Lately, I’ve had a lot of blessings in my life. I don’t need to recount them all, since that leads to vainglory. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for every one of them. However, there’s a darker side to my nature. As we have day, so, too, must we have night. People aren’t exempt from the rules of cosmic balance. Inside each of us, there’s that little, metaphorical scale, on which we balance our good and evil, desire and fulfillment, happiness and discord. It’s necessary to talk about the bad stuff every now and then. I also think that it’s important for people with voices and social-reach to share their anecdotes and experiences.
While I’m an intensely private person, the most dedicated blog-hunters among you may have captured a few idly mentioned facts about my past that I never elaborate upon or use as a platform: I had a violent incident in my adulthood (we’re not going to talk about that), and, I experience bouts of depression. The latter I’ve inherited biologically, and I think it’s an issue worth discussing. Because despite all of my current success and reasons to be grateful, such a shadow has lingered in the background of recent weeks. As much as I’ve been celebrating, I’ve also been fighting with the Black Spectre in my head and heart. If you’ve read the Chronicles of Pyrdain by Lloyd Alexander, the author refers to one troubled character as being ridden by a “Black Beast”: his depiction for a dark human psyche. It was poignant prose—stuck with me all these years. It’s a powerful way to describe how our personalities can twist and shape us. I’ll stick to Spectre, so as not to plagiarize Mr. Alexander. Anyway, my Spectre doesn’t appear all that often, nor does he necessarily appear when things are glum. Really, depression can just as easily surface at a time when I have nothing in the world to fear. I’m sure there’s a psychological and biological flow to our minds and how they operate, and a person experienced in living with depression (or in living with someone who lives with depression), can identify these markers and institute safeguards against the worst.
Two things to note on my concept of mental diversity. First, I try not to use labels of “illness” or “suffering”. Whenever possible, I’ll stick with diversity. I’m humble enough to know that we’re all one catastrophic event, neuron-misfire, or misstep in life from being no better than the ranting hobo living on the street. We’re all human, and we can all share the highest highs and lowest lows. Now, that philosophy isn’t meant to be disrespectful of persons who are incapacitated by their depression. Such labels are simply ones that I, and I alone, don’t find productive to apply to my situation. Some people need labels, professionals, and serious care to cope with their—or another’s—mental diversity. For me, the only therapy that keeps me from falling deeper and deeper into that black hole within, is a no-nonsense, structured defence and rebuke of the negative. I need to work. I need to push on. I need constant reinforcement of the positive. Thus, I can’t use “victim” terminology, or apply labels to myself that would indicate an ailment, a weakness, or anything else upon which my Spectre can feed.
I guess that stubbornness comes from my belief that I should be strong enough to deal with all of my problems alone, and therefore, needn’t be bothering others with my pains. Naturally, that’s part of the reclusion that depressive personalities exhibit. I can’t deal with my moods alone, which was a lesson learned when I tried to end my life in my teens. It was a serious effort. I didn’t expect to wake up after swallowing a bottle of pills. I expected to die. So, as I mentioned, I have systems now, and those systems include people, engagements and conversations that I wouldn’t have had before.
I haven’t found the magic universal formula for mental harmony, and I don’t think that there is one. In fact, I believe the dark side of my nature contributes to my art and reflections on darkness. I wouldn’t want to change that part of myself, and I’ve learned how to live with my Spectre, how to filter out his most harmful whispers, while continuing a functional life. It’s not so hard anymore, and I’ll tell you what’s worked for me, and what may work for you or someone who you know.
Systems and routine. When the world feels as if it’s spinning out of control, I need activities and rituals that create a sense of control and permanence. Exercise has been one of the most grounding forces in my life. Nothing that I’ve found so quickly and lastingly reminds me of my body, mind, and soul and the balance between each. Furthermore, all writers have a schedule—or rather should, if they expect to write anything. Sitting down after my shower, breakfast and tea, has become another ritual for which I’ve programmed myself, and from which positivity and progress will inevitably spring. Mentally diverse people need an enforced regularity to their patterns more than others, because our reality already feels quite fragile. Adding unpredictability and chaos into a life and mindset that thrives on destructive energy, only feeds the beast. And while we don’t want to starve our Spectres—since they can be great sources of inspiration and can get dangerously angry if ignored—we don’t need to fatten them, either.
I feed my Spectre through my writing. In Geadhain, and elsewhere, I’m able to explore all the dark and terrible “what ifs”, and, even better, I can resolve these wicked conundrums through hope and action. Imaginary hope and action, sure, though it’s the most therapeutic medicine I’ve found for my depression next to exercise and routine. Which brings us to determination, and that “pushing on” that I mentioned above. However dark your mood, however clouded the day, there’s always another sunrise to see. (Until you die, yes—but let’s not be such ghouls.) It’s cliché and tired wisdom, yet that makes it no less true.
One of the darkest stories I’ve known, I did not write. I remember when I woke up all those years back—so surprised to be alive. Mom was shaking me conscious. She was wild, and I couldn’t make out what she was screaming. I’d locked my door and had no intention of being discovered. I don’t know how she got inside. When the room spun a little less, I remember how sad, and loving, her stare was: as brown, deep and sparkling as amber. She was all nerves, tears and sweat. I’d ruined her. I had no answers for her, either; none that would suffice for a mother holding her should-be-dead teenage son. I remember my instant regret, then relief, and finally a sadness of the hollow, endurable kind. I remember that moment with the same visceral clarity as I remember her death. My memories of drinking charcoal, hospital beeps and blips, and all of what came after that vignette possess much less clarity or importance. People are what get us through life. People who love us. We deify celebrities, when the real saints exist and serve the Divine—shepherding the lost, healing the wounded—without praise.
Depressive personalities need to establish a network of saints. There will be downs, and you’ll need someone to pick you up when you don’t have the strength to do so yourself. Anyone, whether influenced by depression or not, should have a circle of friends, co-workers, even pets who encourage them toward success. Now, I don’t mean a rock-star gaggle of fawning idiots and sycophants who tell you everything you think you want to hear: “you’re the prettiest, you’re the best!” That kind of obsequious flattery serves no one. My love of editors and critics should give you further insight into the fine line between supporter and dissident as I define it. Make no mistake, your saints can still be critical, constructively so. Indeed, you need people in your corner who are honest, and who share your dream for writing, climbing the corporate ladder, being a housewife, student, farmer, or whatever vocation you’ve chosen. Oh, and before we move on, make sure that you appreciate these saints—and not just in silent prayers.
“It gets better,” has been the slogan for LGBTQ youth—used to curb kids from thoughts of isolation and self-harm. Although, the slogan equally applies to anyone and everyone sliding into doldrums and doubt. After so many years, and so many ups-and-downs, I’ve come to see my stormy moods as just another of life’s grand currents. I know it gets better, if I just bear through the storm. I know that life is a gift so priceless that the idea of ending myself has become appalling to me. Some of that wisdom has come from having watched friends and family depart. A lot of that wisdom has also come from simple time and endurance.
I’m going to go do a little editing on Feast of Chaos now; play with my Spectre a bit—show him he’s not always right. Four Feasts Till Darkness has a happy ending, dammit. Not perfect, not without a terrible mess, but rich and satisfying for all its horror and joy. Just like my life story, hopefully, and yours.
All my love,
P.S. When I wrote the first draft of Meet My Spectre this morning, and then passed it to my partner, it was received with a tepid: “It’s good”. A lingering and unsaid, but, lay somewhere in the response. After some slings and arrows, I realized I was being asked to open up more, to share a bit more of my pain, and this is the result. Thank you to today’s saint for encouraging me to dig deeper.