It’s all just an act… or maybe not

It's all just an act (018/365)

I created this photomosaic & posted it to my Flickr photostream on November 9, 2007 under the title It’s all just an act.

This is another story about how depression & its close relative despair work their way in my life.

But first I will explain what occasions this topic over any other today. For reassurance to my friends, if nothing else.  Today I’m in the grey, & something of a light grey at that, which is all to the good.  I’m not in the state that most of this post is about: what I call the pit. I’m just a little low in mood from having had to go through some boxes yesterday that allowed an egress to some of the grief that I need mostly to have shuttered away right now.  (It’s time will come.)

So I feel crummy. But not dangerously crummy.  Not even as crummy today as yesterday.  In short, I’m okay; tomorrow I should be even okay-er: I’m doing the necessaries to take care of myself.

But sometimes on such a day it’s good to remind myself where things can go if I don’t stay mindful.

A self-portrait I took on October 23, 2007 -- my moms birthday. I didnt realize until after looking at it that I was feeling pretty low.  Its there in my eyes.  It was just short of two years since her death.

A self-portrait I took on October 23, 2007 — my mom’s birthday. I didn’t realize until after looking at it that I was feeling pretty low. It’s there in my eyes. It was just short of two years since her death.

Two years ago, when I made that photomosaic: I was feeling pretty bad, from a combination of things. We’d entered the dark of the year, which also means the cold of the year, plus there was the approaching anniversary of my mom’s death on November 29, and it was also very shortly after her birthday (October 23). Add in some relationship stuff, & probably I was a bit run down.  Nor did I know about 5-HTP then.

And, as is common for me, I had a hard time just coming out & saying I felt bad.  Even in in how I created & posted the photomosaic: I used Photo Booth (a Mac program), which has one setting that allows for particularly lurid colors which give a sense of melodramatic overkill.  I gave the mosaic tags like Mel o’drama which lent further credibility to the idea that, hey, I was just screwing around, this wasn’t serious (even though it was). I was a little more honest with another tag: the actor sometimes becomes the character played — though even that was sufficiently obscure that unless someone knew me really well, they would be unlikely to interpret it to know its relation to me.

So what was going on with me?  I was in the pit. The black hole.  The well.  Those are names I have for the worst form of depression/despair that I get — when I’m just hanging on by threads, & the threads are unraveling.  My thinking unravels, too: it’s a form of craziness, what my partner Rozz called at the time warped in mel darkspace. Yep. Rozz has seen it many a time. When I’m in that place, I no longer know things that I know when I’m sane, & I can cycle into the crazy pretty damn fast.

I actually pulled out of it that November — can’t remember quite how.  Maybe I just did my basic self-care stuff.  I was in the midst of NaNoWriMo 2007, & in looking back, I see that I wasn’t turning out much writing for a few days around that episode in the pit.  I wouldn’t have finished NaNoWriMo that year if I hadn’t come out of it.  But once NaNoWriMo ended, I started descending into it again in December.  Still, I was just enough sane that on December 2, 2007, three weeks after posting the photo, I wrote a long explanation of what the photo signified.

Written Dec 2, 2007, 3 weeks after posting this picture:

Thing about these pics is that I really felt that way: the mood I was attempting to depict in the photos. Despairing, fucked-up, in the black hole — ridden by my own personal demon that I’ve had most all my life. Over the years I’ve learned to deal with it, what to do when I start falling into the pit, & normally my time there isn’t that long anymore. Two or three days, maybe, instead of weeks or months, & the really horrible intense parts complete with suicidal ideation or at least the desire to disappear last maybe a few hours, instead of as a near constant. When I feel that way, I look to myself: I pull back from obligations, I make sure to get more sleep, I eat healthily, I don’t require things of myself except to take care of myself. Mostly, I try to get horizontal.

