Posted in Facebook:
Strap in, I'm doing this early.
Mostly because my schedule year is already, essentially done. The work I have to do involves mostly meetings and barricading myself to my computer to create content, plans and proposals for 2019. And because my year is "done", I'm feeling reflective. And while you may make some shady comment about long Facebook statuses, fuck you, I'm doing this for me and for those who matter. You get you post your content how you want, I get to publish whatever personal essay I want out in the universe. You don't like it, don't read.
This year has been trying. I might argue it's been one of the most trying years I've ever had, but then I think if super pivotal years what were trying and bad (2016, 2013, 2012, 2009). And this year wasn't a *bad* year, it was trying. It was hard, it was a challenge, it was a test, but it wasn't bad. I feel appropriate that I should have this conversation now, almost a year later after having the same conversation with someone we'll call a "fallen showgirl". She was drunk and high when I saw her last January when she unloaded her past year of shit storms onto me (a divorce, a drug habit, homelessness). I can't argue with her, she's having a hard year. THAT is a hard year. After I play therapist for 45 minutes, she catches herself: "but you understand! You had a hard year too!" I had to shake my head for a second, because 2017 for me wasn't a "hard year", it was just hard work. Moreover hard work that paid off! And then I realized, that most people don't know the difference.
As I sit typing, what was planned for this specific date would have been my day off after opening the first two days of "Bally-Hoo" with High Society Cabaret. Cancelling that show is my most recent heartbreak. But mere days after cancelling the show, new information came to me that would have made putting this show on stage, had we decided to push through, nearly impossible. I know what that would have looked like, and it wouldn't have been good for anyone, and it would have been a crushing low in the history of our company. We did, in fact, dodge a bullet. I know that now. And for me that's been the whole year, just dodging bullets; almost doing a thing, working to do a thing, to have it suddenly taken away; but then seeing that had I decided to be too proud or too stubborn, it would have cost me dearly. This year has taught me some very valuable lessons on deeper levels that I only know how to learn in my way:
➡️Empathy: The best thing you can do when you've been hurt, is to feel what the person who has wronged you is feeling. Sometimes it is the hardest fucking thing to do. Especially if you are *that* upset. I have learned so much about myself through others' emotions. And that's not to say you necessarily forgive that person, and you *definitely* don't forget. But if you make this an automatic practise (and it takes practise) and it will provide you with solutions, or at the very least, closure. It has also helped me make decisions concerning the well-being of other people. I have made the choices and done the work I've done with High Society Cabaret because I thought of what my artists might experience as part of my operations. I've been where they are, fuck I still am where they are, and I now feel a responsibility to set the new status quo in arts work and creation.
➡️Humility: Speakeasy at Revival was a long time dream for Belle Epoque and I in the expansion of High Society Cabaret. I knew on the production side of things, it would be a cakewalk. If you've ever seen one of our full productions, running the most base version of Speakeasy is child's play by comparison. Our two biggest hurdles were outreach and income. Both greatly influence the other to put me between a rock and a hard place in running this monthly. I need money to reach the guaranteed paying audiences, but I need those audiences to buy to get the money to reach that audience. This is not an unfamiliar problem. Because of this, I did not make budget 5 out of 11 Speakeasy shows. Failure is not new to me, but this was a new level. I can't remember a time I failed this consistently. But pre-set dates and a 2018 plan kept me from throwing in the towel and I had to endure it, then do it again, to fail again. But with each failure, as Allen Kaeja recently said to a class I was a part of "was a nugget of truth." I may have failed, but I have been collecting nuggets, and I can't wait to make some big plans around Speakeasy at Revival for 2019.
➡️Patience: I should start by saying I am not naturally a patience person, and I am far more patient with others than I am with myself. And this year my patience was tested, and then it physicalized in my body, and for the first time in a while I didn't really like myself. The plans I made earlier this year were not on schedule nor were they yielding the results I wanted. This made me over work to over compensate, which meant my training and my personal care took a severe back seat. I often heard a ticking clock and all I could register were swirling bodies who seemed to be doing more than me, better than me, faster than me and with more recognition than me. I longed for a version of celebrity and recognition as validation for the hard work I was doing. I would go through bouts of depression too overwhelmed by everything everyone seemed to be and everything I was not. I felt my own progress stall, I had trouble measuring my accomplishments and beat myself up for not weidling the results I wanted in any given situation. I gained weight in ways I was not happy with and that made me hate the body I have prized. At one point I felt I was grasping at straws, finding corny inspirational memes, turning to the wrong people and divulging too much in hopes I could find another option to get me where I so desperately wanted to be, and to connect to the people I thought I wanted to be like. I entered dangerous territory when I started comparing myself and my work to others, which took me into a deep depression I haven't experienced in years! I'm arguably still recovering.
