Sometimes the worst thing about suffering from mental illness as a person harboring artistic ambitions is the banality of the whole business. At best, being riddled with neurosis seems like something to add to your list of writerly credentials. Mostly it’s a tired narrative. At least, that’s how I feel when I try to imagine myself as others see me (something I do far too much, thanks to said neuroses).
Oh, great. You’re some kind of tortured artist. How boring.
(Complaining about how cliche it is to be a depressed writer is also an unforgivable cliche.)
Especially since my perception of my talent is that I have very little of it. Some. Not enough. Not enough to outweigh the fact that I only write in fits and starts. When I’m in just the right mood where my desperation to practice and improve my craft is enough to overcome the fear and the inertia. Or the rare moments when I have genuine inspiration.
An embarrassing admission: it’s a disappointment to me how unpicturesque, and uncompelling, my mental health issues are. There’s nothing poignant or darkly beautiful about being depressed. I haven’t become unable to eat or sleep; I haven’t wasted away, become pale or thin like a Victorian consumptive; I haven’t gained insight into the human condition. I’m not mysterious, quiet, tortured. I’m just dull, dull, dull. Nobody would know I was sick if I didn’t mention it, which I don’t like to (even while entertaining shameful Hollywood-tinged baroque fantasies about finding a friend who begs for me to pour my heart out to them).
Instead, I disappear from my own life for months at a time, and then come back when it’s become more unbearable to be so lonely than it is to face what I can’t help but see as the scrutiny of my friends and acquaintances. I don’t try to hide my condition, but don’t elaborate on it either. Because really it’s just a list of ridiculous complaints.
Explaining that I’m almost always exhausted. Explaining that my attention span seems to get shorter and shorter as the years go by. That I struggle to express myself. That my vocabulary is shrinking with my memory (it took me 10 minutes to remember the word ‘inertia’ a few paragraphs up). That sometimes I’m so damn worried about how I’m coming across, I don’t listen to other people the way I should. That I’m worried I’m becoming a worse person, but that worry itself is what’s making me so selfish, so unbearably image-focused.
Unfortunately, all the things one has to do to launch a writing career these days align with those things that set off my social anxiety. Twitter, Facebook, message boards, WordPress — they’re perfectly calibrated Anxiety Production Engines. Social media is like a giant Skinner Box designed to condition me to satisfy my worst narcissistic desires. You know. Compose a poem, post a comment, tweet a ‘clever’ observation, cross your fingers, wait and pray for the likes to pour in, feeling like you might shatter if they don’t ever come. Going back, re-re-rereading what you wrote, analysing it, wondering — was it good enough? Did you put it right? Will people like you? Will somebody affirm your worth today? Or will you curl up in bed and try not to cry while you remember every awful, humiliating thing you’ve said or done since first grade?
There are plenty of days where you do get plenty of likes; plenty of praise… and you still can’t fight the nagging feeling that people are lying to you, or there’s something underhanded about their compliments. Or that you’re bothering people by posting at all. And you consider that it would be best for everyone if you just retreated back into silence. Because, really that’s what you do best.
Not sure what I’m trying to accomplish by writing this today. It’s nothing that hasn’t been said more eloquently by a thousand others.
I’m trying to be an active member of WordPress and the NaNoWriMo forums who contributes useful things, genuinely, out of a desire to share my passion with fellow writers. That’s who I am deep down, I think. Or who I was, once. But most days I feel so removed from my genuine self (if such a thing ever existed) that I feel I’m playacting at being that person. That there’s something unforgivably false about the way I interact with people.
I keep telling myself that if I just push through I’ll get past my fear. Put myself out there. It’ll get easier. I’ll develop relationships with enough trust and genuine regard between us that I won’t need to have… this gap… between what I feel and how I express it. But the more I participate in these online communities, the more my anxiety mounts. Every day I wake up and feel like more of a fraud. I don’t have enough perspective to distinguish whether that’s true or not, but I’m convinced that everybody I talk to and can see right through me, to all these glaring flaws that I’m not even aware of, despite how vigilantly I monitor myself for anything objectionable. It’s that very desire to please that, I’m sure, in the end, gives me away…
I know the pattern I go through, and I’m beginning to suspect that I’ve defeated myself before July’s even started. By the time it gets here, I might be at the point that I can’t bear to open my computer because I’m so sick with shame for imposing myself on others.
I guess I’m hoping my getting these thoughts out there I’m purging the poison in my system. Maybe having put them into words, they’ll lose their power over me, some of which comes from their vagueness; their unspeakable, unnameable quality.
Maybe if I don’t help myself, I’ll at least have helped some person reading this feel less isolated. I know plenty of you who follow this blog must have experienced similar emotions at some point, whether due to chronic mental illness, or just the demands of creating art for public consumption, which can be plenty burdensome in of themselves.