Depression and the Importance of Poetry
Rough Day To Be Human
The loss of Robin Williams, has unleashed a barrage of post on depression, suicide, mental illness and the like. People coming clean about their own problems and artist, because those are the people who are mostly in my life, talking about whether we, as artist, are more prone to sadness and these illnesses.
I will maintain that artist are not more prone to these things than non-artist, (I have no statistical proof of anything I say) but instead say artist, either via their work or themselves are simply more publicly viewed, scrutinized, and dehumanized. I like to think that I am a talented writer, and more often than not, the writing community–as a whole–makes me feel that way. My writing has often been a gift that has allowed me to release varying levels of pain through poems. And in that moment, after a reading that has gone well, an acceptance letter, I forget all the negativity, and self loathing that ferments inside. I imagine it was much the same for Robin Williams, the applause, the adoration, and craft made him escape the pain in that moment.
The problem is you always only escape for a moment, but at some point you go home, you are in a car alone, you see a bar, you see a mirror, and you are what you have always been at the core, a person looking for acceptance and love, cause the depression has robbed you of any love you might have been able to build for yourself. It is my best bet, that depressed souls are the easiest to take advantage of because depression is linked to self-esteem, and a depressed self-esteem is looking for anything that validates them, a bottle of wine, a laugh, or a person, but again none of these validations stay permanently, and cannot fix the core.
What I know of depression is limited, I am sure, but I know my family has experienced it through generations, and never acknowledged it. My mother tells the story of finding her father swinging from a beam in the basement when she was seven. She does not tell the story of how she cried herself to sleep for years, or how her mood swings and depression were explained as “the change of life”, that would one day come for me, as well, so I had to understand. My mother’s menopause lasted for 21 years. I’m pretty sure that is medically impossible (but again I have no proof). Nor do we talk about how as a child I was fine staying in the house and not playing with friends, because I had learned I was not lovable or even likable, and internalized it. We certainly do not discuss the day I came back from the liquor store on the street corner of Seventh and Magnolia, with a can of Dr. Pepper, and dropped it in the door frame. It exploded, and at 15, I just started crying (the proverbial spilt Dr. Pepper, as it were). My mother was confused by my reaction, and I think understood for a moment that it was not a normal reaction, and tried to make jokes to make me laugh, to stop the crying. Humor being the medicine many use to cope with what they do not understand. When it did not stop, she threaten to smack the tears out of me. I muffled it, in my pillow and cannot honestly tell you how long I cried over a can of soda.
In my family depression is shameful. One of my siblings suffered anxiety, and we all decided it was just an over zealous need for attention when the sibling was given medication. I mean us ALL, including myself. My mother, after the loss of her mother, dropped deeper in her cycle of depression and we begged her to take anxiety medication prescribed by the doctor. She did not. Collected boxes of it each trip to the doctor, that eventually were disposed of, but I cannot imagine she ever took more than 3, because she said only crazy people need medicine for their mind. For myself I once told my doctor about the idea that I might be depressed, she immediately thought I should take medication. She knew my medical history, family history, and a few of the events that had occurred in my life, that would have done most people in, but I refused the prescription. Once I was told that people need to be honest with two professionals in their lives, Lawyers and Doctors, and listen to their advice, apparently I did not listen then either.
It’s a truth, that on the outside I am funny, and when I psyche myself up, I am the life of the party, but inside I am shriveled and searching. Once a college professor asked me why my poetry did not reflect my personality. He wanted my words to make him laugh on the page as I did in class, with my snarkiness. And there, my friends, is the importance of poetry, all that destroys the insides must escape in some tangible form, or suicide indeed becomes a viable option. Self medicating, which I believe all humans do to some extent, becomes an addiction. Recently a best friend, a man whose mother suffers from depression, and I thought that would be enough for him to understand, said “don’t ruin the mood” when I was trying to let him know how low I was at the moment. He tells me I see everything wrong, to just be optimistic, and worse does not realize he has crush me with flippancy. This shows the frustration of the depressed, that even when we beg to be heard, we aren’t. It is these times when I am grateful to hide in my home with paper and pen.
To this end I can say only this, pick up a paper and pen (paintbrush, camera, yarn, material, whatever you have to express yourself) You do not have to be a poet or artist to unleash what has been shriveling up your core. You deserve better, then what you think you do, even if you cannot read that and internalize it at this moment.
You deserve to be heard.
Medical study from Psyche Central.