Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's experiences surviving depression and generalized anxiety disorder, which may be triggering for some readers.
"Being a Person is Hard Sometimes," Marcela Pulido
Before you know
kindness as the deepest
thing inside, you must
know sorrow as the
other deepest thing.
- Naomi Shihab Nye
When I was a kid I remember summers used to be the worst for me. With nothing to occupy my time and mind I would obsess over apocalyptic theories that would give me night terrors. Reading became an obsession because it gave my mind something to follow, I couldn’t trust my own thought processes. In high school I missed an entire week of class because I couldn’t stop puking. I wasn’t bulimic and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me, they suggested I try relaxing a little.
I studied Psychology at the University and tried to manipulate therapists into giving me Xanax. Instead they diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (which I shrugged off, not wanting to admit this to be a real diagnosis) and I ended up on antidepressants, which led to me having panic attacks. This was the year that I experienced depersonalization for the first time, it felt like I was in a waking dream. I questioned what was real, what existence was, and I began to panic. I ran out of my bedroom to my sister crying, because at least when I was crying I was feeling something, I wasn’t numb.
As an adult, depression was an entirely new demon to combat and it hit me, hard. There was a point in my life that felt like there were so many circumstances stacked against me that I was not prepared to handle. I’ve moved a lot and can actually admit that the move and excitement of experiencing a new city is a high to me, not something that I view as a stressor. But moving to Seattle, the most depressing city in the country, tackling a new job, a brand new relationship, whilst attempting to start my own photography business and lacking in the community and support that I’d grown accustomed to my whole life was… not ideal circumstances for someone with a predisposition towards anxiety.
But it’s not just about the circumstances, it can’t be helped. It was as if one day I woke up and a switched had been turned off and in the darkness I was left blindly searching the walls trying to find it again but to no avail. I’d never felt so helpless like this, in feeling this suffocating sensation that I wasn’t right. Rather than a punctuated moment of terror or anxiety, this was an all-encompassing and seemingly never-ending feeling of helplessness and loneliness. I didn’t feel like myself, it was like I became a shell of who I was.
I would see myself reacting to situations or to people as if I was an outsider, not understanding why I would react that way, not understanding why I felt so off, so foggy, so heavy, all the goddamned time. I felt like I was failing the people around me, who looked at me with pity in their eyes, which brought me deeper and darker into the depths of what I was experiencing. I hated going out. I didn’t want to be around people. I tried desperately to want to go outside and would feel the anxiety worsen when I did. This wasn’t me. I knew I enjoyed people’s company, enjoyed meeting strangers and new conversations, and yet during this period I found myself unable to connect. In fact, I didn’t care at all. I felt jealous, insecure and envious of those around me, whose existence seemed easier.
At every point that I was attempting small steps towards progress, it felt like I was just shoved back down to the ground. I focused on my photography and my business because every small success felt like a step in the right direction but I became so focused with the industry that I was told that I’d become unrelatable, I wasn’t finding the balance between work and home life. Returning to Portland and getting out of Seattle was the first step in my mind towards myself, but it wasn’t a drastic enough of a separation to make a difference. Instead that first Winter back was wasted with dread and anxiety, a suffocation punctuated by the endless overcast skies.
Then I broke my ankle and had to rely on others for help with the simplest of tasks that exacerbated the sense of helplessness. Spending 10+ hours alone on a daily basis drove me insane and without anything to occupy my mind, although I read almost endlessly but craved human attention more than anything the few times that I was around people I desperately wanted solitude. I fell down the darkness once more. Then, mid-year, I went through a difficult break up that forced a level of introspection and reflection that I’d been avoiding for years.
I knew that I needed a break and so I took it the only way that I knew how. What could have easily felt like I was running away yet again with my tail between my legs, I knew to be a necessary transition towards healing. For once in my life I ran home, back to California and the sunshine. I ran to my support, to my community, to my family… to allow them to smother me with their love and make me feel whole and renewed. In their kindness, they showed me the love that I was neglecting to give myself and reminded me to be proud of all that I had accomplished. Here I was, finishing up the first year of a business that I had only ever dreamed of and never imagined could become a reality and I was spending the holidays with my family for the first time in years. Because for the first time ever I actually had the freedom to do so! I let that sink in and I let it fill my entire being with a new energy and incomparable joy. For the first time in my life I was reaping the benefits of all my hard work and I’d be damned if I was going to let that go to waste.
Everyone reacts to a depressed individual differently. I know that a lot of people don’t understand what this feels like, and that is their blessing. Some may attempt empathy, but unless you’ve ever experienced this firsthand it’s impossible to comprehend. Some people looked down at me with pitying eyes, not understanding why I was unable to lift myself out of the darkness and made me feel meek and small, when it just takes time to feel renewed again. Some look at me with sadness in their eyes of understanding, of comfort, of “I’ve been there too” and I feel gentleness in their embrace.
Others yet speak to me with a defiance in their voice, letting me know that I’m stronger than my circumstance and believe in my strength before I even feel it myself. It’s this defiance that I soak in with all the energy I can muster. In their kindness, their shared hardiness, they stand beside me and lift me up, slowly, steadily, until I feel strong enough to stand on my own. I can never fully express the gratitude I hold for people sturdy enough to share their strength with others.
As much as I hate that this is my reality, this is just one side of who I am. Sometimes I feel like a walking contradiction. Yes, I am the person that can rally, that can hang, make jokes and talk shit with the best of them. I can get rowdy, sing and dance and party and have the best of times. But I’m also the person that needs quiet solitude to regain my energy for days afterwards, that for no reason will deny an invitation because I’m not mentally ready and that behind closed doors needs immense kindness and gentleness.
The truth is that I’ve been so embarrassed for most of my life that I’ve tried to act tougher than I actually am. That I’ve lied to save face and I’m the worst liar. I didn’t want to accept that this is just the reality of who I am. In my misguided attempts to hide this facet of myself it only created a dissonance that hurt more than it helped. I wish there was a moral to this story, a lesson amongst the chaos, but there isn’t. It’s just been a process of learning to accept who I am and what I struggle with in an honest way.
That begins and ends with understanding and kindness.
About the art:
I saw Marcela post this story because a mutual friend of ours shared it on Facebook and it hit me hard because I knew it needed to be spread further on our page. That was a a few months ago, and now that Mental Health Awareness Month is here, it is time to share it widely!
Marcela told me she is a fan of Radiohead, which as a fellow fanatic of the brilliant UK band, I knew I would make a connection with making this piece. Finding the right lyrics to fit this piece was the challenge. I finally settled on "Pyramid Song," from the transcendent, Amnesiac LP.
In the background of the piece, I wrote the lyrics to the song, which repeat twice, so that it would add a cool layering effect that I like to use on pieces like this. I latched onto the the repeated line, "There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt," because it felt like a possible affirmation in moments of anxiety. I used purples because Marcela said those were colors she prefers, and added a little splatter to make the piece a little more dynamic.
Such a cool piece for a wonderful story! Thanks for allowing us to share this piece, Marcela!