Words About Nothing

Content warning: Depression, references to self injury. If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach content which you find distressing, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

I used to write all the time.

I’ve never really been good at it, but sometimes it feels like the only thing keeping me alive.

I feel like writing the most when my depression is at its worst, but the more depressed I am the more I hate what I write. It feels impossible to write anything about being depressed and miserable without sounding completely cliche. What could I possibly have to say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times by the hundreds upon hundreds of depressed writers who have already tried to capture this dark beast and pin it to paper?

I have to remind myself that I’m writing for myself, not an audience. I’m writing because it keeps my mind moving from one line to the next. It keeps me breathing, keeps me from falling into the pit of misery in the back of my mind, keeps me from giving in to the urge to drink myself to sleep or start cutting again. I haven’t cut myself in years, but I think about it from time to time. I’m thinking about it now, and if I’m honest with myself, I never really stopped the behavior entirely. I just replaced with more subtle ways of injuring myself. The behavior that started before the cutting – this frantic scratching, like I’m trying to claw my way out of my own skin, which leaves red oozing patches that turn into scars that look more like birth marks than old wounds – decreased in frequency but never stopped. It was never a controlled behavior; I never quite managed to take control of it enough to make it stop.

I don’t really have anything to say. I don’t have anything to write about. I’m just typing. It’s just words. I’m just moving across the screen because I don’t have the energy to move myself across the room, let alone out of the house. There are things I could be doing to help myself, I know, but I just don’t have the energy. I don’t have the will. It’s better to be writing it out than doing nothing, though. At least it’s something, some kind of thought, some sort of motion. Maybe it will help me build some kind of momentum, get me close enough to the edge of the hole I’ve fallen into to start clawing my way back out.

Depression is a pit. It’s a pit filled with nothingness. I can fill a page with words, I can spell them correctly and arrange them properly and use words that have richness and texture to them but the more substantial my writing is the less true it becomes, because depression isn’t a novel full of heaviness and misery. Depression is a book made of blank page after blank page. It’s less the presence of something awful, and more the absence of every good and beautiful thing. It’s emptiness, and filling a page with words about it isn’t as true as that empty page. It’s nothingness, and all the words for nothingness are less descriptive than no words at all.

Just imagine this is a blank screen that would take you weeks, maybe months, of scrolling to reach its end. That’s all this really is, and that would be a much better depiction of this thing I’m trying to describe. Just imagine all that nothingness, because it would be truer than all these words about nothing.

That’s all this really is. Words about nothing.

Nothing.

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Depression through the year

Content warning: descriptions of depression symptoms, including references to suicidal ideation. If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach content which you find distressing, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

Some things are constant, especially those symptoms which are more tangential to the depression itself: the nightmares, certain anxieties, and my susceptibility to stress triggers. Some things will always bring down my mood and make my depression flare up: drinking alcohol, altering my sleep habits, neglecting to eat regularly. There’s a certain rhythm to my depression overall, though; there’s a pattern to when different symptoms are most likely to occur. It doesn’t come and go seasonally (it’s MDD, not SAD) but it does change with the seasons.

I always expect summer to be easier. I tell myself every year that the sun and the warmth will make me feel better. It’ll be easier to get out, and I’ll be more active, and it’ll be fun, and I won’t feel so depressed if I’m out doing things, right? It’s a lie and I know it, but it’s a lie I feed myself every year, and the denial rises up around me like steam as the summer gets hotter and more humid. The season carries with it the anniversaries of traumas, and as I approach them I find myself increasingly dissociated, and with increasing frequency, making the denial possible. I stop attributing things I know are symptoms to the depression, and start ignoring them – and it’s hard to practice self care when you’ve convinced you don’t need it. I become determined to feel something – anything – and it usually comes at the cost of my health. I stay up late, because it’s summer, even though I know my mood crashes if I don’t regulate my sleep habits. I drink, because it’s summer and we’re at a party, even though I know alcohol makes my depression flare up. I do any number of things I’m likely to regret,  because I’m so desperate to feel, even though I know the regret will cost me more than I can possibly gain in feel.

