Depression seldom appears out of the blue.
Instead, it worms its way into our life little by little, encroaches upon our joy until we’re no longer able to experience it. Slowly, our technicolor world fades to gray.
Sometimes, even the sounds that used to energize or comfort us become unbearable as listening to music becomes a source of pain.
Bar for muzak in supermarkets and public places, I spent five years steeped in all-encompassing silence. Or indeed languages, which — to a multilingual European — was as close to being deaf and mute as you could get.
With hindsight, it’s no surprise my writing voice left me along with my ability to think as illness pared my existence down to bodily functions. And reluctant ones at that. Sleep disappeared for days on end, digestion became a nightmare, my skin turned so pale it made me look like a translucent baby mouse.
Reading kept my ailing mind on life support but I often did battle with the page when text turned into a series of characters without meaning. Staring at the same paragraph for hours on end as the letters danced in front of my eyes was torture and very unsettling. And yet I submitted to it every single day because language has always been my raison d’être.
I knew that if I lost words, my vocation would be gone forever; I have no idea who I am without it.
For five years, any attempt to reframe my narrative failed, such was the magnitude of my illness.
The only way I was able to start getting back on my feet was by compartmentalizing and approaching issues one at a time. This means dissecting everything and not letting go until I’ve understood exactly what I’m dealing with.
This is a painstaking and drawn out process that has been ongoing since July 2018, when I put pen to paper again for the first time in five years.
Progress is slow. So slow that on my least upbeat days I wonder if I’ll ever be done, despite the fact that my current life bears little resemblance to what it was last year. The problem is that I still haven’t been able to access therapy due to lack of means so I’ve been bootstrapping mental wellness, somehow.
Do or die, in short.
Thankfully, I was able to reactivate the editorial habits with which I used to earn a living as a journalist before depression struck. My sense of ethics is still intact, and I’ve managed to remain consistently productive through sheer will although it took me a while.
Journalism is actually a lot easier than writing about my person; this involves a level of disclosure I’m still uncomfortable with. While I do get personal, it’s always in the spirit of service and to humanize universal predicaments. My copy is never gratuitously voyeuristic nor does it exist to elicit sympathy. Whether it resonates or not isn’t something I can’t influence; all I can do is dig deep to try and get people to think, feel, and question their assumptions.
My goal is to bring to the fore issues that are so taboo they’re seldom talked about, such as the reality of chronic mental illness. Or the marital resentment that can ensue. Or failed immigration. Or domestic abuse against children.
Attitudes won’t change and societal progress won’t happen unless we put our heads together.
Writing is an efficient way to get out of our head, gain some critical distance, and connect with others.
The advantage of the internet over traditional print is that the internet talks back and has no qualms about engaging. Newspaper readers, meanwhile, seldom bother and when they do ferret out your contact details to pen a letter, it’s not always helpful.
In that sense, the internet is much kinder so long as you approach the topics you tackle with utmost respect for human dignity. Yours of course and that of those you write about, refraining from dehumanizing anyone for clicks and bucks, not even yourself. Self-deprecation is an art and a very endearing one when done with gentleness, grace, and compassion. However, brutal self-loathing doesn’t belong on the page for the simple reason it might send someone already at risk over the edge.
With visibility comes great responsibility and writers have a duty of care toward their readership.
This isn’t optional but at the heart of service writing because writing is never self-serving. That’d be journaling, or even marketing if you’re into this bizarre trend that has humans build “personal brands” as if they were products on shelves.
The internet is also a good place to interact with those who hold different opinions from ours. So long as we’re prepared to set our ego aside and listen with attention, we all stand to learn something. As populism gains ground on both sides of the Atlantic, isolationism is a real risk for many countries, not least the US and the UK so it has never been more urgent to do so. Politics in invariably personal as “polis” is society, i.e. something that concerns and involves each and every one of us.
“What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly, represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is the sort we intend,” wrote Tim Berners-Lee — the British computer scientist who invented the world wide web — in Weaving The Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web.
Writing online is an inherently social pursuit.
We write to and for people, never at them.
Writing online is how I was able to break free from the shackles of isolation that incapacitated me for five years and how I was able to come back to Europe. It’s also helping me support myself in a modest way so I can remain by my family’s side as my stepmom undergoes further treatment for Stage IV cancer.
And writing online has introduced me to people who have upended my life, changed the way I approach my craft, and even led me to explore other forms of writing. Those people are the flashlight that’s been helping me recover what makes me me and grow a little stronger and more resilient every day.
Attention and presence are the greatest, most empowering gifts we can bestow upon a fellow human.
Armed with a forgiving, gentle, and hopeful perspective on life, those kindred spirits systematically call into question the self-destructive patterns I need to unlearn and hold my hand while I work it out myself. And I do the same for them as all good relationships are mutually empowering, never transactional.
No one ever goes through life unscathed.
We’re all fallen creatures but we’re far stronger and more resilient when we open up and stick together on and off the page.
We are the internet.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.