In the midst of yet another argument with my husband, tonight I realized that my writing voice is all I’ve got, and more than I’ve had in the last few years.
It is the one tool that defies the constraints of depression and hardship.
And yet, this same writing voice has been threatening to leave me again every single day since I recovered it in the summer. To me, a daily writing practice is neither a self-indulgent luxury nor a show of discipline but a necessity. Writing to stay alive in every possible sense of the phrase isn’t glamorous or aspirational, it’s my reality.
After losing the ability to write and earn a living for the best part of five years, I live in constant terror of falling silent again.
Everything in my life stokes this terror. From crushing hardship to a toxic home environment where mental illness is a source of ongoing resentment, writing means defiance.
Writing means pushing back against the circumstances that conspire to keep me down.
Writing means carving out a safe space for self-expression.
Writing means flexing editorial muscles that had grown slack through lack of use.
Five years is a long time to live stuck in your head and cut off from the world without the ability to let anyone in, or reach out to anyone.
If this sounds extreme, it’s because I’ve yet to access therapy and thus support. I have insurance but can’t afford the co-pays because my household survives on one salary already stretched to breaking point.
As a result, there are many normal things we do without. Health care has been one of them, food often is another. There is a lot of empty space in our house where furniture should be. We exist, we do not live. In five years, we’ve hardly ever had anything resembling a social life either. The so-called Holiday Season is something that has been happening to other people, rarely to us. Our marriage is groaning under the strain and has been on life support for a long time, the antithesis of joy.
Each of us feels let down, abandoned by the other. At least on this we’re on the same page. If I write so much about depression, it’s to try and instill some empathy in those who’ve never experienced it and see it as a choice. Were it a choice, it would be a very perverse one that has condemned me to a pared down existence where shelter and food are never guaranteed, never mind anything else. Why would anyone do this to themselves?
In this context, writing is a way of flipping the bird at adversity and reclaiming a little agency, a little independence.
More recently, writing has come to represent something else, too: The ability to see my family again. Unless I make this airfare happen myself, it won’t and I will forever have to live with the fact that I abandoned my father when he needed me the most. Long story short, my stepmom is undergoing treatment for stage 4 breast cancer and my 71-year-old dad is her sole carer.
This, to me, has made everything else in my life pale into insignificance. I am an only child and last saw my father in 2013, my mother in 2014. My family has never met my husband although we’ve been married for over five years. Writing this, it occurs to me how horrible it is.
Writing, you see, is a way to articulate all that has been festering within and keeping me sick.
Since my best friend died at the end of September, the page has become my only interlocutor. There are few conversations in my household. Our life isn’t conducive to trusting, open-hearted talk anymore. Instead, our exchanges are stilted, wooden, guarded. I quickly learned that anything I say could backfire. In our respective silences, you can hear the low hum of distrust and the hiss of resentment, ready to pounce whenever vulnerability arises.
I made the mistake of pretending I was strong, right at the beginning. I also made the mistake of relinquishing my assertiveness. I’ve paid for those mistakes with my writing voice and my mental health.
That my writing voice should be the first casualty of depression was ironic because it is what brought my husband and I together in the first place.
But when depression set in, I collapsed in on myself and disappeared within. There were a few attempts at fictionalizing what was happening as it was happening, so intent was I on clinging to my pen for dear life. Alas, I never found the courage to seek publication. Already, I had lost the ability to differentiate between the voice of depression and my own — they seemed to be one and the same thing.
So I stopped writing altogether, preferring instead to seek solace in the words of others, and seldom finding it. Reading, my library card, and frequent book mail from my mom have so far kept me alive in an environment entirely devoid of intellectual stimulation. To say that my current life is at odds with my past would be an understatement. But it is the life I have and the life I must deal with and build upon, improve, change.
I’ve long believed I could write my way out of anything, whether out of sheer optimism or delusion I couldn’t tell you.
Curiously, this belief endures. I’ve built editorial projects from scratch before so I’ve already proven to myself I could do it. Can I do it again? All I know is that writing is something I’ve regained control over. It’s something concrete I can do, day after day. It’s something I can even force myself to do if need be. While the quality of my output may be variable, the fact that I’m writing at all is nothing less than a miracle.
Tonight I nearly gave it all up. I felt I had nothing left to offer, nothing uplifting to share, no words of comfort for anyone. It is a comment on a previous piece that gave me the strength to keep going, a reminder that writing is service.
To be able to do this is a gift and proof that I’m not as helpless as I thought, not as useless as I keep being told. As long as my writing voice holds, I have a tool I can use to help myself, and by extension, those who need my help like my husband and my father.
Granted, it isn’t much and doesn’t yield a sufficient income yet but it is what I can do for now despite the many limitations I face.
It isn’t much but it might be enough to get me across the Atlantic and help me go out into the world again, confident in my own abilities.
What other choice have I got?