Underneath my yellow skin

Fear and Self-loathing in Minnesota

Have you ever looked in the metaphorical mirror and hated everything you saw? I’ve been feeling that way for the past week or so, which is both bad news and good news. It’s good news because it feels foreign to me now. There was a time when it was the way I felt all the time. During my twenties and early thirties, I hated myself to my very core. The only nice things I could say about myself was that I liked my hair and my brains. Oh, and I could write. Other than that, I was convinced that there was nothing good about me. I was toxic, and I could feel it oozing out of my pores. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt this way. How catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror could spiral me into a deep abyss of depression, it took weeks to claw my way out. How I felt as if I was adding negativity to the cosmos every minute I was alive, and I couldn’t do enough good things fast enough to compensate for it.

It’s one of my frustrations about post-depression–it’s fucking impossible to describe what it’s like. It’s almost claustrophobic as it swirls around me, choking out all the fresh air. Sometimes, it feels like hands are actually around my throat, closing off my air supply. Other times, it’s an incredible sense of lethargy running through my body and draining out all my energy. I’m talking about it in the present tense because even though my chronic and debilitating depression is over, I still suffer from a low-grade version of it almost every day. Now, it’s more that I’m tired more often than not, and sometimes, I don’t have any interest in anything. I tend to calibrate for inertia, and it takes a lot to push me out of my natural state.

But I digress. I’ve been feeling this way in the last week, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that I’m also adjusting to a new dose of my thyroid medication and that I’ve been ill with the flu or a cold for the same duration. I have a fragile immune system, and when I get sick, I get SICK. I hate it because I instantly become a big baby about it, even if it’s only in my own brain. “Why am I so tired?” “Why don’t I have any energy?” “I can’t do my full taiji routine.” “Wah, wah, wah.” I like living on my own, but I will admit that when I’m sick, I like having someone else in the house to make me tea, bring me soup, and just cluck about me in general. The other day, I went to the store to get honey, lemon, and ginger to make honey lemon ginger tea (duh). I had to run to the post office after, and by the time I got home, I was almost in tears because I was so exhausted. All I wanted was for someone else to tuck me in bed and make me my tea. It’s been over two weeks since I got the flu or whatever this is, and every time I start to feel better, I have a relapse. It’s the weirdest thing because I can feel it happening to my body, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I feel better today except for the bone-deep weariness, but that’s normal for me, even when I’m not ill.

I’ve felt like life isn’t worth living in the past few days, and I’m trying to wait it out because unlike twenty years ago, I know now that it’ll pass. I don’t know how or when, but I do know it’ll fade. That’s the weird thing about my former depression. It was so all-encompassing at the time, I never thought I’d emerge from it. Now, feeling just a taste of what I felt before, I realize that at some point, the depression lifted. Not completely, and not all at once, which is why I didn’t realize it at the time. It was incremental, painful step by step, and it’s only in looking back that I can see how far I’ve come. It won’t sound inspirational, however, because I was so deep in depression, being better means being able to function as a semi-normal human being, rather than conquering all obstacles and climbing all mountains.

The fact that I can actually get out of bed with a modicum of energy in the afternoon is progress. The fact that I can leave the house three times a week for my taiji class is progress. The fact that I can look in the mirror for more than a second without cringing is progress. The fact that I’m writing every day is progress. The fact that I don’t completely hate myself* is progress. Still. It’s frustrating that I’ve fallen back into the trap of self-loathing, and I think it’s because I know I have to make a radical change in my life. Here’s the secret about depression that most of us who suffer from it don’t talk about: It’s a good excuse not to do anything. I’m not saying this as a judgment or in a scolding tone, but it’s true. When I was mired in a chronic and debilitating depression, it was all I could do not to kill myself, so any kind of positive action had to be put on hold. It’s not a deliberate decision. No depressed person is thinking, “I’m going to be depressed so I don’t have to think about my life”, but it’s a byproduct of being depressed. It takes all your energy just to survive, you’re not thinking about thriving. I think that’s partly why I’m reverting to depression;** it’s my comfort zone.