Although I have thoughts about suicide or of other self-destructive things at some times, I have never in my life made a suicide attempt. To the extent in my past that I’ve engaged in self-harm, it’s been of the nature of hitting my head against a wall, or hitting it with my fists, or tearing up writing (though that’s a form of suicide), or throwing something of mine. I don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. Lately, my thoughts frequently will run towards cutting myself off — say, removing all my profiles from sites like Flickr, kicking off all the mail lists I’m on, destroying my files… disappearing. It would be hard to do. Pieces of me are scattered all over the place. When I feel like that, I want to find each & every such piece & extinguish it, & then myself. I don’t do it, I have never come close to doing it but it’s incredibly painful to feel like that.

I have always been held back from trying by thinking about my family, friends, people who love me. I couldn’t do that to them. One time when I hurt that way, I told my friend Scott, who at that time was my roommate, that I almost wished that everyone who loved me would turn their back on me, because then I would be free to off myself. Though it was painful to contemplate such a possibility, too: everyone I loved, betraying me at once? Anyway, Scott just kinda smiled at me wryly & said, Sorry Mel, you’re just going to have to put up with us loving you.

But dammit, when it happens, it hurts like all buggery. (Thank you, Sian, for teaching me that Aussie phrase, which captures the pain of it perfectly.)

So. Why then, the title of this photo? Why the tags that make it seem this is a joke? Why the lurid colors, which also melodramatize it?

Because some of how this demon came to take such tenacious residence in my soul was through an invitation of sorts, back when I was in high school, & I used to “pretend” I was in such a bad place. At that time it was — or so I though — all just an act. I didn’t have the maturity at the time to consider that maybe there really was something wrong inside of me, that I felt need to manipulate people’s behavior toward me with such an act. I only thought of that when I decided to try to put the act aside, & discovered that it wasn’t an act anymore. Act as if for a long enough time, & you become the character you play.

So I’m caught, ever since, between the rock & the hard place. Even though it’s real, & I really feel this way, I’m also very conscious of how people around me are reacting to my behavior, & I feel that I’m being manipulative, & I feel wrong about that because manipulation is wrong. So nothing I can do is the right thing. If I show myself in this state to people, then I’m manipulating them. If I go into hiding, that may in one part be another way of manipulating, but even more importantly, I cut myself off from the people who care about me, who I often need, to help me climb back out of the pit.

Pretty screwed up thinking, really. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have come a far long way since I was 16 or 17 in high school, & I’m usually pretty good about asking for help nowadays when I need it. But this screwed-up thinking still occurs sometimes, & it’s been occurring a few times over the past couple of months, for reasons that I’m only starting to figure out.

That’s what this picture is. It’s a visual demonstration of that screwed up thinking. Which I put together even as I was struggling with it. Because yes, I took these photos when I was in the deep in the pit, trying to communicate to any who would see them that I was in pain, that I needed some kind of help, if only that my state of mind would be recognized. But see — I believe, I truly believed in the midst of my pain that if I just showed the photos straight on, or even just said outright, “I’m hurting bad right now,” that I’d be manipulating. So I undercut it. Use the “glow” effect in Photo Booth to get those lurid, melodramatic colors. Use tags & a title that make it seem just pretend. Though it wasn’t.

It’s hard to communicate honestly when I’m like that. Because when I’m like that, I’m crazy. It’s a form of delusion, of madness. I literally do not understand that it is okay to simply say, “I’m in pain right now.”

Remote. Photo taken Dec. 2, 2007, the same day I wrote this account.

But you know, lately I’ve been noticing a couple of friends/acquaintances on Flickr who have been going through tremendously painful situations themselves, who have reminded me of that. I’m writing this from a state that is near but not quite in the black hole (same date as the photo Remote), so I’m still near enough to sanity that I was able to check my descent into that screwed up thinking. I’m in a bad headspace today, but today (December 2, 2007) I’m just going to say that. Instead of putting on the act that isn’t an act.

So here it is. I’m in a bad headspace today. It isn’t quite the black hole, but it’s not okay either. It’ll right itself, but it hasn’t yet. Today, it rises out of some events that I’m not really prepared to talk with anyone about. So, I’m probably going to be a little remote for a bit, till I do work it out. But, better to be honest & say so, than to just kite off by myself without leaving a note.

