Worry not, friend, for despite its title, this piece does not detail the pseudo-therapeutic practice of the de-cluttering of the mind (and therefore of the soul) through mindful sorting of writing utensils on one’s desk. This is not an uninformed do-gooder’s letter to the masses written to conjure imagery of a desperate teenager, vacuum in hand, ridding their bedroom carpet of a film of negativity dust with the misguided gospel cluttered room, cluttered mind glaring in red paint from the adjacent wall. No healing could be so simple or immediate. Rather, this is an honest work; it is myself, and that state of being is a rarity in recent days. This is the point, I suppose: that I want to feel something true today. While this goal takes its place in a dizzyingly lengthy queue—such is the curse of the unrealistically ambitious depressive—I will add it nonetheless with the detachedly determined hope that I fulfill it.
While I do hate to invoke stereotypes, I do find that this one is observably valid: for a large part of my depression, I’ve existed as a sub-species of the sad clown. A year or so after that depression began—which was when I was about 16 years old—I pressured myself to become a pillar of positivity. I was broad smiles, goofy nicknames, inside jokes, and earnest compliments. I was—externally—everything that had been made to feel disingenuous, and I made this choice largely because a movie had told me that positivity heals (implicitly, by itself). I clung to that belief and wielded it in daring combat against that unrelenting foe who, between manly grunts and hearty clangs of our meeting swords, would cut me with a reminder that I deserved to feel bad.
So, my logical conclusion was that I was the carefully selected target of [insert which deity is real], and thus had to become deserving of something better in order to win back normality. The unforeseen consequence of this decisive jolt towards responsibility for others’ happiness and, ultimately, towards thoughtless external joy was that over a period of years, I forgot myself.
I came to envision the friend “having a rough week” to be a careening missile sharing my hapless trajectory, and I couldn’t leave it up to someone else to change its course. I developed intense, anxious focus on maintaining my illusively ecstatic persona in order to best enable my support of others, and for those around me to never doubt the weightlessness of their troubles. Times of guilt and rejection, triumph and trauma, were unmarked points on a map that I gradually lost the ability to revisit until, years later, when a therapist asked me, plainly, what I perceived to be the roots of my existential despair. She asked about my relationships, my upbringing, and explored them with prodding specificity, as if it was clear to her that they had become vague to me: Those rumbling, tumultuous beginnings of my current emotional state. One question in the meandering conversation left me, all of a sudden, frozen: a reminder of the household that had first closeted my emotions with, solely, ignorant do-good suggestions to dive into the very studies which had depressed me.
I felt nothing for a moment, and then everything.
Shaking and stammering, I really cried for the first time in front of a doctor; it felt like I was living my admittedly white heterosexual hardship all over again—as if it was new—and experiencing that distance felt like a heavier kind of shame. In that crashing instant, I knew I could never do this to myself again, and so, in the time afterwards, I’ve constructed this pledge:
Today, and I hope tomorrow, I will be honest with myself. I will feel what has brought me to today. I anticipate with a deflated but nonetheless excited connectedness that maybe I’ll feel sexually barren or bitterly guilty for sitting around playing NBA 2K—in hot pursuit of a triple-double: a crowning personal achievement—or maybe I’ll feel anxious about graduate school, or as if I’m a failure to my parents, but today I won’t be fake while peripherally, vaguely in agony. If I’m sad, I will do everything I can to consider—and remember—why. Today, I’ll clean house, as I put it. This is not to erase or gloss over, not even to confront, but to maintain awareness of my emotional reality. Preparation is part of the project, and it is the careful survey of muddied linoleum, the bold search for furtive cobwebs that represents the choice to begin a longer process. To the best of my ability, I will give form to my otherwise amorphous anguish, and maybe that’ll help me accept it.
Maybe that’ll help me beat it.
I’m tired of beating it, every day; I want to beat it in a new way: To feel better. To function with normal unease, to sit amongst friends without an ounce of hidden shame, to truly, however much, feel better. Lastingly, warmly better.
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Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
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