If you’ve ever researched making a name for yourself online then you’ve probably been told to build a brand, to simplify your complex personhood into a nuanced little niche that’s easy to digest. If you found yourself having trouble attracting an audience you’ve been told you need to be more authentic, share more of yourself, and get more real.
A lot of writers take this to mean they should chronicle their failures while attempting to make it as an author. Master Yoda does say, “The greatest teacher failure is.” Why not leverage yours to endear yourself to your readers?
But what happens when you volunteer too much information? What happens when your blog becomes your therapy cushion? What happens when you tell everyone your career is fraught with long bouts of depression, nights spent quivering on the floor of your apartment, running the bathroom fan so none of your neighbors can tell that you’re sobbing?
Depression kicks the door in, struts onto the set in his popped collar leather jacket, and faces the studio audience. He spreads his legs like he’s mounting a horse, gives the air a one two punch and shouts, “Hee-yaw!” He punctuates that with a high kick, puts one leg over the other and spins 360 degrees.
Depression runs a comb through his hair, moonwalks back and forth, until the audience’s applause dies down. He snaps, points at me in the booth, and delivers his signature catchphrase, “Shouldn’t you be at home contemplating the meaninglessness of existence?”
Like Steve Urkel saying, “Did I do that?” or Bart Simpson saying, “Eat my shorts” or Arthur Fonzarelli saying “Ayyyyy!” the crowd can’t help but lap this line up. They know it’s coming, but they love the repetition, even if it’s bad for them.
Depression follows his catchphrase with this episodes subtle variance. “Those personal failures aren’t going to remember themselves.” That’s his way of clueing the audience into this week’s theme (in this instance it’s past failures).
“It’s cool Big D I’ve got a photographic memory.” This is where I’m supposed to make a space for his leather chaps in the booth.
“The psychiatric community seems pretty quick to dismiss photographic memory as a myth.” Depression slides a chair over and sits on it backward, ignoring the stage directions completely. “I’d say if you really want to recount your failures you need to do a deep dive. Try to find the moment when it all went wrong and Quantum Leap that shit. Your last string of bad luck didn’t happen in a vacuum. You’ve got to find out what set you on that path.” Continue reading What if Depression Was a Guest Star?→
My chauffeur has trouble concentrating on the road ahead. He checks the gas gauge more than anything beyond the hood. He’s more concerned with keeping his vehicle in working order than getting anywhere. He drives down an empty highway well below the speed limit.
His eyes wonder to the mirror, not to check for cars, but to examine his irises. They’re swimming in so much red they look like they’re glowing blue. He’s so entranced by the effect he doesn’t notice me, guzzling motor oil from a paper bag, in the back seat.
We’ve logged so many miles together he’s forgotten that I’m even here. He flicks the high beams on, thinking it’s fog he’s seeing, and not the secondhand puffs from a smoker who refuses to crack a window open. He adjusts his seat, blaming the sharp stabbing pain on his posture, and not the boot heel I’m pushing into his rear.
I slip a plug into the cigarette lighter and rest an exposed wire on my tongue. My saliva sizzles. Each static jolt is sugary sweet. I want to see how much energy I can syphon before he turns around. When my chauffeur notices the dimming of the headlights, he pulls over certain that it’s a problem with his eyesight. Continue reading Backseat Driver→
Life has a way of teaching you the same lesson over and over. It doesn’t care if you think it’s redundant. It will not apologize for repeating itself. Life goes on and on and on. It never shuts up. When life keeps giving you the same education in suffering it’s up to you to find new meanings in it.
Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.”
The Phantom of Truth appeared at the foot of my bed. His black robe draped over the mattress. His boney knees made the springs squeal. He pinned me to the pillows with a crocked finger as thick as a broom handle.
The Phantom did not fade in and out like a waking dream. He was a real tangible thing, buckling the floorboards, scrapping his hunchback against the ceiling, getting dust all over everything. He was a giant whose every movement shook the room. If he jumped he’d take the whole floor down with him.
