(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.