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Signals to Saturn

A blog by transman, artist, and writer Meriweather Asterios

About Me

(Photo of me, credit goes to my wife)

I am a 33 year old transgender step-dad, artist, husband, and writer. My wife is a cis-gender woman, and also an artist and writer. I’ve got three step kids, ages 14, 12, and 8. Since everybody asks about the transgender part, I’ll get it out of the way first.

I’ve been on testosterone approximately three and a half years, and I have had one surgery– a hysterectomy. I had polycystic ovarian syndrome. I’d like to have a double mastectomy and a phalloplasty someday.

This blog is about my struggles with complex post traumatic stress syndrome, and severe depression. Lately, they have been getting particularly bad– to the point where I decided to seek unusual and creative ways to combat them. I found a blog about an artist with similar problems to me. The way he dealt with his severe depression sounded like something I’d like to try– he personified his depression and talked to it. It appealed to me because simply fighting depression wasn’t working. I thought maybe if I ‘sat down and spoke to it,’ that I could get to know it. Maybe war wasn’t the answer. Maybe we could learn to live with each other. It sounded like a way to maybe separate myself from It, and one day, ask it to leave. So– yes, this blog is unusual. Everything in it is true, and I hope to learn about myself as I go along.

Featured post

Vines

(Artwork by me, watercolor and ink)

 

Depression was, in his heart, a liar.

He was the best liar. He could take a mustard seed of truth, and plant it deep in cemetery dirt. He neither fed or allowed the sun to shine on the newly planted seed, and yet it grew. A gnarled twisted vine slithered through my house. It was a vine of lies that wrapped around my mind and told whispered into my ear. Its tongue was wet and cold, licking into my mind.

I haven’t been able to find employment, so the lie told me I was worthless and unemployable. The lie fed into my brain and planted new seeds. It told me to isolate myself, keep things like my darker thoughts from my wife. Depression was insidious and knew where to plant the seeds, in places where they would best thrive.

Depression had kept me from updating my blog. Depression wove vines all over the house. They looped around my ankles, wove through my chest, and wriggled into my heart. The ropes of black, sticky tar made me feel numb.

“You’re very clever,” I said. I felt weighted down, laying in my bed. It was night. Depression sometimes made it hard to sleep, while simultaneously making sleep all I wanted to do. “You know how to get around my rationalizing. You make the nasty things sound more logical than the logical things.”

Depression didn’t smile, but I could still tell he was grinning.

“Sometimes you win,” I noted dryly. Depression sat at the edge of the bed. He didn’t weigh anything, so my comforter wasn’t sinking in under his body. He was just a huge dark shape, a shadow. His shoulders were sharp and his head seemed vaguely misshapen. He had no facial features, just indents where his eyes and mouth should be. His hands were very long, and rested on his knees.

“I’ve been winning,” he answered somewhat proudly. “and I’ll never let you go.” He leaned in a little closer to me, his features hanging over my head like a death shroud. I had woken in the mornings with him watching me, looming over my face before. It was always unsettling when he watched me sleep. He never rested, a bleak sentinel of darkness lurking in the night. “because what can you do about it.”

“I get tired of you sucking the joy out of my life,” I said quietly. “What little joy I have.”

Depression said nothing. I could almost make out the thin, small line that was his mouth in the morphing, undulating darkness that was his head.

“I am never satisfied,” he answered finally. His tone was flat, stating this fact. Then, I glanced down at his hand. I could see him tighten his fingers into a fist. He was holding onto something.

I sat up to see what it was. There were chains, thousands of black vines gripped in his fist. It was as if he were walking a dozen dogs on leashes. Except, these were the vines that he had grown, held together like a puppet master with the strings of marionettes. He controlled them all, looped around me and binding me tightly. The vines were all around the house, staining everything a licorice black. He seemed to smile, except he never smiled.

The house was covered in chains, gripping and holding, locking us inside his prison. A tangled spider web of his confused design. There was no beauty, no architecture to his madness. Depression simply wanted it all held together under his control. He held the reigns and squeezed. I could feel the pull in my heart under the icy grip of his fist.

The vines needed to be cut. I needed to escape his binds. Though for now, I was wrapped in a cocoon of his silky threads. He squeezed again, and I felt the cords cut into my heart, bleeding under the rope burns under his harsh grip.

Prayer Time

(Watercolor and ink by me, illustration of Depression)

Last evening, I turned on the television to relax a little.

It was late, and the night time shadows leaked in through the windows near my computer. I had a hot cup of tea in hand. I cut out coffee, I didn’t want to exacerbate my anxiety any more than necessary. Depression was around, but he had been quieter since I began this blog.

I could feel him sitting near me. Sometimes he just sat around, waiting to pounce like a lion at his prey. I don’t want to be a prey animal anymore.

