What a timely topic, in light of Robin Williams' tragic passing and the chaos in Ferguson and more awful news in the world which I'm sure are happening but I refuse to even go and look, because they are likely to lock me in depression. Depression. The dingy surly greyness sullied by black smudges of an almost irresistible desire to quit it. Quit it all together. Why live? The world is such an awful cruel place. We all seem to be shouting on every corner how we want to love and be loved, and at the same time carry guns and find every bit of an excuse to use them "to protect our freedom" or whatever the mantra is. "I"m protecting my manicured lawn." "Don't fucking trespass on my property." Don't do this, don't do that. Why does this concern artists so much? Why do we get so wound up seeing things like this happening? You know why? I'll explain.
Artists are extremely sensitive people. You might call us crazy, or ADD, or bipolar, or whatever psychological disorder is in fashion in the media currently. Why? Why do we appear this way? We are normal, except for one thing.
WE HAVE NO SKIN.
We are raw. Where a normal human being sees one thing, we see thousands. Where a passersby will see an abandoned paper cup crushed and thrown in the gutter, we see every shade of color playing the shadows, iridescent, incandescent, with ghosts and undertones of blue and indigo and a tinge of violet. We notice the crease of the paper, the flaking off of the gluey coating that has just enough shine to reflect the shape of the building above. We see perhaps a whole world hidden in this cup, an entire universe, and we stop and we kneel and we gaze and we think and we have worlds spinning in our head, and we're inspired to create and to tell this story to the world, be it a photo or a drawing or a painting or a dance or a novel. We grew up forever ridiculed for this at times debilitating sensitivity by those who didn't have it, those who thought because we're different we must be nuts. Madness in general is a fantastic concept to hang on anyone who seems a bit off from those who fear, who don't see. Don't hear. Don't comprehend.
Writers are vulnerable. Writers are vulnerable to everything, because they see and hear and smell and taste and touch and take in EVERYTHING. The world is magnified in their eyes like in the eyes of a 3 year old, no matter their age. It's precisely this ability to see an overwhelming abundance in everything that allows us to create stories. We imbibe richness from stuff around us, be it a sudsy sponge sitting lonely in the kitchen sink or a bird perched on a branch of a tree or the rumble of a passing truck. And we feel 10 times more than normal people. We see someone in pain and we're that person.
This is one of the reasons I don't read news anymore. I hear the most important news from friends and I take it in sparingly and only when I know I can handle it (I'll be able to handle more in the future, as I practice growing a thick skin). I have learned that I simply cannot be open to all of the world's pain and function as an artist. As an artist, as a writer, my job is to bring happiness, to give joy to those who read my stories, to elevate them, to lift them out of this gunk and nightmare of our daily existence. This is what you pay me for. You pay me money, real money, to give you a little break. To bring you beauty. To hold your hand. To tell you, look at this magnificent story, magic is real, you can make magic, you can dream and hope and believe and love and live. Now, to be able to do this, I have to be in a place where I can create. And for that, I need to protect myself.
Just yesterday, when I logged into Twitter, I saw the #Ferguson hashtag and started reading it, and as a result my mood plummeted and I got sucked into a conversation about race after stating that I'm skin color blind. People accused me of naiveté and dangerous idealism and said I have this privilege because I'm white. It made me smirk inwardly. Privilege? PRIVILEGE? You're talking to me about privilege? In Russia you can't even speak up about what police is doing. Journalists get right out shot. Investigations go into dead ends. Fuck, there are no investigations! In America YOU have the privilege to be able to talk about this. I do too. This is why I'm here, and this is why I will speak up more and more to have my voice heard. But what happened yesterday nearly got me depressed. I was supposed to be writing. Instead, I have spent hours tweeting and responding and then felt devastated because I couldn't sleep. This week I'm already exhausted. If I didn't learn that an artist's visibility comes at a price, meaning, I need to grow a thick skin and ignore this, I would have plunged into depression. You know why?
Because the horror of living is worse than the terrifying idea of taking your life.
Writers write because they will explode and implode and burst and catch fire and plain cease to exist if they won't have an outlet to share everything they feel. And like any human being, after they have poured out all that which was tangled in them, they want to share it with the world, to connect. And if they don't hear from the world, the pain of this vacuum or lack of connection, is 10 times, fuck, 100 TIMES WORSE to a writer or to an artist, as opposed to someone whose brain is not wired for creativity. The desire to take your life overrides everything else. There seems to be no reason to continue to exist. It's even harder to reach out in these moments (as we all always encourage those who are depressed, me including), because there doesn't seem to be any point.
How, tell me, how is it possible to continue creating, continue giving people love and happiness when you are mired in the twisted darkness of your own mind, when the ache is unbearable and the only logical exit is to quit it?
People. Only other people can help. Someone's encouraging word or touch. Love. Someone's understanding. It's all we can do, encourage each other, love each other. Put down our guns and stop fighting fights. We're not enemies. We're all in it together. And yet, even when there are people loving you, in the most horrific moment you might push them away. Robin Williams had a loving family, as did countless others, like Philip Seymour Hoffman whose death gutted me. Having love and admiration in his life didn't stop Robin Williams from hanging himself. It didn't stop many many writers from taking their lives. What can we do?
Talk about it.
Share your stories about it.
Break the stigma and the shame associated with the topic of mental illness.
There is no shame in having cancer, why is there shame in having depression? Why is it seen as something of a weakness or lack of spirit or morale or whatever the fuck you want to call it? Only by talking about it can we change it. So, I ask you, take a moment and talk about depression. Write a blog post about it, share. Tweet it, Facebook it, whatever. Let those others, who can't speak, know that they're not alone. Extend a hand, wait, patiently wait, let them hold on to you and pull them out, carefully, so as not to spook them, into the light. People did it for me, I'm doing it for others, and now I'm asking you to do the same. Together, we can change this trend.