On Depression: To Anyone Else Living in a Fog
In December, while being drinky poolside with two friends under the blanket of a sticky Panama City night, I watched Twitter collectively orgasm after Beyoncé dropped. The next morning, I steered a young lady named Kitty Pryde back onto the right path, into the light. Because I'm a nice person, you see.
That post—"Eat the cake, Anime: On White Cluelessness (and Beyoncé)"—became the most widely read thing I had written at that point. People I respected deemed me cool, brilliant, and necessary. Solange, "Stephanie" from Grey's Anatomy, and a fuckton of dope writers showed me love. Smart people noticed. Deflectors from the darkest corners of the Internet convened (and still convene) in my comment section. I had spent years working up the nerve to step beyond my blog and pitch something, anything, to anyone who'd pay me for my words. I talked myself down from that ledge each time, without fail, never quite feeling ready. Suddenly, I had an Audience.
Now, I felt empowered and encouraged, as if my dick had quadrupled in girth overnight.
In the three months that followed, I wrote for The Grio, CNN, Huffington Post, and Saint Heron. My words were referenced alongside the words of Chimamanda and dream hampton, and my heart to heart with Kitty Pryde was included in syllabi at Emory University and California State University-Chico. My Black Ass Parents sang my praises to anyone who'd listen, highlighting that I was writing for "THE EBONY," which instantly made me An Apollo Legend and preferred grandchild, forever. And ever.
I was having a motherfucking moment. Everyone was proud.
In March, while getting ready for dinner at my favorite restaurant with my favorite people to "celebrate" a piece I had written for Saint Heron, my roommate and sisterfriend Bintu joked that I was "pressed like shit to turn up." I was dumping our favorite Panamanian rum, Ron Abuelo, into an ice cold fresh pipa (unripe coconut). And I was high out of my mind. Again. She was right.
I laughed it off. Then I recognized my need to indulge in a little leaf burning before dinner. And after lunch. I paused. I realized that I also needed to fix a quick drink before my lunchtime English class just hours ago. And that I said I could really go for (needed) a sip of rum before sending an email back to an editor that afternoon. And while smoking before sitting down to write that morning. And after a few puffs an hour earlier, when I was disappointed with myself for not being elated about my work's reception. But more importantly: this pre-dinner liftoff.
By then, most days were like this.
"Because everything's more fun with a little lube, right?" I'd reason, adding an extra three-second pour of rum to The Prewriting Drink.
That was about the time I went from "scatterbrained"—as I'd attempted to complete five to eight tasks from an unending To-Do list, simultaneously—to "overwhelmed." I began writing for shiny online outlets while teaching English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses, leading dance and fitness classes, and making Mom and Dad and Grandma proud, while contending with long-standing inadequacy issues that now fully consumed me. Things just seemed to be easier to face while a little bit fucked up.
I got dozens of emails, tweets, Facebook tags and texts weekly seeking my perspective on EVERYTHING. I would send a weekly email to friends and family recapping what I'd written or who said what about me that week.
People would often tell me I was "doing it." I felt compelled to be everything to everyone.
I first noticed the fog in February. It was after my CNN article was published. I noticed there was a haze that complicated the minuscule, turned trifles into tragedies and passions into battles. I should have been over the moon about getting paid to do what I love, but couldn't get excited about much.
By mid-March, writing scared me. I convinced myself that every piece had to be a home run and so nothing ever felt sufficient. I had to be witty and brilliant despite my lowly self-opinion. I spent three weeks not being able to write anything I didn't hate, and dragging myself through the mud because of it. Doing became painful. I started to believe the commenters who called my words "unreadable" and terrible.
Fucking numbed the pain.
As my confidence plummeted, my sexual appetite skyrocketed. Sex has always been a fun hobby, but it soon became my thing. I questioned my worth as a writer, human, and potential husband daily, but that butt nekkid passion gave me wings. It made me feel powerful. I was the First Black Penis for a cute number of dudes in Panama City, now able to set aside the inadequacy and the self-doubt and the shrinking so we could cross the finish line together. I sought out those good times like my life depended on it.
This spring and summer, I was wildly impulsive, financially and sexually. As a reflection of my self-worth, my self-care was non-existent. My body went to shit. I was never fully rested. I opted for solitude over socializing with other humans, unless a bit fucked up. It had been a year since I'd had blood work to check my lupus out. I sighed a lot.
But if you asked me how I was doing, I was "Fine! Great!"
In reality, this fog felt like a pain somewhere on my body that I couldn't exactly put my finger on. Some days, it was a dull pain that allowed me to function. Other days, it was debilitating. Putting on pants was a victory worth celebrating.
In July, I opened Word and started typing a suicide note. I had daydreamed about it the previous afternoon. It was supposed to explain everything, to make everything okay. I didn't then know that I wouldn't have the nerve to follow through, but I was excited about not having to worry anymore. My spirit was tired.
I later re-read the note. I became terrified and incredulous that I was penning my own farewell letter. It was ugly.
Once upon a time, I ran from tears, because that's what being resilient meant to me: not crying. I was the dude who bounced back quickly—even from a lupus diagnosis— and without too much bruising.
After months of crying about wanting to feel as powerful as everyone thought I was, a sob-filled call home that July afternoon was the push I needed to quit lying to myself about being able to change the/my world alone and get the fuck out of Panama.
"I need to get out of here," I told my parents. I left two weeks later.
It saved my life.
I am now here in Virginia with my family, recharging with the help of cheese grits. I am watching my nieces be 16-and-17-year-old geniuses and enjoying being a son, brother, and grandson. Two months removed from my flight home, after much decompressing, the most important lesson I learned about myself is that it's okay to feel what you feel, to not be okay. These valleys build character.
I spent months afraid of being clinically diagnosed, slapped with a label, and given a pill. Lupus was hard enough to overcome and I didn't want another something. The thought of giving Mom and Dad something else to worry about mortified me.
Once I stopped demonizing the unknown, the heavy, and the negative, I was able to explore these feelings and start being really real with myself about these years of unconvincing alrightness in that self-designed hell of romanticized self-employment. I stopped feeling bad about myself for feeling bad.
I learned that articulating your bullshit while sorting out your bullshit can be draining. Plus, getting someone who's never reckoned with such a valley to understand yours gets old, quick. I learned that it was okay not to explain myself.
I embrace crying now. Shit, unraveling can be revelatory, and I'm always amazed at what I find in the wreckage. So: Crying doesn't make me a scumbag.
At some point, even if you front with everyone else all the time, lying to yourself about your alrightness eventually loses its power. Polishing my shit show each day proved maddening, and I've found more strength, camaraderie, and support in being honest and open about my struggles and desires.
The more I open up about what I'm dealing with, the more I see that I don't have to be Super Negro day in and day out. It's okay to be a human with weaknesses and fears. It sounds trivial, but it has taken me several years and tears to accept this.
Here's what I know: It's okay to not be okay. And maybe it's gonna get much worse before it gets a little better. But I am alive. I am loved. I'm finally starting therapy and I am hopeful for the first time in a long time. And that's enough for me. For now.
Alexander Hardy is a writer and cultural critic who opines about the world (and all of its disappointing people) on his blog, The Colored Boy, and elsewhere. He does not believe in snow.
[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]