But out of all that came a deeper learning of lessons I've always known, and now stepping back and away from all the events of 2018, I'm watching hovering tetris blocks aligned with their respective spaces. And those blocks will only drop when it's time. There's not much I can do about when it happens, except set the conditions I can control just right to allow them to slide smoothly into place.
This all now feels like pointillism: up close it's a mass of chaotic coloured dots, seemingly placed at random, often messy and haphazard. But the message happens when you step back, and see the dots organize to form and shape. When you work in dots it's easy to forget the form, but you cannot create form without the dots. This year was a lesson in not getting hung up on dots.
Thank you to everyone who showed their love and support this year. You taught me that kindness is a commodity that should remain free and open exchange. Thank you to those you supported and were patient with me was I went through some of the most financially trying times I've experienced in a good long while! I make the promise to pay it forward whenever I can. Thank you to the show family I have in High Society Cabaret, my work wife, my burly children, my peers and friends who have truly shaped me this year. I am still standing and fighting because of you all. Thank you to my inner circle, near and far, the people who see me for who I am, warts and all, and love me all the same. And thank you of course to my family and my partner, who are solid ground to jump from as well as a soft place to fall.
I will be in and out of social media for the next couple of weeks as I reorient, get some much needed work done, and actually work to enjoy a holiday season for the first time in I don't know when. I am always available through messages, email or text. I can't wait to take what this year has brought and put it into action! xoxo
I recently came back from performing in the Montreal Burlesque Festival for the first time. It’s a festival that I have wanted to be a part of for a couple of years now and seemed to just always miss the application deadline. This year I was on the ball and got in with an act that I really enjoy performing. I should have enjoyed my experience at this festival, but I didn’t. It was soured pretty significantly by the fact that the night I was placed on was a competition show. Those who know me know I am not a competitor. I’m competitive, but not a competitor, and there is a distinct difference. Because I didn’t seem to be given the option of not competing without being withdrawn from the festival entirely, and at the ill advice of some outside sources (“you’ll be fine”, “just do what you always do”, “maybe you’ll actually win”, etc.), I was forced to follow through on a situation that doesn’t make me feel good and that I feel is toxic for me.
I know there are a bunch of you reading already going “This is Knox just being sour grapes.” I assure you, it’s not. As much as I’m a self professed “sore-loser”, my reasons to write this have way more to do with dissecting this specific instance of performance, and less lamenting the fact that I didn’t win. The winners of this competition more than deserved their titles (I actually saw all three winning acts). El Toro probably did the best performance of that act that I’ve ever seen him do and was absolutely deserving of the big win. This has everything to do with me as a performer, and nothing to do with the accomplishments of the winning artists.
I’d like to start by saying that I don’t have a lot of experience as a competitor, especially as a dancer. Sure, I played team sports, but that’s a different kind of competition I have no issues with (and in fact usually enjoy), as the variables of victory are different. I’ve maybe done 5 legitimate competitions as a soloist in my entire life: 4 when I figure skated as a kid, one as a dancer when I was about 24. I would argue that I have not been raised or trained to mentally or emotionally handle the kind of competition I encountered this past weekend in Montreal, and knowing this about myself, I am resentful and critical to the festival and it’s organizers for not clearly giving the courtesy of the option to compete. Had I been given the option, instead of the demand, I definitely would have declined. I also argue that generally burlesque is a terrible art form to be placed in a competition format. Unlike figure skating or dance, it’s judgement is entirely subjective. Where skating and dance have concrete, long standing and documented methods and techniques to weigh and measure, burlesque is far more of an interpretive art form. Where as the rubric to evaluate dance or skating include turn rotations, bio mechanics, alignment and even a checklist of the quality of execution of specific steps and movements, the burlesque rubric is left to far more subjective to things like costume, music choice, performance quality, interpretation and “it” factor. Often what is considered “good” in burlesque is so heavily dependent on the individuals judging and the politics of the scene. I have on more than one occasion watched a win and thought to myself “really?” That being said, I have also watch as winning performance and thought “well duh”, so this is a gentle reminder to the reader that these are not sweeping rules but general opinions based on my feelings and opinions.