By the end of summer, I’m a sleep-deprived mess made up of questionable substances, poor nutrition, bad decisions and raw recklessness. I tell myself that summer wasn’t as great as I was hoping, but it’s okay; I’ll get back on track and this year will be better and I won’t make the same mistakes next summer. I realize months have gone by without my noticing so I get to work grounding myself, and as I get there I become aware of just how low my mood has really been. My physical health improves but I don’t really feel any better. If anything I actually feel how badly I felt all along; there’s a relief that I can feel at all, but at same time I feel worse. As the temperatures drop and winter creeps closer, dread because to rise up from somewhere inside that pit of feelings that I’d been avoiding. I hate winter – I hate the cold, I hate snow, I hate icy roads and frosted-over windows and frozen ground and the sounds of snow plows and cracking trees – and knowing that it’s approaching weakens my determination to fight off the depression I’d just finally stopped denying.

Then winter comes, and I stop fighting all together. I stop caring at all. The denial and desperation freeze over like the lakes and rivers around me, and all that’s left is numbness. I know the terrible feelings are still there, a little ways below the surface, but I don’t care. I can’t feel them. I can’t feel anything. The depression is always there, but winter is when I’m most prone to giving in to it. I sleep constantly, eat rarely, and have more of a struggle doing basic things like showering and laundry and dishes. I’m always depressed, but in the winter I look depressed, and in the winter I don’t care that I’m depressed. I’m frozen in place – cold, but calm. The numbness gets me through the holiday season; I want to enjoy the holidays, but being presentable is exhausting and if I’m not presentable I’m constantly reminded that I’m surrounded by people who try to love me but don’t know how to do it unconditionally. At least I don’t really feel it, no matter how it plays out.

Winter is when I look the worst, but the beginning of spring is really when my depression is really the most dangerous. When spring comes and I start thawing, feelings start bubbling up to the surface and create chaos. I start having thoughts again – most of them dark and shame filled. I realize I’ve just spent the last several months doing nothing, and the thoughts creep in. “You’re a waste of resources, a burden on the people you love and the world around you,” my depression whispers. “Your house is disgusting and you can’t even shower regularly, how do you expect to do anything with your life?” it grumbles. “It is never going to get better” becomes my depression’s catch phrase of choice, echoing in my head until I believe it – and once I start believing it, the thoughts of suicide take over. They continue until the temperature is staying steadily above freezing and the birds are back, and then they give way to strange, vaguely paranoid ideas. I think I’m being spied on, controlled, lied to. I start believing that everyone I interact with must despise me as much as I despise myself. I imagine leaving my entire life behind and starting from scratch, as if abandoning my life would somehow erase my past. The franticness of my thoughts rises with the temperatures until summer hits, when I begin dissociating from my wild thoughts and become preoccupied chasing anything that might break up the numbness.

This time of year, where fall is beginning to fade and winter is getting close, is weird for me. I still experiencing my fall bout of low mood and emotional distress, but my rapidly vanishing energy and the way household tasks are piling up tells me the numbness will be coming on soon. I’m trying to pep talk myself into doing something – anything – in the hopes that I’ll be able to build up enough momentum to get a few more things done and taken care of before winter really gets here, but it’s not really working. I’m close enough to my winter phase to lack motivation, but still enough in my fall phase to hate myself for it. I’m dreading the cold and the increasing snowfall, but in a way I’m looking forward to the numbness. Right now I’m feeling hopeless, and in many ways being hopeless is a lot more painful and more dangerous than being numb.

I’m Still Here

So, I’ve been offline since some time in July. It’s been a bumpy couple of months. August was full of a variety of family-related events, and my anxiety about them was consuming me, so I decided to take some time alone to focus on self-care in the hopes that it would make things go more smoothly for me. I find when I’m “unplugged” it’s easier for me to acknowledge and process my emotions; I sometimes get the urge to share things in a public way when I’m upset, to a degree that I often regret (whether or not I should), so removing that possibility reduces the “risk” of really experiencing and recognizing what I’m feeling. The last few weeks I’ve been in recovery mode, processing how things went and how I feel about it. My depression has still been flaring up lately, but I’m at least back to the point where the benefits of interacting outweigh the anxiety I feel about doing it. I’m more afraid of giving in to the silence now than I am of what I might say.

When I speak up, I tend to be afraid that I’m going to go too far or say too much and end up in a position I can’t handle. It feels like I might just explode, leaving nothing of myself behind. But I’ve been speaking up, in bits and pieces, in different ways, in bursts over the last year or so – and I’m still here.

When I stay silent, I become afraid that I might just fade away and disappear. It feels like I’m not being myself, and sometimes I feel like if I stop “being” myself, I might stop existing altogether. But I’ve taken time to be silent, when I can and when I need to – and I’m still here.

I’m still here.

