Day 2: Tolkien

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His name is Tolkien.

While I call Lewis my “problem child”, Tolkien was one of those instantly perfect creatures that just makes you want to protect him from the harshness of reality. Every once in a while, he makes me wonder at how different his life could have been. He could have been born a lab rat, or a sewer rat. He could have been experimented on and trotted over. Instead, he was born to a breeder and adopted by me.

The first night in my house, he was so frightened that he ran to Lewis for protection. The second night at my house, I opened the cage and he walked right up to me, crawling into my hands and licking my lips, my nose, and my cheeks. From that night forward, Tolkien would do anything it took to cuddle with me, including struggling against the bars of his cage until I open it for him.

There is a quote by the writer for whom Tolkien is named, which begins with him saying: “I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size”. For this, I believe Tolkien is very appropriately named. He is a simple rat. He loves food and playtime and just about everyone he has ever met. He never complains, not even when I wake him up in the middle of the day. He has never bitten me or shown aggression. Although he will steal treats, he will also make sure that his brother gets some as well, even if that means giving Lewis a peanut when he is without. Tolkien is pure, and I adore that purity in him. Through his purity, he offers me a glimpse of the good in this world every day.

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It Is Okay To Talk About Your Depression

Recently, I have noticed a few people on social media passing around a very interesting quote about depression. I’m not going to lie, it caught my attention – and not necessarily in a good way. Upon looking into the source of the quote, I discovered that it originated as a tweet from rapper Post Malone. The full quote reads:

“shoutout to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in your life. especially those who did it by themselves bc they never showed it or let anyone know they were hurting. to silently battle & win is hard, be proud of yourself & all the progress you’ve made”

I’ve read variations on this quote that end after the words, “especially those who did it by themselves”, but its this part that I want to focus on in particular – this idea that people who suffer in silence deserve a little extra kudos than the rest of us.

Because, yes, shout out to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in their life. Anyone who has successfully done this, no matter how they did it, is amazing and strong and deserves all the praise and attention for getting themselves back into a healthy and happy lifestyle.

And, yes, to silently battle and win is hard. Very hard. Downright impossible, for many people.

Personally, I am of the opinion that we, as human beings, are pack animals. We need other people in our lives – and not just for simple survival either. Yes, building human communities helps protect us from being eaten by wild animals, but more than that, creating close bonds with other people helps protect our mental health.

Rats, for example, are pack animals. And if you keep a rat alone for too long, it will show symptoms of depression. The same thing will happen to humans.

And I’m not necessarily speaking of extreme, physical isolation either. Simply feeling emotionally isolated from other people will result in intense depression as well. This is actually a rampant issue within our society – particularly for men. Essentially from birth, men are told that “boys don’t cry”. Men are encouraged to bottle up their emotions, to never burden anyone with how they’re feeling, to show “real strength” by going through life without ever letting anyone in or opening up to people. This has contributed to a society where depression in men goes woefully undiagnosed, and because of this, men are 3.57 times more likely to die from suicide than women are.

So, yes, it is hard to silently battle and win. Chances are actually pretty good that if you battle silently, you will end up losing.

People need support. People need to know that they aren’t alone, and people need that validation that what they feel is accepted. That who they are, depression and all, can be loved. And not only that, but people need the other opinions that other people can offer. Sometimes, the greatest gift that a depressed person can receive is a loved one’s assurance that they’re going to be okay, even if they don’t currently feel the same way.

And, personally, I am one of those people why apply to the first part of Post Malone’s tweet, but not the second part. I have made it out of dark places and hard times, but I didn’t always do it alone.

I fought small battles alone. I hid panic attacks in the bathroom, and then wiped away my tears, picked myself back up, and forced myself out the door. But when it came to the much larger war that is fighting depression, I couldn’t do that alone. And that isn’t to say I didn’t try. For quite nearly a whole year, I did my best to hide my depression, not wanting to make people worry about me. And then, when I couldn’t hide it anymore, I just… spoke.

And then I couldn’t stop speaking.

I kept talking, and I kept reaching out, and eventually, my depression just wasn’t anything shameful anymore. It was just a part of me. And that made it easier to fight, because I wasn’t fighting alone.

