tw: mental illness, depression, suicide
I’ve had this post rattling around in my mind for almost a year, waiting for the moment I finally felt ready to write it.
Someone once told me that blogging should be fun. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. That’s why I stopped writing for most of this year.
This post will be my most difficult one. But it’s time.
It’s that time of year again when we reflect and, dare I say, boast about everything we did this year. Indeed, this is usually the time of year when I post a round-up of my own professional (and personal) achievements.
Not this year.
Instead, I’ve decided this year’s recap will showcase my ongoing struggle with mental illness. My hope in opening up about these challenges is that it inspires anyone fighting a similar battle to seek help. And perhaps even talk about it too.
The more we talk about it, the less stigmatized “it” becomes.
“Seek help.” Ironically, I fucking hate the saying.
As someone regularly at the beck and call of the dark abyss that is my mind, what the fuck is “seek help” supposed to mean?
Not to mention, way to make anyone who is already desperately fighting the stigma feel even more alienated and batshit crazy.
Or maybe this all just the illness; an unreliable narrator.
I ended 2021 in a remarkably dark place. It worsened in January. By February I wanted nothing more than to cease existing.
The depression didn’t scare me. The blossoming relationship with my own mortality, however, did. When you finally succumb to the void, you can’t help but to fall in love with demise. Despair can be intoxicating. Addicting.
Now reader, you might be thinking “well I’m not that bad so I must not be depressed.” And that’s precisely the problem. Stay with me.
I recently completed the new attorney training for maintaining my license in California (yes I know I had all year to do it but here we are). The training includes a module on mental health and wellbeing. Overall, I thought it hit the major points: don’t do drugs, we know this profession is soul sucking but try really hard not to kill yourself, seek help (just don’t bill for it!). You know, the basics.
What didn’t sit right with me though is how the training depicts depression; as if everyone with depression drunkenly wandering around the firm joking openly about jumping off the 10th floor.
I mean sure, maybe that’s a thing. But it sure doesn’t start that way, making it a whole less obvious to spot. Depression is more like a slow creep. It’s flirtatious, lulling you into an almost nauseating comfort. It gaslights. Until one day, it takes control and you’re teetering on that 10th floor balcony wondering how it ever got this bad.
I’ve always wondered about the evolutionary aspect of mental illness. If we’re ultimately programmed to reproduce and continue our species, don’t we have to, you know, be around?
I’ve had too many friends ask me this year “what if I’m not depressed enough?” Or “what if it’s all in my head.” Look, I’m obviously not a psychiatrist but if you stumbled upon this post by Googling “am I depressed,” I got some news for you.
There’s no such thing as being depressed enough. If you haven’t reached the pit, and trust me you’ll know if you have, congrats. You caught it early. Don’t wait. Do something about it.
Well, if you can of course. My privilege is showing. I forget sometimes this country hasn’t yet figured out that improving mental health is more important than say, destroying the Internet (ironically, the one thing keeping many of us fucking sane these days).
It won’t just go away on its own. You can ignore it, borrow against yourself. But sooner or later that debt will be repaid. With interest.
That’s how I got to where I was in February. Against the advice of folks much smarter than me, I ignored the signs of burnout and depression throughout law school. Then throughout studying for the bar. Then throughout my career. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, I’d say.
Careful what you wish for.
Living with depression is a lot like living in the Upside Down from Stranger Things; an alternate universe where everything is gray, everyone is shit, and there’s no end in sight. You can scream but no one will hear you. So, you send out little signals, hoping someone will finally pull you out.
I knew it was there.
I felt it looming, growing. The heaviness. I learned to live with it, and worse, befriend it. I craved it. I needed it. It unlocked emotions and thoughts I never knew I could have. It seduced me. And then it trapped me.
If I didn’t have it, how could I write this. Or have a personality. My depression became my identity, my crutch. Without it, I am nothing.
And it knows that.
