Although both of them are a significant part of my life, and thus to ignore them is to ignore the golden rule of ‘write what you know’, I don’t like writing about depression and anxiety. Partly this is because I struggle to write anything about them that can’t be hit by the dual stick of ‘self indulgence’ and ‘first world white girl problems’.
However, it’s mostly because while I’d love to eventually write some equivalent of The Bell Jar or Prozac Nation, I’m neither Sylvia Plath nor Elizabeth Wurtzel. I don’t just mean that in a dismissive, ‘I’m not that good’ sort of way – Plath’s depression informed her confessional poetry, which continues to speak to those straining their ears to hear something they can relate to, and was set against the glamourous backdrop of her narrator’s experience as a trainee journalist in ’60s New York. Wurtzel’s memoir addressed a different view of Prozac, the depressive’s ‘wonder-drug’, so added another voice to that particular debate.
Even more modern successful accounts of depression aren’t successful through being accounts of depression, but because they’re accounts of depression written by the successful. We want to read about Stephen Fry running away for days on end and contemplating suicide – but later not choosing to do so – because he’s Stephen Fry, because that’s a fairly dramatic story, and because he didn’t kill himself.
[Deep breath: run-on sentence to follow…]
It’s a bit less exciting to read about a 20-something public administrator, who’s only holding down a job because of a very understanding team leader and line manager, coming in from seeing a concert with a good friend, being hit with a freight train of anxiety over everything she’s said and done over the last three days, considering calling the Samaritans but not wanting to say more things she’d later be anxious about, and spending the subsequent 36 hours in bed because the Acme anvil of anxiety is still on her chest and when she’s asleep she’s not thinking about things and thus not punishing herself.
[Source: me, from the early hours of the 3rd March to the early afternoon of the 4th March.]
Interestingly, the day this particular episode happened was a day that I took issue with an item on my workplace intranet which was intended to get people who might not consider themselves disabled to realise they might be, and declare such. It did this by stating that the definition of a disability should be considered in light of what one’s experience would be like without medication. Surely, I thought, that means any long term health condition is a disability? I’d be dead without my medication for both depression and eczema, but I have medication so I can function; I’m not disabled.
And no, the medication I’m on didn’t stop me from being bedridden for 36 hours.
But I still won’t consider myself disabled.
The reason for this is that depression brings with it the sort of self denial best depicted here:
And the levels of self blame and loathing shown here:
I chose that latter sketch for a reason (and not just because I desperately need to make this funny). Feeling that you’re overreacting is very, very important.
If any of my friends were going out to sink 5 doubles of whisky on their own at 2am; having to be bandaged by their parents because they’d come in from one of said benders and sliced their arm open because they needed to feel they’re alive; trying to convince their long term lovers to leave them because they honestly thought, to the bottoms of their hearts, that said lovers deserved better than to stay with them – and yes, I have done all of these things in the last few years, and those are some of the tamer ones – I would march them to the hospital myself and convince them they’re as ill as someone with a broken leg, this isn’t their fault, they need to be taken care of.
I can’t do this for myself.
This is another – maybe the major – reason I don’t like writing about depression. It’s like writing about every test you ever failed; every job you didn’t get; every friend you ever lost. People like me because I’m charming, intelligent, funny and nice. Not because of this.
You might be in exactly the same situation as me, and I’ll tell you you’re ill, you might even be disabled, and that’s not your fault. But I’m not, I’m not, and it is.
Ridiculous? Of course it is. But then so is writing just north of 750 words about why you can’t write about depression.