July 27, 2010

For Juniper

Depression is much like that abusive significant other. It's always there, even after all your friends have gone home. It's waiting for you after a day out or even the rare short vacation. And it never, ever stops lying to you*.

The lies are the worst part, the little whispers in your ear that tell you you're nothing--not good enough, not loveable enough, not smart enough, not strong enough--not whatever it is you would need to be to get away. Because it doesn't want you to get away. It doesn't like it when you turn your back for even a second, when you're happy for just a moment without it. It doesn't like it when you realize that someone else wants you.

Depression is a jealous mate. It wants to possess every tiny bit of you, even if it has to kill you to be sure of you. It goes hardest after the people who love you and want to help you get away to someplace healthier. Sometimes it does it directly and sometimes by whispering more loudly. Sometimes both, because that weakens you more.

That's why it hurts me as much as it does to see Juniper feeling alone and unable to cope. Those are lies--not Juniper's lies, mind you, but the lies of her depression.

Juniper is one of the strongest people I know. She has to be. She's never not had depression following her around, whispering in her ear, yet she's accomplished so much. She's carved out an existence independent of her family's expectations. She's achieved graduate school despite having to clean up the messes depression has left her. She's traveled internationally, and not just to some cushy Caribbean resort. She's shown flexibility, gathering accomplishments in both the humanities and in science. She's developed a personal sense of style and taste that others look to. She's written a blog that in a very short time built an audience that will wait months for her next post.

Those are just the few things I know about. They're things to be proud of in anybody's book, but to do them while managing the deep depression that Juniper is prone to is astounding. I haven't done nearly as well, and I admire Juniper for this more than I can say.

Nor am I the only one. In addition to everything else, Juniper is one of those people whom others (except a few poisoned and poisonous internet trolls) quickly come to love. On top of all her accomplishments, Juniper is sweet and loyal and sharp and passionate. People sit up and take notice when she comes on the scene, and they keep an eye out for her when she hasn't been around for a little while. Juniper is very much not alone, except by the machinations of jealous depression.

Just as it is only that ever-whispering, constantly belittling depression that keeps her from knowing all this on her own.

So, Juniper dear, please, no matter what the depression tells you, don't ever think you're weak and don't ever think you're alone. Those are lies, told not to protect you, but to isolate you. The truth is that you're one of the strongest people I know. You're simply preoccupied with this monster that's determined not to set you free, and your particular monster is too much work for even the strongest person to handle.

The other happy truth is that there are plenty of us out here who want to help. We can't make the depression go away. We can't make it leave you alone. But we can, if you let us, take up some of the work of loving you and believing in you. We are not as strong as you are, and we may not be as accomplished, but this small thing is so much easier for us that we can do it while you continue your fight.

Please let us.

* Yes, I'm going to use dualistic language here. No, I do not believe in a dualist theory of mind. It's a metaphor.


D. C. said...

Yes, I'm going to use dualistic language here. No, I do not believe in a dualist theory of mind. It's a metaphor.

So what's wrong with metaphors? We're wired to think in terms of metaphors, and in some cases (perhaps depression) they allow us to externalize thoughts and feelings so as to make them easier to deal with.

As long as we remember that they're metaphors, not real. Sliding from depression to delusion doesn't seem like a prudent strategy.

Oh, and yeah -- toss one more in the "what can we do for you, Juniper? Just ask" collection from someone a bit closer to her than Minnesota.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

I wanted to write something more illustrative of my gratitude than "this means so much to me as I curse myself and worry that my PI is dissatisfied with my current level of understanding and that my boyfriend is no longer captivated by my putative intelligence and prissy ways". So I waited until the weekend. Writing is such torture.

Through your eyes, Juniper looks like a person worth being. I am not sure how I feel about that. Thinking of myself as worthy of being feels cheesy and wrong. I wish I didn't need this. However, I have still spent the last week trying to credit myself for my genuine efforts instead of rejecting them all as not good enough. I must do this for practical reasons.

For awhile, I barely noticed that I basically keep telling myself that it's too late to improve, that I'm not smart enough to improve, that everyone holds me in contempt, that I'm a sucker, that only maudlin losers get depressed in the first place, that I will let down everyone who has ever helped me, and that I will develop a superficial understanding of the universe if I don't allow myself to remain abjectly depressed. I need other people-- preferably my friends!-- to tell me what my criticism of myself sounds like to them, because it sounds normal and just when I am left to myself. If I could plod on despite it . . . but can anyone plod on with such a voice in their head, sounding off every waking minute for fucking decades? So I'm trying again to allow others to coax me into thinking constructively about my own depression. Eventually, I would have given up on an existence in which it was a miracle when I passed an entire day without wishing to be someone else. Or coming dangerously close to wishing to be dead. Or wishing to be dead.

Therefore, you have once again performed for me an invaluable service. Thank you.

I am surprised and touched that so many people gave me their support. It feels good to accept it, even if I am embarrassed and frustrated whenever I admit that my depression is important. If I could pull off pretending not to have depression, I would. I really don't understand this affliction. Well, I still can't be anyone but myself.

I have to go now. I'm in the lab and if I stay here very much longer, everyone is going to think that I don't do anything but blog whenever I am here. Which, of course, would be as awful as it would be untrue. :) But I couldn't go any longer without thanking you, Stephanie. Thank you so much.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Juniper is very much a person worth being, and a person worth knowing, even when the being is hard. <3

D. C. said...

Through your eyes, Juniper looks like a person worth being. I am not sure how I feel about that. Thinking of myself as worthy of being feels cheesy and wrong.

Damn. Just .... damn.

Please accept, as an observed phenomenon, that there are a lot of us who find you "worth being." Nothing cheesy or wrong about that, just how we see things; please allow us our tastes even if you don't share them.

If absolutely nothing else, please accept that we're honest adults who are telling you the truth when we say that we like having you in our world, that your depression is no reflection of your moral or social "worth."

It's chemistry. No more your doing than the nonsense I babble after 40 hours without sleep is mine. I'm sure you know this better than I do, but if it'll do any good I'll keep repeating it until you tell me to shut up.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

Okay. I spent this week trying to be a better grad student, and I still have no internet access in my apartment, so that leaves less time for blogging.

Thank you, D.C. I am trying to encourage myself to have more rational convictions about my brain. And you have been very kind to me. :)

D. C. said...

Thank you, D.C. I am trying to encourage myself to have more rational convictions about my brain. And you have been very kind to me. :)

Not really -- I'm indulging my addiction to helping people out. Since it's not ski season I can't work it off on broken wrists so you'll just have to put up with me.

As for the brain, I really think you need someone you can talk to whom you can't suspect of sugar coating things for you. If you're where I think you are, I know of a few possibilities and can get quite a few more suggestions for the asking.

(Insert evil cackle)

I have contacts after putting a couple of offspring through the undergrad programs there.

Anyway, you know how to get hold of me without both of us leaving footprints on Stephanie's comment section, so again: if there's anything I can do, you can always ask -- and I'm a big boy who's learned how to say "no" so you don't have to do it for me.