“If you’re depressed, you’re living in the past. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future. If you’re at peace, you’re living in the present.” -Lao Tzu
I just sent this quote to a friend who’s in a funk; as someone who grapples with depression and anxiety, I find it useful and thought he might too. But then I read this response on “wisdom and foolishness in social media” (which questions the quote’s authenticity) and it reminded me of a post Neesha Meminger shared earlier this week about managing depression and responding to depression in others. It’s a serious condition and one that has no quick fix. I’m fortunate that depression (thus far) has had a limited impact on my life; in fact, I think my symptoms were most severe when I was a teenager, before I even knew what depression was. In my twenties I started reading books on the subject and I discovered that a number of my friends were struggling with depression too. We started checking in on each other and we reminded one another to eat right, exercise regularly, and follow the doctor’s orders—in our little community there was no shame in taking medication and/or seeing a therapist to manage depression. And it was okay to admit when we had fallen into “the abyss.” By the time I reached my thirties, anxiety had become the bigger issue for me and I learned that staying busy kept me from dwelling on situations over which I had no control (the cause of most anxiety). I never knew my mother also had anxiety issues but in the years since her retirement from teaching, I’ve witnessed her world getting smaller and smaller as she has more time to dwell on and/or avoid the things that stress her out—like driving on the highway or traveling alone. I look at my mother and see what my future could be, which makes me vigilant about managing my own symptoms NOW.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the ways anxiety and depression affect my writing. The past few weeks have been a little bumpy—I finished The Deep in early March and had a week of post-partum blues before immersing myself in a demanding post-doc application. Once that was submitted, I started revising an old conference paper that some editors would like to include in a new anthology. Now I’m trying to make some progress on Judah’s Tale. The semester’s winding down; I’m preparing to go to Ghana for the Yari Yari conference in mid-May. When I get back, final grades will be due and then the summer will begin, giving me close to three months to write. That prospect should fill me with joy, but there’s a part of me that worries about having so much unstructured time. I plan to conduct research in the Caribbean and I have a conference in St. Lucia in early August, but the idea of waking up day after day with nothing specific to do is a little bit terrifying. In part because I know that if I’m not focused on a writing project, I’m likely to succumb to bouts of anxiety about the future or depression around my past. I had a dream about my older sister last night—we barely speak and though I do wish things could be different between us, I know I wouldn’t be thinking about her if I were immersed in writing another novel. So do I use my writing to anchor myself in the present? Or do I use writing as a way to avoid the unresolved issues in my life? Maybe both.
Today I’m going to see a bit of fluff—that new Oz movie. I’ve been quite social lately, which is another way of filling up my free time so I don’t sit and ruminate. A trip to the garden might be in order too…