Depression is a hell of a thing. I get around it, if I can, by writing.
It’s marks, see. I feel I am only achieving if I make marks on the world; if I change it, I think, or if I scratch something memorable on the surface of it. It doesn’t have to be complex, or change people’s lives, or even make them better. It just has to stick in the outside world. In my writing I am scrawling on the toilet door of life.
And the depression comes from a lack of those marks. It builds when I cannot make them. When I feel impotent and distant; there’s a lot of body image stuff tied up in that, especially in Sydney where the people are, on the whole, tanned and clean-limbed and muscled and blessed with both incredible teeth and an economy that means many of them can afford to replace their clothes more than once every two years, I can feel invalid. I can feel like some pallid homunculus, some ghoulish and other creature that doesn’t belong.
Not that I’m counterfeit, you understand, I’ve luckily never managed to penetrate any situation deeper than my expertise should allow. I’m not an impostor. I’m false; wrong, somehow, on such a fundamental level that to continue getting out of bed seems at best ridiculous and at worst heartbreaking. I loathe who I’ve become. (At times, I should stress. At times. This is thankfully not a constant refrain.)
And these are marks upon myself.
Because I make marks, I make scratches on the page; I am writer, bone-deep, I will never not be a writer the same way large swathes of my family will never not be alcoholics. I have a brain trained to record and create and build and combine in a mad quest for insight, for an angle on a world that I can barely begin to comprehend.
(I stopped wondering why I spend so much of my time in imaginary worlds – computer games, roelplaying games, etc – long ago. They make sense. I can pick up the rulebook or access the console when I want more information; I can put down my dice or switch off the Xbox when I want to stop. I have control, if not mastery.
I have never spent actual minutes of my life in a computer game worrying about which way to stand when I am meeting someone in town so they will a) be able to see me clearly and b) not have to catch their eye so we see each other long before we are in vocal range and I will, doubtlessly, pull the wrong face or look at them too much or not enough and they will leave the encounter thinking that I am a fucking weirdo and never speak to me again)
But when I can’t make marks on the world, when I can’t disfigure some part of it into a rough approximation of my image, when I am removed from reality and validation seems unattainable and far away, I make marks on myself.
If I said the shit I say to myself to anyone else I would be immediately imprisoned; when I am not allowed to write, I become impossibly caustic, impossibly hateful, I have a fuse measured in millimetres and not inches.
So; I write. It is cathartic no matter what I do, so long as it sticks. Every word I write that someone reads reminds me that I am a functional human being, that I can take some small facet of reality and name it, and gain a measure of control. Over one tiny thing I can exert my will. My body is a hollow, heavy shell of a thing and my career crumbles apart like wet sandcastles at my feet and everything that was supposed to be right at this point of my life can feel absent.
But I can write. I can always write. I can always create; writing is sculpting with words, it is taking these things we use each and every day and trying to twist them into something… worthwhile. And I don’t manage every time, of course. But it is a coping mechanism better than drugs or alcohol or self-harm or any one of a myriad other tactics which let us sidestep our problems; it is an outright ignoring of them, a man building a bunker in the middle of a battlefield.
And, yeah. Sometimes the shells can fall pretty close and sometimes the walls shake and crack, but to hell with those times. I am a writer. Whatever happens I will mark, I will deform the world around me, around my work, like a lead weight on a rubber sheet.
It is maybe too much to want to be remembered after my death, but I am sure as hell going to be remembered while I am alive.
If you’re interested in more of my love letters to, um, letters, then read On Writing When Fired Up.