1) I have it better than most people in this world. I’m surrounded by friends and family, and married to my favorite living organism. I get to do so many things I want to do, including write.
2) I smile a lot. This probably goes back to my childhood with a sick sibling. I was a bouncy-haired Shirley Temple of a kid. I laughed and laughed, and I made people laugh at me. That’s how I earned my place in the world.
2.5) I still do. It’s fair to say that most people I interact with have never seen what my face looks like at rest. Once at a college party, someone said, “When you stop smiling, you look so sad.”
2.75) That person was not trying to pick me up.
3) The sadness comes from nowhere.
4) The sadness comes from everywhere.
5) The sadness is a tar pit I sink into sometimes, but so slowly that no one can tell it’s happening except me.
5.5) And that makes it hard to ask for help.
5.75) Because when I do, I’m easy to ignore.
5.83) Because I look fine.
5.95) Because even when I say the words, “I’m not fine,” it sounds like “I’m fine.”
5.97) I’m not sure whose fault that is.
6) The sadness is embarrassing.
7) The sadness is my fault.
8) Right now, the sadness is especially my fault. I’m going off of anti-depressants after years of taking them. I started in grad school, because my advisor looked at me one day and said, “Do you think you might be depressed?” That wasn’t my first episode of depression. It was just the worst up until that point.
9) I’m going off anti-depressants because I think it’s the right thing, for now. I’m considering trying to get pregnant, and I can’t be on those particular drugs and be pregnant, and before I decide to switch my cocktail to a pregnancy-friendly mix, I want to be very sure that I can’t live without taking at least one pill every day, as I have almost every day for the past six years.
10) When I missed one pill, during those six years, my limbs felt like they weighed twice as much, and my synapses slackened and floated away from one another.
11) When I missed one pill, during those six years, my peripheral vision narrowed, and everything sounded like it was being funneled through a paper tube, and I couldn’t focus my eyes as quickly, or for as long.
12) Now, three weeks after taking my very last pill, after a year of excruciatingly responsible decreases in dosage, I feel like a person floating next to a boat. Yes, floating next to a boat in a wide ocean while the end of the rope she’s untied from around her waist twitches over the next wave. The freedom feels good. She rolls over on her back and lets the ocean pillow her and the sun dry her eyelids. But you don’t have to close your eyes very long to lose sight of the shore. You don’t have to close your eyes very long to lose sight of the boat. You don’t have to close your eyes very long to lose sight of the rope. The freedom feels good, but that’s a feeling for the shallows.
13) My depression started in high school. I know this because I recently found the rip-a-day Gary Larson calendar pages on which I kept my journal. Pages in which I railed against gender expectations that felt confining and unfair, struggled with loneliness, castigated my discarded religion while yearning, daily, for God, chronicled my thoughts on The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina, catalogued my crushes on baristas and bookstore boys, and wished and wished and wished for someone to notice that I was sad. I fell asleep every day in my calculus class. I fell asleep on the sofa after I came home from school. Not because I felt tired, and not because I was lazy. I just didn’t want to move.
13.5) When you move, that’s when it hurts.
14) Fear of movement is still my symptom. The air feels malevolent, like it’s breathing back at me. If I move, if I care, it will hurt. So I stay very, very still, storing up all my energy for those times when I will have to perform. I shut myself off like a refrigerator light and wait for the door to open.
15) Only one person sees me when I’m not performing. It’s almost certainly not you.
16) I’m performing right now, but writing is a performance like dancing is a performance. I love dancing, even when people are watching. When I’m dancing, it feels good to be alone and it feels good to be watched, so I don’t have to care either way.
17) Failure to keep up appearances is a mortal sin.
18) That probably comes from my mother. But so does my strength.
19) Today I set out to make a list of my successes—publications and performances, risks taken and outcomes enjoyed. But no matter how much I succeed, I feel like a failure. That’s kind of my whole deal.
20) So instead, this is a list of failures. In fact, this whole list is a failure.
21) Or alternately, we could just call it a rough draft.