It occurred to me that his long black robe was made from scales. I thought the robe might’ve been stitched together from snakeskins, until I saw it puff out on its own like the sack beneath a frog’s neck. The cloak had no seams. I couldn’t tell where it ended and the creature’s long arms began. Continue reading The Phantom of Truth→
Submitted for your approval a radio play of sorts; a conversation between a pilot and the passenger that’s taken him hostage. One part drama, one part essay, and one part rant. All three fit the scenario, because the stowaway is the captain’s depression, and their argument is internal.
Depression has been a pressing issue on the news these days, with newscasters talking about mental illness like outside observers, despite the fact that 1 out of 4 people experience some form of it in their lifetimes. I won’t claim to have insight on the individuals they’re discussing, I can’t tell you what Robin Williams was thinking, but I can offer a metaphor to explain why some of us don’t come forward.
There’s a gremlin on my wing, pulling out the systems I need to function. He’s dug beneath my skin, undermining my self-esteem. He’s ripping out memories I have no need to see, bringing things to the surface I’d prefer to leave buried.
Whenever I venture outside of my comfort zone, he tampers with my fuel gage, convincing me I don’t have what it takes to go the distance. Whenever I get off to a flying start, he tinkers with my propeller, convincing me I’ll crash and burn the longer I keep talking. Whenever I’m riding high on possibilities, he brings me down to sputter out, crashing on my pillowcase alone.
Between my neckline and my clavicle he’s dug his claws in, a hijacker issuing demands. He’s got me in a holding pattern and I can’t seem to shake him. He wants to go south with the conversation. He wants to go nowhere fast. He wants to go crazy. He’s my first class saboteur, my snark passenger, my very important burden. He’s a collar crawler, a nightmare at five-foot-four, the Depression on my shoulder.
He puts new acquaintances on standby, when I actually have the time for them. He leaves copilots out on the tarmac, when I could use some direction. He cuts off my support systems, when I could use help navigating the turbulence. His no fly list is ever expanding, banning ex-room mates, ex-coworkers, and ex-girl friends from getting anywhere near his captain.
Waving his security wand, Depression scrutinizes everyone. He finds contraband in the form of narcissistic tendencies, codependency, and disloyalty. He uses x-rays to detect second faces. He performs cavity searches of micro-expressions.
He says, “We’ve already got too much baggage. As it stands, this craft is only equip for fair weather. These people will just bring us down. We have to fly solo until it’s safe to start letting people in.”
I want to offer my friends a shoulder to cry on, but its occupied at the moment. I want to offer a sympathetic ear, but someone’s whispering into it. I want to offer stability, but my rudder is off balance.
Marking up the flight maps with negative associations, Depression says, “The girl who stood you up goes to that coffee shop, now it’s in a no fly zone, so is the club that wouldn’t take your card, and the bar that made you feel your age. Oh, and don’t bother going home for Christmas, that whole area is in hostile airspace.”
Bad News Flies First Class
Bad news travels at supersonic speeds. It’s Depression’s fuel, it’s his inflight entertainment. It’s what he’s got up on all of my instruments. The displays play an in memoriam montage without end. There go beloved childhood icons, actors, and musicians in their prime. There go fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives. There go captains who took directions from their gremlins.
Depression stares at me from the aisle, with a microphone wrapped around his fingers, his face set aglow by a backseat screen.
“This is your Depression speaking, please turn on all cell phones and automatic devices. Then get on social media, because tragedy is trending. To your left you’ll see an ongoing story that will make you feel like you’re losing your faith in humanity, and to your right you’ll see comments that will help you lose it completely.”
The world is in chaos. There are so many headlines stacked up on the window, I can’t see the horizon. I’m internalizing the external, flying blind. It’s not that Depression lies, it’s that it isn’t very well informed. It senses patterns in limited information, then speculates with confidence. It finds scary stories to reinforce its suspicions, then emerges emboldened.
Depression booms over the speakers, “According to the radar it isn’t safe to land anywhere. The ice caps are melting. The runways are flooding, and people are rioting. They’re invading everywhere. They’re shooting planes right out of the sky. It’s open season on anyone with a pilot’s license.”