While my “streak” in formal competition is generally good, my experience around competition is not. As a skater (and the fact that I was between 10-13 years old), competition was about doing me. I don’t remember meeting or talking to other competitors and I never saw their routines, so as far I as I was concerned, it was just me and the ice. I could feel confident in what I did because I had no basis of comparison, and my mom nor my coach pushed me to do otherwise. These are the only positive experiences I have around competition because I was young and sheltered. The next formal competition I encountered wouldn’t come until I was 24, where I was competing for a “job”. It was a dance competition for a spot in a Pussycat Doll type dance troupe that I had already “unofficially” been dancing in for a couple of months. I knew why I was being placed in competition: I believe the director of this troupe didn’t want me there and was trying to find a diplomatic way to expel me because the winner of this competition was by audience vote. I think she believed her audience would share her dislike for me. I don’t think she believed I would win (which I did). And the reason I believe this is based on her treatment of me in rehearsals and on jobs after I won my position. There was a resentment for me being there, but she couldn’t kick me out now without a lot of people asking some questions on her character. This was not the only instance where I was made to compete to prove my worth not just as a performer, but what often felt as a person. Competitive situations in my industry often felt like initiations into the “cool” group, which if you read some past posts, I’ve never been part of the cool group.
And that has been my regular experience with competition and competitive settings: that there is someone who is rooting against me. Whether that is factual or in my head doesn’t matter, it’s what I feel, and it affects my performance and my experience. Montreal was no exception. I spent about 4 weeks leading up to the show mentally and emotionally prepping myself. If I had my way, I would have had my own private dressing room, I wouldn’t have talked to anybody but the tech crew, and I would have taken stage and done whatever I was going to do and leave it to fate. But that is not the nature of burlesque festivals. Networking and socializing is a massive aspect of festivals and in a venue with such cramped backstage areas and so many performers, you had to crawl over someone just to scratch your own ass. And in any other situation, I would have liked it that way. I like festivals because it is the chance to meet new people, to see different interpretations of an art form, to watch new levels of performance and self expression. I like cracking jokes and admiring costumes and finding like-minded individuals and talking shop. But in competition I don’t feel that freedom to do those things. It is hard not to start comparing knowing there will be a “winner”. I very quickly get in my head and the vampires start coming: “everyone is sexy and you’re just cute”, “your act is too conservative for this”, “you’re not wearing enough rhinestones”, “your prop looks so homemade”, “no one likes the dancer”....
I’m not a competitor, but I have regularly been put in competition. It’s in the language, and I find dancers (particularly burlesque) to be notoriously catty and tactless in that regard. I am all for it being critiqued, but there is a time and a place where that critique is helpful and useful. I do not want my work to be measured while in front of an audience, or to feel that while I’m on stage. I want it to be enjoyed. I want to feel joy to perform for you. Competition only makes me feel desperate and inadequate. And that was my time in Montreal this past weekend. I tried as best I could to get out of my head and into my work, but I couldn’t. Every potential judgement pecked at each of my insecurities. I felt the kind of nervousness I get before I go into a meeting with someone who’s said “we need to talk.” It’s harder to get in my body and grounded. It feels like every pass I make backstage is being judged. I lose confidence and start making stupid mistakes because I’m questioning everything I do. My mouth feels dry. All of a sudden I’m not focusing on how I’m going to make an audience feel, I’m focusing on what I want them to think. I’m focusing on trying to be liked instead of trying to connect. I’m focusing on meeting a standard instead of setting my own. All of a sudden the work doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore. I can’t roll with punches and play in mistakes because all of sudden those mistakes feel like they matter. All of a sudden, I’ve lost my joy in performing.
