there was no shade, only sun

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I write my pop and I tell him I think I have depression. I check my mail for my insurance card so I can make an appointment with a doctor to find out what’s what. I can feel the sigh and sadness in my father’s words when he responds that he’s concerned. I know he’s probably thinking that I’ve turned all these corners, I’ve been sober for nine years (except for that one time, that one time two years ago), that I was so close to what I don’t know, but perhaps I was close to something that resembled fine. I should be a poster girl for joy, and I genuinely feel this on so most days but then there are other days. The days when you look at the internet and it tells you to be happy, can’t you just be happy, and you’re trying the best you can but you’re one person in an ocean and my god your arms are so tired of flailing. On those dark days you feel the ground give way and the fall feels bottomless. I don’t know if this is depression, a blue phase, or who knows what, but moving to Los Angeles scrubbed away all the noise and there is only the clarity of silence and all the good and horror it brings.

On airplanes I wait for the seatbelt sign to go off. That sign tells me I’m okay. I tell my pop that I’m waiting for a card which kind of feels like Waiting for Godot, but my dad doesn’t get the joke because he hasn’t read Beckett and I tell him that it’s going to be okay because I’m going to nip this thing in the bud. I actually use that phrase because I am nothing if not efficient. I need to know what this is because this, what I feel, the idea of leaving my home being unimaginable, is not normal. I don’t understand how I went from so unbelievably happy to so sad in a span of two weeks. But I’ve got a plan and that’s that.

Today, I come across an old interview with Mary Karr. I love how she boldly talks about booze, meds and how her writing is affected as a result of her relationship with the two. There’s no romancing sadness, she says. Rather, good work comes from your kind of balanced, Karr says:

Depression makes you half alive—how does that shape a better writer? People have different ideas of what natural is. Since the romantics we’ve all been big fans of the natural, as though natural equals good. Shitting in your pants is natural, wanting to boink the pizza-delivery kid is natural. Stabbing people who get in front of you at the cafeteria line—that’s probably a natural impulse. Where do you draw the line between what’s good natural and what’s bad natural?

While I wait for the card (the seatbelt sign to go off), I think about all the things that happen when you write a raw, vulnerable post about being blue.

1. The friend of ten years, the one who broke my heart, randomly likes one of my Instagram photos after 7 months of no contact. That gesture is a joke and we’re nearly 40, not 5, and this is not what I will accept. After ten years of friendship, I deserve more than a Like.

2. I think, fuck. This is something else I need to deal with. I think about insurance forms, meeting with therapists and hoping this isn’t what I think it is because I’m not a fan of pills, of taking them.

3. People write: “How’s your amazing, sunny L.A. life?” So I say, I’m fine, and they can go back to feeling like they did something and I can go back to wondering why they wrote in the first place. Please also give unsolicited advice when you never asked for it.

4. People tell me to “be happy”. Is that it? God, you’re a genius. I should have thought of that. I’ll just subscribe to all those positivity newsletters and read listicles about living in my truth. Problem solved. P.S. Don’t you think I’ve already been doing that?

5. Strangers offer a deeper kindness than the people who have been in my life for decades. It’s incredible how strangers can breed so much comfort. I’ve been crying a lot lately, too much, over what I can’t quite understand, but some of the comments, notes and emails puts my heart on pause, in a good way. This compassion braces me and makes me feel less alone.

6. Here’s a sad truth: social media demands the happy. They don’t respond to sad. No one wants the burden of your grief and people go on hiatus until you’re “back to normal”. My friend N writes today, and she agrees with this. As a result, she’s shied away from her online life. I think about this some more, and see complexity in it. I write, Social media is terrible. Actually, it’s terribly beautiful in the way that it can bring alternating joy and sadness. It’s bipolar in the sense in that you see what people cheer on and what they shy away from. The megaphones and silences are deafening.

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During the day the sun is blinding. I’ve accepted that it doesn’t get cold here and the days are repeats of themselves with minor variations. I’m okay with this because when I’m balanced I’ve something beautiful to come back to. Though I do feel this tension because I’m conscious of time, how I’m wasting it hiding under blankets, holding books, and that’s the odd tension within myself. I have to get up and move but some days it’s nearly impossible. When I came back from Seattle, I didn’t leave my house for two days and I’ve made myself go out and do yoga, buy groceries and sit in cafes surrounded by people because I know doing these things are healthy.

