Trigger warning: Talk of deep depression, brief mentions of fat-shaming.
This article is a late-night musing. I hope that it gives you a new idea of how my brain works, and I hope you can use this idea to relate to others. If this model works for you, I highly encourage you to use it too.
This week, I had the opportunity to attend Playground Conference in Toronto. I had an amazing time, met a bunch of new people, and this will all be covered extensively in a blog post later. Right now, I want to focus on one moment that particularly stuck with me: I was talking to someone at length about personal philosophies and how their mind works through life. When it was my turn to share, I was at a loss to describe my own brain despite thinking about it almost every moment of every day. I’m a Psychology student and I think about thinking a lot. I was shocked to realize that I couldn’t have this conversation. Some of it is because I’m too close to my own brain to summarize it properly. It’s hard to see everything at once. However, there is another layer at work here. I didn’t want to explore my brain because it scares me to talk about it.
My brain is a hellish landscape of depression, anxiety and grief. My father passed away at a very important time of my life. My family was a wreck throughout my growing up. I didn’t really understand this until recently, but now I feel it very acutely as I try to work though my own mental problems with a professional. I begin tracing back the problems I have now to things that happened years ago, and were subsequently buried under life.
Someone recently described their default mode as “quirky and looking for innuendos.” At the time, I was baffled because that is the farthest thing from true for me. As I begin to think about how my brain interacts with the world around me, I am realizing that my default is “isolated.” I am consistently seeking out ways that I am special and different from others. I want to be seen as a commodity because I am unique. I also want to be independent, because my freedom is so important to me. However, I also default to a sense of loneliness. My brain automatically sees differences between me and the people I love. The differences that make me good come with other differences that (as my brain sees it) make me not-so-good.
The negative side of this primarily comes from a side of my depression that actively hates me. For every “Leo moment” where I love my hair, my skills, my humor, there is a moment where I feel obnoxious, annoying, awkward, or downright asinine. I play up my “Leo moments” because I want to believe them myself. I know this hateful part of me has existed for a long time, and I’ve learned to live with it. It got buried under careers, relationships, and other life. But now, I am working through those piles so I can live a healthier and fuller life. As this hateful side of me becomes more accessible, it becomes louder and more harmful.
If my default state is so easily tipped into the negative, what does that mean when I have social interactions? Well, thanks to insecurity, and a lack of being able to recognize social cues, I very often second-guess what I do, and the information I think I know. For example, I have a hard time believing that someone would be flirting with me. I let things go over my head because I’ll never be sure if they really were, or if I just wanted to believe that because I want to make sure I stay in a positive space that day. I usually walk away from parties and conferences fearing I missed opportunities (at best), or was downright awful to be around (at worst).
The New Idea
All of this sounds like very typical bad self-esteem. That certainly plays a big part. Why would I be sharing this when it’s nothing new? Well, there’s a new idea that came into my brain as I recover from Playground Conference.
The word intersectionality refers to a concept where differing identities cross, creating a more complete picture of someone. This most commonly gets applied to different types of oppression and/or prejudice. This concept is what I’m going for, but with depression. I refuse to use the word intersectionality for my depression concept because that is already associated with a movement and concept which is much bigger than my mental health. But I would like to borrow the basic principles and apply them. This is why I use the word DepressiOnion. It’s a really great pun (which is on brand for me), and it conveys this idea very well.
Let Me Explain
Imagine me holding a tiny onion sprout. It’s little with maybe two or three layers. This represents my base depression. It’s small but manageable enough. Not very trusting, a little less secure in attachment. With just this, I’m moving through the world differently already. I default to a feeling of loneliness, even when with a lover. I struggle to keep my head up on some days. But overall, I’m doing okay; I check in with a professional regularly just to make sure I’m on track.
Now add in some chronic issues like fat-shaming, transgender identity, weird non-monogamy spectrum, whatever applies. The onion is a bit bigger with a few more layers. It’s still easy to hold and work with, but it takes up more room and I have less space to hold other things (heh). I take on less of the outside world, and I need to check in more frequently.
Now, add in a life event, such as the recent break-up that I went through. The onion is even bigger, with more layers now. It’s still manageable, but requires much more energy than the first iteration. It’s takes up much more space than it used to, and now I have to spend all of my energy and space in one hand holding this onion. Each layer is built upon and working with the others. Again, my world view is different than before.
Now, with these three sets of layers, it’s much harder to feel good. I have a hard time feeling desirable. Maybe I’m better off alone, but then why am I lonely? Perhaps I’ll never be loved again. I worry that any time I date someone, they won’t see me for who I am. I worry that if I click with someone, I won’t be in a good headspace to date them at that time. I think that I am too much work/hassle/etc. But this is me, and I can’t get rid of it. I can’t change these identities.
So what if something else happens? Con drop? A new potential affection for someone? A friend being revealed as someone you’re not sure you can trust? All three in one week (which is what has happened)?
Well this onion is joined by more and more layers. That con is more isolating because I’m coming home to an empty bed instead of a partner. The new affection is highlighting how infrequently I feel seen (and loved) in my entirety. My untrustworthy friend reminds me why I don’t trust my own judgement in the first place. All of these layers are now related. They are intimately involved in one another. It’s hard to get to the core of the onion now. It takes up all the space and energy just trying to hold it.
Oh and you can’t put it down either. Because it’s you.