A brief conversation in February saved my life. A close friend and fellow law school colleague opened up to me about her own struggles. The way she spoke about being on antidepressants and seeing a therapist made it seem so…normal…routine even. In fact, I felt like the crazy one having resisted for so long.
But I’m not depressed enough I thought, staring into my nightly cocktail of wine and sleeping pills. God damn this fucking disease.
The day after we spoke, I set up an appointment with a psych. I was emailed an extensive survey, which I completed honestly. Well…only as honest as necessary to avoid the grippy sock vacation.
“Do you have a plan?” my psych asked. I laughed, thinking doc, I can barely muster up the energy to plan my next meal. If I had a plan, we wouldn’t be here chatting about it.
Turns out I aced the depression test. I Witkin’d in depression.
To think 2022 was supposed to be #myyear. Yeah, my year of therapy and Zoloft, I suppose.
The shitty thing about depression is that it’s oftentimes inexplicable. Random. Untitled.
You can have the best life, surrounded by wonderful friends, a fulfilling career, good family, healthy relationships, financial security…and some days, out of nowhere, you’re just fucking sad.
You’re not worthy enough to have it, and yet you can’t live without it. You don’t deserve it, yet you earned it. And as you sink deeper into the abyss it created, you just sort of become used to it.
So used to it that when the medication finally starts to work, you sometimes even miss it.
Of all my accomplishments this year, seeking help was my most difficult but important one. Surviving was a close second. Anything else I did this year pales in comparison.
Therapy helps me issue-spot my triggers and gave me the necessary tools to abate them. Antidepressants helped close the remaining rifts only chemicals can create and fix.
But like gates from the Stranger Things universe, I’ve learned these rifts can rip open at any time, especially when you’re no longer paying attention (like not taking your meds, ignoring your triggers, burning yourself out).
Like everything else about our bodies, mental health isn’t a one and done. It requires maintenance. Attention. Upkeep. Regular check-ups.
Most importantly, mental illness isn’t cookie cutter. My depression may not manifest like yours. You don’t have to be teetering on the edge of despair to ask for a screening. In fact, you shouldn’t be. Everyone is different and only you know yourself best.
Our brains get sick sometimes. It’s normal.
As for me, I’m in a much better place than I was at the beginning of this year. Living with depression doesn’t necessarily get better, but it does get easier.
So, here’s to an easier 2023.
Ask your primary care specialist about mental health screenings and resources, psychiatry, and therapy. If it’s within your means, set yourself up with a psychiatrist you can see regularly, just like your dentist.
If you aren’t covered in-network and can’t afford out-of-network options, this article has several resources and suggestions. California specific resources (here). For CA attorneys and law students, consider the California Lawyers Assistant Program.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, reach out immediately to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call / text 988.
My tattoo is based on the poem copied below from the Netflix show “Bojack Horseman,” entitled “The View From Halfway Down.” It personally serves as an important perspective reset, and a reminder that suicide is permanent.
The View From Halfway Down
The weak breeze whispers nothing
The water screams sublime
His feet shift, teeter-totter
Deep breath, stand back, it’s time
Toes untouch the overpass
Soon he’s water bound
Eyes locked shut but peek to see
The view from halfway down
A little wind, a summer sun
A river rich and regal
A flood of fond endorphins
Brings a calm that knows no equal
You’re flying now
You see things much more clear than from the ground
It’s all okay, it would be
Were you not now halfway down
Thrash to break from gravity
What now could slow the drop
All I’d give for toes to touch
The safety back at top
But this is it, the deed is done
Silence drowns the sound
Before I leaped I should’ve seen
The view from halfway down
I really should’ve thought about
The view from halfway down
I wish I could’ve known about
The view from halfway down
One thought on “Untitled”
As John Moe, host of Depresh Mode https://maximumfun.org/podcasts/depresh-mode/, would say. Jess, I’m glad you’re still here and doing what you need to get better.