My second post in one day. I know, it’s odd. I’m barely posting two a week now.
And that’s partly why I have something to say. Months back I contributed to a Kickstarter project by John Campbell, the artist behind Pictures for Sad Children. It has fallen a couple months behind schedule, for a number of reasons. One of them was that a train exploded outside of his apartment. (Literally.) Another update was posted yesterday that was confusing initially to those who…don’t understand his sense of humour. He wrote that, to be seen as a real “artist”, he faked depression. He said it takes a lot of effort – and it must, given the ambivalently defeated-but-hilarious work he does – to fake it. Or maybe his signature dark sense of humour could only come up with an explanation for lagging behind on something by communicating it with a…dark sense of humour.
Depression is my Catch-22. It is the reason I haven’t strived to reach full potential, the reason my ambition fails to match my capability. What continues to depress me is that I haven’t reached my full potential, and have failed to achieve ambitions or demonstrate capabilities. That’s what makes depression an endless loop. It’s what stops me from, say, making my own web comic, or trying to launch a career out of writing. It’s not just fear of failure or humiliation; it’s internal inertia. It’s not writer’s block or a lack of ideas; it’s paralysis in applying ideas.
As written about earlier today, I was incredibly self-conscious in my formative years because of body image issues. That has made me miserable for most of my life, given that I’ve overweight from the start of grade school. But as I also wrote today, I’m getting over the image part. The paralysis is a different issue. I’m not doing a very good job at getting over that.
That leaves me with moments or periods of no excuse of a reason to feel completely defeated and limp. I’m approaching the 18th anniversary of a monumental experience in my life when a part of me, something I can’t even begin to identify or described, died. Or maybe it’s that some kind of parasite lodged itself in my brain to seize control of my motivation. That last sentence has puns you’re not even aware of, but since I’m about to explain them I apologize and assure you they were not intended.
October 25th, 1994 was two days after my sister’s 16th birthday. A cousin of mine was born less than two weeks prior. At seven o’clock that morning, as an act of self-consciousness much smaller than my later body image issues and more in line with society’s ridiculous rejection of basic human anatomy, I was trying to hide my posterior. My mother was crying. I wasn’t crying then, but I’ve been doing so sporadically since. We were walking through an underground tunnel connecting the Children’s Hospital ward attached to the larger Health Sciences Centre. I remember this walk. I remember entering a room. I remember lying on a table. I remember however many hours later waking up to my independently-operating urethra and a cheery nurse holding a bedpan for it.
It was brain surgery, by the way, in case you didn’t make the connection between head references in one paragraph and vague descriptions of an operation experience in the next. The neurosurgeon warned us that I would likely be of low energy and gloomy attitude afterwards – or as he put it, depressed. I was. I was depressed enough to turn down one of the best opportunities of my lifetime to go trick-or-treating as myself with staples on one side of my head. But the depression never went away as the incision healed and the hair grew back. I have been hard on myself for no good reason since.
I get less than 1% of the audience that John Campbell does, have, if lucky, half the skill that he has, and clearly far less drive and motivation given how little I’ve done. But depression comes and goes, and its magnitude rises and falls, and that’s not understood by those who are lucky enough to have control and stability in their energy levels and moods. Conscious control of depression is easier said than done. It takes a lot of strength and yet those who are not afflicted still see any improvement as minimal. Mediation can help some; I don’t want it to help me, but as I need prescriptions for other health issues it so happens that one of them has a mood-lifting side effect. Other elements of a healthy lifestyle are hard to start and maintain when you can barely lift an arm, even if “studies show” that diet and exercise improve depression’s symptoms. Creative expression does too, temporarily, which is why John Campbell et al continue to make comics and art even if it is on a sometimes sporadic basis. Tough love and encouragement from those who don’t understand are perhaps among the least productive treatments. So listen, and understand, and calm down with your outrage if this is affecting someone’s ability to meet your expectations. My head was very heavy after surgery, and although I’m able to prop it up with as much musculoskeletal strength as anyone else, it’s still a greater weight on my shoulders than any external stressor can be.
Consider these things when your knee-jerk to something is a sarcastic “woe is me”.