The Romance (or lack thereof) of Depression

About two years ago, I was sitting in my creative writing class, when my professor made a comment that has stuck with me ever since:

“It is impossible to be a good writer without suffering from some sort of debilitating depression,” she said.

I remember hearing these words, and accepting them. I remember settling into my depression and anxiety as though it were an uncomfortable but much-needed bed, thinking to myself that, in doing so, I was making the best choice for my art. It’s the sacrifice that I need to make, I told myself. It’s the sacrifice that all good artists throughout history have made.

There was just one question that I forgot to ask when she said this: “why?”

Looking back, I understand what she was trying to say. All good artists suffer, she meant, and you can tell because they write about and discuss their suffering. And that’s okay – suffering is a part of life. We all have moments of sadness, and we all question things about society that don’t make sense, and good narratives are often built out of those moments. I understand and agree with that. Pain, after all, is unavoidable. Necessary. Good. Life would get awfully dull without it, anyway.

But that isn’t what she said. Instead, she decided to feed into this unhealthy habit that society maintains, this idea that depression is somehow romantic.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’ve suffered the worst that depression has to offer or anything like that. All things considered, I’ve been fairly blessed and fairly privileged, and I am grateful for that.

But the fact remains that I have had my entire being shook by panic attacks, been so floored by them that I didn’t know if I could ever stand up again, and there was nothing romantic about them. If you gave me a choice regarding my next one, I’d really rather pass on it, thank you.

I have sliced red lines into my white arms, and nobody kissed them to make them better, or told me that I was beautiful despite them. I just covered them up until they faded well enough that people stopped asking me about them.

And, you know what? I have been so sad, so hopeless, so numb to the world and all of it’s joys, that I found myself wondering what the point was in even picking up a pen. So, please, tell me how all of this has made me a better writer.

Now, I’m not saying any of this to make you feel sorry for me. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, because, really, there’s nothing to feel sorry about. I’m really doing much better now, and I’m glad for it. I’m glad that I never cut deep enough to leave scars, and I’m glad that I’ve built up the strength to lift myself out of a panic attack when it strikes. Because there is nothing romantic about it. There is no tragic beauty in a mind that needs help, and you are doing that person no good by perpetuating the belief that there is.

There is no shame in who I was, and I will never forget that part of my life, but I want to leave it behind. I want to keep moving forward and to find peace, because there is more beauty in my smile than in my tears.



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