Freelance Foundations: Help for freelancers.
On my depression
I am depressed.
This latest episode has lasted just over a year. And it's not over yet. I would say that most people haven't even known. I'm still largely functional.
I'm largely functional. An interesting turn of phrase. So many people still marvel at how much I seem to get done. Yet all I see are the failures. My rational brain knows I'm pretty productive for what society would expect from a depressed dude. Still, there are more times than not lately when the depression gets the better of me. Family relationships suffer. Work suffers. Personal projects suffer. Friendships suffer. You can hear the judgements those people make, whether expressed or implied, and they just feed into the story of knowing you're not good enough (even if intellectually you know different). I have days where it's almost nothing at all to crank out a huge volume of high-quality work. Lately, there have been more days where it's a struggle to just get out of bed. Those days, it's an epic win accomplishing what I would be ashamed of putting out when I'm at my best. Some days, it's both in the same day.
While I've been unwell I've had to rebuild my personal practice – twice. Once because of a layoff and once because of a personal situation. But each time it's come back stronger, more focused, and faster. All of these are good signs. While I've done that, I've also grown Niagara Podcasters' Network, developed new shows, helped the hosts and other volunteers earn five nominations from the Canadian Podcasting Awards this year, and worked to bring back Cowork Niagara from almost closing. (Long story short, we learned a lot from our move and would do things very differently, but it's better now.) I helped launch Underdogs' Boxing as a founding board member. It's important to point out that those are volunteer tasks. I did them because I wanted to make our community better. Because I care about the people who are also involved with those things. But when I'm at my lowest — when I'm all out of energy — those things end up taking second place to more higher-priority items like work, family, and personal care. Survival vs. self-actualization. I've been spending more time with family and on my physical health. This is what mental illness looks like: you can be doing all the right things and still feel empty. You can still feel not enough. Another problem — I call it a problem but it might not be — is that I still plan as if I'm healthy. I'm optimistic by nature. I'm excited about making my community a better place. I still do lots of work to those ends. But those plans are often delayed. I refuse to give up, but often the path in no way resembles the plan. Sometimes I retreat. Sometimes I need to regroup and admit that I just don't have the strength this attempt. This attempt. I've learned to draw comfort in that that, despite the fact that it frustrates others. I don't think this is something I will change.
I haven't told many people about any of this, except some of my closest friends. Although many probably know, or suspect, already. I've actually found it easier to talk about my anxiety (Lots of you know about that, and it always seemed to fit with the story of who I am). The depression, well that just doesn't fit the profile, yeah? I don't look like someone who has depression. I don't always act like someone who has depression, so how can I possibly have it? I'm just lazy, or sad, and I need to get over it. Pull myself up by my bootstraps, and all that. Can't get shit done because you're too sad? Fuck off. Get over yourself. Buck up and do more, Twining. Every day I try to the best of my ability. And some days I don't win. It's just as simple as that.
Many of you will say I have nothing to be ashamed of, that telling you is ok. So many of us talk about how much more accepting we've become. We've all started to give ourselves unending kudos for being so caring and understanding. I call BS. There are people reading this right now who are judging. Everybody judges, in one way or another, for good or for ill. It's just as much, if not more, part of the human condition. There's lots of talk about removing stigma, but, I mean, I've heard so many of you tell a different story. The quiet confessions of exasperation. The eye-rolling. The sarcasm. Excluding people who suffer because it's not convenient. Because it gets in the way. The doubts that there's even a problem. If you talk about other people like this, how would I ever trust you to share my burden? Many talk about how mental health is important, but if someone's mental illness has an impact on that person, I've seen it time and again how less empathic that person is in fact. As someone who is in this situation regularly, I will tell you: we see. We listen, and we know you can't be trusted with our secret.
This isn't a doom and gloom situation. If anything, I hope to share with you how this ebbs and flows in a lot of people. Mental health and illness is a spectrum, and just like any other chronic condition it fluctuates in severity. Slowly, the qualities I use to measure my wellness are improving. As the days lengthen, I'm feeling some energy return. Trying to stay active over the winter was a bigger challenge than I thought it would be, even with the support at Underdogs' Boxing. But I'm rebuilding the habit of regular walking and I know that will turn into running sooner than it did last year. that will help even things out more. Work is improving, my personal projects are growing. But that struggle will continue. I still fail some days. I'll still fail more some days from now, and if I'm writing this for any reason at all it's to help you understand why that might happen sometimes. I'm able to focus for longer periods of time. I'm better able to avoid catastrophizing when something bad happens, and just move along with the flow. My creativity returns, and with it the drive to make things better for those around me.
Some might suggest that I should get help. That might be true, but the system's resources are quite frankly tapped right out. I don't have six months to wait for counselling. I don't have a benefits plan to get a prescription. And the last prescription I was on, I didn't like the way I felt when I was on it. I'd rather work through it independently, tough as it is, and be wholly who I am. I know this phase is temporary. I know I'll get through. I have before and I will again. I have my meditation. I get good rest. I eat well and as often as I can with family and friends. I drink much more in moderation when I'm like this, and often not at all. I'm doing all the things that professionals would tell me to do. What I'm missing are the societal supports that should be there, but woefully under-funded.
So now you know. And knowing is half the battle, or something like that. I've lost family. It's likely I have already lost some friends. I might lose contracts because of sharing this. Be that as it may, I wanted you to know why I might have seemed 'off' the last while. I don't 'look' like I'd have this sort of problem. But take a look: this is what mental illness looks like. Thousands of people just like me are around you every day. I don't know when I'll recover, but I'm recovering. What keeps me going is knowing that my depressed state is still better than what many healthy people put in. And I won't always be depressed. If this is what I can do when I'm unwell, then I have much to look forward to when my health has returned.
Here's to the better and brighter days ahead.
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