What disturbs me a little is the pace at which I’ve been reading and producing work. In the past three weeks I’ve written nearly 100 pages of new work. Typically, I write a pile of first draft garbage, where only a small percent can be salvaged.

I’ve written 100+ solid pages.

I’ve been experimenting with how images can impact type, specifically photography and how and where it can take a story. Imagine writing a story to Holly Andres’s mercurial photographs? I’ve been downloading random images from Unsplash and using them as story prompts. When forced into a box you suddenly get crafty. You imagine all the things that could happen in that box instead of staring at a blank canvas. The picture is a something–it’s up to you to define what goes in, around, outside, under, over and below it. I wrote this latest piece in two hours and it’s strange and scary and I absolutely love it. I’ve been afraid of merging my affection for the macabre (horror) with fiction and language, and for a few hours each day I feel slightly euphoric. I’m allowing myself to go places I didn’t imagine going because there are no stakes. No wants story collections, few people read these pieces on Medium–so there’s little risk. There’s only the reward of having created something that gives you a momentary feeling of joy. And if that’s all I get, I’m okay with that.

While I was in Seattle, I bought many of the books in this pile, and I’ve already finished Sonya Lea’s remarkable memoir, Wondering Who You Are–by far one of the finest books I’ve read this year. Lea’s story is the very definition of love, commitment, and devotion. Today I tumbled into Stacey Levine’s The Girl with Brown Fur: Tales & Stories, and reading Levine is like reading Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, and Borges all over again. Stories that are wild and full of wonder. I discovered this magical piece via Twitter and yet another book is finding its way to my home. I’ve read 56 books so far this year and I show no signs of stopping.

Part of me feels an urgency to produce. If you’re producing, learning, at least you’re productive.

When I’m not reading, I’m listening to stories while I walk or hide under the covers. I’ve always been drawn to understanding neurological disorders (I do miss Oliver Sacks) and how minor injuries can have major impact on our brain, so this podcast was fascinating and I’m excited for the follow-up. That episode had me down a rabbit hole of Reply All podcasts and this one, combined with a photo, inspired a story where I fused my Medium essay with meeting a fictional teenager online.

Finally, I found this excellent profile of SNL star, Jan Hooks via Sandra Allen’s superb weekly newsletter. I admired Hooks, who managed her life and fame on her own terms and found herself the happiest in her solitude:

Although she kept a small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, most of Jan’s final years were spent in Bearsville, New York, a tiny hamlet within the town of Woodstock, where she bought a shabby 130-year-old farmhouse on 66 acres in the late ’90s, and which became her refuge. There, she watched and rewatched terrible old films (the worse, the better — she loved, for instance, The Oscar, featuring Frank Sinatra), drank untold gallons of Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc (nicknamed Bobby Mo), rode her albino horse (also named Bobby Mo), and puttered around the property as her dark green 1983 Jaguar sat rotting in the garage. Two German shepherds, Frank and Kitty, kept her company until they died. An unabashed smoker, she purchased boxes of her favorite brand, Merit, on the cheap in neighboring Pennsylvania. Friends say they never heard her talk of quitting or using a nicotine patch, both of which she considered laughable.

Some might find her solitude sad, but I find it to be really beautiful.

I apologize if this post is all over the place. I’m all over the place. So there’s that.

21 thoughts on “there was no shade, only sun

  1. I have appreciated this blog entry.I was very moved because it was reminiscent of block of my life. I am deeply sorry to hear that you were/are going through depression. i had recently been divorced and was just in the gutter. I went through a bad stage in life where i was depressed for some time and it took me a while to get out of that slump. I became very active, joined an orchestra, exercised, and went out a lot. I read Hemingway all day from the old man to the sea to For Whom the bell tolls. i wrote poetry while i was listening to music. I spent a lot of time on coast of lake michigan with the closest of friend in the form of books. i prayed and meditated often. i went to go see a therapist and got some pills, though i never took them. I was pretty scared of meds. I guess they are still in my medicine cabinet as a trophy. all of those things helped me. I guess it just went away. not exactly sure what was the uplifting agent but i thank God that I am not depressed. i really like the fact that you are all over the place. It seems reflective of where you are. I could not help but be moved. I am definitely going to read these books.i just want to hug you but at the same time just hear your thoughts. I guess that is what your blog is for. 🙂 I have just ordered then from amazon. take care. thanks

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  2. I read your post and much of it resembles me, on “those days”. I am sorry that you had one. I cannot tell you to go and be happy, look where you are. Where you are is not the same as where you are in your feelings. One may be bright and the other a bit dim. But I am sure that as your strength builds within you, the days will become brighter. Feel better.

