Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Muddling through life as a white sheep and chronic cryer

My sister Laura likes to say that among my siblings, I am the lone white ewe in a family of black sheep. I often bristle when she says this– nobody wants to feel like the other, especially in their own family. But I understand where she's coming from. 

There's six of us– two boys and four girls. We've all struggled with depression and anxiety for most of our lives probably starting at adolescence (cuz that's a real pleasant time in everybody's life, right?) I think what Laura's getting at is that out of the six of us, I'm probably the most aggressively optimistic. 

I refuse to wave that white flag in the face of all the misery.

I am basically Eric Idle in "The Life of Brian" – but, like, earnestly.


Despite those periods when I kind of just want to hunker down in a hovel deep in the Canadian wilderness basking in my aloneness, I still dumbly pursue the idea that happiness is a possible thing in this life. I paint rocks, write poetry on the sidewalk, dance in my kitchen, sing in my car, wear ridiculous T-shirts, and always, always, always try to strike up conversations with children.  

I know, I know. I'm just my own form of crazy in a family of crazy. 

And I do find happiness– all moment to moment. But its right there.

That's what we all get. The moment to moment. It takes a lot of practice though. And inevitably, my inner black sheep shakes off its white coat (or is it that my white sheep puts on a black coat? Why would a sheep want to even wear any kind of coat when it's 90 degrees and muggy? Maybe it's not the color of the coat that's my problem– it's the fact that I'm wearing one at all! Is this a breakthrough?! It's not depression that's my problem, it's that I'm chronically overheated!)

Where were we?

Finding happiness? Inner peace? That's usually what I show up here to chat about. 

Anyway, I just worry that the natural resting place for my brain is depression. Like the natural resting place for my dog is sprawled on the couch. And the natural resting place for all the puzzle pieces for all the puzzles is all over the family room floor. And the natural resting place for Lily is strutting around the room and squawking like a chicken. And the natural resting place for Jovie is crying at me that Lily always gets to pick the first bedtime story every single night in the history of bedtime stories from the time the cave mom held a candle up the wall and told the story (uh-gain) about the time the dad killed a bison with a spear. 

What if depression is where I always land if I stop running on the hamster wheel? (Wait a minute, what if I'm actually a hamster? What if I'm not a sheep at all? But a hamster in white sheep's clothing in a family of black sheep!!!) 

Breakthrough No. 2 and I haven't even gotten to the point of this post. 

Over the years, I've done various self-portraits and various mediums (Partly because I'm a really vain hamster in white sheep's clothing and partly because in addition to being a wannabe novelist, I'm also wannabe artist.)

There's this one portrait I did back in my 20s, that I feel best illustrates how depression feels to me:


It's cardboard on cardboard. Beige on beige. Barely visible. 

And cuz it's hard to see via scan, here it is with some creepy under lighting.


It's really not any better that way. But then, depression doesn't really change based on the lighting.

What worries me about depression being my resting place is that this is who I am in the mirror and this is who I am to the world. Flat. Monochromatic. 

When I went to that retreat that I keep talking about, I was instructed to write a letter to my fear. Here's how mine started:

"Dear Susan, 
I am your fear and this is what I want to tell you. I am afraid I will be on antidepressants forever. I am afraid of being depressed forever. I'm afraid I won't be able to stop crying..."

There's more, but I'll stop there. Because that last line was the point of this post. Crying.

That I won't be able to stop crying. Because for me, Crying and Depression go hand-in-hand. They're like BFFs. Until antidepressants, that meddling third wheel, comes in and breaks them up. Suddenly, depression is given a little vacay and Crying? Crying is stuffed into a box and shoved into the back of a closet somewhere. 

And I suppose that means I can go about my day like a regular functional person and all, but the problem is Crying and I have a long complicated history. I feel more human when I cry. Less like the automaton antidepressants turn me into. 

"OK, Susan," you say. "What do you want? Do you want to cry or not? Do you want to stop being depressed or what? And also, are you a hamster or an automaton? I can't keep up. I thought this post was going to be all about sheep. Once again you sucked me into a black hole." 