It was the show I was watching that gave him the opportunity. It was something on the cult of Scientology by actress Leah Remini. I just knew her as the King of Queens lady. This wasn’t the first time I had seen this show. But every time I watch it, Depression gets stronger. I feel waves of anxiety wash over me, cold and hot and burning. Itchy. It was a bad sweater that strangled me and poked at my skin with tiny needles. Why. I never was a Scientologist. I didn’t make the connection the first few times I saw the show. It wasn’t until my wife pointed out that this program sent me into various states of panic attacks every time. I can’t watch it anymore.

Depression looked at me and I felt chilled to the bones. His face was nothing more than a black shape with intents for eyes and a mouth. When he spoke, it was right into my brain.

“Prayer time,” said Depression, his voice like an open sewer. I knew what those words meant, even if no one else did.

I grew up in a family of seven kids, and I was second to youngest– number six. We were strict Roman Catholic. We never missed a Sunday of church. I even went to Catholic school, from first grade through most of highschool. I had to wear a blue plaid jumper uniform. Some of my teachers were nuns. We didn’t eat meat on Friday during Lent and I had to pick a Confirmation name. There were some points of the year where we practiced fasting. My dad was into the Old Testament really, really hard. God was someone to be feared and adored.

It was Sunday, the day of the week both my siblings and I dreaded. We woke up and put on ill fitting church clothes. Even though most of the congregation wore jeans and t-shirts, we weren’t allowed to. There were so many of us we drove in separate vehicles. Nobody wanted to ride in dad’s car. Because I was one of the youngest, I usually got to ride with mom in her blue station wagon.

I liked the beauty of our church. It looked like an unassuming, giant gray cinder block on the outside–but the inside was a little treasure box. The walls were all old dungeon style stones with big black rafter beams that seemed a mile high. The entire building was lined in stained glass windows. Glittering mosaics of the Virgin Mary sparkled against the walls. At the very front of the church was a black altar with golden Latin words inscribed on the front. To the side was an old pipe organ where the music director,

Dr. Johns, a very talented woman, played every Sunday. Our church also had the best choir. They filled the building with a blast of sound that chimed in with the old bell, signaling the start of mass.

Our church and the grade school I attended were on the same grounds. Going to church often meant I was going to see some school mates, which I hated. I was always made fun of. I was embarrassed at the size of our family and how serious my dad took being Catholic. We were the only family in school with seven kids. We always sat in the back. My dad couldn’t stand crowds.

` Mass was a series of stand-up, sit down, kneel, over and over again. If we knelt and slouched a little– propping ourselves on the pews behind us for support– my dad would correct us. We had to fully kneel, even if it was uncomfortable or hurt. We had to sing, even if we didn’t want to. We couldn’t whisper to each other. Mass was only about an hour long, but it felt like eternity.

Once we got home, it was the same thing as every Sunday (sometimes Saturdays as well, depending on his mood.) It was spaghetti and prayer time. Sunday was the Lords day, so mass continued at home. My dad would gather my siblings and my mother into the livingroom, and he ranted.

He sat in a large, white leather chair at the head of the livingroom. He paused, stroking his black mustache and resting his meaty hands on his belly. He surveyed us through his plastic framed glasses and crossed his feet at the ankles. He told us about the evils of premarital sex and people of darker skin colors. Revelations and dragons. The Lord would strike down the wicked with a flaming sword. On the shelf was a marble statue of Saint George and the dragon, stabbing violently into the serpent. This was real. This went on for hours.

Until the night time came through the windows, darkening the carpet in shadows. He tired himself out, yelling. Our heads were bowed and he forced us to keep our hands folded in prayer.

The verbal abuse ended in an ‘Amen,’ and the sign of the cross.

I try to watch the Scientology show for enjoyment. People wonder how this could happen, how they could possibly go along with such insanity. Depression looked at me, and I heard him mouth the words, ‘prayer time.’

Reassignment

(Artwork by me, watercolor, ink, gold leaf)

 

Depression was an insidious creature. He dripped like wet, sticky tar. He was cool to the touch. Everywhere he went, he seemed to make things darker. The shadows cut deep. He liked to sit and watch. He never did anything. He just soiled everything, corrupting it with his very nature. He sat and observed me, as he usually did, when I worked. I often glanced over my shoulder to see him at a safe distance, tireless and unblinking and staring. His face was as rotten as an open wound.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked Depression, keeping my eyes on my computer screen. I wanted to work on my novel today. I did some painting, after fighting through the muck of Depression. I finished the commissions that were overdue. But, I had been yearning to set words to a page. I didn’t want to keep letting him win.

“I’ve been submitting things to transgender outlets,” I said to him defiantly. “I’m going to get my work out there this year. I don’t care what you think.”

