Depression and Writing: On Being “So Only”

“Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar,” by Caetano Velosoa

I’ve dealt with major depression since childhood. There’s a story I like to tell close friends or even my therapist to encompass the kind of childhood I had: when I was in first grade, I wrote a story (a nonfiction piece, actually) that I was incredibly proud of. It was called, “I’m So Only.”

I remember the white assignment sheet perfectly: on top, there was an outline of a parent walking their child. Then, a line for the title (which I wrote in, “I’m So Only.”) And finally, lines for the story: I wrote over and over again that I was so “only,” that I missed my father, that I longed for my mother, that I loved my lola. It was a rendition for loneliness; a silly grammatical error to express it; the only way for a young girl, a young dalaga on the brink to somethinganything, to express her pain between loss and her parents’ leaving. I never knew how to explicitly explain my “cute” childhood pangs. Now that I’m in my late twenties, I can finally laugh at this girlish typo: that I was so “only.” It wasn’t until now that I could finally affix my mouth around this statement, this truth that summarized my young life: I was orphaned. My father had trouble with the law back then. I think he was either in the Philippines or jail. I don’t remember. I can’t really ask my father now, because I know it pains him. And my mother: well, she left with a white man who sold Toyotas. What I struggle with is this: I never “knew” that I was orphaned at that age. I thought my father would eventually come back, even when I lived with my uncles and my lola in the back room of a relative’s house, when I had no bed to lay my head on and slept on the floor, when I would visit my father at a bachelor apartment that I did not understand why I wasn’t living in, and yes, my father eventually did come back, and yes, to this day, I still defend and love and protect my father with every tooth and nail and memory. It’s because he was there. Because he gave me love and uncertainty. But when I think of my mother, I draw a blank. It’s why it’s so difficult for me to write any mother character, let alone any woman character. Once, when my therapist asked me for the fifth time why she left, why she did not take my sister or me with her when she ran away with that white man who sold Toyotas, I drew that blank, emotive silence again. Negligence, abandonment, and fear clouded my childhood, and maybe this is why I laugh when I think of that very first nonfiction essay I wrote in the first grade, when I claimed that “I’m So Only.” For truly, I was.

For the past months, ever since I moved from the Bay Area, began teaching at the university and community college here in the Hampton Roads Area, I’ve been depressed. I haven’t been able to write. I’ve tried. Yes, I’ve tried. I’ve edited stories, I still submitted some, and I’ve even penned many teaching statements, statement of purposes, and etc. to all these fellowships that now have deadlines. So, maybe I have been writing, but it is not writing in the sense that resembled what I did when I wrote “Mercy.” I don’t know what it is. I don’t exactly know how to name it. I’ve been thumbing through psychology articles after psychology articles, wondering if I suffer from a low-case or combo-case of BPD. Whatever I suffer scares the shit out of me, and though I do have a therapist I trust, it may be time for me to move on to a psychiatrist again. My last and wonderful psychiatrist in the Bay Area moved away to Canada. It’s a little ironic, to be honest, to a girl who suffers from fear of abandonment, real or not. At least, this is how I tried to deal with it. Because if I do suffer from a low-grade BPD, the fact that I chose a Navy husband and have had shifting relationships with familia and friends only proliferates my problems, and honestly, isn’t that a little bit ironic? Isn’t that a little only?

I don’t quite know exactly why I began to write this little essay. I had hoped that by opening this empty blog screen and putting my fingers to the keyboard that I would be metaphorically taking an axe to myself and shake my being into that “writing frenzy” again. But alas: I am still frozen. The past weeks have been a kind of daze, a kind of waking up into a nightmare and a need to fall asleep again to stop the overwhelming emotions, to freeze them. Maybe I’ve just been too exhausted. I do not hate teaching, I actually enjoy it, and it’s the only thing that forces me to wake up in the morning. My writing and teaching go hand-in-hand; both processes remind me that there are things to be learned in failure, things to be gained in failure, things to try again after failing. But on the weekends, I go back to my shell, I escape within myself, I search for that metaphorical shoe closet I used to hide in when I was child. I know this depressive state will soon lift, as it always has. It is just the waiting, the modality of being “so only,” that has been so draining, so wretched.

I remember that day so long ago fondly: when the class bell rang, I held onto my essay instead of shuffling it back into my backpack and ran all the way home to Dolores Street and showed it to the very first person who was at the door. It was my older cousin, who I had affectionately called “Kuya,” older brother (and to this day, I still call him this). When he first read the essay, he was confused, so he shifted to reading it aloud and laughed: “So only? Do you mean so lonely, Missy?” He proceeded to read the whole essay aloud, line-by-line, and though I was flushed, mortified, and desired to escape and hide into that shoe closet down the hallway and cry in fetal position, I stood there, facing the music, the repetitions of my, “I’m So Only,” and I survived. This is the solace I find in this little origin myth of mine. I survived. Even if I am “only” now, even if my husband is off to sea, even if my family is thousands of miles away, even if I am alone in my apartment with only my plants Margot and Sylvia to keep me company, I survive. I listen to my Brazilian music, my Elis Regina, my Caetano Velosoa and his melodic voice singing, “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar,” his need to say, “Love Me Forever or Never.” I open my books, I read Elena Ferrante aloud, I thumb through her Days of Abandonment or Those Who Leave, and Those Who Stay, and I weep: I think of my lola, I think of my sister, I think of my niece, I think of my mother. In all our leavings and stayings, we survived.

I am slowly learning that I was put on this earth to write and to fail, to love and to fail, to become and to fail. And if it is any penance, I know as long as I am alive I will write to survive, even if it is as silly as an essay that sings over and over again: “I am so only, I am so only, I am so only.” It is an anthem to my survival. It is an anthem that reminds me: I am alive, I am not alone any longer, and I am alive.


2 thoughts on “Depression and Writing: On Being “So Only”

  1. I really needed to read this right now. I’ve been depressed because of the PhD and because of writing and with the obligations of being a pinoy son–and the frustrations of trying to create yet the selfishness in taking time to work–we all have our gifts. Thank you, this made me feel less alone.

    1. Hello Noel! Sincerely, thank you for your words. It’s good to know I’m not alone too. Thank you for responding and making me feel like someone is listening out there. Sending light and love. ❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s