That’s another part of depression that many of us who suffer from it don’t like discussing; depression is comfortable. I’m not saying it feels good, but it’s what I know. Or rather, it’s what I knew. I’m not as familiar with it now, and it doesn’t feel nearly as comfortable as it once did. Yes, I can still wear it, but it’s tight around the chest and the shoulders, and there’s no way I can button it. It’s hunching up, no matter how much I tug on it, and I can’t smooth away the wrinkles. This is a good thing ultimately, but I don’t deal well with change.

My brother is the complete opposite. He gets an idea in his head, and he goes for it, consequences be damned. His escapades work more often than not, but when they don’t, he just shrugs his shoulders and moves on. It’s one of the things I most admire about him–his confidence. I don’t understand it, but I admire it. I had a huge opportunity about a year ago that would have completely changed my life. I was diligent about pursuing it, but when it came down to crunch time, I froze. It wasn’t completely unreasonable for me to pull back, but it’s indicative of the way I operate. I can always see the negatives of any situation, and it’s a miracle that I ever make an important decision.

I feel as if I’m stuck in a rut, and I’m too afraid to pull myself out of it. I want to support myself through my writing, but I’m not sure I can do it. More to the point, I’m not sure it’s possible to make a living as a writer unless you’re working with a big name. Then again, there are plenty of people who eke out a living as a writer, even if it’s not a cushy life. The question is, do I have the discipline and the persistence to do it? More to the point, do I have the guts to even try? Most of the time, the movement forward in my life comes when I can no longer tolerate standing still. It’s why I went to grad school in San Francisco, and it’s why I started taiji. Sometimes, the prodding comes from inside, and, sometimes, it’s an external force that pushes me to move forward. Now, it’s a little of each. I’m forty-five years old, soon to be forty-six, and what have I done with my life? I’m not married, and I don’t have kids–two goalposts that are held up as the most important in a woman’s life. Obviously, I don’t care about either, but it still gnaws at me now and again. I’m perimenopausal at the moment, and while I’ll be celebrating the  end of my menstruation, it’s still a jolt to think I’ll soon not be able to have kids even if I want them.*** I don’t have a satisfying career or a home of my own, and I don’t have a romantic partner–though I’m not sure I want the latter, either.

I feel as if most of my life has been defined by what I don’t want, which is not bad in and of itself. It’s easier to focus on what you want if you winnow away that which you don’t. If you were to ask me to answer without thinking what I want most in my life, I’d say, “Sex.” All cheekiness aside, I’d answer, “To be on the stage.” When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be an actor. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on TV, though, so I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible. I did try out for plays in high school and college, but my stage fright while auditioning did me in more often than not. I did better when I was doing what I called guerrilla performing around town because I was able to write, direct, and perform my own performances, rather than take direction from someone else. If I’m known for anything, it’s for my writing. However, I settled on that because I could never hack it as a performer. If I could be on Broadway, I’d give up my writing ability in a flash. Don’t get me wrong–I love writing, but it pales in comparison to how I felt when I was on stage.

I’m officially middle-aged, and I’m painfully aware that I’m entering the second half of my life with very little to show for it. What is my legacy going to be when I’m dead? I’m not narcissistic enough to think that my life will have any lasting effect, but it would be nice if I could leave something in my stead when I’m gone. I think I need a therapist to help me over this particularly brutal and long-lasting hurdle, but I’m so tired of having my head shrunk. I’ve been seeing a therapist on and off since I was fourteen–that’s over thirty years. Still. The inertia is shaking, and it’s going to give sooner or later. The question is whether it’s going to be in a good way or a bad one–let’s hope it’s the former, rather than the latter.



*This week notwithstanding.

**In addition to struggling with the new dosage of my meds and being sick.

***Which I don’t. I hope I’m perfectly clear about my lack of wanting children-ness.

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