My “real” social media accounts have been narrowed down to the people I really don’t want to lose. My “friends” are down to family and people I would (and do) genuinely miss, people who I believe genuinely care about me and would (or do) miss me too, and I rarely check these accounts unless I have a specific reason for doing so. Even with this limited number of people and small amount of time, I end up seeing something upsetting almost every time I log in. I hold on to the hope that by continuing to gradually exposed them to new information, maybe I’ll make some kind of difference and maybe they’ll begin to understand, but I often wonder if I’m just wasting my time and energy. I know it’s hurting me, to a degree that is probably unhealthy. But I’m still here.

I see posts that are bigoted and hateful towards all kinds of LGBT people. I wonder: Do you know you’re talking about me? Would it make a difference if you did? How can you not tell? How have you never noticed? I feel invisible.  When I try to confront these comments, my identity is usually dismissed. I become the exception – “that’s not what I was talking about,” “you’re not like them.”  My gender variance is belittled and dismissed, my marriage becomes a weapon – a means of erasing the complexities of my orientation. Who I am is replaced with an image of who they believe I am or want me to be. But I’m still here.

People post jokes and make comments about mental illness that are untrue and say disparaging things about mentally ill people and use mental illnesses as insults and make flippant remarks and jokes about suicide. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I call out specifics and point out falsehoods and mention my own mental health struggles and explain that I can’t afford to take suicide lightly and have to protect myself from people who casually say things like “go kill yourself.”
Sexism and anti-feminism is as pervasive in my own feeds as it is everywhere else on the internet. Disgust is expressed for anything that might be perceived as “liberal.” Religious bigotry and condemnation is a constant presence. I’ve posted enough feminist and “liberal” content that it must be completely obvious that I fall into those categories, and I can’t imagine there are many (if any) people left who are unaware that I’ve left the church. Apparently these things are either being deliberately ignored, or these people care even less about me than I thought. But I’m still here.

I’m still here.

I’m still occupying this uncomfortable, unhealthy space. I’m still knowingly permitting people who hurt me to enter my personal sphere where they can do more harm. I’m still looking for a way to balance my desire to try to speak up for the sake of people still in this circle who feel alone and don’t have a way out (such young LGBT members or people who are financially dependent on members of the group) with my desire to protect myself and my happiness. It’s draining, and it isn’t an easy process, but I do think I’m beginning to find that balance. As I get stronger and healthier and construct a new support system, it gets easier to cope with the awfulness and easier to speak up in spite of the responses I know I might get. Over time, the people who are just plain hateful and not merely ignorant will become easier to recognize and separate myself from – and the more I put myself out there, the faster it’ll probably happen. Eventually I’ll find supportive friends and leave the hateful people behind and eventually this period of time will just be a memory and not an ongoing struggle. And until I get there, I’ll just keep reminding myself that I know I can get through this because in spite of it all, I still exist. I am still alive. I’m still here.

Fear

I’m constantly afraid of hurting people.
I’m afraid of speaking because I’m afraid what I say is going to hurt someone.
When I do speak, I feel guilty and mull on it for hours (or days), thinking I must have said something wrong, wishing I could take it back.
When I don’t speak, I’m worried that my silence will be hurtful. I feel obligated to do whatever I can to help, and I know how much it hurts to feel alone.
I fear not saying enough words. I fear saying the wrong words.
I fear, all the time.

I tell myself that nobody’s perfect, that holding myself to a standard of perfectionism will always ultimately do more harm than good. I tell myself that we all have to take care of ourselves, and that I’m not forcing anyone to listen to me or spend time with me. I tell myself that I am doing the best I can, that I am in the process of healing, that I am having to learn things now that many people learned growing up and that this isn’t my fault. I tell myself that I am getting better and I just need to be patient with myself.
I tell myself all these things, but none of it works. None of it matters. I’m still afraid

I feel guilty for existing. I feel like a parasite, sucking up resources and giving back so little. I feel guilty for feeling badly when I am aware of how easy my life has been compared to so many. I am trying so hard to be better than the person I was taught to be, but I am overwhelmed. I have so much to learn, and I feel like I am doing so much damage day by day that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to learn enough to stop it. I’m sorry for so much, and then I’m sorry for being sorry, because why am I telling anyone that I;m sorry? Why am I not just being better?

I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I just want to get better. I just want to talk.

I feel hurt by the stigma I constantly run into, but it hurts the most because I’ve internalized it. I know it isn’t true, but that doesn’t make me feel better. I know that it’s largely the depression talking, making it harder to cope with and address what I’m reacting to, but it doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t make me any less afraid.