“I could tell you what you already know,” Depression said quietly. But, I could hear a hint of aggression in his tone. “They don’t like you because of how you look.”

“They have never liked me because of how I look. When I presented as female, I was too fat. Now, because I pass too well. That’s shit, and you’re shitty. Besides, I don’t even think it is true.”

“You have no friends,” sniffed Depression.

“I only have a beard because of my health problems. I had polycystic ovarian syndrome. And I don’t have friends because I push everyone away. I don’t want to sit here and argue with you. The way I see it– the world will never like how I look, regardless of what I do.”

“I’m shitty because you’re shit.” I could hear the teeth in Depression’s voice. It sounded like he had too many teeth. “You don’t even appreciate how lucky you are, or what kind of privilege you have.”

Privilege– to a degree, sure. But, there I sat, my chest constricted by a binder. I want more than anything to have my still-lingering female breasts removed. But, as I worked on my stories (just one small golden glimmer of joy I have) I had several pages open about the inauguration of our next president. Health care and governmental art programs were being ravaged by Washington wolves. Everything I represented and loved was being burned to ashes. Privilege, I thought to my Depression, was just a shredded rag.

But, I and many others felt it coming. We felt the rumblings of the earthquake before it was rendered in half. A natural backlash of hate from the social progress that had been made over the last decade. I wanted to be prepared. And I am well aware that my voice and opinion can do very little to affect the outside world. So, all that can be done, is work to affect my inner world. In a way, I hope to make a difference by working inside out. If other people can see my struggle and work to overcome, then maybe they can, too. So, the outside world can be changed. We can make a difference by changing our lives, one at a time.

It isn’t the situation. It is us.

After a moment of silence, I could feel him back down. The air still had a stale, dead feeling. The livingroom felt like a swamp where everything was slowly sinking into cemetery dirt. Still, I knew he was gone. It was just the lingering aura he left. I could feel his tendrils loosening and my brain finally free, so I could write again. Yet, something still remained. It was deep in my belly, well below my navel. Body dysphoria. The feeling that I was in the wrong skin, and couldn’t escape. I couldn’t crawl out.

Due to the current political climate, it is possible I’ll never get gender reassignment surgery. An out of work artist, I can barely afford food.

It was best to ignore it. Still, Depression reminded me, like a punch to the abdomen. It was all still there, it was all still wrong. I wanted to wrap myself in a cocoon, so maybe someday I could break free.

The Avatar

(Artwork by me, watercolor and ink)

–Warning, some sex talk

Not so long ago, I was married to a man.

My sexuality has always been confusing to me. I knew my desires were probably normal. I’ve never been interested in anything really taboo or kinky. I just knew I was attracted to women– but in a visceral, sexually explicit way. The problem was, I didn’t have the configuration for that.

So, the next best thing was– marry someone that I had a good friendship connection with, and the rest will follow. I wasn’t, and am still not, a lesbian. The idea of a lesbian relationship felt very wrong to me. My mind likes and enjoys sex. Really, really likes it. But, it likes it in a very masculine way. I have an active imagination and since I hit puberty, it constantly thinks of naughty images. My thoughts confused me, because they did– in fact– involve a man. But the roles were reversed. I longed to be in the male role. That’s why role-playing online appealed to me. I got to pretend to be a man through an avatar and live out my fantasies.

“We both kept secrets from each other,” I said to my Depression, in regards to my ex. “We both hid who we were.”

“You could have been more honest,” he said coolly.

“I didn’t even know how to verbalize my problems,” I replied, my tone bitter and mixed with pain. “I didn’t know how to say, ‘I don’t want to be a woman.’ And besides, there is nothing I can do about it, even if I don’t like it. It seemed like a useless conversation to have. It is like being upset that the sky is blue.”

We sat across from each other on the bed, the very kind of place that my husband and I once shared. But this bed belonged to my wife and I.It was a large bed, the comforter a splashes of greens and browns. The sun slid through the window and stained the sheets. It was a much warmer place than my old bed. In my previous marital bed, we never slept together at night. Due to his medical issues, I spent each night on the couch. I’m a very, very sensitive sleeper and can’t stand even the smallest noise, especially snoring. I remembered being lonely in the darkness. I longed to share a bed with my spouse. It seemed like many things used to separate us.

“You hurt him,” Depression scolded me, like sudden strike across the face. I knew better than to take this lying down.

“It was a mutual hurt. He kept a lot of secrets from me.”

“You did, too,” Depression said.

I met my wife online through role-playing. When we began, we didn’t know one another’s face, gender, or age. All we had was writing. Stories. Fantasies. It was more than just sex– that was just the bonus. We connected in a way where our souls sang in harmony. She liked to draw, to paint. We had everything in common, and yet were so completely opposite. It seemed so many things drew us together.

