Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"destrier" + somebody drop a hat already, I've been crying for hours

I drew a story called "Destrier" and I thought here I would be posting the finished comic, and elaborating on why I'd come to make it in the spirit of someone recovering from something and on an upswing. Thought I'd post it and it would be outside of me and I'd have escaped it. I did that - I wrote out the story of what happened to me and got ready to post the comic once I'd finished drawing it - and then I realized I was lying to myself, even if it were a white one, and immediately stopped. And I might never post that story, but I do still want to write this.

So instead, there will be no lying to anyone in the process. Myself included. And it's one of the hardest things for me to talk about this - which is exactly why I'm going to.

The summer of 2008 was the first worst time of my life. The Bad Summer. I was 20 and I was diagnosed with depression - a word I hate even typing but was unfortunately the truth of the matter, as evidenced by crying for three months straight. By wishing every time I stepped in the shower I'd accidentally topple over and out would go my trouble like a light, by wandering the streets of the small town where I'd spent the first years of my life wondering and deep-down hoping it would be my last because this was no good, I was no good. Exhausted, hollowed-out, a burdenNo goddamn good. 

I told absolutely no one. Somehow I'd been convinced nothing of this sort ever happened to happy, normal people. I'd never been normal in my life, and only ever happy at some seemingly lower, distorted level than my classmates, my family, my friends - so logic followed this horrible feeling I couldn't shake was simply me. Our small town "didn't have" people who were gay and it "didn't have" people with depression. Mental disease and any public discussion of it was utter Greek to those small town folk. Sure, there was gossiping about someone going "nuts," but even if someone was aware of this Greek language, they sure as fuck didn't speak it and would deny ever having met a Greek to keep face, as far as I could tell. No one said a thing otherwise and so I said not a thing as the grip this disease had on me worsened. I curled into it, too. I was this weird, short, half-gay, bookish kid going to school in the cities to learn cartoons and who also cried at night, a lot. Convinced this was my story and that was simply dyed-in-the-wool me and ashamed of it, I let it eat me up. And I still do to this day, to be honest.

In August of 2008, I was curled up in a tiny closet and crying as terribly as I ever had on the phone. My friend told me to go get help, and then ended the call. And, after surviving another long bout of sobbing, I did. With a tiny, tiny kernel of courage it was hard to hold on to, but I did. Thumbed down to "River Falls Clinic" in my contacts (which took a damn long time to even program into the phone, being so terrified) and made the most awkward appointment of my life.

Without telling another soul (are you sensing a theme, here?) I drove myself to that clinic. Feeling like a balloon full of cold vomit, waiting for something to accidentally pop me and spill the smelly remains everywhere. The waiting room was even empty except for me, even, and I sat against the far wall while I waited to be called in. The nurse walked a big, slow, silent line over to me holding that stupid clipboard with that little questionnaire. I swear, a crummy indie-movie director couldn't have staged it better. At the time, it was too frightening to be anything close to funny.

But I got the medication. Still, no words were said between me and my friends, between me and my family about this really, really obvious thing I was going through. Only a few days later I took my new bottle of pills back to school for my sophomore year of college. And I took those pills. Faithfully, at first, always without a word to my roommates, and I put that bottle next to my pens at my desk - the same desk I draw at, still.

And after taking them for a few months - away from small town, away from the people I'd never felt I could really be myself with, away from people who said cartoons with a half-sneer or perplexed shock - I felt better. Then I felt good. I didn't cry at night. Maybe I didn't lay down and bop right into the sleep of the righteous, but, then again, probably I never will. I didn't spend the day waiting for the crying and the empty to come barreling on down, the price is right. I drew a lot. I could be myself, and things were becoming okay.

And then I stopped taking the pills because I was happy and I'd always hated them. Because I always will. Because I wanted to quit being Greek this fucking instant and forget I ever had been and get on with being myself.

The thing about depression - and it's not the noun to describe the mild pang of regret that your status update didn't get likes, or the disappointment that you had a less-than-stellar critique in class - is that it's a disease, a disorder, a thing that happens to you and isn't you and you can't control it. Humanity had been struggling it for longer than you have been and still none of us really understand it and we sure as hell can't control or eradicate it completely. I had it and I still have it. Some years have been easier than others, and for a few, I felt free of it, even as setbacks and stress came my way in stinking heaps. I shook it off and worked through like I didn't know a lick of Greek.

I felt it come back slowly but insistently. It'd been a long year, courting stress at work, home, personally, emotionally. And I didn't just shake it off this time. I couldn't just tell myself I didn't have a legitimate mental disease because I didn't want it. I started crying again like I would at 3AM in the middle of the afternoon. In the morning. Outside the grocery store, at the bank, in the bathroom. Started watching my hands clench obsessively and stewing in my head until I'd stewed away a whole day and crying all night and locking myself away to hide my less-than-normal feelings away from sight. I didn't want anyone to know because I still didn't think it was okay to be this way.

I was terrified to tell a soul. Terrified that even the people closest to me, my dearest friends, could never possibly understand. They'd look at me past the tip of their noses in disgust and turn their heads in rejection of how weak and awful and too-needy I'd proven and then I'd be alone going through this again and I didn't think I could do it twice. In fact, I knew I couldn't. That the idea made me so angry and shockingly cast aside that I wouldn't, if it came down to it.

Now I'm going to try and turn around and cut that shitty religion at which I worship off at its knees, and I'm going to try and tell people. I'm telling you now, as best I can at this point.

