Content warning: The following story contains references to someone's experience surviving with depression and anxiety.
“Keeping Small Promises," Ryan Ribeiro
I’ve spent the last couple days reading through some of the brutally honest and unbelievably brave stories that have been shared at The Art of Survival. My friends Katy and Craig have built a truly inspiring and breathtaking project that allows folx to tell their stories and begin the arduous, but necessary work that survival often is.
When Craig hit me up to suggest that I write something after talking with them about recent bouts of depression, I initially said sure, but within minutes I was sweating it. I was unsure of how my story would stack up with these other ones. These are brave people, I thought (and think) to myself, I am nothing in comparison.
What have I done? What can I share? Who could possibly learn from me?
Depression is a condition that, for me, thrives on doubt. Years ago, I unknowingly built an ideal environment that it needs in order to exist. Using self-deprecation and distraction as the ultimate defense mechanism, I deflected the ever-loving shit out of anything that could come close to affecting me. One of the problems with deflection, is that ultimately, it’s not an effective strategy to overcome anything because you are always on the defensive. I’ve trained myself to assume that near everything is an affront to me and my existence, and as a result, I’ve hunkered down and become a trampoline; everything bounces off me.
For some of my friends that struggle with depression, this might begin to sound familiar. But for those that are still not following where I’m going with this, let me get down to it:
I’ve turned self-preservation into an art, to the point where I am fearful of anyone and everyone, treating all of you (yes, you) as a threat. I have terminated endless relationships, both platonic and romantic, because of my unwillingness to be vulnerable and authentic. Despite my natural proclivity to crowds and performance, I put up countless walls and I remove myself from potential social situations because it’s so much easier to hole up in my apartment and watch The X-Files. I’ve doubted the actions of those who reach out to me with kind words and actions because I’m suspicious of their motives. Worst of all, I’ve begun catastrophizing every, single, possible thing that crosses my path; to the point where I don’t know where to turn or what to do.
This is a waste of time and energy. Who would possibly want to read this? These are cool people and you’re embarrassing yourself. Make room for someone who has something more meaningful to share. YOU’RE TAKING UP SPACE.
Here’s the thing: my depression has been a relatively recent diagnosis. Within the last three years. But it was present long before that, and it’s honestly a miracle I was able to get through college and graduate school (and everything else) without disaster. And when you start learning a crucial fact about yourself and your mental health, you start understanding your behavior a little more as well.
You start understanding that your constant need for napping wasn’t laziness; it was a combination of undiagnosed sleep apnea and depression. You realize that when you were lashing out at your romantic partners over the course of the past few years; it was because you weren’t being honest with them, fearful that they won’t understand and will leave you. You learn a little bit more that the reason you are feeling more and more isolated isn’t because people don’t like you or are avoiding you, but that you are heading them off before that even happens; opting instead for another night, bored and alone. You hate yourself and call yourself names because if you do it, than it hurts just a little less when someone else does.
And that’s overwhelming. It’s almost too much. You realize just how much you have been fucking your life up, and you don’t know how to control it, and even worse you don’t know what to do about it.
Look at what you’ve done. You piece of shit, you’re nothing. GIVE UP.
I’m gonna be honest with you, because you deserve it. I don’t have an answer for you, and while The Art of Survival is as much a place for inspiration and affirmation; it is also a place for authenticity and honesty. Depression is fucking stupid and terrible and unbearable and awful.
And I’m still going to struggle with it, because although this parasite has tricked me into thinking that I’m stupid and terrible and unbearable and awful; I’ve found a therapist who has worked with me to find a way to cope. Almost in spite of myself, I’ve reached out to old friends and I’ve made new ones because I know that the more I’m alone, the closer it becomes a death sentence. I’m learning to take solace in small victories, and to tell myself that patience when working on yourself is the path to meaningful change. But most importantly, at least for now, I didn’t back out when I told Craig that I’d “try to nd put something together.”
SUNDAY, 1:45 AM: Maybe I can try to put something down.
So, is this a story of survival? No, not really. It’s more of a stream of consciousness/essay of survival. I think maybe my struggle with depression has gotten in the way of being able to create meaningful stories … But, fuck … I love stories. Stories, especially ones like those featured in this project, are narratives that display the growth, change, and strength of those who have worked hard to survive the stupid shit that they didn’t deserve. That no one deserves. Stories are proof that we fucking did it, that we’re still here, and that we’re going to continue to be awesome and continue to survive with the help of storytelling, art, companionship, inspiration, etc.
I went to college originally to become a better storyteller. Perhaps writing this and submitting it is an opportunity for me to make some stories and taking the time to share them. I haven’t been doing much of that lately. This, though, this is a start.
About the art:
So my buddy Ryan is one of the best dudes that I know. He is full of ideas, energy, and knowledge. When I saw him sharing his mental health stuff on social media, I asked him to share his story with us! This wonderful and honest stream-of-consciousness piece is the result!
For the art, I wanted to infuse Ryan's love for Jeff Rosenstock's music into the painting. I asked him which song would be best for this piece and he sent me "Teenager," a wistfully sardonic track that encapsulates Rosenstock's brand of dynamic punk tunes.
So I wrote out all of the lyrics on the back of this piece, like I often do with song paintings. And combined two of the lines that get to the heart of both the song and Ryan's story - "I Know I Have Too Many Feelings" (perfect line), and "I Know, I Don't Care." Putting these together created a wonderful juxtaposition on the painting.
I'm so incredibly proud of Ryan for sharing this story with us and I know that it was therapeutic for him and I hope that it helps other people!