a bi-monthly feature by Maddie M. White
Kristin Garth @lolaandjolie
What mental illness do you suffer from?
I suffer from depression and anxiety. Both of these are gifts of my genetics and upbringing. As a child I was abused, lived in a tense environment with two parents who are also abuse survivors and both suffer from depression. My anxiety and what a counselor once told me he believed to be abuse PTSD are products of living in, feeling violence on my person and around me, mounting and escalating into crescendos of physical attacks.
My depression is shaded and heightened by these experiences. It also, like it was for my parents, genetic. My father has seasonal affective disorder and is gravely affected by it. He has had suicidal ideations during his experience of it that I was acquainted with early on in my life. He medicates this a lot through exercise in his life, and I have learned to do that for myself.
Everyone has things they do that work for them and don’t work for others. For me, I run outside in the sunshine. I feel so much better when I do this. Here’s a picture I took of myself the other day I put on Twitter after because I felt so literally light. It’s kind of a funny description considering the root cause of seasonal affective disorder and the need for light. But that’s exactly how I felt.
When was the first time you noticed it and how?
I’ve had these issues as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl and I was very young and fearful of oncoming abuse, I felt physical pains, chest pains, tightening, inability to breathe, ulcer-like pains in my stomach. I remember lying on the bedroom of my room or even in the backyard curling up in a ball, in the fetal position which -- the only way I felt remotely safe.
I also noticed that if people were (or are) arguing or tense around me, I would (and still sometimes) start shaking, feel daggers inside me. I want to get out of the situation immediately. Flee. I don’t like to be around tension or violence. If I find myself stuck in a situation witnessing a lot of tension not even related to me, I feel like a caged animal clawing at my legs. If someone is tense with me, I have reacted at times like a cornered animal pouncing sometimes verbally, overreacting. Maybe I’m just always in a context other people don’t know.
It’s still not right, and I know it’s my issue.And I am trying to work on it and remember that I attribute contexts sometimes to situations based on my own history.I don’t do it consciously, and I feel bad about it.
My strategy with this is to try to be emotionally honest with people.I try to let people know my history, and when things they do/say trigger reactions in me based on that history.I have found when I do this, people are usually very sympathetic and understanding, and we move to a better place in our friendships.It’s a lot easier to do with online people.And to be very confessional, I don’t have a lot of offline friendships.
How does it affect your life as a whole?
Depression and anxiety affect my life in so many ways. Most of my relationships are online, and I write often about my history of abuse and my depression and anxiety.I have many poems that include references to it.I wrote a poem that is a little dirty, and is in fact called Dirty.It’s in my first chapbook Pink Plastic House, and it was first published in Anti-Heroin Chic. Here’s a link if you want to read it.
Yes, this is a poem that deals with sex addiction and some dark sexual issues.It also deals with the fact that I have used sex (perhaps not wisely or effectively) to medicate my depression and anxiety issues.It’s just an example of how these issues slip into all kinds of my writing.
How does it affect your day-to-day?
In my day to day, to be very candid and honest with you, it affects me a lot.I try to manage it for the people that do deal with me in my private life and protect them but my swings in emotional state are evident.I feel guilt when they cause others pain because of my own history. I’m so scared of repeating patterns in my life though I can say definitively that I am not an abuser.I am a gentle person.I bear the brunt of the worst parts of my swings.
Online, I feel like my friends have had to learn to deal with me and pay attention to when I’m anxious or depressed.People have been very kind to me online, and I have friends who check in and have taken their lumps when I wasn’t at my best for which I feel terrible.
I write about these issues constantly, my history.People write for different reasons, to be artistic, to express themselves, to connect. I certainly want to do those things and maybe sometimes do.I know that my writing a therapy for me though, and part of the reason that I am so prolific is that I need a lot of therapy.I thank my readers for bearing with me while I work things out maybe for the rest of my life.
What have you learned about it?
I have learned that these components of myself:my depression and anxiety. They are a part of me, ingredients that make me up but only two. They’re not going away totally. I can learn to manage them, but they don’t have to define me either or reduce me. There are days I allow them to, and those are the days I feel very defeated by them. I definitely have those times. I am a complex creation though, and that is my triumph. My physicality, my sexuality, my writing, my passion, my love for other people all are testaments to my triumph over the way that anxiety and depression want to stifle me and paralyze me.
What has it taught you about yourself?
My anxiety and depression have taught me that I am vulnerable and strong at the same time. I could be destroyed by them. There are days where I feel the despair and physical pains ruling my body, stopping me from writing, running. There are more days I beat these dark parts of myself and write a sonnet I’m proud of or a short story. It’s taught me that I have to be diligent, purposeful and aware of myself in the living of my life.
Have you found anything helpful in coping with it?
Talking to therapists in the past when I was in therapy has been very helpful.Now, I talk to friends online who are very supportive.Physical activity helps me a lot:running and yes even sex.For me, I think I think too much sometimes.Writing on the other hand is an exploration in a deeper than conscious thinking of these issues.It’s like a subconscious exorcism for me.I require it daily.
Describe a time in which you felt empowered after doing something in spite of the disorder.
Recently, I moved, and I’m close to the state line between Alabama and Florida. I enjoy running and leaving Florida behind just for a bit. Florida is where I’m from, where I’ll die. I feel connected to its geography, the rain and trees, the beach, the wildness of it. This geography has also been the backdrop of my personal horror story, and it may just be a trick of the mind but running away from it for a bit every day feels empowering. And I think tricks of the mind are very useful sometimes in dealing with mental illness, at least for me.
On days when I manage to go on a run, do my writing, do things in despite of a depression that would have me under the covers all day crying or harming myself, I feel very triumphant. I feel hopeful. So that’s what I have learned is that there is hope for evolution, growth and living.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression and feel isolated, reach out to others. Reach out to me. I have been there. I care and will listen. Feeling alone in this is the worst thing, and you are not alone.