From Apathy to Depression to …
By: Emily Unwin
*Note: This post feels like an uncomfortable overshare. Here’s my “Why” —>
Writing this brought clarity to my past year and helped me conceptualize my mental health in a simpler way. I didn’t think this needed to be shared, but now I wonder if maybe someone will relate. Or maybe someone will get some hope from this. Because sometimes depression feels like being paper mache-d in a straight jacket of shame, guilt, and self-hate, and this is me knocking back as you chip away at the layers from the inside-out.
You’re far from alone.
I went to a concert last weekend where I listened to Shannon Jae play. (More accurately, I went out with a friend and stumbled upon Flicker’s musical spread with no real idea of what I was getting myself into.) We ended up talking to Shannon after her set, and I told her how her music moved me, especially her last number when she shared about the death of her husband and then played a song he wrote. She said, “That’s what I like to do, move people from apathy to depression.” The next day (two beers and one light hangover later; getting old is tough), I couldn’t stop thinking about her words.
“Move people from apathy to depression.” But something must come after that, right? Depression to... What?
Looking back on the past year, from March 30th, 2018 to March 30th, 2019, I understand why her words rattled me. I’ve written in the Nineteen Voices series some about my mental health and history, but I haven’t captured the whirlwind of the past year on public platform, or privately, even.
One year, a journey from apathy to depression to… “something better.”
My experience felt like this. (See doodle). There’s a sidewalk on one side (apathy), a 16-lane highway/thousands of cars I have to dodge in the middle (depression), and another sidewalk across the way, the sunnier side (“something better”).
One year ago - March 30-ish, 2018 - felt like a shove into moving traffic. The beginning of stumbling through a crowded highway to the other side. From apathy, through a clusterfuck of depression, to “something better.”
Apathy sidewalk: Numbness, masking, “everything is fiiiiiiiiine.” Years of this.
Shove into the highway: It took a few months of utter breakdown from the death of friends, revelations, flashbacks, and toxic environments to really get me into traffic, cars flying in all directions. A feeling of, Fuck, fuck fuck fuck fuck.
Highway: Settling into depression and the subsequent unveilings (pummeling) of all the shit I hadn’t dealt with took a toll = the symptoms and signs of depression. But/And…
For me, depression - and realizing the degree of numbness I’d subsisted in for an incalculable number of years - felt like something I could eventually come to the end of.
I discovered that apathy/numbness was harder to get back to once I really saw it for what it is: A cheap version of what my life had the potential to be. I couldn’t go back.
Instead, I committed to making it to the other side. No matter how fucking long it took. No matter what it took to get there.
So, 2018 to 2019, I (subconsciously) dunked myself into creative projects that would inevitably force me to make a choice: Heal, or revert back to numbness. Figure out how to navigate the street, or hop back onto the apathy sidewalk. This looked like Nineteen Voices, the Intuitive Eating workshop, writing a book about killing misogynistic men with magic and sisterhood (cathartic), learning a new instrument, teaching lots of yoga.
So, part 1 of healing: Creative release.
Part 2: Develop “grassy medians.” My respits from healing and safe places for healing.
I imagine it like this: I see a car coming straight for me (old, unprocessed trauma). Instead of dodging it, cowering, I hop onto my grassy medians. Watch the car drive by. Really check the car out, the color, shape, size, model. Process what’s flying by.
My grassy medians:
Therapy. So much. Therapy. Weekly. Biweekly.
Big, real, meaningful, honest friendships (For example, Thank you Ruby + Maggie for forced inquiry. In one leadership team meeting, we discovered that I valued nothing about myself. That was a fun one.)
Daily meditation + journaling
Opening up, talking about it, sharing, getting honest with people who I knew would stick around
That work culminated in an amicable end to a five year long partnership that we’d outgrown
And, all of this was great, but imagine that as 5% of my 95%. 95% of the past year looked like, “I’m here, I’m functioning, I’m trying to be honest and present, but I’m mostly checked out.” Because I’d gotten really good at functioning while depressed and letting my life develop while I moved through the motions. Years and years and years of feeling like I needed to hold it together for my family taught me how.
But in the pit of my depression, the function-while-depressed habit crumbled. Now, I’m thankful that it did. Crumbling = lots of fodder for rebuilding.
Apathy sidewalk, shove, depression highway —>
One year later, one closing session (for now) with my therapist.
I made it across, the other side.
A different person, ish. For some, this was jarring, especially for those who never really saw past the mask and subsequent layers of “show” I put on. For me, it was a relief. An unveiling. Here I am. You got little glimpses, sure, but this bitch is here to stay. And she’s kinda rocking it.
On March 30th, 2018, I had little hope that anything would get better. I thought I would limbo and tiptoe between apathy and depression for the rest of my life. Now, it feels like walking along the “something better” curb, stumbling into the street, feeling the depressive moments... but knowing that the sidewalk is right there.
...While also realizing, I have very little control over stepping out of the highway, up over the curb, and strolling down the sunny sidewalk. There’s going to be more cars. I’m going to forget about my grassy medians. I’m going to fuck up and be fucked over. And, I want to make it perfectly clear: My experience with depression is not everyone’s experience with depression. And I want to reiterate: I did not meditate depression away, chose it away, happy it away, yoga it away, or work it away.
But those coping skills help.
Primarily, those medians help me navigate the processing I underwent in therapy. Help me navigate the cognitive patterns I had to (and continue to) rewire. And will keep helping me when I have more work to do.
But I’m better.
It got better.
There are less precarious detours into traffic now.