As one who has lived in the strangle-hold of depression for a large portion of my life, I know how hard it is to put aside unhealthy life habits and engage with the world in a positive way. Patterns of behaviour develop over time, through repetition, and become engraved – especially if these habits begin during childhood. And if solitude is what one has practiced, day after day, year after year, as I have, then breaking out of that solitude becomes a mountain as tall as Everest is to the novice mountaineer. Success does not happen overnight.
I have at times wondered if it is possible to heal fully when so many of my formative years have been shaped by a disease that left me afraid to step out of my parents’ house, communicate with my peers and learn new things joyfully and without fear of failure. How does one undo years of dysfunctional conditioning? Should one even try?
I know that I am not alone in my struggle, as is attested by the high number of people taking anti-anxiety drugs and SSRI medication for depression. In the West, our ever accelerating urban environments are flooded with unsorted information that overwhelms the senses and can paralyze us if we are not equipped to process it effectively. What we end up hearing is noise – if we are uninitiated. In this dangerous and overstimulating sea of data we each must learn to be the captains of our souls, sailing towards an island of silence – a space of calm and clarity that lies within us. If we are lucky we have families that can help show us the way. But if we are unlucky, we are left to navigate our own path before we are fully prepared.
I have learned through much hard work to access my inner sweet spot when I sit, for example, in front of my computer screen and allow my fingers to guide me towards some form of self-expression. Like a muscle, my voice grows stronger only when I exercise it. And like a reluctant athlete I often stumble, grow lazy or simply procrastinate.
Self-expression does not come easily to me. And while I enjoy writing – or should I say, having written – the actual process, of sitting down and creating a space for the words to emerge onto a screen, well, that can be terrifying. Not only do I fear the emptiness of the blinking cursor on a blank screen, but I fear what it is that might emerge if I were truly honest with myself and with others. Because within me, I know, is much darkness — and that darkness is ugly, like an open sore. Why show it to the world when I can just as easily pretend that it doesn’t exist?
But mental wounds, like physical ones, need to breathe. You cannot treat them if you do not acknowledge their reality. They must see the light of day, or else fester and spread like an untreated infection. As a teacher once said to me, humans are exceptional energy conductors – and horrible energy storage devices.
That is why I write about my struggles, with mental illness and with coming to terms with my non-typical gender identity. That is why I proclaim to the world: I am not normal. This is harder to admit than you might imagine. I have wanted, for much of my life, to be nothing more than just like everyone else. But how many of us really are, as they say, ‘normal’? And is being normal really a prerequisite to being a constructive contributing member of society?
I don’t know about you but the people from whom I have learned the most in my life have not been what you might call ‘normal’. They have been unpredictable, unorthodox and inspiring because they have done, said and spoken in ways I did not know possible. They have revealed new ways of seeing and offered up unimagined landscapes to ponder.
To imagine, I believe, is our greatest ability as human beings. It is what gives us strength and drives us onward and outward into dialogue with the world we inhabit. To be depressed is to lose the ability to imagine anything other than what is. It is an unbearable place to be.
I, for one, am ready to imagine again. Even if that, too, can be scary.