And, not only that, but speaking out and hearing my own depressive thoughts voiced was actually really helpful in recognizing just how wrong they were. It’s surprisingly easy to think, “if this person doesn’t say that thing, then they obviously hate me”. It’s much more difficult to take such a sentiment seriously when you’re saying it aloud.

When you’re depressed, depressive thoughts are simply the norm. They crowd your brain, and they convince your mind that they’re facts, and there’s just so many of them that it’s hard to fight back. When you speak these thoughts, or write them down, or do whatever you need to to simply get them out of your head, then they become less overwhelming. You begin to see them for what they are. And maybe that doesn’t get rid of the fear or the sadness that these thought create, but at least recognizing them as false is one step forward. And it’s a step forward that’s difficult to take alone.

And yet, despite all of this, we live in a society that loves to romanticize that idea of making it through hard times alone. I think it goes back to that idea of how men are raised – this idea that there is strength in being solitary and not burdening other people with your thoughts and your emotions. And this is what I see in Post Malone’s tweet. He starts out by giving a “shout out” to everyone who has suffered hard times, but he goes on to create a sort of hierarchy. If you have suffered alone, then you are especially deserving of a shout out, and the rest of his tweet focuses on that particular form of suffering. We see people who have suffered alone as being more deserving of praise then people who reached out to others and asked for help.

And when we do that, when we create this hierarchy, what we are actually doing is encouraging people away from seeking help. We make people think that there is something wrong with getting help – that, if they were truly strong, then they would do this alone. And often times, that just isn’t the case. You can (and probably will have to) fight battles alone, but it’s really, really difficult to win the war that way. To win the war, we need a solid army of love and support – whether that army take the form of family, friends, pets, a diary, people that you met on the internet, suicide crisis lines, or therapists.

There is no shame in reaching out. There is no shame in talking about your emotions, or crying, or having a difficult time managing what life has given you. All of this is just a natural part of being human, and we shouldn’t be so afraid of it – when it presents itself in ourselves, or in our loved ones. Instead of encouraging people to suffer in silence, we should be willing to lend an ear to anyone who needs it.

And let’s give a shout out to everyone who asked for help in getting out of a dark place or a hard time, whether they have gotten out of it yet or not. It can be really, really hard talking about your emotions in a society that consistently tries to silence them, but you are doing the right thing. You are doing the best thing that you can for yourself and your mental health, and that is extremely important. May you have all the best going forward, and may you know that you are loved and you are valid and you are strong.

Your Depressive Thoughts Are Not Real

Have you ever heard of this thing called depressive realism?

It’s a not uncontroversial theory that I don’t quite feel fully qualified to explain in great detail, so I’m pretty much going to stick to essentials here. And, essentially, what it means is that people who are depressed have a more realistic view of the world, as well as a more realistic set of expectations. This theory is backed up by a study where participants were asked to press a button and determine how much control they believed that button to have over a light that would occasionally go off. People without depression tended to overestimate how much control they had over the light, whereas people with depression tended to be more realistic.

I first heard about this theory when I was eighteen years old, from my philosophy teacher. Depressive realism wasn’t part of the curriculum or anything like that; it was merely something that was mentioned in passing. And pretty much all that he said about it was, “studies have proven that people with depression have a more realistic view of the world.” He didn’t mention the fact that some studies have proven this; not all. In fact, there are plenty of studies that indicate that there are countless different factors that dictate our view of the world, including whether or not you’re discussing your own control or the control of others, whether you’re currently in a public or private sphere, and how much time has passed since the incident occurred (just to name a few). My teacher also failed to mention the fact that this is still a heavily debated theory that has been intensely criticized. All that he said was that “studies have proven”.

And when I was eighteen years old, this was not what I needed to hear.

Because when I was eighteen years old, I was in the process of falling into a deep depression that would stay with me for the next two or three years, and the last thing that I needed was to be told that my depression was true. Valid, yes. Recognized, of course. But true?

I didn’t want to hear that my view of the world was, in fact, reality. That when I thought that I was worthless, incapable, weak, and stupid, I was actually telling myself the truth. I didn’t want to hear that my fears that the world was corrupted and beyond saving were more than just fears. I wanted to be able to tell myself that these were all lies that my mind was telling me because my mind was sick.

