The Doldrumite

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-12-12 00:00:00 No comments

Some posts back I talked about some projects I'd abandoned, one of them being a book that turned out to have been a bad version of Notes From Underground. One hilarious side effect to realizing this was how it rekindled my interest in Dostoevsky and spurred me to re-read all of his work, available in far better translations now than when I'd been in college.

But I realize now I've elided talking about the reason I wrote that travesty in the first place. I was in the middle of easily the worst and most paralyzing depression of my life, a period of time so bad that the only real details I remember about it are the ways I faked not being depressed to keep everyone else from worrying.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest faking not having depression is an order of magnitude worse than just having it out in the open. Because the depression, having no place to go and nothing to push back against it from the outsider, just bottles up and festers on the inside.

I spent a few years like this, bottling it up, a time during which I was also paralyzed creatively, and I'm positive both the creative paralysis and the depression spiraled into each other. I sought help, and did find it, but the depression really didn't begin to lift until I was creating again. Not just that, but a) creating in a way that felt like everything I had lost touch with was finally back within reach, and b) creating things that were not symptomatic of my earlier ruts, but genuinely new and daring efforts.

Not writing anything of substance during that period demoralized me in a way little else did. At the height (depth? whatever) of my depression, I realized the last thing I'd written and completed had been years ago, and everything since then had withered on the vine or turned out to be repulsive once it came to any kind of fruition. I wrote about other people's work as a way to deal with it: maybe at least then I'd be writing something. And I was, but none of it really helped me get my own wheel turning. (That's a big part of why the reviews section of this site really started to taper off after 2010: by then my creative mojo was in full force and I felt less inclined to talk about the works of others when I had my own mission in front of me.)

When things got really bad, I spent a couple of weeks in a state where everything that I could have taken solace in — human companionship, culture, you name it — all seemed like shabby afterthoughts, lousy substitutes for some Real Thing that was Out There Somewhere. Only it wasn't in fact Out There Somewhere, so I would have to invent it from whole cloth. This wasn't the healthy feeling of there being a thing-shaped hole in the world that I could fill with my own creativity; it was more the feeling I had the burden of remaking a broken world, because who else would do it?

Yes, it was every bit as stupid as it sounds. But at the time it felt real, and it just about smothered me.

In retrospect this phase of my life bothers me because it seems symptomatic of how so much of my self-definition was tied up in being creative. If I couldn't create, what good was I? Did that mean if I fell back into a state where I wasn't creating anything, I'd fall back into that depressive hole again, too? Or — and I hoped this would be the case — would the experiences I'd had before provide me with perspective enough to not let that happen? I wanted to believe I could trust in whatever future me came along to not collapse like that when things wouldn't come together in a timely way.

That future me did in fact come along; it is what types all this out right now. I'm now in a place that's orders of magnitude better than anything I've had before, even as the rest of the world seems determined to knock that out of my hands like a school bully flipping someone's lunchtray. Whatever. What matters most is that I got past it, and that I did so by becoming something far greater than I could have imagined becoming at the time. And now you-all get to enjoy the fruits of that now-unceasing labor.

Tags: creativity depression