context, this all happened less than a year after my dad died. Since then, I’ve been largely managing my own mental health. I quit taking medication my sophomore year of college (and very quickly had to take a semester off when my grades nosedived), but the counselors there were very helpful. I meditate. I drink too much. I lean heavily on the kindness and compassion of friends who, I’m sure, are tired of listening to me have the same crises over and over.
The writing helps, usually. I’ve been trying to write a reasonable blog post all week. The last one was actually really difficult for me. And everywhere I look, there’s just horror. Shootings and war and death and Donald Trump. Hate and anger. I can’t muster enthusiasm for anything, let alone write with any levity. The title of this post was going to be “With a Heavy Heart.” Which is not melodrama. When I get like this, so sunk in, I am literally heavy. It’s hard to move, like I’m wearing layers of coats. I forget to eat. I have to set a reminder alarm so I shower. I’m trying. I really am. I’m sleeping better most days. I surround myself with things that make me happy: The Husband, our lurpy dogs, bad slasher movies, new books, tea, the occasional cheap cigar. I go through the motions. I do the dishes. I play nice. I smile. I try to pass as human.
Anyway. I thought I’d take a moment, for you guys. Taking moments is vitally important. Take them, they’re yours. A dear friend of mine used to say “We only get one moment, it just moves around a lot.” Take a moment to breathe. To cry, to scream, to punch a wall, to write a shit poem or a rambling blog post, to drink some water, to take a shower, to ask for help. Especially to ask for help. There is no good reason not to ask. I’ll say that again because whatever argument you were about to give is a bullshit excuse, not a reason. There is no good reason not to ask for help. Literally ask someone. Make a phone call. Send a text. Don’t just post something ominous and vaguely suicidal on fucking Facebook and scare the shit out of your family, hoping someone gets the message (and be assured, it does scare your family and friends – we know your backstory and we know that you don’t normally talk like Elliot Smith). Don’t offhandedly mention “not doing so well” or make what you’re going through sound like you have a cold. And if people offer you help without your asking them, do not blow them off. Those might be the people you need. They might not, but don’t try to convince them that you’re not worth helping.
Listen, here’s the bottom line: depression lies. It’s a snake in the grass bastard that sneaks up and whispers in your ear and you’re doing what it says before you even notice that it’s there. But it lies. Everything it says is a lie. It will tell you that this is just how life is, that this is how you’ll always feel, that it’s normal to feel like screaming all the time. It will tell you that you don’t deserve any better. It will tell you that it’ll get better on its own, that you don’t need help, that you’re not worth helping. It will tell you that no one sees that there’s something wrong, or that no one cares. It will tell you to self-destruct or self-harm, that you’re not worth the effort it takes to care for yourself, that other people should always be your priority. It will tell you that it wouldn’t make a difference or that things would be better if you weren’t here.
Lies. All fucking fat, ugly, slimy lies.
Take that moment, too, to remind yourself that depression lies. Take it a hundred times a day if you need to. Look that little demon motherfucker straight in the eye and tell it that you know it’s a liar. It doesn’t like to hear that. That little bit of proactive self-care can change everything. It may not feel like much, but action is action, and we sometimes have to deal in baby steps, right? That same friend, the one who talked about only having one moment, he was a real weirdo. His favorite song was Row, Row, Row Your Boat, because “It teaches you to be a man of action, Vanessa. And that’s important, very important, very very important indeed.” You’re in the boat, and you’re going down the stream. The stream will carry you, if you let it, if you’re lazy. But if you row, you’ll get there faster, and you’ll have gotten there on your own. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.
You know the rest.