But, of course, my depression grabbed onto this idea of depressive realism and it ran with it. Of course I was worthless and stupid; anyone who thought otherwise were delusional because they didn’t want to face the truth. Of course the world was going to burn to the ground; anyone trying to save it was fighting a losing battle. Of course. This was truth; other people were just too happy to see it.

Time has passed since I was eighteen years old. I have done more research on depressive realism, sure, but I’ve also done more research on depression. It’s been a long, uphill battle, but I like to think that I’m in a much healthier place with it now. That isn’t to say that I never have my depressed days, or even weeks, but I recognize it better now, and I know how to deal with it.

And I no longer accept that depression gives us a more realistic view of the world.

Because I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum. Hell, I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I have been depressed, and I have seen the world as a terrible, awful place, full of terrible, awful people – and of those people, I was included. And when I was depressed, this, to me, was truth. In these moments, I had more than enough evidence to back up what I believed.

I have also been happier, and I have seen the world as flawed, and yet I have known, in my heart of hearts, that change is possible. I have seen the evidence of that myself, in every young girl who identifies, proudly, as a feminist, in every marginalized person who demands to be recognized and respected. I have told myself and believed, fully, that these voices cannot be ignored forever. I have also seen change in myself; I have noticed my own successes, I have proven to myself that I am not stupid, that I am capable. I have come to the conclusion that people are, generally, good, and they try to the best they can with the information they have at the time. And when I have seen the world this way, this was also truth.

End of day, truth is, quite simply, what you believe. There is no way that depressed people can see the world more realistically than non-depressed people, because there is no one set standard for reality. The world is what you see it to be. You can see it as a terrible, ugly place, because it can be; or you can see it as a beautiful, loving place, because it can be.

What you focus on becomes what is.

And, of course, that isn’t to say that people who are depressed can just wake up one day and decide to start seeing the world better; depression doesn’t work that way, and that isn’t what I’m trying to say here. But what I am trying to say is, quite simply, the way that depression makes us see ourselves, the people around us, and the world at large, is not real. Telling ourselves that we are terrible, worthless human beings is no more or less realistic than telling ourselves that we are magnificent, glorious gods with no flaw whatsoever.

The views that depression tries to give us are lies, and more importantly, they are not constructive lies. Nobody feels good when they think they are worthless. Nobody is inspired to try their hardest in a world that they believe to be beyond saving. So if this is the case, then why not fight to convince yourself of a better lie? Why not identify your depressive thoughts for what they are, and remind yourself of what they are every time that they rear their ugly head?

So even if the more positive thoughts feel like lies, even if they feel completely unnatural to you at first, keep trying to tell them to yourself. Because even if they are lies, they are no more or less lies than the opposite. And, most importantly, forcing yourself to think these thoughts might eventually make you believe them (fake it until you make it, am I right?). Thinking these thoughts could, quite literally, change the way that you perceive your entire world.

When You Have Suicidal Thoughts, But You Don’t Want to Die

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started having suicidal thoughts. I remember my words easier than I remember my thoughts, and so I’m led to believe that I must have been very young when they started, because I was nine years old when I first told a friend at school, “sometimes I think about not being here anymore”.

“But you need to be here,” she told me. “Who would be my friend if you weren’t?”

I was flattered by her words, and I was glad she said them to me at the time. But, in retrospect, she didn’t really understand what my problem was (though, to be fair, I don’t think I articulated it particularly well either).

These thoughts continued to plague me for years after, coming and going, ebbing and flowing like a wave. Sometimes I would be perfectly fine. Sometimes I would wonder why I even entertained these terrible thoughts. Sometimes, something would happen, and I would start thinking about how much better off the world would be without me. I would think about how easy it would be to just find the highest rooftop and jump, or go off somewhere alone and end it out of sight. I would tell myself not to think these things, tell myself that these were terrible thoughts, that they weren’t true, but even still, they came back naturally. I could do nothing to keep them at bay.

The closest that I ever came to acting on them was when I was about eighteen. These thoughts occurred to me one night, and as an attempt to stop thinking them, I told myself to seriously imagine what life would be like without me. I did so, and I came to the conclusion that, while my loss would hurt people for a little while, they would move on and all be better off in the long run. At this point, I told myself to go to bed, and if I still felt this way the next day, then I would figure it out then.

