It’s been brought to my attention that, despite the scorching Australian summer conditions, I’ve developed a slightly blogfaded complexion. Which is to say – oh look, it appears I haven’t posted anything substantial here since August.
First of all, I’m not dead. Nor am I particularly unwell, notwithstanding the smoke inhalation issues most of us are contending with on this continent.
But I’ve been on a longer than anticipated break from Being a Writer. I want to talk about that, if only because writing about a problem tends to be the best way for me to process what I think about it. (It doesn’t always help point to solutions, but understanding is the essential first step, right?)
At the start of the year – and honestly through most of last year – I was in a near-constant state of crisis. I was tense, impatient, on the verge of panic, incapable of making sound decisions or even workable plans, and utterly miserable. Every small incident was a disaster. Every inconvenience was an insurmountable obstable
I never felt in any danger of self-harm, but I won’t pretend it’s impossible that I was on that path.
It wasn’t until April or so that I finally saw a doctor about it. The diagnosis of severe stress and anxiety wasn’t such a huge surprise, but being told I had moderate-to-severe depression caught me off guard. My assumptions about what depression actually looks and feels like were so hopelessly off-base that it didn’t really occur to me that was the problem. I just thought I was run-down, under the weather and tired all the time.
Yeah. In retrospect, it was a diagnosis about twenty years overdue. At least I got there in the end.
I won’t go into the details, first of all because they aren’t that interesting, but mainly because one of the key ways that my depression has expressed itself is that I cannot remember what I was thinking when it was at its worst. I know that my moods bounced between seething exasperation at everything in the world, and a numb certainty that everything was continuing to drift out of my control. I recall finding it next to impossible make quick decisions, or to decide things at all sometimes. I cared very much about making the wrong call, but I never gave myself much credit for doing the right thing
This might be self-mythologising after the fact – I really have no way of knowing – but I think what eventually pushed me to go talk to someone was the sudden insight that I was capable of feeling wildly emotional sadness and anger when circumstances warranted , but nothing resembling joy or contentment. Most of the time I was just “too tired to feel stuff”.
After I started on a course of anti-depressant medication, but before it took effect, I pushed through the last few weeks of my Friday Flash Fiction project, determined to get to the nice round figure of 100 stories.
And when I crossed the line and gave myself permission to rest, I crashed instead. I meant to give myself a few weeks off writing. I’m coming up on six months.
I have written a little. A page here and there on various projects. I have not, as I dramatically feared when I was at my worst, sacrificed my creative soul on the altar of pharmaceutical numbness. I haven’t stopped thinking about the stories I want to tell. But nor have I been filled with a nervous energy driving me to sit my arse in a chair and commit to the words. I haven’t felt that curious and mildly unpleasant cocktail of intellectual curiosity and self-recrimination that made me want to finish a story. I haven’t needed it.
This isn’t a note about quitting. This is a note about healing, about convalescence. How long is it going to take? I don’t know any other answer than “as long as it will take”.
Hopefully not too long though. I have several very antagonistic dragons waiting in the wings, and those guys will get really tetchy if I keep them waiting too long.
I wrote this blog entry weeks ago, before the holiday break. Ever since I’ve been in two minds as to whether to publish it. I’m just not sure how much honesty is too much when it comes to talking about mental health issues (and just to reiterate, my issues aren’t that bad as these things go, but I still have to deal with them).
What changed my mind was this: as I type this, the city I live in officially has the worst air quality of anywhere on the planet. As it did yesterday, and likely will tomorrow. An area of Australia bigger than most countries has burned or is still on fire. Lives have been lost, homes destroyed and half a billion wild animals are believed dead. And the fires – and the climate change fuelling them – are only one of many, many problems facing the world.
Things aren’t fine, and there’s no sense in pretending they are. Whether it’s personal or global, one way or another, we’re all in a fight now. There are no longer sidelines to sit on, if there ever were. The only really choice is what battles you’ll fight: choose something from the smorgasbord and take up arms.
I don’t usually hold with New Year’s resolutions, but I think this is mine. I’ve been tired all year, too flat with emotional exhaustion to do anything but rest and heal.
It’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop feeling helpless. It’s time to turn that simmering frustration and anger into something useful.
It’s time to write again.