Trigger warnings: discussion of depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts below. Just so you know what kind of reflection post this is going to be.
The end of the year is a time for reflection, and I’ve seen that in a multitude of ways: a lot of friends and people I know write yearly posts, count their successes, and muse on what they hope the next year will bring.
Here’s the short, non-triggery version of this post: 2015 was a bad year full of bad feelings that didn’t go away. I didn’t want to be a downer, but I couldn’t celebrate this year’s end.
Depression, for me, feels like being mired in a radioactive swamp. No way to go but by wading right into it, and hoping you can make it out to the other side without becoming some 50’s era mutant monster. And it stained everything. It stained the really lovely reception for “The Shape of My Name,” and the strides I made as a labor organizer. I sold three original stories and two reprints. I made a Patreon page and, wow, have received $1000 from it over 11 months. I received the Working Class Writer’s Grant. I went to three really great cons, got some travel in. I started dating somebody, and she’s pretty great. I applied for grad school. I wrote half a novel, but if you ask me about this year in the future, I’ll probably sum it up thusly: “2015: the year I managed, barely, not to listen to the worst voices in my head telling me to kill myself.”
I started 2015 right, as far as it goes: my BFF and roommates, a bottle of bourbon, and a pack of fake mustaches. We didn’t even notice when midnight struck, and 2014 was over. We sang that Mountain Goats song, toasted all the things were to come, and went to bed.
A few weeks later, I was contemplating suicide while walking home in the snow. All the bad feelings were rioting inside my chest: self-loathing, hatred, loneliness, anger, frustration, and the worst, the belief that nothing was going to get better. I made an entire plan in my mind, and it seemed like such a beautiful, quiet story. I couldn’t shake it off, that whole walk home, not until I was walking beneath the overpass next to my street. There, I punched the crumbling cement until my knuckles were swollen and bruised, and flakes of the thick, peeling paint stuck to my gloves.
The violence and the pain derailed the story that was circling through my head, and let my rational mind get a word in edgewise. I went home, went straight into my room, and wrote down what had happened. Then I started crying. Then I left a voicemail for the therapist I’d started seeing a few weeks before, and went to bed. I spent the next six months trying to explain to said therapist (and really to myself) why I felt like a monster, or fantasized about destroying myself. I never could come up with a satisfying answer.
I feel mostly human these days, if deeply flawed and bearing scars. My friend group in Chicago shrank, and I haven’t recovered the sense of purpose I used to get from writing. I feel heavier than I used to, slower, older. It’s harder to rally myself for things I know might make me feel anxious or awkward; I can’t always convince myself to do things I care about, like go to protests, or organize union stuff at work. I don’t even know what happiness would look like, at least for me.
I wondered if I should share these words, what good it would do, and if I shouldn’t keep the shitty truth about this year to myself. I can’t bring myself to count my achievements, and don’t feel stable enough to make goals. What can I celebrate, honestly? Is survival enough of an achievement?
I’ve been trying to write this post for 6 days now, with that question lingering in my mind. And the best answer I can come up with is:
Yes. Survival is worthy of celebration. Maybe it’s the best thing to celebrate, since it’s one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There’s a reason my friends and I sing this Mountain Goats song, with the best refrain I’ve ever heard: I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me. When k8 and I sang that on the last day of 2014, I didn’t think I’d be tested on the strength of that promise, but I was, and I kept my end of the bargain. I lived through it.
I can mourn all the lost opportunities, the hours I spent feeling like a monster, wishing I could drift off quietly into death in the snow. I can be afraid that my depression will return, and be worse, and I can wonder if I’ll make it through next time. But if my crowning achievement in 2015 was that I ignored the worst and most violent voices in my head, I will accept that fucking tiara and sash and wear it with all the goddam pride I have.