I shook my head. “His lies were intentional. Mine weren’t. I didn’t lie to him. I didn’t have a face or a name to my problem. It was only after talking to my now wife for hours and hours did my identity come to a head. She knew the word for the feeling I had. We talked about it. She had dated transgender people before. He had been married to me for ten years. She knew me for a few months. And then, after meeting each other, she immediately noticed that being around me wasn’t like being around a woman. It was like she knew my soul, inside and out, in under just a few hours. She was actually scared to talk to me about it.”

I had never even heard the word ‘transgender’ until I was in my late 20’s. And besides, my sexual thoughts always involved a man, so I must be straight. I liked my husband well enough. We had always gotten along.

There were problems, though. They were just never talked about. I didn’t feel like I had much of an identity as a woman, since I didn’t feel like one. I thought, perhaps, it was a lack of self-esteem. I tried to lose a lot of weight to find it, buried underneath my layers of fat. Yet, after my bariatric surgery, it still wasn’t there.

Depression paused and stared at me. His non-face, his undulating darkness, seemed to wither.

“She said she was really, really frightened of offending me, especially since I had talked about struggling with my identity as a woman. She didn’t want to tell her new girlfriend, ‘you don’t act like a woman at all.’”

“And then you dressed as a man for Halloween.”

“I had never been so happy in all of my life,” I whispered, hanging my head low. “I had never felt attractive before until that very day.” I sighed. It was true. When you’re a person born with a different person’s face on your head, feeling attractive seemed impossible. That’s how being transgender feels, it feels like you were born body-swapped. Having self-esteem seemed like a dream belonging to other people. How can you feel good about yourself? It is a sick joke.

“She said it was the first time I ever looked happy.. when I dressed up as a man.”

We role-played for nearly a year before finding out what each other looked like. But, our avatars, our characters were in love. It was a whirlwind mix of fantasy that bleed into reality. I told him that I had feelings for her. I knew what I was doing was dishonest. I was both heartbroken and in love.

“Do you regret anything?” Depression wondered, oddly curious. His long, oily tendrils seemed calm today. His darkness was soft, and his voice like hissing, sweet smoke.

“No. Absolutely not,” I said, even knowing my decisions had left a trail of ashes and pulled, wrenched earth. “I was honest, finally. I don’t think you should ever apologize once you start being truly honest in who you are and what you believe.”

“Yes,” slithered Depression, before he vanished that day. I was left alone on the bed, the morning sun finally shining through the window. It burned away the ill feeling I had, knowing that tomorrow was likely another talk.

Just Breathe

(Artwork by me, watercolor and ink)

 

I thought I really needed to talk to him, or someone, anyone. But, my face flushed and my heart facing, all I felt was anxiety. It circled around me like a shark. It closed in, mouth red as blood and teeth like pointed knives. I was falling, sucked into a pit of worry, a vortex of spiraling thoughts.

“Depression,” I said. “This has to stop.”

“I am here to talk,” he finally said. I couldn’t see him. He was somewhere in the room. At least he seemed a little amiable this time.

“You’re getting worse,” I said.

“I want to hold you back,” he responded, his voice like a whispering ghost.

“You have no goal. No ambition. You’re not trying to hold me back for any other reason than to hold me back.”

“That is what I am,” he said matter of factly, as if he seemed a little proud.

I sat alone in my livingroom at my computer desk. It was dark out. The shroud of night blanketed my forest home. At my desk was a bay window, and all I could see were curtains of black. My wife was in her room, working. Only the small ticks and pops of house noises could be heard. And, occasionally, the licking of my cat. I could feel his presence, though, wide and large and engulfing.

“I want to talk about yesterday,” I said. “About your face. I think I know what you look like. I figured it out.”

“I come in many forms,” he said.

It is hard to shed your former self. I carry her around like a weight. It was heavy, and I carried so many things around. It manifested in over a hundred and eighty pounds of excess weight. I dieted. I exercised. I tortured myself for years. The further I got from believing in my true passions, the more weight I carried. I knew what I wanted to look like and who I wanted to be– but it seemed impossible if even the base of my very body was wrong. I had a vision of being a cool artist and writer who also just so happened to be male. I didn’t have the same vision of myself as a woman, because it just wasn’t what I really wanted. Instead, I was an overweight woman with no face of her own. Like Depression, the person I used to be had a molded countenance made of clay, able to shape shift into whatever identity I needed to be.

I had a sports bottle that I took to work every day. I wanted to drink more water. I knew water was the key to losing weight. I listened to my doctors and all the advice. I wanted help. I was trying. The call center was busy, as it usually was. The Michigan January air was bitterly cold, and frosted the parking lot.