I was grossly unhappy with my performance in Montreal this weekend, despite the fact that a lot of people told me how much they loved it. I’m looking at photos and video on Instagram and I see it doesn’t look nearly as bad as it felt, but I’m still dissatisfied. Once I got off stage I candidly said to certain performers that I wasn’t happy with my work. I noticed people’s knee-jerk need to pacify negative emotions. I got the predictable “but it looked amazing!” and being told I was being overly critical or ridiculous for thinking otherwise. The most validating moment came from my new friend Maestro Maestra, who when I lamented that my performance felt awful just said “I know.” That little bit of validation, I can now say, was a saving grace to a bitter experience. He understood as I do: you should be dancing for an audience, you should take their experience into consideration, but to forget your own is a terrible disservice too. Anyone can get on as stage for the validation. That is readily accessible. But the feeling of accomplishment when you create something is purely you is unparalleled, and how you feel in a performance is equally important. I suppose the silver lining in this experience was to rediscover why I do this work for you, but also why I do it for me. As a kid, when it came to my dancing, my mother would tell me “you’ll stop doing this when it doesn’t make you happy anymore.” And my dancing makes me the happiest. And this weekend reminded me why it makes me happy. I’m sure there will be exception to the competition rule (BHoF and New Orleans are goals, but in my mind, you get into those competitions, you’re already a winner), but competing for the sake of competing is detrimental to my work. I’m just not a competitor.
I've spent the past few days trying to figure out how I wanted to put this information and perspective out into the world. I thought a live video, or just a regular Youtube video, but in all honesty that feels a little too vulnerable for me with this subject matter right now. I'm already nervous when I talk about my mental health, as I always am. It's a scary thing to talk about, to leave yourself open to judgement to feelings and thoughts you don't have much control over and that, despite efforts to normalize, are still stigmatic. I can still hear echoes of my childhood and youth of "get over it", "it's not that bad" and "god, why are you so dramatic/depressing." It's been a long journey and a lot of therapy to come to this aspect of self-acceptance and self-love. So in keeping with that silly promise to myself, let's talk...
I've been in a depressive state since the end of July. It's been a while, years, since an episode lasted this long.
There's a lot of factors at play right now: stress, exhaustion, job pressure. One of the major ones being that I recently decided to go off the pill. I've been on birth control since I was 15 or 16, and I've been on the same brand for about that long. In the past year I started to feel "off". I had no sex drive. Like, none. And it was frustrating. And after evaluating a bunch of other factors (my stress levels, my relationship, etc) the final factor came down to my birth control. So when I was starting to come to the end of my last pack, I thought now is a good a time as any to stop. So I did. Within the first few days my sex drive returned and it was excellent! I also noticed I was more emotional and sensitive to all sensory stimulation. I explained it to a male friend of mine that, after going off the pill, it felt like I had switched from standard definition to high def. But if you know anything about any kind of hormonal treatment, you know the transitions are never that smooth. Which is how I got to where I am. It's well known that one of the side effects of any kind of hormone based birth control is fluctuations in mood, depression, and on some brands suicidal thoughts. Having had depression well before I was on the pill, I am in one of those depressive episodes.
It's all so eerily familiar! It's been years since I've had one this severe bit it feels like I never left this state of being. It's that comfortable (for a lack of a better word). It starts mild and unassuming: you have an off day. You just feel blue and a little more melancholy. You chalk it up to the weather, or being overtired or maybe overworked, or that fact that maybe you haven't eaten enough today. You have some water, take a walk. A couple of days past and nothing has changed. You continue on as you think you should, as you must. You go to work, you're social, you make excuses for these feelings that you're not "supposed" to feel and dismiss them because life goes on right? And you can't be left behind. And that's where it can get dangerous. Slowly and surely those feelings creep across your feet like a fog and begin to achor you. It becomes harder and harder to hold yourself to obligations. You starting finding ways to pass off the things you're obligated to do: Call a sick day to rest, find a replacement for a job. And you don't feel bad about it because let's be real, these aren't tasks you wanted to do, you just have to do them because they're a part of life and living. But then you start putting of the things you actually like doing: seeing people you actually want to see, finding excuses to not do activities that actually bring you joy. Even the usual activities you consider therapeutic are now daunting and sometimes scary tasks. But if you're me, you push through. You've worked hard to build your life and now there are people that depend on you, on your initiation and follow through. You can't halt their progress and happiness because you don't "feel good". And sometimes it's that personal obligation that actually helps you! It takes you outside of your own head and put the focus on the needs of other people. It makes you feel useful and wanted. It gives you worth and purpose. But not this time...