Needless to say, I managed to pull myself through it.

And the thing is, these thoughts still occur to me from time to time. But I am completely, one hundred percent convinced that I will never act on them. Because, while I have suicidal thoughts, I don’t want to die.

Because I don’t want to die, I told myself to go to bed rather than act on how I felt at the time.

Because I don’t want to die, I tried to banish these thoughts whenever they occurred to me.

Because I don’t want to die, my nine-year-old friend didn’t really understand what I was admitting to when I told her that I thought about “not being here”. She told me that I needed to be here, and I would be regardless, but I would still feel like I shouldn’t be.

As I mentioned before, these thoughts came in waves, and when they rolled back, I loved life. I loved my school and my artistic pursuits and the endless possibilities that life offered. More often than I saw myself jumping in front of an oncoming bus, I saw myself in a foreign country someday, sipping coffee at a cafe is France, or reading at the British Library. I saw myself walking down the aisle to meet my future partner, I saw my dreams coming true and my career flourishing. I knew that none of this could be possible if I ended my life, and I really, really want all of this to happen.

I never really understood this contradiction in myself. As a society, it seems to me that we think of suicidal thoughts as a very basic, black-or-white thing: either you have them, and you are at risk of acting on them, or you don’t have them, and are therefore safe. Landing between these two states confused me. I wanted to get help, because these thoughts were not okay and I knew that, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want them to think that I would actually take my own life when I knew that I wouldn’t. I didn’t think that forcing other people to live with that thought was fair.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that there were other people who felt the same way as me. And, I have to admit, discovering this was a massive relief.

To a certain extent, this validated the way that I felt. Like many of us, I assumed that, if I had suicidal thoughts, then I must want to die. I thought that if I didn’t want to die, then my suicidal thoughts weren’t real, they were whiny cries for attention that I never voiced to anyone. But if other people felt this way, then that meant that the way that I felt was real. I wasn’t making it up. My perspective mattered.

And that is why I am writing this: for those who feel similar to me, and for those who don’t.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, but you do not want to die, then I want to say this: you are not alone. You are valid, and the way that you feel matters. There are people who feel the same way, people who can help you. There are plenty of resources for you to reach out to (for Canadian readers, you can contact here; for American readers, you can contact here). Just because you do not believe that you will act on your feelings, that does not justify your continuing suffering. You deserve better than that.

And for those of you who do not relate to my experience, whether that mean that you do experience suicidal thoughts as well as the desire to act on them, or you have never experienced suicidal thoughts at all, allow me to say this: suicidal thoughts are not as simple as we would like to think of them. This is a complex issue, and very personal for every person involved. Every person thinks and feels differently, after all. By knowing and accepting this, we have a better chance of helping those around us. We can create a safe environment, where people of all kinds feel capable of coming forward and speaking about their experience.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to open up a dialogue about mental health. When we don’t talk about these issues, then people have a hard time understanding them, even when they are experiencing them. People who have no idea what they are going through have a hard time explaining it, or finding ways to reach out. It is difficult to find the words to explain something when you don’t really understand what you are explaining.

And that is why I write this: I am speaking out, and I am inviting you to speak out with me.

The Monsters in My Head

In my head, there live two monsters.

The first calls itself Depression, and it is a mass of shadows, dark and lazy and heavy, oh so heavy. Sometimes it goes to sleep, and it stays there for weeks, months even. Sometimes I think Depression has moved out, moved on, realized that there are better things for it to do than sit in my head all the damn time. Then it wakes up. It wakes up, and it sits there, weighing a ton, and it never shuts. The fuck. Up.

“Why are you doing that? I mean, why do you bother? You aren’t even all that good. Nobody cares.”

“Why are you even saying that? It isn’t like you have any friends. Nobody will respond. Nobody really likes you.”

“Oh. My. God. Did you really just say that? God, it’s no wonder all your friends left you and you’ve been single since the dawn of time.”

“Maybe it would just be better for everyone if you would just give up, you know?”

Opposite Depression, there exists its roommate: Anxiety. Depression and Anxiety don’t like each other much, but they’ve learned to coexist. While Depression sits on the couch all day, eating potato chips out of the bag and binge-watching a show it really doesn’t care for all that much, Anxiety is poised, ready to strike at a giving moment. Depression is still, but Anxiety vibrates with energy, excited and scared all at the same time.