I had been sick for weeks. The air in my lungs felt like tiny pin-pricks of needles. Everything was frozen. Breathing was agony. I had gone to the ER back in November, thinking that I had walking pneumonia. The doctors were dismissive, blaming my weight. With all of my vacation days and sick days used to this phantom illness, I had to go to work. Customers were already waiting to bitch about their cable bill.

Depression was with me, I felt him holding me down to keep me drowning. At the time, I didn’t acknowledge him very much. He followed me around, a lonely spirit lurking in the shadows.

He watched me as I fell. He watched as the ambulance came. He watched as the doctors worriedly sliced open my bra. I wasn’t alone as my vision tunneled. He sat quietly in the room as I was given a fifty fifty chance of living through the night.

The diagnosis pulmonary embolism was a surprise to everyone. Even to this day, the doctors weren’t sure where the blood clot had started. It had been building for weeks, ever since I had started feeling like I had the flu. I remember my breath catching every time I had to walk up the stairs. I remember, just days before my collapse, finding that walking to the bathroom was agony. I couldn’t breathe. I was slowly asphyxiating for weeks at a time. Every breath strangled me. Depressions hands closed around my throat, slowly, so slowly, squeezing until he felt the slightest amount of pressure under his thumbs. Then, he pressed a little harder.

“Just breathe,” I said. “Just breathe.”

My heart hammered in my ears and everything went dark. I wanted to make it through. I knew Depression was trying to silence the air from my lungs like the snuffing of a candle’s flame.

“Just breathe. Just a little longer.”

And I gasped.

Shadow Chandeliers

(Artwork by me, watercolor, ink, and gold leaf)

 

Opening my eyes, I was unsure of where I was. I felt like I was floating somewhere, on a river or on the surface of a lake. I knew that wasn’t true. I knew I was in my bed and that the stale, cool, butter yellow light meant that it was still early in the morning. I felt as if everything were unreal, but in a way that I couldn’t explain. It was as if there was a picture hanging on the wall, but it was just a little crooked.

It was a state of panic. I wanted to know that everything was fine, but deep down, I had felt a grip of fear strangle me to my very core. Nothing seemed real, everything was spinning just a little bit. Not now, not when I just woke up– I thought. The depression was running deep and I just wanted someone to talk to. But, no one was there. My wife was asleep beside me, and I didn’t want to wake her up to let her know nothing was wrong. But, everything was wrong. I just didn’t know what it was.

I recognized it as Depression’s weapon. Anxiety. I knew, logically, I was in a state of disassociation. I knew that touching on the root of my deepest problems were likely what caused this. I hated myself. It was the self-loathing. Calling it by name had agitated my old friend. It was like saying the true name of a demon. Demons don’t want their names known, because their names were their powers– or at least that’s what my Catholic upbringing led me to believe. But, whatever. Let’s go with that, I thought.

I knew calling myself out on my self-loathing stung, so it seemed similar. I sat up in bed and looked around to see if I could find Depression. He wasn’t hard to miss, clinging to the darkest corner on the ceiling like a spider. He was staring at me. And like always, he said nothing. He had been watching me sleep, assaulting me in silence. He wanted me to feel alone. He wanted me to feel anxious. He was going to fight back. His attacks were relentless. Vicious. And cruel. Depression attacked me at my most vulnerable.

“I know your name,” I said, my confidence shaken but a glimmer of determination remained. “I know you’re my self-loathing. And I am going to fight this. I’m not going to stop.”

Depression glared at me. He didn’t have a face, but I could feel it. For a moment it seemed like he tried to make a face. He tried to form eyes, a nose, a mouth. It just looked like black Play-dough with an impression of thumb prints pushed into it. Terrifying, I thought. This creature I made was absolute horror. I knew that I could not let it beat me, but it still was a powerful beast with a sword of anxiety ready to chill me to my bones.

“You have worn me for so long that you don’t know what I am or what I look like.”

“Show me your face,” I said quietly, as to not wake my wife. Everything still seemed unreal. Everything seemed as if it was spinning, but I did not have vertigo. I felt so much panic that I could feel my hair was damp and musty from sweating. This was not my first panic attack, but it probably wouldn’t be my last.

My own face has changed a lot over the years. These days, I can at least stand to look at it. For thirty years, I couldn’t. I hated the way I looked. For a long time, I couldn’t explain why. I have symmetrical features, healthy skin, a small nose, good eyebrows, green eyes. There seemed to be very little to complain about. And yet, I felt like I had to carve out a personality out of unworkable, hard clay. I felt like I just needed to learn to tolerate myself, and that was the best I could do.

