A Light In the Dark

As a writer, I try to write about everything.

It’s basically all that I know how to do.

But the thing about writing humor is that it sometimes makes me feel like I’m hiding behind a mask and pretending I’m something I’m not. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a person who loves to laugh—who loves to make other people laugh even more—but yet most of the time that’s not me, or at least that’s not how I feel.

But it’s hard to ignore what goes on in my head and even harder to write about depression. For one, there’s the fear that writing about it makes you look weak and turns people off because it’s not funny or light. Most people have their own problems, so why would they read about mine?

The other trouble is that it is often incredibly difficult to articulate just how I feel.

Deep depression is hard to understand, especially if you’ve never been there. It has manageable days that for me usually include writing something I don’t hate or spending time outside. In other words, I function and appear to be fine.

But then there are days—sometimes even that same day— when like a virus it flares up and all I can do is remind myself not to swerve my car over the center line or walk a little too close to the edge.

These are the times that I should reach out, but the thing about depression is that it comes with the sense that you shouldn’t have it to begin with, that it’s a bunch of self-indulgent navel gazing and not an actual illness like those that everyone can see looking in.

And so I swallow it down and isolate more, feeling that talking about it at all with people will only make me sound whiny. It’s hard to explain that depression isn’t like being sad and OCD isn’t just “needing to clean,” but rather that they are entirely crippling.

Unfortunately for me, it has crippled me both physically and mentally.

My concentration is barely existent, and more times than not I alternate between staring at my computer and feeling trapped behind a curtain too heavy to lift/inadequate in comparison to everyone else and doing unhealthy amounts of exercise in an attempt to distract myself and feel something, anything other than flat.

At least the exercise—the slow self-destruction in part because of my OCD —gives me some false sense that I’m coping or in control…until my body can no longer take the brunt of my mind. But no matter what I do, it’s never enough, and the addiction can only temporarily serve as distraction before my body literally breaks.

The effects devastate me not because of what they’re doing to my body, but because they take away the only coping mechanism that I feel like I have when everything feels like too much and yet not enough. The immediate consequences don’t matter because at that point, nothing really matters.

But that’s what depression does.

It twists things around in your mind. Any activity takes many times more effort, like trying to run through quicksand. Work is boring and intolerable. What felt joyful feels dull and what felt sad feels unbearable. Everything seems meaningless, including previous accomplishments and anything you used to like.

Depression is truly the absence of hope.

So why am I writing rambling this post?

Because May is Mental Health Month and ignoring that fact is ignoring what I deal with each day. But more importantly, maybe it’s because what you deal with, too, and hearing that others are in the same boat can be something you didn’t even know you needed to hear.

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After all, words have power. But this isn’t a motivational speech with a happy ending or solution, as I have neither of those things. It’s simply a reminder that you’re not alone. You’re not defective or broken or dealing with what you “deserve.”

No, you’re simply human.

You’re doing the best that you can with the strength that you have. You’re choosing to hold on to hope and to fight, and as much as I feel like I can’t on some days, I choose to keep fighting as well.

It’s basically all that I know how to do, but we don’t have to do it alone.

And hopefully at the end of the day—and most certainly in my next post—we can find something that makes us smile. Sometimes that’s all—and everything—that we might need.

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45 responses to “A Light In the Dark

  1. Your phrase, “It’s like wearing a mask” hit home. Medication helps, but it’s more like being in the ocean buoyed up by those “floatees” things kids wear on their arms and legs and wondering if you’ll ever be able to swim without them.
    Have a good day today!

  2. Thank you for “seeing” me. And thank you, Abby, for writing with brave generosity, hoping that someone may read your words and realize you’re seeing them, too.

    Yes, something as simple as a smile feels like a great victory, when depression is my companion. The hope that relief is waiting around the next corner keeps me going. The words, “These feelings will change” is my mantra. But most of all, I never stray too close to life’s edge, because there’s a child who once told me, “You’re not allowed to go anywhere, Mama.”

  3. Thank you for your post!

  4. “How can one write honestly about life without getting into the mucky trenches of where we live and what we feel? How can beauty be understood without the contrast of ugliness next to it? By avoiding ugliness in my writing, the beauty I’m trying to communicate has no context, and therefore little impact on the reader.”

    Abby, the above quote is something I wrote about my own [flawed] journey as a writer. I never had the courage to post it on my blog. But your post today reminds us that aside from being incredibly talented and funny, you are still a beautiful, NORMAL human being in that you deal with the ugliness that life throws at you. Good for you for purging it onto the page for all of us to read. It’s something I rarely have the courage to do, for the sake of “keeping it positive”. I’m sure you’ve given hope to some of your readers today. And you’ve reminded ME that to be a GOOD writer, you have to reveal the whole picture, not just the “pretty” parts.

