I wrote a longish post on Facebook last night that’s gotten waaaay more likes, comments and shares than anything else I’ve ever written.
Apparently, I hit a nerve.
So I thought I’d share it with you all, too.
NOTE: there is strong language in this.
As you know, depression is a black-hearted fuckshop of a disease – insidious and all-enveloping. After being mostly symptom-free for the past year or so, the last few weeks have been kind of a nightmare. It was a bit shocking to me how swiftly I hit bottom.And because I have “atypical depression” – which despite its name is actually quite common – I can function well in public situations. Atypical depression is not the “can’t get out of bed and crying all day” kind of depression. It’s the “inside a glass box” kind – it looks like everything’s pretty normal, but on the inside you feel utterly alone and completely dissociated. It turns the whole world into a horror show.
I hung in there, though: fought it when I could fight, and laid down quietly when I could fight no more. I prayed, I walked, I did all the stupid things people suggest you do when you’re depressed (take a walk, do something nice for someone else, get a massage, make some art…) all of which are like throwing pebbles at a dinosaur.
Finally – yesterday – the cloud lifted and so far I’ve had 24 hours of non-stop joy.
Here’s what joy looks like: I can taste food. I can breathe. I can feel actual gratitude for my actual life. Nothing fancy. Just the amazing sensation of experiencing energy and desire and being able to think actual thoughts rather than just drown in a sea of self-loathing all day.
Normally I would keep this kind of thing quiet, because it’s private, and in many ways, it’s none of anyone’s fucking business. But I realize that because of what I do and the books I write, people sometimes think that I never have a bad day. Which would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.
So, to everyone who is forced to make the choice, every day, to stay on this grassy, ocean-y planet no matter how much it hurts, I salute you. I wish you forgiving friends, loving partners and soft landings. I bless your beautiful sensitivity, your aching heart and the spiritual mastery that you are demonstrating every time you don’t just give the fuck up.
I don’t have any advice, because advice is bullshit. But I will remind you of this: the tragedy of depression is that it convinces you that you will never, ever, ever, ever, ever feel better. And that is a giant fucking lie. You will feel better. Maybe only 1′ better, but still – better. And you matter. You matter to me.
Creative people get called selfish more than almost anyone else I know. But I have a secret: I believe that a person calls an artist “selfish” because that person is mad that the artist won’t do something that the person wants them to do.
For example: Billy is feeling uncertain and lonely and wants Sally’s attention. Sally’s mind is on other things, like maybe her novel or her gallery opening or her rehearsal. Billy gets a little peeved, and then maybe he gets angry and then he accuses Sally of being selfish. Billy calls Sally “selfish” because Sally is not doing what Billy wants Sally to do.
And in just such a way, artists are muffled.
(Sometimes you’ll hear some condescending theories about why there are so few great female artists in history. I maintain that there have been countless great female artists throughout history, but most of them never got a chance to do their work because the minute someone called them “selfish” they caved.)
So, people might call you selfish when you are not fulfilling their desires. Even if it’s a desire for you; a desire they are having on your behalf. In other words, a parent who’s concerned about their child “wasting” their education on a career in the arts might call that child “selfish.”
I would guess that there is some part of you that really, truly wants to fulfill other people’s desires.
Particularly the desires of your family and loved ones. And fulfilling other people’s desires is a fine activity, especially when you can do so with a full and generous spirit.
And there’s probably some part of you that couldn’t care two figs about what everyone else desires for you. That’s good – let’s cultivate that part a little bit. Not constantly, of course. Constantly putting your own desires ahead of everyone else’s really is selfish. If you’re in the habit of doing that, you should cut it out.
People love to call artists “selfish” because art is self-expression. Art is perhaps the ultimate self-expression. By definition, it has absolutely nothing to do with what other people want.
So by reading this blog, by committing to your art, by trying some of the exercises and opening yourself to some new ways of thinking about the work you love, you are being selfish: in the very best, highest possible meaning of that word.
And if the idea of being selfish freaks you out, think of it this way: time spent on your art makes you a better, happier, more fulfilled, more interesting person. And giving the gift of you as happy, interesting person to your family and friends is the very opposite of selfish.
Plus, we haven’t even gotten to the part about how much the art you create will help the world.
Have you been called “selfish”? Do you worry that you might be perceived as selfish? How do you handle that?