And Now For Something Completely Different

In case you didn’t know, September is Suicide Awareness Month.  I know, fun times!  (Many trigger warnings on suicide ahead, because that’s pretty much all we’re going to talk about here, so if you need to dip out, I more than understand.)

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, then you know I’ve struggled with Depression off and on my whole life, and that this is a subject that is very important to me.

If you suffer from Depression, then you know how hard it is to describe it to someone who’s never had it.  It’s so much more than being “sad”.  Depression makes you feel like negative space in the shape of a human, an entity that can’t even muster the energy to cry anymore, where it feels like it doesn’t even matter how much you don’t matter.  It’s incredibly difficult to reach out for help when you’re at the bottom of that well.

So!  I’m going to pause from dick jokes and judging people’s eyebrows for the week and share something a little (a lot) different with you, and then we can discuss, if that’s cool.  It’s something that I wrote on the subject of suicide.  Two somethings, actually.

They’re, oh my god, poems that are in this month’s issue of The Hunger journal.  I know.  Poems!  Just bear with me.

Like all sad/angry girls in high school, I was both a painter and a poet.

20190912_090817
Acrylic and tempura on 26″ x 24″ board, 12th grade.  What parent wouldn’t be thrilled to have their 17-year old daughter bring this one home?  “Look what our little girl made in school!”

I started painting again last year and started writing poetry again a couple months ago after a 25-year hiatus.  Poetry and painting were the only things I was even semi-decent at in high school, and they were really the only reasons I ever bothered to show up to class.

I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me at all, so I gave it a shot and submitted a few new poems to just a handful of journals.  I was truly blown away when The Hunger accepted two of them and gave them a safe and supportive home.  These are actually my first published poems ever.  (At 43!  It’s never too late, friends.)

These two poems are about the early deaths of two of my favorite painters.  Click the links in pink below to read the poems on The Hunger journal’s site:

Death, Jackson Pollock

About:  Jackson Pollock struggled with what they now believe was Depression and Bipolar Disorder, and self-medicated with much, much alcohol.  Famous for his “drip paintings”, he died in a drunk driving car crash at the age of 44.  (44!  For the love of Zod, he was my age.)  It was officially declared an accident, but witness accounts say he crashed the car deliberately.

His mistress, Ruth Kligman, who was also in the car, survived and went on to be the mistress of Willem deKooning, another one of my favorite artists.  Willem deKooning’s wife referred to Kligman as “the pink mink”.  I would have certainly called her worse.  Kligman’s best friend, Edith Metzger, was also killed in the crash.

 

Death, Mark Rothko

About:  Mark Rothko had a successful career as an artist.  Like way, way successful – for his entire career.  Famous especially for his red “color fields”, he died at the age of 66 after suffering with Depression and slashing his arms with his painter’s knife until he severed an artery (as well as taking an overdose of barbituates).  Alone, on the floor in his kitchen, he died one of the most successful artists of the 20th century, from the very same painter’s knife that he used to make his art.

I can’t take that.  I cannot take that image.  As an artist, it haunts me in my spine.  His death makes me cry every single time I think about it or look at one of his paintings, and I cried off and on for a whole day when I wrote the last lines of this poem.

Depression doesn’t discriminate, whether you’re wildly successful or living in the gutter.  It’s an equal opportunity disorder, and it’s killing people every day.  Suicide rates in the U.S. are actually rising.  Depression is a health crisis and a goddamned epidemic.

I’ve written another dozen of these poems and I’m planning to make a chapbook of them along with creating accompanying paintings about artists who left us too soon due to untreated mental illness.  (I’m hoping to donate the profits to mental health charities if I can find someone to publish it.  I don’t know what else to do, I just feel like I have to do something.)      

As author Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess we all know and love says, “Depression lies.”  It tells you that everyone would be better off without you.  That this is just the way things are.  That’s there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  That you’re out of options.

Let’s all say it together:  Depression lies.

I wrote these poems because if you’re an artist, there can often be an added obstacle to seeking help.  Everyone tells you that as an artist you’re supposed to be “tortured” and that it’s normal.

Maybe you feel that you write or paint or create from the darkest part of yourself, and you’re afraid that if you “fix” that part, that you won’t be able to make your art anymore.  If your entire identity is your art, then not being able to make art anymore is like death in itself.