And having written all this, I’m already feeling a bit better. I may not have to go remote for a very long period after all.

Thanks for listening.

As it turned out, the following day was the really bad one, when sanity absolutely fled midway through my day at work.  I was able to hold on to just enough sanity to put out a call for help, which took the form of a tweet, typo & all:

3:23 PM: Imploding. I guess that’s better than exploding & killing someone. But I’m fucked in the head, badlyl.

Wouldn’t you know it: Twitter (still a fairly new thing back in 2007) was updating slowly that day.  I don’t think anyone got my tweet until the next day.  I tried again over an hour later:

4:47 PM: Imploding. Better than exploding & killing someone I guess, but still pretty fucked up.

Twitter still malfunctioning: no response.  And when you’re already crazy, & don’t know the software is muckety-mucking, the paranoid portion of your mind goes, Nobody even gives a shit!

So I’m pretty amazed that I, working late & still in my office, tried again:

6:11 PM: Inside of my mind is getting worse & worse. Could someone pull me out of it please?

6:20 PM: Seriously. Usually I do okay fending for myself, but I’m not fending too well today.

Still no response.  But luckily, my Flickr friend Katie came online in Gmail — probably the very best person possible, because she was someone who knew from the inside the kind of crazy I was experiencing, & therefore knew exactly how to talk me down.  (She told me later her thinking was “hmm. now what would mel tell me when she was sane & i was going through a rough time?”) Here’s a portion of our conversation, a partial transcript, if you will, of the crazy:

me: hey

Katie: hey mel whats up

me: head’s been in a bad place for a couple of days now

Katie: oh dear, whats been going on

me: not sure really but it’s been getting worse today because i’m in a nobody gives a shit mode
& starting to engage in cut & run behaviors
like removing all my pics except one from [a Flickr group we were both in]

Katie: ah yes, i’ve gone through that …

me: & feeling like just removing myself from groups & shit altogether b/c i feel like nobody gives a shit

Katie: dont do that – people do … it’s just the frame of mind you’re in that’s fooling you into thiking so

me: yeah i know i’m just barely remembering that
but it’s on the edge at the moment

Katie: hmm, well i’ll remember for you … don’t do it !

me: some guy here killed his dad with a machete yesterday & then came in to anchorage & shot some innocent grad student in his car & killed him & badly wounded a couple of other people during his rampage
he got caught after a car jacking this morning
& i’m like, well, that’s the way i feel
except i take it into myself
instead of runnign around fucking other people’s lives over
but it’s kinda like today
oh let me not mention how badly i’m feeling, lest i ruin your day

The rampage mentioned was that of Christopher Erin Rogers, Jr. on December 2–3, 2007. Rogers was ultimately convicted in two separate trials of two murders and four attempted murders in Palmer and Anchorage, plus animal cruelty for his attack on the dog that saved the life of his father’s fiance. And I would say that Rogers, whose confession was heard by the jury in his second trial in Anchorage, very much had a similar kind of craziness going on his mind which prompted his crimes. Read the details for yourself. [Ref #1] Something, who knows what exactly, set him off, & he went explosive, harming & even killing other people. And, as is so often the case, refusing to accept that he was responsible: not aliens, not other people with their perceived mistreatment of him.

Well, if I’m going to sometimes go crazy, I’m sure glad I don’t do it that way.  My tendency is to implode: I don’t harm others (usually), I harm myself.  And I suppose another difference between me & Rogers is that I do my best to take responsibility for my craziness.

Not, to be sure, when I’m actively crazy: then I’m just as likely to blame other people.

Katie: you can never ruin someone elses day by tell them you’re having a bad day

me: no i can just tell ’em i’m having a bad day & they can go “oh shit, mel’s having a bad day, better avoid her so i don’t ruin myown”
that’s the way my thinking’s giong today
because i’m all fucked up

But at least I recognized I wasn’t thinking sanely.  And had taken enough responsibility for my craziness over the long haul of my life that by that point in time, I had at least a few clues of what to do to help myself, by getting help — especially from someone like Katie who had (1) some knowledge of the kind of stuff I was going through from the inside, & (2) had the patience to listen.

