Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On one writer and depression, aka life in the black pit of hell

So here I am, telling the truth for the first time, ever, publicly.

I have been ashamed to tell people about this for so long that I am –literally (and those of you who have heard me rant about the correct use of ‘literally’ know I really mean it) – crying at the keyboard. 
Because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to get over years and years of humiliation and despair to admit that I needed help.

So here it is:  I’m Alesia Holliday (and Alyssa Day) and I have battled depression all my life. 

Wow.  That was really fucking hard.  I can see why maybe AA makes you stand up and admit to being an alcoholic over and over.  Perhaps repetition lessens the terror?  Perhaps desensitization lessens the pain?  I don’t know.  I hope so.  I’m finally speaking up and speaking out because I can’t be silent any longer. I think my life might hang in the balance.

I had a birthday in November and it hit me hard.  So hard.  Because all I could think was: “How am I going to slog through so many more years of a life like this?”

I call depression the black pit, because it’s so damn dark down there.  It’s the horrible, hideous 4 a.m. of the soul, where all the worst bits of self-torment and self-sabotage and self-hatred throw a big fucking party and jump on my head. 

“You’re not good enough.”  “Your next book can never be as good as the last one.”  “You’re a terrible person, writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister, human being.”

I don’t think anybody really understands depression.  The doctors think our brain chemistry is messed up, and we can fix it with medication.  The therapists think it’s a behavioral issue and we can fix it with therapy.  Probably both are true, to varying degrees.  Maybe.  All I know is that it’s something that can kill people by destroying all hope, and that it’s probably going to be almost as hard, or even harder, to fight my way out of the black pit as it was to just lie in the bottom of that damn pit in the dark--hoping to disappear.  But I know I have to try.

I have the best friends and family in the world, but when you’re in the black pit, they don’t know how to help.  Because they can tell you it will get better, but you don’t believe them.  Or they can cheer you on to climb out, but it feels like the sides are coated with slippery oil and no matter how hard you try to climb out, you’re just going to slide back down.  Maybe they’ll even throw you a rope, but the thought of trying to climb a rope is impossible when you haven’t had the strength to take a shower for three days.

I actually had this conversation with myself once:

“You have to wash your hair.”
“I I don’t have the strength to do it.”
“You have to do it.”
“I can’t.”
“You have to.”
“Why does it matter if I have clean hair? I’m such a loser.”
“But what if you die here on the couch with dirty hair and everybody knows you were too much of a loser to wash your hair?”

So I washed my hair.  Because some tiny part of me wanted to keep everyone from knowing I was hurting so much and so far gone.  Because, thanks to society’s stigmatizing mental issues like depression, I was too humiliated to even admit that I was hurting. 

Until I hit that birthday and realized I didn’t have the energy to keep fighting, over and over and over. 

Until I realized my subconscious had been screaming at me for a while, because the last three stories I’d written all had main characters die.

Until I admitted how much I needed help.

So I told my family and my doctor.  I told my agent and my editors.  I told my friends.  I cried so many tears that I think my tear ducts are broken.  And a tiny, tiny, tiny miracle happened:  So many people told me that they’re on my side.  And that they love me and they support me, even though, deep down, I still felt like I didn’t deserve support.  Or love.  Because depression is an evil monster who gets his claws around our mind and heart and gut and never, ever wants to let go.

Well, fuck that.  I am getting help and, for the first time in a long time, I see a glimmer of light and hope.  For the first time in an even longer time, I don’t feel like a complete fraud who is pretending to be happy.

My editors have been amazing, but the next League of the Black Swan book had to be pushed back from May, 2014 because I was completely unable to finish it in time.  I promise to let you know when it’s rescheduled, and I appreciate your patience and kindness and understanding more than I can ever say. My novella I wrote nearly two years ago, Alejandro's Sorceress, is waiting for me to be able to look at it with clear eyes so I can finally post it for you.  I'm trying.  I hope it will be very soon.

I've started meds, and I've started therapy, and both are helping.  I'm trying to find my balance, and just feeling a glimmer of hope instead of being crushed under the weight of hopelessness is a miracle.  And today, another  miracle occurred.  I wanted to write.  I DID write.  And the words I wrote in my story didn’t lie there, flat and lifeless on the page, forcing me to delete them and start over like they do when I’m in the black pit.  Instead, they danced and sang like stories are supposed to do.  Quietly, still, and a little shaky on their feet, but there was definitely singing and dancing.

I’m  Alesia, and I have battled depression all my life. 

Hey.  It was easier, just by an infinitesimal bit, that second time.  Let’s try it again:

I’m  Alesia, and I have battled depression all my life.  But now I’m getting help, and I’m climbing out of that damn black pit.  2014 is going to be better, and I’m never going to hide in a corner, ashamed and hurting, again.  I know it’s going to be a climb, and there is no instant, magical cure.  But this is a start, and – just like that blank first page of any new book – a fresh start feels like it holds hope, and light, and promise. 

Please, please, let’s smash through this stigma about depression, so nobody has to be ashamed to ask for help, ever again.  Please, please, anybody else out there who’s hurting—please reach out for help, right now.  Don’t suffer in silence or shame for even one more day.  Let’s make depression our bitch, instead of the other way around.

With hugs, and love, and—finally—a little bit of hope,

Alesia

Here are some resources:

The National Institute of Mental Health - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

PBS has compiled a list of resources here:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/takeonestep/depression/resources.html

And if you feel the least bit suicidal, please reach out immediately.  You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you are in crisis, and be connected to a trained counselor in your area, 24/7 or find further resources at their website: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.