Instead your brain decides to literally warp your reality. Every misstep, every insignificant mistake feels like it holds too much weight. You find yourself taking responsibility for things that aren't yours to make up for the guilt you have about not feeling "happy". You take on other people's feelings because it feels better than taking on your own. You exhaust, and it feeds this fog, which grows thicker and thicker around your feet as it creeps up your shins to your knees. You begin overcompensating: over working, overly caring, you try to pacify others' misery because you feel terrible. And the happier you make others, the more guilty you feel about not being happy. Then your mind starts to swirl as the fog rises to your thighs. If I'm not happy there must be something wrong with me. You feel transparent to everyone, that they can see through to your misery, to the pathetic, desperate being you actually are. Overcompensate. Try harder, work harder, love harder. Nothing changes. Question every facet of your reality because you're doing everything in your power to "fix" this and nothing has changed. Your friends don't like you, they simply tolerate you. Look at how happy everyone is. Know that's not you. Maybe it never was you. Forget what "normal" feels like. Try to remember your career accomplishments and suddenly struggle to find them. If you have no accomplishments, then what have you done with your life? Feel ashamed that ridiculous thought crossed your mind and logically know it's false. But the feeling is unshakable. Feel guilty. Feel transparent. Feel familiar. Watch the fog raise to your waist. Want to talk about it to those closest to you, to those you know love you, and start hearing past voices: "Don't be silly, you're great!" "It's not that bad!" "You're not really feeling that." "Others have worse problems than you." "You're just being dramatic." "Stop making problems for yourself." The fog rises. "Why are you so depressing?" "Do you have to be so aggressive? So harsh?" "Stop making problems for yourself." "It's all in your head."
Well, that one is true.
And with all this hopelessness, all this shame and all this guilt, it's easy to ask all the wrong questions. What really is the point? Why do anything if it feels like it doesn't matter? People lie. They've lied before. How do you know they're not lying to you now? The fog swirls around your chest. You make a last ditch attempt for perspective: It's ok. You're only one person and this is temporary.
You are temporary.
When Robin Williams died, I had my first emotional response to a celebrity death. Not just because he was a talented figure of my childhood who's work I loved, but because I knew how it happened. I knew the long silent battles he had faced, the scars from the war, the guilt that came with fighting, and the deep desire to care for others on the outside to ease the violence on the inside. We watched a man notorious in his love and compassion both on and off screen lose a final battle in his own head. It automatically reminded me of the battles I'd nearly lost. How close I've come to being yet another statistic, another tacky bouquet of plastic flowers on some public mark, another sentiment of "she was so full of life" only to watch my mark and presence disintegrate in deteriorating memory. I now find myself thinking of him in these times as empirical evidence to contradict how I feel. Sometimes I see people call their sorrow "depression" and I want to shake them. Being depressed is not the same as having depression. It is perfectly natural and human to be depressed, especially over things that are depressing: the state of government, inequality and oppression, injustice, loss, disappointment, death. But how do I justify my pathetic state when I'm not currently experiencing anything remotely close to any of those moments? And that's the difference. It's enough to make you feel, well, crazy.
And that's where I currently am. Ticking off boxes and hitting checkpoints to eliminate factors that could make a bad situation worse. After forcibly taking a few days off last week, I feel rested. I'm starting to buy better foods, I plan on cleaning the apartment this week. Doing some costuming for a project while limiting and being selective with my social interactions have made me feel more human. The fog currently swirls again at my ankles and doesn't feel heavy, only thick. I'm not out of the woods yet but at least I have my mobility back. As odd as it sounds I'm fortunate to have the experience I have. It's taught me that there a coping methods and I have evolving protol that I follow to get me back to healthier states as soon as possible. It helps me talk to other people about mental health, because I can speak from over 20 years of my own personal experience. But I've discussed this before, mental illness is alive as long as you are, and as you adapt, so does it. Because it's a part of who you are. For better or for worse. The way a diabetic can't change being a diabetic. Which is why breaking stigma, and the language we use around mental health is so important.
Time for that obligatory "this year in review" Facebook status, which I'm doing now because I plan on disappearing for two days so I can fully rest and recover. (I'm officially back to work January 2nd. Yes, I carved out my own vacation time, because I'm a self-employed adult).
This past year was a year of some great adventures and some important growth. This was the first year I really felt like the pieces tetris-ed into place and I started seeing the results of years of hard work and hustle. I made a lot of hard decisions and really learned to trust my instincts in making them. I made some giant strides in giving zero fucks about what anyone else thought (someone's going to resent you for it no matter what, so why not just do what's most effective and what makes you happy). I lost friends along the way, but I also made new connections I didn't expect to make and are now incredibly thankful for. I'm starting to find the people I want to surround myself with; the real artists, the rebel rousers and ones who refuse to settle for anything less than the best. This is the year I learned I have more control and power in what happens than I thought I had, and that the results really come down to me.