What is this? The Inquisition? Enough already, various friends and strangers of the internet.

I don't want to be depressed forever. That's fear No. 2. And I don't want to cry forever. That's fear No. 3 and also highly impractical. I just want to feel like I can walk out in the world without antidepressants and be able to cry about the things that people cry about and not cry about the things that people don't normally cry about (like, say, the preview for "Ferdinand" or any commercial featuring newborns.) 

But now that I'm writing this, I have to wonder whether crying is really the problem. Maybe my crying isn't as closely linked to depression as I've assumed it is. Maybe crying just gets a bad rap around here. 

See, I've been a cryer for as long as I can remember. 

When we did those Acrostic poems in elementary school using our first names, I'm pretty sure I used "Sensitive" (code for cryer if I ever heard one) as my second "S" ... it might have even been the first "S". 

In fourth grade, I spilled chocolate milk all over my pants in the middle of the cafeteria (a story which I've probably shared here before because it was so traumatic) and immediately started crying out of embarrassment– which made the clinic aide think I'd actually peed my pants. I overheard her telling my mother over the phone all conspiratorial, "Well, she said she spilled milk on her pants, but I think she did you know what." This only made me cry more. Humiliating.)

In sixth grade I went to see "The Lion King" with a group of friends– one of whom I had an enormous crush on. I was holding hands with said crush (it was a pretty big deal) up until Scar killed Mufasa and made Simba think it was his fault, at which point I started bawling and needed to use the hand-holding hand to wipe away the copious amounts of snot and tears pouring out of my various face holes. 

I've tried to block out most of middle school for the same reason most of us block out middle school, I'm all but certain I cried in school. I definitely cried about school. And high school? Between multiple breakups, not making the staff of the school literary magazine, "The City of Angels" soundtrack and my stint of editor of the school paper – Let's just say there were too many teardrops for one heart to be crying. 

By the time I got to college, I had enough experience with all the tears to designate a crying spot (on a bench in the sculpture garden behind the art museum). 

I just sort of feel like I get big feels and they come out through my eyeballs and that's just who I am. And, unfortunately, I live in this world where that type of reaction about things big and small in public places is not ... I don't want to say accepted ... but maybe it's just that people don't know what to do with it. And I don't know what to do with it. 

Whether I'm out in the world and all the sudden a beautiful song comes on or I'm having a conversation with someone who's having a hard time in life, I just can't help tearing up. I feel it coming– the knotty throat and hot eyes and red nose– and I try to hold that shit in. But I don't think it's in me. I don't think that's who I am.

I think I run into plenty of other people like this– mostly women probably because as a society we've kind of decided men aren't allowed to cry. Which is probably creating all these little deaths within them and the rest of us. I feel kinship with these people, definitely. I feel less like a basket case. Like it's OK to wear my heart on my sleeve. I mean, it's gonna be there anyway, whether I like it or not.

I had to read that letter to fear out loud to a stranger at that retreat I went to. I was crying even before I started reading it, which I was mortified about, but also knew was kind of inevitable. The woman I shared it with- Kat from Boston– was so gracious and so kind. She told me right away she felt the same. She was taking antidepressants. She had worried she wouldn't be able to stop crying if she went off them. She was this really beautiful, successful person– she told me later she was a doctor– and it was such a relief that she related. 

My friend Kate keeps telling me I need to follow this writer Glennon Doyle Melton because she thinks I'd find some commonalities. She emailed this to me a while back:


I don't know if I'm any more deeply feeling than the average hamster, but this made me feel better about the crying thing. And it even makes me feel better about the depression thing. However the two are linked. It is a messy world damnit. And it'd be kind of insane not to have feelings about it, right?

And it's probably better to have a soggy, red face that's dealing with all the feelings than a monochromatic cardboard face that has just given up. 

And see, here I go again with my white sheepishness. Finding the silver lining in my depression and tearfulness. 

Pay no attention to that crazed crying woman behind the curtain. She's just being the person she was created to be. 

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