I wonder if Depression was like that. Was that why he was a giant, black faceless blob with vague features? I wondered if it had something to do with being transgender. For all those years I lived as a woman, I felt like I was just pretending. But since being female was real– it wasn’t a mask. The mask was who I was. If I wanted confirmation, all I had to do was undress myself. It didn’t matter what I wanted. It didn’t matter how I felt. Being female was how I was born. All I could do was make the best of it so I didn’t have to hate it so much. I did my best to find my identity as a woman, but I just couldn’t. At the time, the only word I knew for the feeling was ‘insane,’ and it was best kept as a secret.

Maybe that’s where my self loathing began, and since it is all that I know, I have no idea how to be any other way yet. I know I don’t look the same as I used to– I know I am a lot closer to my ideal self than I’ve ever been. But somehow these things aren’t lining up.

Amidst my panic attack, I saw Depression still just hanging there, like a creepy chandelier in my bedroom. Despite his anger, despite his spitting, hateful rage against me, I knew we were growing closer.

A dozen arrows

(Artwork by me, watercolor and ink)

 

I decided to avoid him today. Instead, I focused on work, (this blog, namely) my outside writing projects, and art. For the most part, it has kept him quiet. He was lingering presence in the back of the room. I thought about trying to engage him in conversation again. He just stood there and watched me. He didn’t move, just a tall, black, hulking monolith that I personified and called Depression.

We could talk about my childhood, I thought. It was an easy go-to subject since that seemed obvious. But, we tried that a few days ago and I am just not sure if it was at all productive in this stage. It seemed to be a struggle to get him just to open up. I decided to do something different.

“How are you today?” I asked.

He gave me no answer.

“Having fun?” I wondered– still no answer.

I sat at my easel and picked up another paint brush. I was working on an oil painting, and it wasn’t going well. I was keeping him away by working, but his very presence seemed to be disturbing the process. He was impeding my work by just being there… hovering. It felt like someone breathing over my shoulder even though he was across the damn room. He just wanted to ruin everything, clearly.

I was painting a sun, moon, and stars. It is a motif I use a lot, since I have always been especially interested in old, archaic alchemical illustrations, maps, and religious iconography. Catholic imagery reminds me of my childhood, connects me with the good and the evil. It reminds me of my dad, beautiful and sad and painful. It made the supernatural seem real. Maybe it is, I am not sure. The more time that passes in my life and the older I get, the more and more I get the sense that it is. I find it both oddly comforting and terrifying.

I used to collect Catholic prayer cards– trading cards with pictures of saints, angels, and popes. They were pretty little jewels done in gold leaf and illustrative designs. My favorite ones were usually of the virgin Mary, because they were the best looking ones. They were probably my first artistic influences. I loved the colors, the heavenly painted skies.

I was attempting to paint a billowing, apocalyptic sky behind the sun and moon– reminiscent of the holy cards I collected as a kid. But, Depression was lingering. It was fouling everything in the room, including my painting. I had to put down my paintbrush because it was getting to become a burden. A part of me worried that he was going to destroy my ability to create, so avoiding it was becoming impossible.

“What do you want?” I finally asked exasperated, turning around on my stool.

“There was a time that you listened to me,” Depression said. His voice was listless, like a lingering fog.

“I’m listening to you right now, we are doing this so I can get to know you better.”

“You’re doing this to destroy me,” he said coolly.

“I’m not sure if I can, but I can’t let you stop me from working. I have to work. I have to make art. I have to write my stories.”

“No, you can’t. You’re a failure. Just look at your life.”

“Things are a little rough, but we will get by, we always do,” I said, doubtfully.

Depression said nothing, but I could somehow tell that he seemed angry. His huge, black form hung like a limp curtain in the room, watching me and waiting. I wondered again if this experiment was going to work, or if we were just going to have the same conversation over and over. Just be patient, I thought. It might be true that he is mad at me, but everything breaks down. Nothing can last forever, I knew. Depression was just another form of anger, and anger was pain. He came from my pain and now he was my beast to contend with.

I just was just not sure if violence was the answer. I can’t beat him. I can’t fight him. He is me and I am him. I wanted, more than anything, to love myself. To do that, I thought, I needed to love him, too. He just wouldn’t let me right now.

“You’re my self-loathing,” I said finally. The words hung in the atmosphere like the knelling of a huge church bell. I could almost see him wince. Then, the blackness stirred inside of him, like a drop of ink into water. This declaration had made him upset for some reason.

“Is that your name?” I asked. “Your real name?” But, I already knew. “Why do I hate myself so much?”

Depression seemed to hiss. He was not in the mood today, or maybe ever.

“Why don’t you want to talk about that?”

Depression boiled. His blackness jerkily moved, as if he was shot with a dozen arrows in his chest. His body spiked, jutting outward like pointed stars, threatening me. He looked as if he were about to explode. But, I knew he couldn’t. I knew he couldn’t touch me if I would not let him.