You suffer in silence because Depression tells you that getting treatment will change who you are for the worse, even when you’re so low that you curse each new day that you wake up alive, angry and numb that you have to face yet. another. day.  That’s when Depression whispers in your ear, “Hey – you think this is bad?  It’ll be even worse if you do something about me!”

You suffer in silence because you think “tortured” is just the way artists and writers are.  Maybe you’ve been taught that suffering builds character.  Maybe you think were meant to live this way.  You’re just one of those people who “spends too much time inside their head”.  These are lies that Depression has told me I don’t know how many times in my life when I was down in the well.  Just suffer.  It’s who you are.

If you’re trying to make a living from your art, you more than likely have limited or no access to mental healthcare on top of everything else.

What do I want?

I want the normalization of the “tortured artist” and “tortured writer” to stop being a thing. 

I want people to have access to resources that teach them ways to take care of themselves and make their art at the same time.

I want to start a dialogue about Depression, suicide, and artists, be they painters, writers, poets, dancers, sculptors, or musicians – and what the communities that rely on and serve artists can do to help:  schools, galleries, writing workshops, museums, art fairs, record labels, dance studios, and community centers.

I want posters in classrooms, formal discussions in about how to spot Depression in ourselves and our peers, mental health lessons to be added to curricula, support groups, foundations, you name it.  I want people to talk about this instead of suffering in silence.

And I’ll tell you what else – I want the people who make money off the backs of artists to pony up for it.  I want them to give away free ad space for suicide hotlines in their magazines and journals, foster a network of mental health professionals that they can refer their artists to, hell, just ask their artists how they’re doing, donate some profits from gallery sales or book sales to mental health charities, start a charity of their own.  

Take care of yourselves, folks, and if you’re struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  Don’t listen to the lies that Depression puts into your head.

Thanks for listening.  I promise next week we’ll be back to dick jokes and eyebrow judging and whatnot.  🙂

41 thoughts on “And Now For Something Completely Different

  1. Oh, honey. I am far removed from being the quintessential tortured & starving artist. I’ve done MUCH art throughout my life (many styles) but, I always felt like I was just performing a task, not interpreting my soul. I’ve been told by several people over the years that I have a natural talent but, I am hopelessly left-brained mechanical. My creativity is relegated to structure, instead of free flowing. And, poetry? I wish I was that deep. I can do:
    Good food
    Good meat
    Good God
    Let’s eat.
    That, sadly, is my poetry speed.

    That being said, depression & I are on an unwelcomed first name basis. In October of 1990, during my honeymoon, I slipped into a mind-numbing hell of panic attacks, anorexic-like eating behaviors and a perpetual grey gloom that was unrelenting. Looking back, it wasn’t an overnight thing & it wasn’t because I was a newlywed, tho wedding plannings will try anyone’s sanity. No, this had been a slow decline, stretching back, years.

    On the 2nd Tuesday in Oct., slithered out of bed, crawled across the floor, pulled the den phone onto the floor, managed to find an 800 number to a private institution in Greensboro and told them that, if they didn’t help me, I blow my head off. Luckily, I worked for a pharmaceutical company & had GREAT insurance. I was with them for 3 weeks & a day, leaving on Halloween. Halloween hold special significance for me.

    I emerged still grey & groggy, 40 lbs. lighter, but with hope of something better. I was given an antidepressant to assist but, follow up was a bit sketchy. I kept my head above water and slowly began to improve. My marriage didn’t survive my ordeal.

    Fast forward to 2010. I discover that the birth control pills that my mother put me on @ 16 (for rough periods, not promiscuity) are NOTORIOUS for causing severe depression. That is an industry-wide, dirty little secret. Some docs don’t even know. The private institution docs didn’t know or didn’t bother to say. All those years thinking that my antidepressant saved me & that something was terribly wrong with me… Nope. BC pills screwed up my endocrine system. My weight ballooned & my brain grew tangled.

    I remained on that antidepressant for 21 years, thinking I would disintegrate without it. My BC prescription ran out that Dec. of 1990 and I never refilled it…ironically. All I had to do was wait.

    Now, I have a permanent arrhythmia due to the antidepressant.