    • Wow. Thank you so much for this comment. I don’t know about being “normal,” but I think that at times I have to put my crap out there because we often portray just the light and fun side of most things. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as who doesn’t like light and fun? But it can also be a way to avoid the real stuff that’s going on inside our (my) head. You can be realistic and still be positive, and I promise more funny next post ;)

  5. Thank you for being a voice for so many who are suffering and assume they are voiceless.

  6. Yes. Unfortunately I can relate to everything you’ve written (except for the exercising part…I eat when I can’t do anything else…which leads to self loathing, which leads to..well, you know). It’s a slippery beast, depression. Just when you think to yourself “Aha! Beat it!” it sneaks up behind you and says “Boo.”

    I’m sorry that this affects you but not surprised. In my 47 years here, 35 of which have been spent dealing with depression in many forms, I’ve found my most kindred spirits have been the funny people. The tears of a clown and all that jazz.

    The hardest part for me is seeing it manifest itself in my kids. Not all of them, but a couple. And that really sucks. But, luckily people are talking about it more now, and although it’s not stigma-free, it’s getting there.

    Thanks so much for tackling the subject and being so honest about it. I’m right there with ya behind this heavy curtain, friend :)

    • Thanks so much for the reply, as you know I respect the crap out of all that you do. If there is a “light” in your situation–and those in similar spots–it is that you can recognize the signs in your kids and hopefully tackle the beast from the onset. Of course there’s no way to prevent certain things, but awareness is key, as you know.

  7. AS much as I write about my mental health problems, I still wear a mask, put up a front, and try to be funny or light-hearted or whatever make normal people feel comfortable.

    I’m glad you wrote this, thanks.

  8. Thank you for bringing another perspective to this condition that for many of hides under that mask. Antidepressants and all the helpful tips we’ve learned over the years help, but that “flatness”, loss of hope, and on some days, utter despair, can take over the same day we may wake up feeling pretty good. Again, thanks for sharing and bringing this way too common illness to the forefront on MH month. LOVE your posts! Thank you, Abby.

  9. I hear you. Feel that way a lot. I, too, have trouble expressing how I feel and don’t want to mention it b/c everyone else seems perfectly fine. I don’t want to be a downer or complainer or weak. I hate feeling this way because it interferes with everything I’m trying to do. It’s bad enough to feel bad but then not to be able to think or concentrate or write or anything on top of it is like a double hit. Then I think it’s my fault for not being better or more productive or thankful or whatever. Thanks for your honesty.

  10. Abby-Keep believing that some day you will break through this darkness. It’s a hard struggle, and one that feels very isolating, but you are not alone. You will find a way out, and although the depression may always be there, it will not run your life. Stay strong <3

  11. Wow! I had no idea you battle depression too. I appreciate you sharing this with all of us. You do have a way with words, Abby. I admire you, your guts, and your humor!

    • Well, it’s not something you really brag about, but it is a part of life. I prefer to find the funny, but I also don’t hide who I am. I have issues, after all ;)

  12. thank you for sharing even when you feel like this. HOPE–> cling tight to it. always here for you,

  13. As a fellow blogger, and as someone who also deals with depression, I can’t describe how much I appreciate your extreme courage to post this. I’m still new to this writing thing, but I’ve thought for a while when would be the good time to talk about depression? It’s always a good time. More people than we often realize suffer with depression, and talking about it can be so helpful. Thank you so much for the inspiration to share my own story, and to know that I’m not alone. Wishing you all the best.

  14. I’m glad to be in this fight with you. Well, not really glad to be in this fight, but glad that we’re still winning this fight. Love.

    • A) I’m humbled by the fact that you actually read this. B) I respect everything you do for the cause and know that because of you, so many people know that they’re not alone. C) That was cheesy, but whatever. You get my point. D) Thank you…just thanks.

  15. Risks
    To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
    To weep is to risk being called sentimental.
    To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
    To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
    To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk being called naive.
    To love is to risk not being loved in return.
    To live is to risk dying.
    To hope is to risk despair, and to try is to risk failure.
    But risks must be taken because the greastest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
    The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, and becomes nothing.
    He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.
    Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave, he’s forfeited his freedom.
    Only the person who risks is truly free.

    - Leo F. Buscalia

  16. I enjoy these posts just as much as your comical ones. We’re all human, we all battle demons, and yours only make you more honest and relatable. Hugs and hope my friend.

  17. I suffered from clinical depression as a teenager and was on Prozac off and on for a few years. When I went to college, my symptoms abated, but I spent my first year of law school self-medicating with alcohol, which is definitely a worse idea than taking the meds. I’ve not had an issue since, but I know that I tend in that direction and it scares me, because it’s bad there and I don’t want to go back. Talking about mental health issues is difficult. It’s hard to be open and honest in the face of judgment and stigma. I hope things get better for you like they did for me. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. For me, exercise is the drug of choice and addiction just makes things so much harder. It’s truly about finding the strength to trust the process–and those who have been there–to claw your way out. So glad things have worked out for you.