Anxiety speaks just as often as Depression does.

“Why are we sitting still right now? There are things we have to do! Come on! Move it! Move it! Move it!”

“In case you haven’t realized, you don’t have any friends, so what you need to do is talk to that person! Go! Say something! What do you say? I have no fucking clue, just say something, because if you don’t, you won’t ever make any friends and you’re going to die alone, having contributed nothing to the world! Do you want that? Do you really fucking want that?”

“Oh no! You said the wrong thing! Well, now they hate you. You aren’t going to be alone now; you’re going to be a social pariah. Have fun with that!”

Sometimes, Depression and Anxiety speak together.

Depression: I don’t feel like doing anything today. I’m tired. I think I’m just going to stay here all day.

Anxiety: No! No, we can’t do that! We have things to do, goddamnit! And if we don’t do them, then we’re going to lose our fucking job, and have no fucking money, and not be able to do anything, so we’re just going to die alone and mean nothing.

Depression: So what? We already mean nothing. It’s not like getting up is going to change any of that.

Anxiety: Well, we have to try, don’t we? We have to do something? Get up, get up, get up! Move, move, move! Why aren’t you moving? Fuck!

Depression: Because we’re worthless. We’re lazy and stupid and nothing we ever do matters.

Anxiety: Not with that attitude, it doesn’t!

Depression: I’m tired. You’re making me tired. Can’t we just go to bed?

Anxiety: If you do, then I swear to god, I will nag you until you get up again!

Depression: That’s fine. This is fine. I’ll just lay here then.

I don’t know when they moved it. I don’t remember ever letting them in; I just discovered them one day, both living in my head. By that time, they had already wrecked the place, leaving me to do the clean-up. I despised them for that. I wanted to kick them out. I wanted them gone. I told them: get the fuck out of my head! I told them I didn’t want them, I tried to chase them out with pills. They responded differently. Depression would hide, going back to the shadows and remaining there until precisely the right time when it could return again, and I wouldn’t even notice. Anxiety would try to bribe me with new promises: “you can’t kick me out; you need me! I am what makes you brilliant! Without me, what would you be? How would you get anything done? I am your motivation, your muse! You can’t deny that, can you?”

But as time went on, I began to learn more about these annoying little tenants in my head. For one, I learned that I couldn’t just kick them out; it wasn’t as simple as all that. And I learned that they were both filthy liars who would say anything to get my attention.

I learned that they were different from one another, that Depression preyed upon insecurities so that it would be easier to ignore, but end of day, there was still nothing to prove that it was correct. Depression said that I wasn’t good at what I did, and yet I received compliments. Depression told me that they were making it up, and yet logic pointed out that that didn’t make any fucking sense. Depression could sit in my head for weeks, and I could have a hard time ignoring its drivel, but eventually, I did learn that that was all it was: drivel. The ramblings made up by some terrible tenant in my head, bent on my pain and destruction because that was what it thrived on. When I gave in, Depression won.

Anxiety, on the other hand, could never be satisfied. It lived on the idea of moremore work, more friends, more success, more more more. There was never enough. I was never enough, and Depression was quick to agree on that point. And when I really sat down and thought about it, I decided that I didn’t like the way that Anxiety thought. I wanted to be good, yes, great even, but I wanted to be satisfied. I wanted to be comfortable and open and happy, but Anxiety could never be any of that. And when Anxiety realized that I was pulling away, it would say anything it needed to draw me back, like any abusive partner would. It needed me much more than I needed it, because without me, it could not live.

Depression and Anxiety continue to live in my head together. They continue to chatter, on and off, and I know now that they will never leave, but their voices are quieter now, easier to ignore, because while they still prey off of insecurities, I recognize now that the things they say are a lie. And I do not want to listen to them. I set up the rules, I put them back in their place when I can, and when I can’t, I try to remind myself that it is not for the reasons that they give; I am not weak or worthless or unable to deal with them. I am strong, but I am struggling, as all those who are strong do. And when I need help, I will ask for help, because that is precisely what Depression and Anxiety do not want me to do. And if I am going to best them, I do not want them to be comfortable.