I’ve been depressed.
It could be the changing of the seasons. That’ll trigger my mood swing sometimes. Maybe it’s just a relapse, falling back into bipolar depression simply because I live with this illness. Or maybe it’s because I wrote a book.
It feels weird to say, still a bit clumsy in my mouth. I wrote a book. A published book. You can purchase it in physical or Kindle form. People can read my book. I’m a published author with my author page on Amazon and Goodreads. And I’m thrilled. Publishing a book is a dream of mine that’s been around since childhood. All this makes me proud and happy.
And yet, I’m depressed.
Depression comes for many reasons, some explicable other not so much. Sometimes, we wake up depressed, so chemical in our body being off or deficient. Other times, things trigger our depression. It could be a situation that causes us to swing low, something that is hard, sad, or anger-inducing. Sometimes it’s a movie or a song that hits us just right, triggering melancholy that develops into depression. Sometimes it’s cyclical, coming with life events or seasonal changes. This is one of the times that there is a trigger to my depression, and it’s publishing this book.
I’m not entirely sure why it’s triggered this depression, but it has. Despite my pleasure, excitement, and general happiness at publishing a book, I find myself removed, sullen, sleeping too much, and not eating enough. I find myself listening to sad songs and being drawn to downer poetry. I don’t have a lot of energy, and generally feel sluggish and foggy headed. All the signs of depression. Oh, and I’m irritable as hell about everything, which is a big sign for me of a mood swing.
But why would a dream come true trigger a depressive episode?
My writer friend Shawn Smucker often says that a book can’t do for you what you want it to do. I think that hits the heart of why publishing my first book has triggered such a downswing. When you have a dream for such a long time, you store up hopes for that dream. You want the dream to meet those hopes, to fulfill them. Those hopes become inflated, getting bigger and bigger with time. There’s nothing wrong with big hopes, nothing wrong with wanting your dream to achieve some goals. Without hopes, there would be no dream at all.
Hopes can easily become things we pin our happiness on. When we have big hopes, we sometimes come to believe that those dreams we have hope for will somehow fulfill something in us that nothing else could. With dreams that we hide away lasting for years, decades, we come to believe that fulfilling that dream will validate us in some need in us to feel important, complete, whole.
I’m not saying that every dream and hope will do this to us. What I am saying is that when we expect a dream achieved and hope fulfilled to complete us in some way, we are going to be let down. Hard. I guess that’s where I’m at, let down. It’s not that I’m not excited at the achievement of a dream, it’s that I expected this dream to do something more for me, something that it simply cannot do. I gave it the importance that it can’t hold. I hung my worth on the words I published, and when it wasn’t spectacular and amazing as I had hoped, I took a blow to my self-perception of value and meaning.
It’s not that I thought I would become a New York Times bestseller or anything, but I did believe that My book would make more than a small ripple. I believed that people on twitter would be talking about it. I believed that people would want to buy it and give it to their friends right away. I believed that It wouldn’t be lost in the pile of published works. I had hoped for a higher sales rank than 1,249,890. In short, I had hoped for a little more amazing at my book launch. I had hoped that I would feel a sense of purpose, like a bell ringing true telling me that I was on the right path to being the full-time author I have always wanted to be.
Here’s the kicker: I didn’t even realize that I had pinned my worth to this hope’s and dreams for the book. I’ve tried hard in the past few years to differentiate my self-worth from the things I do, to distance my sense of self and worth from my writing especially. I tend to seek this external validation from the populace’s reaction to my words. When a post does well and is shared and well received, I feel vindicated and full (of ego, but full still). When there are crickets and no response to my words, when the essay falls into the void without a sound, I’ll sometimes feel a sense of failure of the self, and the validating feeling that I was seeking, grasping, looking for is nowhere to be found. Without that external validation, I can lose my sense of direction and purpose. The seeking of external validation through my writing is an ugly thing. It’s unhealthy and gross.
As I said, for the past few years I’ve been working through this tendency to seek validation. I’ve been working on the death of ego and becoming certain and sure of the worth I have because I am me. Value and worth don’t need to be bestowed; they are intrinsic and grafted into our DNA.
So, if I am valuable simply because I am, then I don’t need to pin my hope for validation and purpose on the reception and reaction to my book. But I did. Somewhere in the recess of my heart and mind I still held onto the dark idea that publishing a book would make me somehow more worthy of existing, more valuable as a person, more valid as an artist. This idea and tendency (at least for me) is rooted deep in my psyche and is going to take years more to root out completely.
So I’ve been depressed about my book. What selfish, bratty thing to say about a newly published dream of mine. But it’s true, and I’m nothing if not honest.
So what do I do with this depression? I feel it. I write through it. I let it illuminate the places where I am still seeking that external validation, and I bring those places into the light so they can be stitched up and healed. I don’t need to bleed from those wounds anymore. And truly they are wounds. They are places of tenderness and hurt. Somewhere along the way, at key moments in my narrative, I was hurt, and my worth was taken from me. In these places, I began to believe the lie that I am not intrinsically valuable and special simply because I am me. These are the places where sticks and stones didn’t break my bones, but words hurt me deeper than I could imagine.
I am hurting, and I wanted this book to take away that hurt.
But books can’t do that. Only the work of healing can make us whole. And it is work. It is hard, rough, challenging work to do. It takes time and effort, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s the reason I see my therapist and seek help navigating these wounds, this healing that I need. Maybe it takes a bit of divine intervention too. I don’t know exactly. All I know is that I want to be well. I want to be proud of my work, of my books, but not tie my worth and value to sales, numbers, and effect. I want to do my work well, finish a project, and start another not because I need the validation that comes from creating in the public eye, but because it’s something this valuable human does with love.
We have value because we are who we are. It is intrinsically woven into our amino acids and our cellular structure. Don’t buy into the lie that you need something else, some dream or hope achieved, to give you true worth. You are not a product to be consumed, judged good or bad by your entertainment value or your usefulness. You are made in the image of divinity, and because you are alive, you are the most valuable you that you could ever be.
Let your dreams come and go. Hold onto them for years and cultivate them deeply until they bear fruit. But don’t ever for a moment believe that you are your hopes and dreams. They are birthed from you, not the other way around.
You already are.