MUSINGS ON DEPRESSION

Everyone gets the blues sometimes. Everyone feels like life has screwed them over sometimes. Right now, it’s especially easy to feel this way, given climate change doom, the global pandemic, systemic racism, and everyday life in the dystopian nightmare that is present-day America. Most of us are probably at least a little down in the dumps; after all, there doesn’t appear to be much sense in being optimistic these days.

I have lived with depression for as long as I can remember. It’s nothing new to me, but now… my personal life is going to hell in a handbasket right along with the rest of the world, and I feel like shit, more so than I have in a long, long time. It’s been nearly a decade since I finally found a combination of psychotropic drugs that works for me, and since then, my depressive episodes have been few and far between. True, I have struggled with the ups and downs of family life, probably more than the average person does, but I guess that’s par for the course and part of being a highly sensitive autistic person, and for the most part it has been, well, manageable.

Three years ago, my sister–my lifelong pal, my ‘ride or die,’ my ‘partner in crime’–met her now-fiancé and moved out, which really knocked me for a loop, and it took a good year before I was able to forgive her for ‘abandoning’ me. It sends my anxiety levels through the roof just thinking about it.

She’s getting married in a year, and naturally, the upcoming wedding is all that anyone can talk about. It makes me want to rip my hair out, and I am a highly proficient hair ripper. I wish that’s all it was, but oh, no: I’m afraid it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than that. All this wedding talk, all this wedding planning, is a knife to my heart.

I used to long for love, you see. I’m only human. I used to dream of what it would be like to have someone love me, someone who was under no familial obligation to do so, even though I have known since I was a teenager that it’s simply not in the cards for me. It’s hard to give up hope, especially when hope is all you have, but sooner or later, it doesn’t make sense to hold onto a stupid pipe dream about something that can never be.

By my mid-twenties, I was forced to accept that my life would not include the husband, the 2.5 kids, the dog, or the house with the white picket fence. It was painful, yes, but it some ways, it was easier to just let go. I decided that, since I couldn’t do what other people do, I would pursue my education. I would make my own version of happiness.

It sounds arrogant, but I’m smart enough to know that I am intellectually gifted. I love school. I love learning, and I thrive in the world of academia. After a lot of uncertainty, after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, I completed my MFA in 2016. Like most onetime students, I was drowning in an outrageous ocean of debt, but because I am considered ‘totally and permanently disabled,’ my loans were forgiven. Thank God they were, because I get less than $600 worth of disability money every month, and I would never have been able to repay them.

That loan forgiveness is a double-edged sword, though. It means I can never take out another loan, or I will have to repay all my loans in full.

I want to finish my education. I want to earn my Ph.D. It would be the biggest, shiniest jewel in my academic crown, and it would be a real achievement for anyone, but for me… it would prove that that my life is not a colossal waste, and it would be compensation, of a sort.

Until the pandemic, there were no low/no-residency doctoral programs in the field of English, literature, or creative writing, and because I am basically a shut-in, submitting an application anywhere would have been pointless. I obtained my undergraduate degree from a local college, in a traditional classroom setting, and every therapist I have ever had says that that is borderline miraculous.

This same school does not offer an MFA, never mind a Ph.D., or I would have gone back there in a heartbeat; despite the fact that I was suffering from crippling depression at the time, my college years were somehow the best years of my life. Not because I had any kind of a social life or anything–I didn’t–but I loved being in the classroom. I loved listening to my professors’ literary lectures, and just like a sponge, I soaked it all up. And for those few short years, I could pretend that I was just another college student, that I was like everybody else. I could pretend that there was hope.

This past week, I had an interesting conversation with the director of the creative writing department at Texas Tech University, and it turns out that I could attend classes online. I could earn my doctorate from a distance! But there is one major catch: online students do not receive funding because they are not physically present to do teaching fellowships. And without funding, I can’t afford to go (student loans, remember, are no longer an option for me). So essentially, I had a bright orange carrot dangled right in front of my nose, only to be snatched away at the exact moment I was about to grab it.

I’m not even going to apply–with my luck, I’d be accepted and have no choice but to decline–and I just couldn’t bear that. No, unless a real miracle happens, nobody is ever going to call me Doctor.

We all know that life is hideously unfair. I for one have been bemoaning the injustice of it all for more than half my life, but now… ? I have to paste a big fake smile on my face and watch as my sister walks down the aisle wearing my mother’s wedding gown and somehow conceal the truth. I can’t let on that I am dying inside because I can’t be the one to ruin her big day. I don’t want to attend this wedding, not at all–it is going to cause me untold pain–but I can’t very well miss it, either.

Alas, I have to swallow my grief for my own shattered dreams–the youthful dreams of love and the replacement dreams of academic glory–and I have to meet the future in-laws, who all know that the sister of the bride is an unemployed thirtysomething autistic freak who will always live with her parents. Ugh. How much can one sad little person take?

My circumstances–circumstances far beyond my control–have robbed me of everything I have ever wanted. Forgive me for being so depressing, but… I’m depressed. Be honest, can you blame me? I really, really need for the universe to cut me a damn break for once.

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