Hate spewed from his mouth, vile, poisonous fumes. He didn’t want to be specifically identified. It stung me, too. The truth was, I didn’t like myself. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know where it started, I just knew that it couldn’t be ignored anymore.

Depression reminded me of a saint card I had once, saint Sebastian against the tree. According to legend, he was put against a tree and shot with dozens of arrows. But, Irene of Rome supposedly healed him and he lived– only to get clubbed to death later. Cheery fellow. I wonder if Depression was like that– confronting the truth hurt, but he was still going to survive. Saint Sebastian is the patron saint of archers, plague-victims, and athletes.

Like a coward, Depression made a lot of noise before fleeing. I, too, felt a pain in my chest. It was like being shot with a dozen arrows.

But, I survived, gasping for life and bound to the tree.

The morning sun

(Artwork by me, watercolor and ink)

I woke up feeling Depression looming over my head. The overcast sky allowed Depression to feel more awake, more alive. I knew he was in a good mood because I felt like shit. I remained in bed, pillow thrown over my eyes and a sucking feeling gluing me into my sheets. I didn’t want to get up. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do anything today.

“You must have had a fucking ball taking me back to my childhood yesterday. You’re looking like you won the lottery.”

Depression seemed more solid, his black, hulking lifeless form was darker than usual. He almost seemed electric, vibrating with anxiety. I could feel the anxiousness seeping into my skin, causing my head to buzz. Anxiety was his weapon, and he sure seemed energized today. He stood at the end of my bed, his formless head brushing against the white stucco ceiling.

Lately I had been waking up with him attacking me. Ever since I decided to confront this demon, I’ve been suffering from panic attacks on the daily. From the moment I opened my eyes, I could feel a sudden charge zapping into my chest. Adrenaline like a surge telling me to fight or run. I knew I needed to fight him. I knew the only way to do that was to confront him, to write, to paint. I knew I needed to stop listening to what was holding me back– but in order to do it, we needed to continue to meet up and talk. I needed to get to know him.

“You barely make enough to feed your family,” he reminded me in his sticky, syrupy, hallow voice. He had said this very thing to me many times. He was persistent and repetitive. I didn’t want to be hammered with this first thing in the morning. But, there it was. The reminder that I am not a successful artist- which was the very thing that defined me as a person.

“Yep,” I replied, sinking more into my bed.

“Because you’re nothing. No one. An untalented artist and even less talented writer. Nobody cares about what you have to say. You can’t take care of your family. You’re not even a man, Merris.”

Yep, yep, yep, I thought to myself. I decided to get up and make some tea. Thanks for reminding me about the transgender thing, I thought bitterly.

“That’s a little below the belt,” I said as I filled the kettle with water. I hoped the pun pissed him off.

It didn’t. Depression simply followed me into the kitchen, a silent shadow that glided across the wooden floor. It was big and loud today, in his own way. He wanted to hurt me. Maybe he was seeing these meetings as vaguely threatening, but still determined to win through his arrogance.

The water began to boil and so did my rage. I wanted to be done with this experiment. I wanted to be better already. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me so I could move on in my life. I watched as the steam began to swirl and the water began to drum as it reached boiling point.

“So, what’s up with you today– why are you so… excited?” I asked Depression.

“Your mother has never told you she loved you,” Depression hissed back with glee.

Which is true—that’s never gone unnoticed. She never has and I wound up blaming myself for it. The kettle whistled and I felt my face grow hot. If my mom never loved me– (and she definitely doesn’t now that I am out as transgender) how can I ever love myself, let alone be a successful writer, artist, husband, or step-father? Even at my root base I’m falling apart. All of this before breakfast.

Antagonistic little shit.

He was on a role today. Depression tore me down every chance he could. He clung to the ceiling like a black cobweb, hanging upside down and stalking me at every turn. He reminded me of my failings and shot me repeatedly with anxiety. He was not interested in talking today. He was just interested in destroying me.

“What is it you get out of this?” I asked him, adding honey to my tea. The silver wisps of steam began to curl around my cup. It was a cold morning in the Ozarks, and all the windows were foggy and blurred. I couldn’t see out into my backyard, where the trees and the mounded hills were bare but beautiful.

“The demons you create devour you,” he said.

“Not me,” I replied. “If I can make you then I can destroy you.”

“You have made me more powerful than even your greatest strength.”

I thought about this. I wondered if this experiment was ever going to work. Depression has no name. No face. And his answers were incomprehensible. I wanted to get to know him. I wanted to know why he was doing this to me. I wondered if there was a way out of this. I felt like I was at the bottom of a well, looking up at the hole– the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. He’s right– my family and I are distant. I am an unemployed writer and artist. I’ve got a wife and children who depend on me. I feel like I’m failing and I am backed into a corner with nowhere to run.