This isn't the thing I'm writing to you as some victor or triumphant beacon of inner strength. I don't have the answers in black and white. I don't have it figured out. Sometimes I drop my coffee and I have to go have a breakdown for the rest of the day. There are nights - and late afternoons, too - when I have to cry or drink (not booze mind you but really not any better) myself to sleep or suffer in the dark, chewing myself up inside. I blame humanity, then myself, then my friends, then myself, then the stars, then Norway, then myself, and 'round and 'round the mulberry bush we go. I can't draw and I beat myself up for that, which only feeds my depression and on the cycle goes. People stomp on me and push me around and sometimes I let them and it eats me up, or I lash out and that eats me up, too. I push out goodness when it comes because it hurts too much. It seems to me my therapist diagnoses me with some new "wrongness" every week. Depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, splitting, betrayal trauma. There is broken glass on the floor of my studio the scared, dark part of me still wishes I had the nerve to use - still the idea of putting Night Moves on loop and "slipping over" in the shower haunts me. The terror of those things is crippling.

But now I see that my fear is becoming anger, and that, in turn, will become real hate, soon. Towards myself and towards people who don't deserve it. And I'm only pitying myself if I let myself wallow there - where, were it anyone but myself, I would forcibly yank them out of the depths if it were in my power to do so.

So I have to try to be actually brave and get myself out of that. I'm going to therapy again today. Which terrifies me. Maybe I've got some new diagnosis coming to level me completely, or maybe nothing. Maybe something good will happen and I'll get closer to turning that corner. I'm probably going to have to drive alone to that clinic in River Falls in the near future full of cold vomit and fill out that fucking clipboard again. Which terrifies me. The distinct pleasure of crying in front of a medical professional is probably also going to be mine again. I might learn to not hate having to take meds to feel better, and maybe I never fucking will. Which terrifies me. This is not a resolved story. Which terrifies me.

The fact remains I should try. So I'm telling you and I'm not lying about any of it.


  1. I for one would really like to see your “Destrier” story…I would certainly enjoy anything right now that had some hope at the end of it, because I’m not sure my own life does right now. I’ve carefully read all the comics you’ve posted one night when I couldn’t sleep (which are most nights) and truly appreciate your skill to place such inner truth onto paper. “Houses of the Holy” deserves some kind of award. I deeply appreciated it, not only as a work of art, but as a genuine voice of one person’s soul. And the comic about comic-creators and how they obsess about their work and sometimes live desperate lives: that was another one that was amazing.
    I’m envious of the fact you can actually work on your stuff: I have been unable to do much drawing due to injures that I suffered a few years ago that are getting progressively worse. I think also that being “depressed” about it is also preventing me, though I do continue to write and develop stories I’ve been working on.
    What disturbs me in this culture is the fact that the medical “profession” sees individual aspects of a person’s life as diseases that should be covered up or gotten rid of. I have learned that this is bunk, and that all such things as “depression”, “anxiety”, “phobias” or whatever they pull out of their book of labels are actually legitimate voices from within a person’s soul, and they’re there so we can pay attention to them and where they come from. They are part of the myths that make up our lives.
    You know what a myth is? It isn’t a story that isn’t true: it’s an expression of something that is so real that there is no other way of expressing it than by some metaphor. And this sometimes takes the form of us hurting ourselves, or hiding, or even suppressing our creativity, or being unkind to ourselves in other ways. By trying to “cure” these very real things, I suppose they are being suppressed; which means they’re not likely to just “go away”: at least not forever. And sometimes they burst out of the closet they get crammed into, all of a sudden and all at once.

  2. (continued: blogger wouldn't allow this long comment all at once)
    I want you to know that you are not alone, even though it feels that way and that you feel isolated in the way you feel and “abnormal”. Thoreau once said “the great mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and I think he’s right. Some people just hide it better than others—and others are oblivious. I think people like you and I have the desire to tell our myths, for our own sakes, if for nobody else’s. Maybe that’s how we’ll get through them, like characters living through some story—even a horror story like some of your comics and all the characters I’ve ever created. I cried quite a bit while reading “Houses of the Holy” that one night: see, that’s how real your stories are.
    For myself, I do not put stock in suppressive forms of “therapy” and also I feel that it isn’t very easy to somehow work through one’s issues merely by talking about them. At least that can’t be our only expression. Also, I find society is afraid—that is why they suppress “mentally ill” people, so it makes them feel “safer” and life is predictable for them. That is likely why you feel embarrassed about how you’ve felt and that you haven’t wanted even to tell your friends as you don’t know the reaction. I tell you it is your genuineness as a person that is causing you to go through the things you do. Because you know yourself and your inner creative world is speaking to you. You don’t feel the ways you do for no reason. I only hope you don’t hide those feelings.
    I’ve done a good deal of “experimental living” in my life, which has included living without money for 18 months (on purpose), pretending to be a homeless person and dressing in rags in a major city to feel what it was like, and lots of other things to make me understand society. One time, years ago, I was riding the underground railway and there was a woman sitting opposite me. She was holding a rose. You could see her struggling, trying to keep herself from crying in public. I was with a roommate. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I started crying so everybody in the train was staring at me. My roommate said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “That lady wants to cry so badly but she’s afraid to do so on here—and if she won’t cry, by god I’ll cry for her.” She started crying then.
    “I’m so proud of you,” I said.
    Yesterday I was sitting disconsolate on a bench thinking about giving up and this young woman named Morgan came up and sat with me and I told her about my life. She genuinely wanted to listen and be kind and helpful to me, even though we’d never met. I guess that gave me some hope: that some stranger actually cared about my life and fate. She asked me why I keep going, as I feel so bad. “I don’t know,” I told her, “I think it’s because I have stories to tell—about my life and what it’s meant to me—the horrors and the beautiful things. It’s all me really. It would be terrible if nobody heard that; so I go on so they can hear it and so I can tell them, too.”