Katie: I don’t think telling people you’re in a bad space will put them in a bad mood, at least it wouldn’t to me … i’d just like to help you no longer be there … hmm, do people actually say that? oh right. okay … well, know that people definitely don’t feel that way, they just get awkward in dealing with depression …
what can we talk about that would help you?

me: i dunno, this is probably helping just to say the kinds of thoughts that have been going through me all day

Katie: okay, keep them coming

me: y’know, i wrote a really long thing to that “it’s all an act” photo to about 4 or 5 am satnight/sunday morning explaining how it all works
laura saw it, rozz saw it, they commented
dunno who else saw it
but this morning i privated it
that’s kinda part of what set me off feeling like well basically most people don’t give a shit
they don’t mind you saying you’ve got the flu
but say anything about the really hard shit, then too fucking bad
well that’s not completely true
[some people have lots of people batting for them]
but me, no, i should be over all the kind of shit that i’ve got in my soul
me, i should just take drugs
me, i should just shit or get off the pot

Katie: you feel like that’s how people feel towards you?
that you should just take drugs or shit or get off the pot?

me: wehn i get like this, meds is one of the first topics to come up

Katie: i don’t think meds are a good idea

me: neither do i
mostly i think people just want to have fun & not be bogged down by someone’s shit

Katie: that might be true – but for the most part, i think people geerally just don’t kow how to handle deep things – because it ends up shining a light inwards to their oen stuff – which they defiitely dont want to deal with

me: though for some reason they get along with some people’s shit better than mine
yeah you’re right about that i think

Katie: it’s not that they don’t get along with your shit mel, i think maybe it’s the fact that you seem strong? i think people might think that when you get down – you just want to isolate and you don’t want to talk about things .. maybe? i’m not really sure

me: this is the worst i’ve gotten into the whole rock & a hard place stuff about feeling like anyting i do is manipulating people in a reaaaaaaaallly long time
which is the very worst kind of thinking i have, i get so confused, i don’t feel like anything i do is right w/ regard to other people

Katie: i think that maybe because you feel like you’re manipulating people, you don’t ask for help … so people don’t really know that you want people to surround you in these times
catch 22

me: yeah very big catch 22 gods it hurts

Katie: Hmm … well … i’m going to tell you that … you aren’t manipulating people when you want attention. None of us are. We all want help, we all want attention and there is nothing wrong with it, honestly. But i don’t knowif me telling you that will make that belief real for you or not

me: so i have all these destructive urges giong on
i know that stuff when i’m sane but i’m not sane right now

Be that as it may: the conversation helped to restore me to sanity. It’s also because of Katie that I reset the permissions on the “It’s all an act” photo back to public, & left them there. She went on to “babysit” me for the next bit of time while I finished the task I was working overtime to complete, & by the time I left my office I was able to tweet:

8:16 PM: Better now, thanks to Katie.

I reckon it took another couple of days for me to get completely away from the edge of the pit, doing the things I know to do: plenty or rest, good food, keeping the demands on myself low, & — importantly — not isolating myself.  Nobody got killed, including me.  (At the height of the crazy I did indulge in some “virtual suicide” — deleting files & so on — but somehow restrained myself from destroying anything really important to me.)

That was my last trip into the pit.  (Knock on wood.)  Even over the past year, during which I’ve experienced considerable loss — I’ve gone into the grey a number of times, but never into the pit.  When I feel myself at its edge, I’m lots more ready to follow the advice that Katie gave me, same advice I have given others when I was sane & they were not: ask for help from the people I know care about me.

It also helps that I now know about 5-HTP.  And use it.


  1. 4/2/09. “Accused murderer Rogers blamed aliens for 2007 attacks — ROGERS: Jurors hear taped confession of deadly events in Palmer and Anchorage” by Debra McKinney (Anchorage Daily News).
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