It’s more important to open your mouth than to worry about what you’re going to say.
It’s more important to get the first word on the page than to get it perfect.
For several months now, the better (or worst) part of the past year, I’ve been as silent as ever in my life. Now I want to start talking again.
See, I’ve been depressed. Or “living with depression.” I’ve had persistent anxiety for the first time in my life. The reasons for this crap are many and complex — hitting my mid-century birthday, the cancellation of my passion project, the 2016 election, peri-menopause — but one of them is simply biochemistry. Or perhaps complex biochemistry.
Depression has visited me before. I had postpartum depression, which went undiagnosed because I didn’t want anyone to know how unfit I was for parenting. I had post-graduate depression after college, when I understood the mechanics of getting out of bed but lost the sense of why it was important.
This time is the third in the rule of three. Which isn’t really a rule in this case, though I like to use it in my writing.
This time is different. First of all, there’s that new anxiety, which rises up when I consider doing something that normally I’d be excited about, like going to the theater or going out with a friend. My breathing gets shallow and I feel spiritually itchy and fidgety. I often feel like I’ve been chugging coffee when the truth is that I’ve been 99.99% decaffeinated since December. I have a medication that puts me to sleep and I guess it works because when I’m asleep I’m not anxious.
Decisions make me anxious: was that the right choice? Can I have a do-over if it wasn’t? Even discovering a reparable mistake makes me anxious — who the hell do I think is watching?
Writing about this doesn’t feel quite right (like I need one of those pills). Keeping it to myself feels even wronger.
What does feel right is taking an action — any action — instead of being completely inert. So writing anything and publishing it (even if I don’t always follow my own credo and spend a lot of time “perfecting” it) is better than writing nothing, or not publishing what I’ve written.
In therapy I keep talking about “productivity” as a measure of where I want to be in life and how my mental health is coming along. Not producing anything, or not producing “enough,” makes me feel bad.
Unsurprisingly, feeling bad never motivates me to action.
I started an experiment a few weeks ago. Since I “wasn’t doing anything” most days (by which I mean I was only staying alive, taking walks, lifting and swinging kettlebells, seeing a therapist and a psychiatric nurse, reading too many news articles, talking with close family, and watching TV as if it were water and I were a desert flower), I might as well get up and go out to do nothing. I might as well do nothing on a long bus ride to nowhere, talking to nobody. So any day there was nothing on my schedule, I got up and took a bus somewhere, anywhere, elsewhere.
What was the purpose? To get out — check. What was the goal? None — check. What did I think would happen? I thought I’d get out of the house, see unfamiliar faces, watch the changing landscape and the changes to my fixed landmarks, and catch up on podcasts — check.
Then one day I woke up and thought that maybe I felt a little bit better than I had expected. I started telling people I was “better,” meaning “improved,” not “healed.” My medication balance seemed right.
Writing about this now, I feel my anxiety rising and my breathing turning shallow. That’s partly because whenever I think about anxiety I feel more anxious. Also, I’ve been going for a long time and I want to stop writing but I don’t yet have an ending to this piece (though I stole most of it from an email I completed and sent out, thinking it was okay).
That’s the pressure I put on myself. The pressure of being such a good writer that I don’t need to rewrite. The pressure of having no typos or missing words. The pressure of not just sharing but teaching, of using my writing to move my business forward.
Taking my own English 101 advice: to write the end, look at the beginning. It’s more important to end than to conclude.
How about I just stop here?
What’s holding you back? What one step would be possible? Please comment — I need all the community around this I can get.