    I get blue some days but, that lost in another dimension type of suffering is finally gone. But, you never forget.

    I can’t help but think that our poisoned environment is causing this, in such large numbers.

    Van Gogh is one of my favorites.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m so, so glad you reached out for help. It can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do and I applaud your bravery. When I’m in the thick of it, I tend to keep it like the dirtiest secret that ever existed, which is of course the worst possible thing you can do. It’s doubly-cruel how panic attacks with their heart-pounding, terrifying effects and Depression with its flat, numbness go hand-in-hand. It makes the opposite of sense, right? It’s either feel EVERYTHING or feel NOTHING. No in-between. It’s so awful.

      I have a similar reaction to certain BC, and had to go through more than five kinds before I found one that didn’t spiral me into Depression. Of course, then my insurance started refusing to pay for it. Go figure.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Excellent description. All or nothing…in stereo.

        My trek thru mental purgatory helped me realize that I was an interesting mix of my parents…he, the stubborn Taurus and, she, the fiery Aries. It made for a terrible marriage but, their combined strength in me turned out to be a rather surprising advantage. I was miserable…OH so miserable, wanting to end everything but, the sticking point of “what is going on…WTH is this” was a beacon of light in an otherwise dark situation. Yeah. OK. I might lose & give up but, by God, I’m going to know WTF I’m dealing with, first. That kept me going.

        Any kind of synthetic hormone is a poison to the body. It is why there is such an alarm about xenoestrogens in our environment.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Seven or eight years ago, I was down in a hole, and I couldn’t get out. Not only did I seem pointless, EVERYTHING seemed pointless. I was trying to take care of my two little kids and put on a brave face, but I dragged myself through every day. I tried to help myself with all of the typical recommendations — changed my diet, got more sleep, exercised — but none of it worked. It took a long time for me to admit to my husband, while sobbing uncontrollably, that I was depressed and needed help. It was the stigma that kept me from reaching out — from society, from my family. When I got on an antidepressant, I was finally able to, slowly, pull myself out of the hole. I went off them about a year ago, and the other coping mechanisms I’ve learned keep me from falling all the way to the bottom again. I’m so glad we’re talking about this. Mental health needs to be on people’s radars, and not just when a person gets to the point of being suicidal. We need to support mental health checkups as we do for physical health.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Hear hear on all of the above! I’m so glad that you reached out for help, and that you were able to get out of the well. And with two little ones to take care of, too? I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been. I’m always on the lookout for healthy coping mechanisms, so if you have any you want to share, please feel free! 😊

      One of the things that’s always bothered me to no end is when people say that if you eat right and exercise and get better sleep, it will somehow cure Depression. Granted, everyone on Earth would do better if they ate better, slept, and exercised – but as you know all too well – none of those things can even come to close to sending Depression packing. I swear Depression is the only mental illness that people are routinely told that they can get rid of if they just try hard enough. That advice is so terrible and so dangerous. Nobody would ever tell someone with any other mental illness to just diet and exercise it away. Got Schizophrenia? Just do some light jogging! In the throes of mania with Bipolar Disorder? Just order that salad dressing on the side! It’s infuriating how people can just brush aside Depression like it’s just “the blues” and not the health crisis that it is.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. You all are brave as hell.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. A very well written and thought provoking post. While I’m thankful to have never experienced depression, I have a dear friend who has suffered with, and been hospitalized for it off and on her entire life. She describes the episodes as the snuffing out of the candle light…. utter darkness that she can’t find her way out of. If that very disturbing you painted as a teenager is anything close to an accurate representation of how you felt, then I’m in awe of your strength and ability to fight against it.
    Congrats on the poems being published.
    The last line of the Rothko? Gave me chills….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading. They were emotional rollercoastery to write and I’m glad they resonated with you. (The Rothko one is my favorite.)

      I’m so sorry your friend is all too acquainted with that darkness. She’s lucky to have you for a friend. Even having not experienced it yourself, it sounds like you definitely understand how devastating it can be!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this. I’ve dealt with depression as I’ve aged. And trump’s election really threw me into a dumpster of depression. There are days now that I’m sad to have woken up. I have no thoughts of suicide, it’s just that I don’t think it would be that awful if I just wasn’t alive anymore. Thank goodness for my grandkids giving me things to look forward to.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. In these past couple years in particular, it feels like the world is on fire and nobody’s doing anything effective to stop it. What nightmare am I waking up to in the news today, right?!

