It seems likely that “overcoming” is a continued exercise without any end in sight and that the exhaustion from it is a part of our lives and our DNA.
TW/CW: discussion of depression, suicidal ideation and mentions of sexual assault, emotional abuse and trauma.
Depression used to be something I didn’t know I was experiencing until I emerged from its fog. I perceived the lethargy, lack of appetite and other frightening symptoms as the cost of my existence—as if I had to pay for even just being here. Now I’ve become more aware of the sometimes slow, sometimes sudden waves of depression that collapse on me when I least expect them. These unwelcome episodes are always ready to remind me of just how fallible I really am, how frail my life plans are and how little control I have over my own brain chemistry.
Control. That is in essence the thing I crave the most in my own life—this isn’t unique to any one person, I believe that is what many humans try to wield over the chaos of existence. For me in particular (because I don’t want to claim that my experiences with trauma, depression and anxiety are the same for all), control means reclaiming parts of myself that were taken by others. Control means being able to plan, being dependable, productive. It means being a more disciplined writer, a better editor, mentor, friend, daughter, wife. Control over my mental health would enable me to help more people, attend more events which are integral to my job, participate in organizing more often and perhaps even make me better at sending thank you cards and filing basic paperwork. Much like burn-out, depression takes over and every menial task, every responsibility, every human need, seems like an impossible feat that requires energy I simply do not have.
Depression makes me feel like a useless person, it makes me feel worthless. It takes me to the edge of my existence, shows me that not being here would be easier—better even—and drops me back onto my couch and tells me that I am too pathetic for even that. And that’s the thing, if I am not of use to other people—if I’m not producing work, if I’m not the best version of myself—I begin to see self-destruction as the only worthy thing I could do.
“Why are you depressed?” my mother asked me when I responded truthfully instead of lying with a simple, “I’m doing fine.” I’m depressed because I just am. Because I exist. Because I am here and because I tried to get here unscathed but then you and dad fucked it up and fucked us up, and then I was threatened at knife-point by a man I rejected, and then I was r/ped, and then you didn’t believe me, and then I went back to school but everything got harder. And then I was pregnant and you called me a whore, and then I was not pregnant and I decided to do my best at school, and then I was emotionally abused and kicked out of my home, and then I left everything I knew to try to rebuild. And then more men used my body like a glove and they used my kindness as a balm for their own wounds, and they used the home I made for myself to shelter their needs, and then I kept trying and it got harder, and then I did it. I found what I needed, I built it, nurtured it and found some peace. But sometimes it all comes back and drags me under water like an anchor made of everything in the world, and I can’t get out of bed without feeling like the ocean floods my soul.
I didn’t say any of that to her. I simply responded, “It’s just the weather, it’s a bit grey.”
I think often about what it means to overcome trauma, to beat it, to crush it into non-existence. I don’t know what it means or what it looks like. When I’m offered kind words like: “you’ll get there” or “you’re going to be OK” when I’m in the throes of depression, I can’t help but want to respond that perhaps I will never be OK. That it is unrealistic to believe that the damage done will erase itself, that the imprint will fade and that the continued onslaught against working class and poor queer and trans Black, indigenous and people of color simply never rests. It seems likely that “overcoming” is a continued exercise without any end in sight and that the exhaustion from it is a part of our lives and our DNA.
And I am not denying that everyone experiences depression, depression knows no boundaries and it doesn’t stop at the appearance of white skin, but the tools we have at our disposal vary. Who is “allowed” treatment depends on a multitude of factors. Those of us who experience oppression and unrelenting micro and macro aggressions borne from white supremacy, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, queerphobia, capitalism and other structures, don’t always have access to the possibility of overcoming any kind of trauma when life is quite literally set up to continuously traumatize certain groups of people over others.
I don’t think I will ever overcome what happened and what continues to happen to me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be given a chance to. In place of pretending that depression will evaporate and leave me for good, I am trying to simply learn to not feel overwhelmingly guilty when a depressive episode begins. I am trying to unpack and abolish the idea that I am only worthy if I am working and producing labor for others to consume. I am trying to dismantle the idea that I have to be the ideal version of myself for anyone at all. I am trying to learn to ask for help when I need it. Little by little, I hope that it will make the ocean above me less daunting.
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