I know to be loving to other people, you have to be loving to yourself.
I’m trying. I’m trying.
But I don’t.

I’ve been told how strong I am, how brave I am. I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel brave.
Just afraid.

On leaving

Trigger Warning: Spiritual abuse, references to sexual abuse (not explicit)
If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you are reading and reach a point which is triggering for you, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

Nearly the entire time I was a member of the church I was raised in, I experienced a difficult to describe discomfort, an aching inside, and I felt alone in that feeling.
After I left, I discovered I had never been alone at all. I’ve heard from people who wanted to leave, but cannot risk losing their families and the community of the church. I’ve heard from people who have objections to teachings and attitudes within the church but cannot express them without risking being ridiculed and shamed (or excommunicated). I’ve heard people express the same vague feeling of something being wrong, the same quiet hidden pain, that I felt for years.

I left because I felt like I had no choice. I took the teachings of the church very seriously, because I believed very passionately that the Bible was the literal word of God, as the church taught, and I believed all of the church’s teachings were in harmony with the Bible up until the day I decided to withdraw my membership.

One of the church’s teachings revolved around a sort of extreme “closed communion.” “Closed communion” means communion is only offered to members of the church. To become a member of this church, you had to formally profess that you were in complete agreement with all church doctrine (based on the church’s “fellowship” doctrine). There is no room for disagreement, and no gray areas; you are either in or out. Most members were born into the church, attended a church-run elementary school, and “confirmed” in conjunction with graduating from 8th grade – meaning, most of us made this formal profession of agreement between the ages of 12 and 14, and are expected to hold on to the exact same beliefs for the rest of our lives because we essentially made a promise before this whole group of people and our entire families to do so. It’s a lot of pressure for a young person, during an already difficult time of life naturally filled with growth and change – but while everything else about your life is developing, you’re told that the development of your religious beliefs must stop here. No more growth, no more change, no evolution of thought – your beliefs are to remain fixed at that point, at that age.
After being confirmed, I went on to the church’s high school, and while there I was treated terribly and terrible things happened, and nobody did anything. When we tried to speak up or reach out for help, we were usually ignored. If we refused to be ignored and kept trying to speak, we were warned about committing “slander” and were ordered to simply accept the authority of the faculty and were accused of lying or being bitter and were doubted at every turn and sometimes we were blatantly lied about and misrepresented. Any implication that a faculty member had made a mistake or done something wrong was simply unacceptable and responded to as if it were downright impossible, and then turned around on the student in the name of “giving the benefit of the doubt” and “putting the best construction on everything.” It became clear that even when there was absolutely no doubt about a situation in the mind of a student, and even if that student was supported by witnesses or evidence beyond reasonable doubt, the student would still be doubted; we had been taught that all people aught to be given the benefit of the doubt, but for some reason that didn’t apply to us. Either we had been lied to, or weren’t really seen as people, or perhaps both. When there was no room to create this doubt, things were quickly hushed up and swept under rugs in the name of “forgiveness.” Forgive and forget – or get out. To a teen whose entire family was “in,” getting out wasn’t truly a viable option, similarly to how not being confirmed was not truly a viable option. We were fed strings of false choices, and by the time we reached adulthood, must of us had come to believe that truly were no choices. Believe, agree, submit and be saved – or be shunned and damned. With no experience in the outside world, and without any experience forming relationships that weren’t mediated by the church and its rules, there is even less of a choice for those deepest within the church. Being a member and not rocking the boat for them isn’t a matter of belief, but an issue of survival.

I knew it was wrong. I felt the wrongness of it so deeply that it made me ill sometimes. It took me several more years, however, to see this wrongness as a matter of belief. I thought if I held on until adulthood, when there would no longer be some conceivable motive to invent, then people would believe me. I thought if I held on, even though I couldn’t help myself or protect my friends, I could at least make things better for the children that would come after me. So I held on – and nothing changed. I am still accused of lying, or exaggerating, or of “misunderstanding.” I’m told that I am bitter, that I am vengeful. I am told things that I know are simply untrue, and I am not given the benefit of the doubt. The best construction is not put on me. Still, I am not fully human. After several years of this, I began to realize that there was a fundamental difference of belief at play: I believed that the way were treated was morally wrong, and the church did not. I believed that every student was a person deserving of rights and worthy of being listened to and heard, and the church did not. I believed that I was fully human, and the church did not.

