The Difference Between Being Careful and Being Free: Who Am I Without Depression?

It was a Thursday. I was wearing leggings as pants. Things were strange.

I felt an overwhelming urge to run, as I always did when the elevator doors were about to kiss each other closed. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk. It was more about the way the psychologist stared at me like there was a pickle growing out of my chin. She announced that we would be spending the hour together painting our feelings. (What she meant by this was that I would paint and she would sit behind me cooing softly.)

“Fantastic,” I said, recalling the week we made a collage of my happy place. The idea was that I would take it out and look at it in the most desperate of moments. This would have been fine if I had known what said happy place would look like, but I didn’t, so I cut and pasted pictures of flowery meadows, soft kittens and chicken parmesan. Things were strange.

I dipped my brush in crimson paint. She asked me if I was angry. Her words were delicate porcelain and I did not want to break them. I told her that I liked the colour red. Things were strange.

The day I decided not to see her anymore was also the day I concluded that art was overrated. I was tired of feeling like a lab rat with a paintbrush, and besides, I had more important things to do, like drink smoothies beneath my duvet of misery. I banished the term ‘artist’ from my resume for the next 6 years. Things were definitely strange.

About 10 months ago, I told my new therapist (who doesn’t treat me like a dolphin with an oven mitt) that despite all of the personal discoveries I’d made, depression seemed to be moving in and making itself comfortable while renting rooms to anxiety and insatiable boredom.

“Well, if we don’t fill the spaces inside of us with things we’d like to feel, other shit moves in. It’s not the good shit, either.”

“You’re losin’ me, P.”

“What do you do when you’re not busy applying the skills you learn in here?”

“I thought they were the whole point.”

“No, balance is the point. Do you know how to have fun?”

I was almost insulted. It felt as if she were insinuating that I was a juice box in the plastic cooler on the beach of life. Who was this broad to tell me I wasn’t Pina Colada mix?! Like clockwork, she lined up to throw one of her exhausting and impressive curveballs of truth.

“You are fun. I can see that from here. Do you know this? What is the difference between being careful and being free?”

I didn’t have an answer to that. I went home that evening and mulled over just what it was that I wanted to feel instead of this ever-present numbness. I recalled the way it felt to have joy ripple through my stomach and crawl into my heart. It’s a very specific feeling; somewhere between wanting to collapse into hearty laughter and the urge to puke a little.

When I was young, I noticed this every day. The feeling fluttered by whenever it happened to be sunny and stormy at the same time. It settled on my shoulders as I set a new record for jump rope. It reached for me every time my favourite song would play over the radio in our minivan. Can you imagine how much joy I must have known during a time when every song was my favourite?

I thought a lot about what kind of person I would have to become to feel like this again. What I could have used in those moments was advice from my 9-year-old self; I had to know what she would do. Somehow I’m certain; it is not this.

This thinking before living. This concern for the stain on my shirt that I am pretty sure everyone can see. This filtering and editing of my thoughts before they are pretty enough for paper.

I don’t have time to wonder how different my life might be if on that Thursday, in those leggings, with that therapist I had said “Yes, I’m very angry.” I don’t have time, but I spend it anyway. I forgive myself for this every day.

I forgive myself every time I pluck the wrong string. I forgive myself when my eyebrows come out more RuPaul than Cara D. I forgive myself in the many moments I am tempted to say “I’m not an artist,” and instead blow the idea away; a spore on a dandelion.

I guess what I mean is that I’m not a traveling hippie, and I’m not a college grad. I still don’t know deadlines, but I get a lot of sleep and I’m slowly becoming more familiar with fun. Things are stranger than ever, and I’m still okay.

(You will be too.)