He walks down the cabin, pulling things out of the overhead compartments: unfinished screenplays, lyrics I never sang to girlfriends, and manuscripts I never had the courage to send. Depression performs a one man show for his captive audience, mixing and matching lines from what he’s found.
He’s got me facing the wrong direction.
I make my way for the dining trays, chowing down on whatever’s around. Whether it’s cheese slices straight from the wrapper, pepperonis from the bag, or Ben & Jerry’s, the in-flight meal is always my feelings.
Depression at 20,000 Feet
Depression never lets me reach a certain altitude without putting me down.
He says, “If you were any kind of pilot, we’d be there already. Instead we’re lost in the storm.”
I grip the controls a little tighter. “Sometimes the only way out is through.”
Depression grunts. “Or in circles, apparently. How’s that tailspin working out for you?”
He’s the peanut gallery I carry with me. My own private Friars Club. My personal heckler. He’s a passive aggressive parasite, a bullying barnacle, a foot on the coattails of my ego. He’s the alpha male dominating the conversation, the monkey stabbing me in the back, the jockey that’s riding me.
His stigma allows him to get away with his destruction. No one else sees him, because no one is looking.
I’m afraid to yell, “There’s something on the wing!” because sometimes there’s no sign of him. Sometimes I forget, there was ever turbulence. I keep the truth buried in my black box.
My friends might not see him, but whenever I examine myself his big ugly mug is staring right at me. I’m afraid to call attention to the damage he’s done, for fear I’ll run out of places to land.
I’m afraid to yell, “There’s something on the wing!” because whoever’s listening might bind my hands, giving Depression free rein to pull me apart in silence.
I want to shine a light on him, to hit him with the flare gun, I just don’t want to lose cabin pressure in the process.
I’ve learned to live with him, to adjust for the added weight, to divert energy into other systems, to compensate. The things that come easily for others, take more fuel than you might expect for me. The things others do to stave off boredom, I do just to keep myself functioning. The things others think are routine, I do with all of my engines firing.
He’s the reason it’s not so easy to straighten up and fly right, to man up and snap myself out of it. My Depression, my gremlin, my stigmatized stowaway.
There’s something on my wing. You might not see it, but I assure you, it’s out there.
Part song, part spoken word anthem, the above piece is a mantra for getting writing done. It’s creative advice served with a side of synths, and a beat worth bumping to, a metaphor for writers trying to keep stressors from stalling their fiction.
Think of it like this: you’re a director charged with delivering a film on schedule. Your story is the production, your imagination is the location, and every aspect of your personality are the stage hands.
What happens when the morale shifts, the spirit of the set turns toxic, and the forces behind the camera get overtaken by doubt? You grab yourself a megaphone, and you own your production. When Inspiration goes on strike, its up to you to shut Fear, Anger, and all the other scabs out.
You’re filming on a closed set, kick Heartache off of it. You’re not about to go wasting film on Self Pity’s vision. Narrow your focus through the right lens. You’re not about to give a panic attack all the best lines. The name on the director’s chair is not “Depression.” It’s high time you took back your imagination. Continue reading Take Back Your Imagination (Audio Blog)→
Trying to write with pent up stress is like walking onto the set of your imagination to find someone else has taken over the production. While you stewed in your own juices the project was stolen by the producers. Succumbing to scrutiny, you left yourself open to a mutiny. Dwelling on the past, you lost half your cast. Undermining your authority, your self doubt took control of this movie.
Apprehension tilted the lights a few degrees in the wrong direction, just enough for your wit to get dim, just enough to cloud your vision, just enough to let the darkness in. It’s got you focusing on the wrong thing. You’re lost in the shadows while the daylight is burning.
Wardrobe’s carefully crafted costumes lay scattered on the floor. Throwing it’s weight around, Anger fills in for the star. Hamming it up, it gives a speech that never ends, it’s ranting and raving. Your lead watches from the sidelines with your Ambition, reduced to understudies by Anger’s show stealing.
