Saturday, January 28, 2012

This shit is my shit. It's somewhat of a blogging genre, the "cop this, I suffer from depression" blog post. I've always held off from writing one because I worry that what I have isn't severe enough to be called 'depression' and so it's narcissistic of me to talk about it. Also, a while back I decided to maintain a more transparent online presence and some people link my name, in a professional capacity, to this blog, which makes me reluctant to discuss personal weaknesses here.

I've never self-harmed or attempted suicide. I've never been hospitalised or been prescribed antidepressants. Mostly I have no trouble sleeping and can get out of bed okay and get through my day, and I still find ordinary things funny and delightful.

However, I just did a self-test at the Black Dog Institute and scored 24. They say anyone who scores higher than 9 should seek professional help. I'm able to look back and identify certain bad years in my life as periods of depressive breakdown, and I realise that not everyone lives with constant, crushing self-criticism, or obsessively weighs their achievements against those of their peers, or dwells wretchedly on humiliations large and small, ancient and recent.


"So many people I know have got book deals; I'm falling behind! It's not because they're better writers, I'm just lazier. Some people get up at 6am and get a few thousand words down before they go to work. There's no way around it; if I'd worked harder and used my time better I could have got a book deal by now."

"Get up, get UP – why am I lazing around in bed until 10am when everyone else is up at 6am? Why did I go back to bed after I let the cat out – I just wasted three hours of working time."

"Look at X and Y and Z – they can juggle lots of different freelance gigs successfully; I should be able to do it too. The only reason I'm so stressed is because I'm lazy and disorganised. Stop making excuses for yourself all the time Mel – get off your arse and actually do work like X and Y and Z. You don't see them whingeing on the internet. Less whingeing, more working."

"Oh my god I can't believe X achieved so much in 2011 – what did I achieve? Nothing – I just wrote some stupid stories and reviews that nobody even read anyway. I only saw half the films other reviewers did; I only read a quarter of the books. How does everyone manage to watch so many TV shows? It feels like all I do is work and what do I even have to show for it?"

It gets to the point where I escape to sit in a café and read my book for a couple of hours (usually a review book, because then I can fool myself that it's 'work'), and then I feel guilty that I haven't been working and the voice kicks in again.

Basically I feel that my entire life is work and I feel lonely and loathe myself for loving my cat so much. The voice also tells me how ugly and fat and generally unlovable I am, and compares me unfavourably to my friends, who are all starting to settle down with partners and kids, whereas the only thing of value I have to offer the world is my work, so I'd better get back to it.

I have been seeing a psychologist weekly since 2009, although I had to stop late last year because I could no longer afford it, and since I'm still struggling financially, I don't think I can begin again now. (Yes, yes, I am aware of the rebate.) At times I've felt 'better' and worried that these appointments are just an indulgence, that I'm just an ordinary person with the same problems everyone faces, and here I am paying someone to listen to me rabbit on about my shit.

But then today Desci told me on Twitter that I needed this mug. I was crushed. I felt so alone. This underlined for me that maybe a professional is the best person with whom to talk about my feelings.

The film Young Adult spoke to me in a very personal way; although I was never beautiful or conventionally popular the way Charlize Theron's character Mavis Gary was, I saw myself in the way her life is so empty except for her anonymous, low-status writing, and I thought I understood what motivated her to try to recapture her 'best' days.

I've had that feeling a lot over the last couple of years; that feeling of doors closing when dudes I used to know have kids. Unlike Mavis, I see that as an ending, a sign that here's another guy I'll never have. But there's also the sadness of seeing people fulfilled by more than their work, or – even worse – succeeding at work and succeeding in their personal lives.

Today I also feel I have Mavis's repellent qualities – her narcissism and self-pity. I feel as though nobody likes me, but then I feel ashamed for feeling this way because only a self-pitying narcissist would.

I've always felt that the right place for 'feelings' is on my blog, and oddly enough this is actually the place where the fewest people are likely to see them. This blog gets an average of maybe 30 visitors per day, whereas I have hundreds of Facebook friends and dozens of Twitter followers. I'll probably regret posting this, but since it's taken like four hours at this stage I should just press publish.

There is nothing wrong with the love of a cat and I reckon most people worry too much about measuring up to others in these heady days of status anxiety (only phrase of Alain de B's I like). Far too easy to get caught up in the shit that doesn't matter (and don't worry, those baby people will soon be projecting all their envy of your singleness back at you).
'Basically I feel like my entire life is work...' - this paragraph really resonated with me. It's funny because people see me as successful but most of the time I feel like a pretty miserable failure. Depends on your definition of success I guess - if I was given a choice right now I'd chuck in my job for a chance at a relationship with someone. (And I kinda hate myself for that also!)