I looked back at Depression and wondered if he was winning. He just looked bigger, a black void who consumed the entire room.

I thought of my wife. She was warm, and loves me. She loves me despite the depression. Her kind words. The things she said to me when we decided to get married. She told me, “no matter what happens,” and those words still ring true.

I blinked again, and Depression had left. We didn’t really get a chance to talk today, but I still felt as if we were making progress. The room felt lighter and the morning sun soaked through the trees. A little brown bird with a white belly and black beak landed on a branch nearby. I vowed to try again tomorrow, knowing that the climb was as long and uphill as the forested mountains outside my window.

The hawthorn tree

(Artwork by me, watercolor and ink)

I couldn’t fight back because he was so much bigger than me. Like the massive shadow cast from the Tower of Babel, my dad was a biblical man with all the fire and brimstone of a good Catholic. He was a Polish immigrant and a hard worker. He was a doctor—a psychiatrist. I’m not sure where it was I first met Depression, but he brought me back here to my childhood home.

It was a large white house with blue shutters. In the front, two massive blue spruce trees hid all the fighting and shouting that went on inside. Sometimes, it leaked out. With four brothers and two sisters– seven of us in total, it was hard to keep everything inside. I often went exploring in our backyard. The house itself had a presence. I felt like it watched us but did nothing to help.

Michigan days were usually gray. The sky was a lumpy iron wall that tried to keep us caged in the cold. But, our backyard was a wonderland in my imagination. We lived on a hill that swooped down into a valley. It was lined in a thicket of trees with a curl of stepping stones that allowed me to pretend I was in a fairytale. With God and the devil being real characters that haunted people and turned the wicked into pillars of salt, it wasn’t a far stretch to pretend other things.

“I watched you play,” said faceless Depression.

I saw myself, too. My child-self. I must have been around eight or so. I was a little overweight girl with bowl cut brown hair and thick, plastic framed glasses. I remember hating them. I resented my near-sightedness. Even now, looking at my younger self, I could see why I was badly bullied.

My dad’s room was the office library. I avoided playing outside near the sliding glass door that led to the backyard. I knew he could see me through there. I did my best to ever be seen by anyone. I wanted, more than anything, to hide from the world. I just wanted to live in the fantastical places I created instead.

The office library was covered in books, newspapers, and old junkmail. The walls were lined in serious, strange paintings of Catholic saints and figures. The somber faces were mythical in themselves, holding their bloodied, battered hearts pierced in swords and stars. My dad’s bookshelves also had statues and figurines– Saint Michael the arch angel with his giant, white wings and golden halo. An ivory statue of Saint George, with his mighty spear thrusting into a dragon. There was always a shroud of fantasy, fear, and magic around the religion that resounded with my overactive imagination.

My six brothers and sisters were already blown apart when I was very young. I felt like we belonged to three families in one. There were the three oldest children– grown, moved out, or in college. The middle two, loud and troubled and in need of constant attention. Then, there was my younger brother and I. We were alone for the most part growing up. We took care of ourselves and asked for very little.

“Why here?” I asked, turning to Depression. He was a tall, dark shadow with just a blur for a face. He was tall enough to blend in with a thatch of tree branches. A gentle wind picked up, rustling everything except his still, quiet presence. It seemed like any other day in my childhood. I expected he would have brought us to something more significant, like some traumatic event.

“I was born here,” Depression said finally. “We met here.”

I could hear my dad hum to himself, as he did often. They were always old church hymns, thrumming in his deep baritone. In the distance, old church bells knelled followed the whistle of a lonely train went by. My child self continued to avoid being seen through the sliding glass door. She was playing a game with a stick– which was at the time a sword. She never played with other girls, and usually climbed trees while her dolls were lost and forgotten in the bottom of a closet. She never wanted to be a girl.

“I think I want to go back,” I said, turning to Depression.

But, we stood there for a while. A little longer than was comfortable.

My child self ran by the sliding glass door, afraid to catch my father’s attention. He was drinking wine again, a dry, red Merlot. Just past the sliding glass door, a huge hawthorn tree grew. The tree often shed its thorns onto the ground, and huge half inch spikes littered the grass. I was barefoot at the time.

“Jesus’ crown when he was crucified was said to be made from a hawthorn tree,” I remembered my dad saying when I asked if we could cut it down. I had stepped on the needles a time or two. My foot bled rivers through the grass.

“Ah!” I heard my child self cry out once again. I refused to wear shoes outside, throwing common sense to the wind. I watched myself pull the long, brown thorn from my foot. Bright red blood bloomed from my skin. My child self thought about the crown that pierced Christ’s head, long sharp spikes. I thought about the statues in my father’s room, spears digging into the head of the dragon. I looked up at Depression, and together we left the memory.

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