So I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of things with my blog, slowly but surely posting again, both life content and stuff that could vaguely be considered literary analysis/criticism, and I’ve mentioned before that I took an unintentional hiatus from my blog. I also said that I’d post something about this hiatus, so here goes.
Basically, to sum it up, I had a very deep post-MFA depression.
I don’t know if I’m a resilient person or not. For the longest time growing up, I was a genki girl; nothing fazed me, I could strike up a conversation with anyone, I could become friends with them in a matter of minutes afterward, I was always full of energy. That changed, and I feel like I’ve always been trying to get back to that genki state ever since, but it just never seems to happen. Instead, the opposite seems to be true.
A couple friends from my MFA, who finished a term or two before me, and I were all chatting one night toward the end of my final residency about life post-MFA. One of thos three guys said something that night that stuck out to me then almost like a premonition. He said that what they wouldn’t tell us was that we might get depressed, very depressed, afterward. That it might take a lot of time to restructure your writing life and social life and everything. I think I was already getting the post-MFA depression hanging around Tampa, no workshops to go to, no one to tell me how much they loved or hated my fiction. After the MFA ended, I applied for a couple of jobs teaching English composition, got a couple of interviews, and got a couple of “thanks but no thanks” follow up emails. I dedicated myself to PhD applications for a while, then I traveled. I went to Hawaii, I went to Argentina, I went to Indiana.
The first six months after my MFA were so occupied with the applications and the travel that I didn’t have any time to slow down. I started a dozen different short stories, only about half of which made it to longer than two paragraphs, none of which reached completion. I wrote five poems related to faith, read a couple of them in my church. When I was in town, I co-taught a junior high Sunday school class that had two students. When I wasn’t in town, I was seeing black sand beaches and sea turtles, my best friend’s wedding, my sister’s cat in a sweater. Up through the holidays, I was going too non-stop to let anything settle.
It was only after all of the travel was done and I was waiting to hear back about PhD programs that I started to sink. I couldn’t find a job, not even at the grocery store. I walked through downtown Huntingdon one day and stopped in at ten places to see if they needed help. None did. The weather was cold, but never quite the deep freeze that it should have been. I fostered a dog for three weeks who had been abused before giving him to his loving new mom. I stayed home, I watched anime, I read books. I made cosplay after cosplay. I got rejected from three programs within a few days of each other in February.
I baked loaves of beer bread and pans of brownies. I got into high quality hot chocolate, made some every day. I stopped reading books. I stopped writing. I stopped watching anime and stayed in bed for hours, always only about three quarters awake but never quite committed to being asleep. I had stories in my head, and I thought through them, but never put them to paper.
My job at the IU, which usually starts up at the end of March/early April, didn’t truly start back up until the middle of May, so I was left for an extra two months without work. During these two months, a couple of big things happened. I took a bus by myself for the first time since I was abducted at a bus station. I became one of the lucky few to see Hamilton on Broadway. I got accepted into the PhD at UMass Dartmouth. I went to Zenkaikon and met Dante Basco. Things seemed like they were going up, and they were. I was getting out of my house with friends. I was doing exciting things. Then, of course, on our way home from Zenkaikon, my friend Sam and I were run off the highway by an 18-wheeler in the rain. We rolled three times and landed upside down in the median, alive and without serious injury, but shaken up in our own ways. Back to the bedroom for Maggie.
Once the work finally started, a job that usually employs about four people was down to just me, and I did the work of four people by myself for most of the family survey project this year. I was able to bury myself in the family survey work, but as is the case every year, the family survey is a soul-sucking project. And it definitely sucked my soul dry again. I was accepted into the program, waiting to hear about funding. Waiting to hear about funding. Waiting all summer long to hear about funding. I didn’t have a fellowship guaranteed until about three weeks before the start of the semester, so I spent most of the summer convinced that it would fall through, trying to figure out what else I could be doing with my life. To borrow a phrase from Spanish, I’d spent most of the year al pedo, doing nothing and going nowhere. Weeks when the workload at the family survey was lower, I was practically a NEET.
I didn’t realize until the end of July that I was depressed, because when I’ve struggled with depression in the past, it’s not manifested in this way (at least, not in a long time). This depression is an empty ringing in the back of my stomach, a hollowed-out, cavernous space beneath my ribs. To be honest, it’s still sticking to me like tar. I’m plenty used to anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, anything that falls within the myriad of symptoms of PTSD, but this type of depression isn’t usually a part of my symptoms.
The starkness inside, the vagueness at the outer edges, I haven’t felt like this since my senior year of high school. It took me until three years after my senior year of high school to realize how depressed I had been that year. That was the year I stopped eating lunch because going to the cafeteria was overwhelming and I didn’t have the motivation/energy to pack a lunch each day. That was the year I skipped as many classes as I could every single day to hang out in the computer lab, in the back corner, to take sporkle quizzes and play tetris online. That was the year I learned how to act normal despite internal chaos, and (to my credit?) very few people even noticed I was unwell. I didn’t even notice it. I just thought I was lonely.
One day toward the end of July, it dawned on me that I was depressed. I’d been playing Pokemon Go hardcore and felt better than I had in months, but unless Pokemon was involved, it was almost impossible to get up the nerve to do things out of my house or with other people. Realizing I was depressed didn’t actually change anything but the recognition. Recognizing you’re depressed opens up the option of getting help. If you are depressed, get help.
When I recognized myself, I decided that one thing I needed to do was start blogging again. I hadn’t ever intended to stop, I hadn’t intended to start an album review series only to drop it a couple of posts in. I hadn’t intended for my blog to become a dormant site, only picking up views from the randomly large number of people who really seem to care about Ruth (seriously, I don’t understand why this post gets new comments still. It’s three years old). I want to maintain this space. I want to maintain myself, even while depressed, even while anxious, even while pulling off the greatest act of normalcy this side of my seventeenth birthday at my new university.
So if you wondered why I stopped blogging, or if you didn’t even notice until I brought it up, there you have it. Mental health. Obvs.