I didn’t know how to fully express this, but the realization crept up on me and started eating away at me. I began rereading the Bible in an effort to find a verse that I could point to, and scouring church documents for a doctrinal point that I could highlight, in the hopes that I would find something which would encapsulate this wrongness. I began realizing that it couldn’t be done – not because I was wrong, but because the wrongness I felt was not in the doctrine or the misinterpretation of any individual passage. I was in the behaviors, attitudes, and dynamics of the group. I was discovering the idea that right doctrine does not automatically guarantee good behavior, but I didn’t have words for it yet.
The thing which finally gave me the clear logical justification I felt I needed to leave the church was a belief I had always found fairly trivial: the belief that the papacy is the antichrist. I had understood this teaching to be a common belief, but did not realize it was considered formal doctrine by church leadership. When a church leader informed my husband (who was participating in “adult education classes” at the time) that this was technically official doctrine, it all collapsed for me. The Bible simply doesn’t say that. You can make that argument, sure, but the Bible does not actually say “the pope is the antichrist.” It’s just not in there, and to realize that this was a belief I was supposedly expressing wholehearted belief in by participating in communion – I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t express this as my reason for leaving, because I knew it wasn’t the real reason, but it reassured me that the church’s doctrine clearly was not perfect, and if all else I had learned there was correct, I was morally obligated by those teachings to separate myself because of this one thing – because I didn’t (and don’t) believe that the Bible teaches that the papacy is the antichrist. My motivation for wanting to leave was how deeply bothered I was that mistreatment of students at the high school was not taken seriously, and was often explicitly denied and ignored. I saw this problem as an issue for the entire synod, because it is also the location of the college and seminary where all of the teachers and pastors are trained. Any problems there present a problem for the entire synod, because any toxic issues there will likely be picked up by the teachers and pastors in training there,  and from there are likely to spread throughout the entire church body over time. I had often described the school as “the beating heart” of the whole organization, and up until I implied that this heart might be diseased, the analogy had never been contested. I e-mailed my pastor and stated that I was withdrawing my membership based on concerns of sexual abuses which were being ignored and covered up, and for my own well-being, and that I did not want to be contacted by and would not be meeting with any church officials to discuss this decision.

I was done. I was freeIt felt like I was escaping, and I often still describe it this way. I’ve spoken to enough people who feel trapped and unable to leave the church to conclude that it really was  more of an escape than simply walking away. People have called me strong and brave for leaving, but I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel brave. I feel fortunate. I feel downright lucky that I had experiences with the outside world that showed me that there were better things out there (even in churches with virtually identical teachings), and that I met people who taught me what it feels like to be genuinely loved and supported, rather than dominated and controlled. Part of why I still believe the existence of some sort of god-concept at all is because more than anything else, I feel I was blessed with those experiences, and blessed with that last nudge out those doors. I feel more “saved” now than I ever did there.

Oh goodness, I’ve started a blog

I started a blog.
And then I linked to a bunch of other blogs in a post relating to a still-ongoing issue.
This scares me a little, because I feel like I might be drawing attention to myself and I still feel like I’m not entitled to such attention, and I feel like I did that maybe a little too soon for how empty this blog is, but I suppose you have to start somewhere, right?
I’m panicking a bit. I’ve been withdrawn from the world for a long time now, and I keep thinking that I’m ready to “get back out there,” but the possibility that I may have just stepped “out there” so suddenly is terrifying to me. I’m second-guessing myself. And now I’m rambling.

But this is exactly why I started a blog – to give myself a place to do this, to go through this process, that isn’t directly tied to my name and my face and won’t draw the immediate attention of people I’m not sure I want in or out of my life. It’s all such a mess right now, and I’m not sure of anything.

All I know is I have this intense feeling that I am meant to use my experiences for something. I know from reading what other people have shared that finding stories that match your own, even when rambly and emotionally charged and poorly written, can be incredibly healing and can make you feel less alone at times when you feel so alone that it feels like it might kill you. I want to “pay it forward,” to put my experiences out there and help other people feel less alone too, but I still feel like a such a mess. I have a hard time really believing I could actually be helpful somehow.

I guess this is just a warning: this blog is still very new and basically empty, I’m kind of a mess, and everything terrifies me at this point.
But I’ll include a promise: there will be much more to come, I will get better (as will the writing), and as frightened as I am, whoever you are reading this (if anyone reads this), I’m thrilled to have you here.