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  3. I am really glad to hear that you know you have a plan. That changes everything, doesn’t it? A solid branch to hold onto to stop the fall. But I am so sorry to read of your possible depression, Felicia. I truly am.
    So much of what you wrote here – even the all over the map-edness – makes a lot of sense to me. While I have been so excited for you in making this move – and still am – I forgot the whopper of a depression that I went through a few months after moving to Paris (!) to live with my then new love (!). See those exclamation marks? It was supposed to be nothing but brilliant…and yet everything that I used to know, all of that comfortable structure that I had built up around me was gone and I was in the land of the constant new. It was often frightening and yet yes, everyone expected me to be really, really happy. And, like you, I often was.
    I have had low-grade chronic depression since I was fifteen. I had a great therapist in NYC and then decided to get on medication after my move to France (two incidents motivated the decision: being on assignment in New Caledonia and waking up hopeless despite the crazy beauty all around -such a disconnect – plus walking out right in front of a truck, twice, in Paris due to insomnia and general fuzziness). I am still on them and probably will be for life and have no problem with that. They help just that little bit to give me perspective on the days when I need it most. And yes, I have made a promise to myself to lay low on my blog and social media when I need to protect that part of myself that I honor but that others might not always understand.
    I love that you are writing and reading so much. It is amazing how our instinctive selves can kick in. Well, as Mary Karr said, the “good natural.” 🙂 And I am beyond grateful that you have the love of your cat near you too. It helps. Thank you for all of the links to explore.
    Sending much Love and Strength your way. Hope the card arrives soon,
    Heather

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  4. As we get older we start loosing Vitamin D. Go out in the sun, walk on the beach. Spending so much time indoors will deplete your wonderful abilities to pursue joy and love. Go to see a physician first and have them run some labs. Your answer may be simple. I’ve spent 20 or more years in Healthcare and have had a practice with psychiatrists whom I’ve learned a lot from. I have also been depressed. But have them check your lab work before anything else. Might be a simple answer. Advice from your surrogate mother….

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  5. Again, thanks for sharing.

    It’s interesting to me how productive you’ve been with your writing, even while feeling so low. Balance is a real mofo.

    The whole FB/Instagram Like thing is something I can’t get down with; people think people because they “like” something that they’ve made some meaningful connection with you. We live in a strange age. Remember when the phone rang and we didn’t know who it was going to be? Remember calling people on the phone? Was it better back then?

    Anyway, Felicia, I’m sorry you are feeling depressed. I get it. And I see that you have a plan. Do what you gotta do. I’ll be here.

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    1. thanks, barbara. I’ve been thinking about that a lot–how people see social media as a deeper connection. I think social has allowed me to meet people I wouldn’t have ordinarily encountered, and it’s allowed me to see varying points of view, which I think is necessary. It’s so easy to fall into confirmation bias otherwise.

      however, between friends, especially close ones, it kind of feels like a slap in the face. this isn’t simply a miscommunication between generations, this was more of a cowardly move. Let me like your IG post as what? As I’m thinking of you? How about be an adult and pick up the phone and call or write a letter, etc. It’s easy to hide behind a computer when you’ve hurt someone. It’s harder to confront them and bear witness to their sorrow.

      it’s strange to me too, b, this productivity. I don’t know what to make of it but I’m going to get this sussed out to see what’s what. maybe it’s a blue period, an adjustment, but I’d rather know than feel powerless against it.

      thanks for your kindness, as always.

      On Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 6:50 AM, love.life.eat wrote:

      >

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  6. Thank you for sharing with honesty, Felicia. Your post rung bells with me, particularly about how people essentially disappear. In recent years I’ve had an up and down time and I note that if I speak honestly I don’t hear from people. They do seem more interested in the happy even if it’s a front, a display. I found myself pulling away, observing, then using the space that’s left in other ways. I do now find myself happier in myself than I’ve ever been, irrespective of external metrics.
    Wishing you well.