Highlights from 2017:
- Getting back into theatre, auditioning and getting back to a hustle I thought I left behind. The Toronto scene has changed in 5 short years and I'm still adjusting, but it feels different to attack this scene closer to 32 than it did when I was 21.
- My Euro Trip! I was there for my first international festival (London Burlesque Festival) which was a so-so experience, but my time galavanting through Europe by myself for the first time is something that I won't soon forget. I hate to be the cliche, and it wasn't the initial intention for the trip, but I discovered as part of myself I'd long since thought had disappeared. I'm happy to have her back.
- One specific performance at this year's Toronto Burlesque Festival. That performance of One Night Only turned into something I didn't see coming until that first step on stage. It was the breakthrough to something I think had been sitting just under the surface for a years and I didn't know how to tap it until that night. I'm still overwhelmed and humbled by people's continued response to that performance. I am forever changed because of that night.
- Everything to do with High Society Cabaret this year! I can't believe this year happened! Every single person who was involved in the shows this year was integral to our success and I feel to fortunate to have collected this amazing and talented group of artists! I had lost faith in the idea that you could make a family from a work environment and these wonderful beings restored my faith with their dedication, work ethic, kindness, generosity, talent and belief in what Anna and I are creating.
- Some select individuals who really come through for me this year (whether they know it or not). I remember your kindness, and I will do all I can to repay you!
- Adam Tupper. No explanation necessary.
Goals for 2018:
- Keep growing High Society Cabaret! Anna and I (with the help of Adam Martino) have some pretty large ambitions for our little cabaret company for 2018. Be sure you're following everything we're doing as there will be some big announcements as soon as next week! I know I need the rest now, but I'm already restless to get started on this next season!
- Continue to to grow Knox Dance & Fitness. I separated my teaching/coaching from my performer life, now I gotta tend to this little sprig. I am already planning a burlesque/cabaret intensive for what is looking like the end of February/beginning of March. I will also keep working to create content and take on new clients! (Alayna we got some plans to lay through this girl!)
- Hustle more bookings and gigs. I got back into auditioning, but trying to find my footing there (combined with focussing on HSC) meant my gig hustle waned. And that wasn't a bad thing! It helped me prioritize the the kind of gigs I *want* to be doing and gave me the freedom to focus my energy to what was worth my time and say no to what wasn't. Now that that lesson is learned, I want to utilize it while I expand my bookings. On that note...
- Do more out-of-town gigs. I would like to specifically see of I can go cross-country. I've already applied to VIBF (let's hope I get in this year), and I want to see how many of the Canadian festivals I can hit up. I would also like to work more in Montreal... *hint hint*
There are a few more goals I am tempted to share in this post, but I have opted to keep them under my hat for now. I have some very large ambitions! Some of them will take years to accomplish, so 2018 is the year I continue to lay the groundwork for the progress I wish to see not only in my own development, but in the development of a community, a business and an industry. I recently have been criticized for my ambition, for making lofty goals and wanting to elevate theatre and burlesque especially to a higher standard. And to that I can finally say confidently: I don't care. These are the things I want, and the ways I want to do it. And this year I learned that most of my critics are the ones who not only aren't doing what I'm doing, but don't want to and don't know how. So who are they to say that what I'm doing won't work or isn't what should be happening? The very least I can do is try, then try again.
Happy New Year everyone! I look forward to the new adventure 2018 will bring!!! xoxo
In keeping a promise I made to myself some time ago, I am continuing to write about my struggles with mental health as I see it necessary. The last time I wrote is a more extreme situation. But I'm here to tell you what a duller, more mundane but still important and lived aspect of what mental illness looks like. It's the more common one, the one we don't really address when we think of mental health, the one that doesn't normally make the Facebook status.
I've been going through a mild depressive episode for just over the past week. On the one hand, it's really nothing serious, on the other hand it always has the potential to be. This past week I've faced (continue to face) a lot of professional challenges. It comes with the job of self-employed, contacted arts work. And although I'm not saying it's the cause of my depression, it's definitely not helping. No one really knows what causes depression. Most of the time depression is portrayed as this deep, dramatic melancholy, this Shakespearian style angst to the soundtrack of Dashboard Confessional. I'm here to tell you it's far more subtle and subdued, and that's what makes it far more dangerous.
When bad things happen, being depressed is absolutely valid and logical. The same way it makes sense to feel anxious when coming across anxious situations. But like an anxiety disorder, clinical depression is not directly or just caused by an outside stimulus or event. Depression can occur in a person's brain with absolutely NO stimulus. Because like anxiety, clinical depression is an illogical emotional response.