Taking over casting, Rejection opens the doors to all its favorite players: employers, publishers, message-board commenters, ex-lovers, number forgetters, and head duckers from the bar. Anyone who can make you question the value of who you are.
Putting in an over the top performance, Doubt crushes the props, and tears down the backdrops. It leaves footprints on the set. Chewing the scenery, it picks cardboard from its teeth. Refusing to be ignored, Doubt leaves a lasting impression on everyone.
Filling in for the cinematographer, Fear staggers onto the scene drunk, keen to replace your choreographed long takes with a shaky cam. He’s seeing double. He wants to share the experience with world. Filling your mind’s eye with lens flare, he blots out the picture. Trying to pick apart the streaks, your brain gets scattered. Blinded by it, you loose the plot.
Pages blow across the ruins. Your script has undergone last minute revisions. Depression has ordered rewrites, it’s been picking you apart all night. It cut the subtext from your internal monologue. These new lines are very direct. They’re so on-the-nose they just might break it.
Reading it’s revision aloud, Depressions says, “It’s too late for your aspirations to come to fruition. Learn your place at the bottom, settle in.”
If morale was any lower it would be buried beneath the floorboards.
Stress doesn’t want to let you sit in the director’s chair. Pushing you out of your own picture, it wants to lock you in your trailer. It wants script approval. It wants creative control. Your bad habits are its passion project. It’s got a bullhorn for all of it’s defeatist rhetoric.
If storytelling is your career aspiration, you can’t wait for better weather conditions. You can’t wait for support or validation. You need to start shooting if you’re going to make your release date on time.
When you can’t use the first idea that comes to mind you need to give direction. Be a dictator. If you can’t call for quiet on the set, you’re going to have to record around the noise, you’re going to have to shoot around the clutter. You’re going to have to tell your story louder than any of your other stressors. It doesn’t matter if your head is clear, get something down on paper, you can fix it in post later.
This is your production. The show must go on. When Stress is out of good ideas, you need take back your imagination.
Cinema therapy can help you escape reality, but reality is not always so easy to get back to.
Originally a guest post for rachelintheoc.com, this essay reveals my coping mechanism for dark times, side effects and all (follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelintheOC). This story explains why I can’t have a conversation about depression without pop culture references peppered in. It’s one of my best pieces, which is why I had to share it here.
Andrew: A Story About Cinema Therapy
From ages two to six, I spent my waking hours at a living room daycare center. My playmates were the caregiver’s three sons. Their principal forms of recreation were hurling rocks through windows, leaving milk jugs in the street, and beating the living snot out of me.
It was their home, their shield generator facility, and I was the rebel scum who’d broken into it. They had to make an example. Their mother turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to my side of the story. She had stories of her own to watch.
Her boys kept the den locked down, the only window of escape was through the TV. While they amputated action figures, I fled to a galaxy far far away. Watching Star Wars on an endless loop, something happened to me. Turning away from the screen, hyperdrive lines streaked through my vision. Out the window, I watched Tie Fighters chase robins. Looking at the night sky, I saw the moon was no moon.
I ceased to see Mark Hamill on screen. I saw myself. I had slipped into Luke Skywalker’s Velcro boots. I was mourning Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. I wanted to go back to save Obi Wan. When my caregiver switched the TV off, I saw the world differently.
These boys weren’t my peers, they were storm troopers marching across my finger paintings, clones programmed to sit on my face. Seduced by the dark side of the force, they dragged me through the backyard, and pushed me into the Sarlacc pit. When I limped inside, Nanny Vader yelled at me for tracking mud across her carpet. She dragged me to the detention block by my ear.
This wasn’t a day care, it was a Death Star. I wasn’t clogging a laundry shoot full of toys, I was launching proton torpedoes into a thermal exhaust port. I wasn’t waving a tampon at my captors, I was slicing bad guys with a light saber.
When Nanny Vader told me to eat my peas, the ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi appeared beside her.