  18. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only madly cheerful person in the world who’s broken inside. Obviously not. My tactic is to smile, joke, try to find little things to make me smile and pretend it’s all ok. Mostly it works but the darkness is always lurking.

  19. well written, easy to relate to. Thank you for putting words to what so many of us feel. Thank you for being real!!

  20. Thank you. Just simply thank you.

  21. Yup. And thanks.

  22. I just wrote about my own depression, without even realizing that it was Mental Health month. So, you know that you’re not alone, and I know I’m not alone. When do we get together at the clubhouse? ;)

  23. Lovely post. Thank you.

  24. Great post. I feel like I am always seeing links between comedians and depression because comedy tends to be an emotional outlet where we can switch our minds to something other than our frustrations/depression. That’s one of the many reasons why I love comedy: I don’t exactly feel like the funniest person in the room but when I write, I do so with wit and humor because it makes me happy.

  25. Cherish Amy Forkner Storm

    I have suffered with several mental illnesses my whole life. Depression being just one of them. It is so good to hear that someone that is as fun as you to read, feels the same way I do sometimes. Thank you so much for the inspirational words And the reminder that I am not alone in this battle. Sometimes reading your blog is the only thing that makes me happy in a day. Thank you again!

  26. Thank you Abby for this important post. Very powerful. Have a beautiful weekend my friend.

  27. thank you for sharing, it makes a lot of us feel less alone

  28. I’ve been plagued with anxiety and depression and mania and OCD tendencies since I was a little kid. I’ve always been more than up front about it, in your face about it, and felt isolated because of it. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20′s that a friend said, I understand what you mean, I feel that way too sometimes. I’m so glad to see the stigmas being stripped away, one blog post at a time, by people like you who are ballsy enough to say yeah, I’m a little off kilter and it really, really sucks, but there it is.

  29. Awesome writing! Genuine, honest and in such a simple way for people to understand it. It takes courage to speak up like that. Kuddos for you!!! And keep fighting it so we continue enjoying your blog.

  30. Thank you for writing this, Abby. You know I totally identify. My concentration is shot – I’m also having some separate neurological issues right now, likely due to a chiari malformation, blah, blah, blah – but depression messes me up there, too. Also, I dealt with big OCD in college and it still creeps in. I hate it.

    Thank you for your words. You’re comforting more people than you’ll ever know.

  31. Abby, I hugely relate to this too. Thank you for writing this. The more of us that put ourselves out there and talk about it, the more things can change, the stigma will hopefully disappear and we will know we have support and a community of people who get it.

  32. Just read this of HuffPost Women. Glad to know I’m not alone.

  33. “…and hearing that others are in the same boat can be something you didn’t even know you needed to hear.” Thank you so very much for this, Abby. Because I didn’t know that I needed to hear this.

  34. Just read this. Wow…I could have written it myself, except I’m not a talented writer or humorist…
    I find that excersise helps, but I still feel alone in a room filled with people.
    I guess depression for me is just the inability to connect with anyone. It is the silence all around me even when the sound is deafening to others.
    I can relate to the lack of hope but after 17 years of marriage and being given my walking papers on that, I do feel alone.
    Thanks, though, for at least reminding me that I am human and not the only one who feels like this.

    • You would be surprised how many people can relate, and we all have our (often) maladaptive coping mechanisms we use to get by. It’s often that we can’t connect with anyone; it’s that we don’t have the emotional energy to try. You aren’t alone. Hang in there.

  35. Thank you for this. Captures me. Almost completely. I KNOW that I’m not alone, but sometimes I don’t ‘know’.

  36. As a beginner to both blogging and being honest about what’s on my mind… your post made me smile. Humor is the best way to deal with heavy stuff, like depression and addiction, because it’s much easier to make people laugh then potentially make them worry and/or not get it. Any hint of concern on their part doesn’t set in until after you leave, no one asks questions, and therefore you win.

    Until you don’t win and feel totally alone. So, it’s good to ask those questions, and thank you for asking them. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  37. Anybody who lives a life encounters these sorts of thoughts and issues. They’re unavoidable in a society where things are pulling at us from so many directions. I had a brief spell where I think I was going crazy. I was working as a cop and going to law school and we’d bought a house and were having our first kid and this and that and I think it just got to be too much. I think it’s great that you use exercise to cope. While too much may be bad for you, it’s better than what a lot of people use to cope, like me with my beloved Bud Light Limes. Keep it up!

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