Oh, chronic depression. My greatest (and most annoying) foe. Who knew that “stability” would mean still juggling a low level malaise every few weeks until forever?
Back in 2007 when I gave up writing it was because I thought my obsessive writing made me unhealthy. At the time, I was obsessively working on novels and screenplays, short stories, poems and songs. I wrote when I was depressed. I wrote when I was manic. It was all consuming. The only real break I took from it (since my day job as a newspaper reporter also involved writing) was after a hospitalization in 2006. I felt my obsession with the stories I created in my mind were part of the problem. They kept me from dealing with my reality, which was not as interesting as some wild story idea I’d concocted or a musical I’d become obsessed with composing. In fact, my reality was pretty bleak at the time, but only by confronting it was I eventually able to deal with it.
It’s funny how I remember 2007. I have this tendency of thinking I went unemployed for an obscene amount of time (it was about five months), and that I gave up writing completely (I started The Black Snob fall 2007), or that I even managed to write in a way that wasn’t fueled by my disorder (I updated blacksnob.com about three-to-six times a day, even weekends some days, from 2008-2010). I never really took a break. I always think I’m taking breaks, but I have always struggled to “be still” or “be in the moment,” so “breaks” often include “ghost write a book” and “take on a new freelancing contract with a magazine.” Then I get to a point of success (“I’m head writer of a TV show!”) and all I can think about is how I’d rather be at a different point (“Why can’t I write for **** show!?”). It’s like being a crack addict constantly in search of an ever better brand of crack. A high that will get you higher, last longer and make you the envy of other crack heads.
I fall into jobs like needy, desperate, attention hungry people fall into love: often. I fall in love with every job I get, even the ones I didn’t know I wanted. I don’t know how to fake emotion or not invest. But I struggle with “career fidelity” because there are always other hot-in-the-pants jobs walking around, being the hot sluts they are, trying to convince me to stray away from yet another gig. Being in digital media sounds fun, but so does television, but so does writing a book, but so does going back to write for a newspaper, but so does starting my own business. My career is consistent in that it almost always involves writing or creativity, but it is inconsistent in that I can’t seem to settle down. The only thing I appear to be capable of committing to is myself. I know I like me (sometimes) and that I want to do what I want to do (all the time) and that most of my life I’ve been treated like a special snowflake who’s brilliance and creativity and talent can’t be held back by convention.
I was born free, a luxury not all of us are able to afford. I didn’t do anything to earn this freedom, other than be born to two people who could raise me in a manner mostly untouched by how horrible the world is. But being free means having choice and I always had too many choices, only I didn’t see it that way because I knew what I wanted “to do.”
I had to write my autobiography as a homework assignment in the 9th grade and I saved the book. I re-read it this July and was surprised to see that even then, at 14, my ambition was to be a journalist. I also mentioned being an engineer (like my father) or a lawyer, because that’s what my mother wanted me to be, but I threw all that out the window as I went on and on about my love of writing and newspapers. I didn’t even remember wanting to be a journalist at 14, which makes me wonder how long being a writer was my true dream. I remember first writing books for my little sister around age 7 or 8 and entering story writing contests throughout elementary school. I remember writing my first (horrible) novel in a series of notebooks at 13. But the fact that I wrote journalist down at 14 and not cartoonist or artist, which was my original first love, drawing, was surprising to me. I’d ruled out my art career, which I was still entertaining at that age, as a long term goal.
I want to settle down, both career-wise and in other ways. I moved by to D.C. because it was a place where I have thrived in the past. I’m still searching for a job that will fulfill my myriad of needs (or will let me pursue my myriad of needs while fulfilling my duties) because that’s what I need to be happy and also need to not end up still struggling, still unmoored once I hit my 50s and 60s. Nothing scares me more than the idea of still struggling, still trying to “make it” in something when I’m close to retirement age (even though I already have accepted I’m unlikely ever to retire, not because I have to, but because I don’t want to retire from writing).
I think back to a close friend of mine who recently died of complications related to her colon cancer. She was only 48. She did not expect to get cancer or die. She wasn’t even at an age where you screen for colon cancer. In the brief time where we became extremely close friends, in a big sister, little sister style relationship, she had lived a similar life to mine — one of creative pursuit and the instability that comes with it — and had been under incredible stress since 2008 in trying to make ends meet. She applied for job after job, looked for contract work and it was as if the well had dried up. She was just as full of desire and ideas as ever, but interest in those glorious ideas had waned for some reason. Watching her struggle was my fear. She was living my fear. Of being close to 50 and being unsettled. She too wanted stability and looked high and low for it. I tried to help in how I could. I paid for her internet service, I tried to be there emotionally and physically. Then grew deeply saddened as she began to waste away from disease, struggling to face my own fear that she would die when she promised me she wouldn’t. Ultimately though, she had no control. Her body gave out even though her spirit was more than willing.
Watching my friend Toya Watts die was one of the hardest things to do. I’m still not over her death. I can’t even pretend like I took it well despite the inevitability of it all. I wanted to believe she’d pull through and this would be just a joke between us. “Hey, remember that time you tried to die on me?” and we’d go back to living our lives. But that didn’t happen. Because nothing is promised. Because death is the unavoidable fate of us all.
A lot of my urgency, of my dance from job to job, of choosing a life-long passion at 8 years old and deciding on my career at 14, is about out running any untimely demise. Further complicated it is my Bipolar Disorder, which, years ago, flipped on a suicide switch in my head I’ve never been able to fully turn off. I avoid driving out of not trusting myself, even when I’m well, that I’ll be safe and won’t get into an accident, as from 2004 to about 2007, that was how I’d planned on harming or killing myself, but crashing my car into on-coming traffic. Even though I no longer have the desire to do that, that switch is still flipped to on in my head, constantly in the background, whispering that this is always an option. It’s a pretty frustrating thing to live with.
Accepting that I was still afraid of harming myself even when I felt fine, even when I was stable and healthy, was hard. It reflected the fears of my old friends from Bakersfield and my parents and siblings. That I wouldn’t write a note or call them, but would just do it on some impulsive whim.
Which brings us back to the chronic depressing always looming. Even if you reach stability, it never really goes away. Even if you do all the right things — exercise, taking medicine, working, attempting to manage finances, engaging regularly with friends and family — it’s still there, in the background threatening to take over. It’s a constant, exhausting war, one I get tired of fighting and get frustrated with. I get frustrated with myself. Why can’t I just enjoy life? Why can’t I just appreciate how fortunate I am, how loved I am, how many good friends I have and how wonderful my family is? Why can’t the success of my writing career be enough, why am I always wanting? I will never know these answers. I will never know why.