I don't have many close friends and the most important and close relationship I've had over the past six years is with my dog. I sometimes worry about being a crazy dog lady, but my pup has seen me through some terrible times - knowing that I need to feed and walk her every day, and that no one will look after her the way I do, has really helped me feel a tiny bit of value about myself.

Anyway, I won't offer any words of advice or wisdom, I'll just say: I understand. (And: the creative industries are the hardest to work in when you feel like that, I reckon, especially freelancing.)
Hi Mel

I think most people feel like this at least some of the time. And most people compare themselves unfavourably to others.

I have a happy personal life and feel weighed down by my professional failings. But even my marriage isn't much of a consolation; I feel that I am sliding into a completely-unremarkable domestic world and feel embarrassed that I've ended up married and mortgaged while my friends still live fun "young people" lives.

I have always envied a GF who has an amazing career and spends her life travelling and drinking. She recently confessed that she was envious of my happy marriage and feels that she's being left behind.

My point is that even people's successes don't necessarily bring joy to their lives, and we all find something negative to fixate on.
Hi Mel,

I was in two minds as to whether to comment on this post - on the one hand I don't know if I have anything particularly helpful to say (other than, whatever that little voice tells you, plenty of people like me think you're pretty awesome) but on the other it doesn't seem like a post that should go unacknowledged, particularly as I think I also need to respond to the next one as well and tell you that that weird-ass daemon test decided to hedge its bets on me and suggest my daemon be a swan or a koala. A SWAN OR A KOALA.

Obvs I'm one of the married, mortgaged ones with babies, but with a turgid professional life that looks to be further on the decline. I can tell you that I've envied those of you who are single, more free, with time to focus on their intellectual and professional lives rather than a mewling infant who limits most of your daily activities to the instinctive and mundane. I'm in my mid-30s and professionally have very little to show for it, which makes me anxious for the years ahead. I feel like I've sacrificed so much in my career for all the cliches, and it's only starting to hit me now.

But at the same time I won't say that I would exchange it - I feel terribly guilty about it, but the truth is that I think it is easier to be a woman today and 'achieve' in the domestic and emotional sphere as opposed to the professional. I don't think either way is better or worse than the other, but I feel like it is probably much easier to deal with the 'disappointment' of family before career rather than the other way around. Certainly I think you feel less societal pressure about it.

This is stupid because I feel like partnering up, getting married, having children is so much more about dumb luck than anything that relates to your qualities as a person or your commitment to improving yourself. I know plenty of incredible people, yourself included, who should be in a happy relationship just based on being good, kind, smart and all those things, but aren't. And a fair few people who are in relationships who take it for granted and I have no idea how they've lucked out. I certainly feel I have lucked out in that area, and it was nothing to do with anything I tried to do, it just happened that way, and I am thankful for it.

But professionally I am in the depths, and I have such admiration and respect for someone like you who freelances and has to use their initiative and bravery to advance in work. Not a middle-public-service drone like me, resting on complacency and unlikely to move any further because I don't have the confidence and drive that you do. But unhappy with where I am stuck.

I know the temptation to focus on the negatives, and to turn what positives there are into negatives as well. I don't really have any advice, I think all I can do is be there and tell you that I see you doing awesome things and being generally just one of my favourite people, and maybe I should tell you that more often.

Anyway, I've just rambled on a bit and not really said properly what I'm trying to say, but that's why you're the journalist and I'm the one with the 'journalism degree'. I wish I could say something more meaningful and helpful, but I hope that some of these other voices, and other opinions, that are coming in response, speak louder than that one in your head.
Mel, you are such a talented writer, and someone I perceive as successful-but your success doesn't come with the rewards that make it easier for you to keep up with the freelancer lifestyle. Being a creative freelancer is hard work-pitching all the time, sourcing inspiration and fielding rejection-and it's not surprising that it's helped blow up the inner critic. Other people that you perceive as more productive, probably do have better support (income/partner/sense of purpose from somewhere else in addition to their work ambitions)-I only mean this as encouragement to not compare yourself to so called more successful people.

Having visited your blog over several years-which led me to purchasing Meanjin to also read you-I can see a growth in quality of writing, analysis, still the same humour, and naturally also an evolution of what is important to you to write about.

Apart from depression being such a broad category, it's influenced by life circumstances. So all you can do is change your circumstances (if possible) or challenge how you cope with the inner critic. A psychologist is an obvious one, though pricey right now, a support network is always important (a group of people you can be honest and authentic with), religion works for Ben Lee...

Good luck with it-being authentic about your feelings and true to your values is always a start!
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