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  7. I wish I were as productive with my writing while down like you are. I am not as much. I completely stopped writing, reading, and really interacting on social media at all. The only exception to that was Twitter, because in keeping me to 144 characters or below, I don’t have to put forth much in the way of anything. I just went through a whole month of depression the likes I haven’t had in a long time. I have spoken with friends of mine this week about going to a therapist or someone who can help me. My insurance is going to not play well with this, but I think I might have to just do it. I understand all that you write of, all too well. I am the person who reads a book a day, and it took me three weeks to read a book that I normally could polish off in a few hours. I tell my close friends that if they see me having a hard time reading, then I’m in the thick of it. And that’s been true, time and time again. I love Jan Hook’s solitude- if I had the money and wasn’t caring for my sick dad, I would do that in a second. Sounds like a wonderful solitude. Thanks for sharing your struggle with us, it’s very real for many of us.
    And as for the assbag who “liked” your instagram post after not saying a word otherwise, he can stuff it. I also had a similar thing happen recently. It really chuffs the britches. Hang in there. I hope the sun comes out more for all of us who live with depression and fight it.

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  8. It’s amazing how uncomfortable people get when we express sadness. Lotta folks are out of touch with their own. I often find the contrived positivity on the internet incredibly annoying, especially those refrigerator quote memes about finding bliss with photos of skinny people doing yoga on the beach at sunset. Ok, maybe that’s just my shit.

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  9. Felicia,
    I just wanted to send you the warmest thoughts that I cannot quite put into words, except this: You are not alone.
    I realize, obviously, that we have never met before (perhaps one day as I am often in the Santa Monica area and you remain one of my favorite writers). However, I absolutely respect how important your privacy means ( as you’ve expressed before) and respect you even more as a human being, your own person. Just please know that you are not alone through this.
    Warmly always,
    Jess

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  10. Thank you for putting into words your all-over-the-place-ness. I’ve been living with depression and anxiety for a couple of years now and I’ve learned a lot about myself throughout this (never ending) roller coaster of emotions. We need more people to write about this, and frankly, I’ve never had the confidence to write in my darkest moments, at least not on a blogging platform. Article like these encourage me to slowly accept that we are not ‘individual cases’: I mean, we are very unique, but we are a part of something bigger; something we tend to hide because of the stigma surrounding mental health. In these moments, we are our own heroes. What a burden, but what a pride to be master of something we don’t quite understand.

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  11. “Here’s a sad truth: social media demands the happy.”…Thank you. I could not agree more. I also struggle with depression and started my blog back in May. I realized it was an outlet for me to journal, share my stories (with the hope of helping others), and hold myself accountable. I’ve decided to “own” my shit and stop pretending my life is “perfect” on social media…gosh, I was so happy to read your blog this morning. In one of my recent blogs, a girl I knew from high school commented that I am “the true meaning of strength” (or something like that). I was honored. She noted that so many people use social media as a way to show perfection in their lives and respected my courage to be real. Again, I was honored. Being vulnerable and truthful with who I am has really helped me with my mental health recovery. I can only hope it’s doing the same for you. I wish you nothing but the best and want to thank you again for your openness and wonderful article.

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  12. A coworker told me this week that she’d been inspired by a quote from Lena Dunham, stating that she’s left no room in life for friends who can bring themselves to tell you “that’s too much information”. I can only assume moments like this in life encourage that much needed cleansing of ‘friends’ or inner and outer circles, because it’s when the going gets tough that those ones fade themselves away. Be gone I say.

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  13. Hello Felicia,

    I understand what you mean about social media and people imbuing the click of a little icon with more meaning than it merits. I’ve also learned to understand that reaching out with humility requires great courage, a kind of courage that is rare, offline and online. As for feeling down in sunnyland, that’s a rough one. It took me a while to un-do the unspoken pressure to fit with the all laid-back and without a care in the world local expectation, to own my “okay” versus try for the “great”, in reply to “How are you?”.

    Relocating to a place without built-in family or friends, that was a great challenge, and the way I moved through this sense of glowering dislocation was by learning self-compassion (but first learning I didn’t know I wasn’t! I’m a very literary rational see-the-good-side type, and that’s not always a good thing) in a mindfulness meditation course. I’m glad to hear you have a plan, and I hope it includes going easy on yourself. These are great times of change and upheaval, and only in retrospect do we ever recognize how great they really were.

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