      I’m so sorry you’re going through these feelings – I know exactly what you mean. Recently, I was discussing this particular poetry project with a friend and we talked about those same feelings that you’re talking about. Where you’re not climbing up on the ledge of a building or anything, but sometimes it just seems like it would be “easier” to not be around anymore. Easier to just kind of disappear than to feel the things you’re feeling, and fear the things you’re fearing. I was surprised to hear her share that she had these feelings, too – she’s one of the toughest broads I know. It was comforting to be able to talk about it with someone who also deals with it, especially since I’ve always considered her to have it much more “together” than me. It was a judgement-free zone and I felt a lot better after we put our fears and feelings out there.

      I wonder how many people feel this way, but feel uncomfortable talking about it? It’s a really difficult thing to articulate.

      Thank you for sharing your story. It certainly makes me feel less alone, and I’m sure it will make others feel the same way.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. There is such a stigma about Depression and about other mental health disorders. My husband struggles daily with Depression, and nothing we do, no medications, seem to ease it.

    I have Bipolar 1, and I had a pit of depression in 2006 when a combination of running out of money to get my barely-working-meds (I spent and borrowed every penny I could) and an emotionally abusive fiance tipped me over the edge.

    I survived it (activated charcoal tastes like rotten grapes and gives you Satan shits), and this psych ward stay actually got me onto the RIGHT med which built the base of the med set I have now. So I’m doing better, working full time, and no longer in crisis.

    But someone hears ‘Bipolar’ and they have this preset image of what a disaster I’ll be, that I’ll be unreliable and manipulative, and treat me like that image is actually me. My father-in-law, when he heard I was Bipolar, told my husband to dump me and run. Every doctor I see expects me to be a hot mess, and I’m not. I’m compliant with my meds. I follow all the rules, sleep this much, eat this, avoid that, take aaaaaall the pills, and it finally gave me a mostly stable existence.

    My husband isn’t so lucky.

    My husband isn’t lazy, he’s SICK, and I hop all over people who suggest otherwise. The dog gets him up and moving each day. I make sure he eats. He goes to work, does the things, comes home. There’s just no light for him, and I can’t fix it. And that’s hard to swallow. 😦

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I swear, sometimes I think they should reclassify mental health care as more of a guessing game than a science. You have to go through so many “Let’s try this!” rounds before they get it right, if they ever get it right at all. And of course, every try carries all kinds of weird and scary side effects, to boot.

      Thank you for sharing your and your husband’s stories. I’m so glad you’re on a track that’s working for you. I hope your husband can find some relief from his Depression that actually works. Treatment resistant Depression must just be so awful. Watching Jenny Lawson as she documented her journey with TMS treatments was a real eye-opener for me.

      I tried traditional antidepressants and they didn’t work for me at all, but I’ve been using Sam-E for Depression and then CBD oil for Anxiety Disorder and they seem to be doing the trick for me. Not a recommendation by any means, I wouldn’t take anything even over the counter without talking to a doctor.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this, and for all the commentators sharing their journeys. It’s such a difficult topic. I feel like on some level we’ve all dealt with extreme sadness and the complete loneliness that comes with it. I have scrolled suicide hotlines without dialing, and am still here to tell the tales. I have a bipolar father-in-law and an undiagnosed husband and sister who I try my best to uplift every day. I wish for a lot of things… but I wish everyone knew how true it is that #yourenotalone. I also follow Jenny Lawson; her story is so amazing & gives me hope with every tear she has me shed. I’m already planning my TX trip for when her bookstore opens.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Me too! I’m so excited for the store to open! She really does light the way for people to be open and talk about mental health, and I feel so inspired by her.

      I’m glad you even scrolled the number when you felt like you might need it. It’s a huge step in the right direction just recognizing that those feelings are happening. Thank you for sharing your story! I wish you the best in taking care of those around you – and in taking care of yourself.