In my current, as I type, depressive state, I seem perfectly fine to the outside. I've been carrying on business as usual, perky and cheerful and positive. It's my in-between moments that I feel that dark looming cloud of weight. It's a feeling I know too well, and I have abused as a tactic in the past: if I don't stop moving, if I keep pushing through and ignore this feeling, I will be fine. My depression can't catch me. I won't have time to succumb to its twisted, fantasy logic. That is a such a misguided fallacy. Depression really does feel like circling a drain, and sometimes you can fool yourself to stay afloat on the outreaches long enough to pull yourself to safety, though you never really leave the water. But misstep, even with the best of intentions, and the undercurrent takes hold. And once gravity starts to pull, it's a either a clawing struggle to get back, or a muffled decent into the abyss without knowing when you'll see light again. And honestly, the outcome can really feel like a toss-up. It can actually go either way, without warning, without any real signs. Some of my current, at-this-very-moment thoughts include:
I haven't spoken to this person for a while, maybe they don't like me anymore. I must have done something wrong.
The tone in that email seemed harsh. They're angry at me. They don't respect me. I'm worthless.
Your life is good! Why are you always so sorry for yourself. There's something wrong with you and you're bringing everyone else down.
No one is thinking of you. Why would they? They wouldn't miss you if you were gone.
It is a lot of exhaustive mental and emotional power to carry on life day to day when it constantly feels like your own brain is against you. Not unlike my anxiety, I know the thoughts in my head are untrue and not real. Evidence and logic contradict it. But the feelings tied to it are SO strong and visceral, they can defy all evidence and logical thinking. This is why anxiety and depression are often linked. They follow the same thought processes and emotional channels to thrive, they just tap different emotions.
After 20 years of experience, and about 7 years of therapy, I can confidently say I won't be the next surprise suicide (even though there was a long period of my life where I definitely could have been). That doesn't make my struggle with depression any less real, impactful or threatening. I am not exempt from self harm just because I've done to work to get to know my mind and my illnesses. All it really does is better prepare me for the worse, and give me the options, select skills and hope to bounce back. If I were to rate the current threat level out of 10 right now, I would say I currently sit at about a 6: not full blown, but not muted either. My ideal number would be 2. My depression scares me more than my anxiety. With my anxiety I've gotten good at managing it, and really, the process is easier: recognize triggers or potential triggers, avoid. My anxiety I can feel coming. It's like a Mack truck barreling down a highway: if I catch it soon enough I can just step out of the way and all I'll feel is wind. Depression is so much more intelligent and adaptive. It learns as I learn. Just when I find a tactic that works, it slithers through it and licks my skin. It's an evolving mental illness that is so hard to treat because it moves with you, looking for blind spots and weak pillars. It strikes without warning and alters your reality to feed its sorrow. It's consuming, making your limbs and heart heavy without reason or regard. It whispers the most awful thoughts, and twists visions to satisfy its truth. It is the most convincing liar you will ever meet. And it's never going away.
Well, never entirely.
Which is why finding more than one way to mange and cope is so important with a mental illness that's so adaptive. Dancing has always been my primary tool: it forces me to redirect my thinking and get into my body, which gets me out of my head. Plus the endorphins and adrenaline that comes with physical activity helps dame dark thoughts and makes me feel physically better. I have daily affirmations I quietly say to myself as I get ready. I try to talk to people I know will listen and be empathetic and supportive without trying to "fix" a problem that doesn't really have a solution. I continue to see a shrink once a week. And then, and this is the scary part, I schedule time to safely indulge in my depression. In my experience, the irony of all this is that if you don't give that dark monster your time every once in a while, it gets bigger, more aggressive, and more powerful. It's like having a pet zombie: if you keep it chained and unfed, it will become stronger and more violent. But satiate it from a safe distance, and more often than not it's pacified.
Already writing this post has made my head feel more balanced and less blue. I'm seeing my shrink again today and we'll likely talk about why I'm feeling this way and find a couple new coping methods. Then I'll catch up on some work and feel productive, then move my body because it's a guaranteed shot of feel-good. And then tomorrow morning, with the dark cloud of "not good enough" and "nobody loves you" looming over, I'll say my affirmations, force myself to move and battle the monster for another day.
To read more about my experiences with depression, check out THIS POST