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  7. I’m with you 100%. Depression does lie. I remember when I was going through chemo, I had to fight depression. It’s like this insidious fog that overtakes your mind, telling you that you’re a burden to your family. I remember detaching from it after I realized what was happening. It’s hard to do, but I made it through. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m so glad you made it through, both mentally and physically. I can only imagine how hard it is to do chemo and depression at the same time and come out the other side. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I applaud your strength.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My story is too long for here: lifelong depression self treated by every bad choice you can make, followed by a bad marriage, followed by a great marriage to a severely depressed man, with 10 stepkids and 2 kids who ALL have mental health issues. I really should write a book. Here is the good news: we are all still alive and some of us are thriving. We all rely heavily on medications, therapy, and every coping mechanism we have the energy to pursue. I still have rough times, but I’m here for the duration, simply because I owe that to all of you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re an inspiration! I would lose my mind with one child who had no issues at all – how on earth do you do it with 12?! Never a dull moment in your house, huh? 😉 My hat’s off to you for all staying alive and some of you even thriving! I used to call our house “Crisis Central” growing up, and there were only 3 of us kids and one adult. Thank you for sharing your story and, yes, you absolutely should write a book!

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      1. They are all adulting now!! The most we ever had under our roof was 5 teenagers. Which is plenty and haha they were the BEST and the WORST all at the same time. The thing is though, you never stop worrying no matter how adulty they get.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thanks. The Rothko was my favorite of the two. They were challenging to write, and I second-guessed myself the entire way, so to hear that you are stunned and amazed makes me feel like a million bucks. 🙂

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  9. That is an amazing post, by an amazing person, I mean that Maggs, you rock! It’s hard enough to admit that you have depression, but you are doing something to remedy it and THAT is the hard part. Reaching out for help seems to be the hardest thing to do when we all know, and you and Jenny Lawson says, depression lies.
    I have been fortunate enough to not suffer from depression, but I too have a friend who suffers from it and I have to remind myself to be patient with her because what she’s feeling isn’t her, it isn’t who she is. Luckily she too was smart enough to get help and she still struggles but not like before she knew she had depression. Thanks for sharing Maggie, much love and a punch in the arm from the Huntress here in Texas!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Maggie, you are awesome! I agree that light needs to shed on the darkness associated with depression and that the stigma that goes with mental illness is garbage. I am fortunate to not have issues with depression. I cannot imagine struggling with it. Thanks for sharing! So many kids we know and my kids know have comitted suicide in the last few years. It is like an epidemic. Heart breaking.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These poems are incredible–is there nothing you’re not brilliant at? I’ve been supporting a very close family member who’s been struggling with depression for months–it’s so heartbreaking. The medication is finally kicking in, and he’s feeling better, but I still feel like I’m walking a thin line.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and for the kind words! I’m so glad his medication is kicking in. It’s such a crap-shoot with antidepressants to see what will actually work for someone. Doctors just kind of do the “Well, let’s see what this one does!” I hope he keeps having success with this one and gets better every day!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. What a moving post – and the poetry – wow! What a multi-talented person you are!I do not have depression, for which I am grateful, but my 23-year-old daughter does. As I tried to learn more about the disease, I was SO disappointed at the dearth of information and resources for people whose loved ones are suffering. I was mostly afraid I would say/do all the wrong, unhelpful things! Almost all I have learned since was through blogs like Jenny Lawson’s (which led me to yours!), Runs for Cookies, Hyperbole and a Half (archived blog postings & book), podcasts like “The Hilarious World of Depression” and others. How great would it be to have that taught in schools so that everybody had a basic knowledge of what to look for and what to do for the people we love and care about? Hopefully the tide is turning and we will see these important changes happen. Meanwhile, my daughter’s medication is working pretty well and I make it a point to check in with her on it regularly. 2 years ago, we got tattoos together – hers is the star chart for Orion, which is my guiding light on early-morning runs, and mine is a dragonfly that has a semi-colon in its thorax to support suicide prevention. Depression lies, people. We are ALL important and worthy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your daughter is so lucky to have such an understanding and compassionate mother! I love the tattoo idea so much, too. Having a solid support system makes all the difference in the world – it really does. I’m so glad you have each other.

      I can’t wait for Jenny Lawson’s TED Talk on mental health. I hope our Bloggess Tribe can make it go viral and make it one of those 10 million view TED Talks! She’s helped so many people (including me!) by being so open about her own struggles and getting people to share their stories.

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