“The greater sorrow carves into your being, the more joy your soul can contain.”
— Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
“The greater sorrow carves into your being, the more joy your soul can contain.”
— Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
A little more than two years ago I was officially diagnosed with chronic major depression and social anxiety disorder. I’d been keeping fairly quiet about my problems – the emptiness, the panic attacks, the days of hiding in my room or even in my bed – for some two years before that. The people I was close to were aware I’d had some bad experiences while I was living in Peru, and that the escape to Argentina was only partially driven by a desire to step down from the backpackers’ I was running and take up an exciting internship in Buenos Aires.
Nobody knew the extent to which I was self-medicating with alcohol and drugs.
Nobody knew I had been date-raped on a night out in Cuzco. Nobody knew I was raped again while travelling through Chile.
Nobody knew that throughout my year in Buenos Aires I would lie in my studio apartment for days on end, eating my feelings – this is a city where you can have ice cream delivered to your door – and staring at the walls.
Things got pretty bad eighteen months ago, and that’s when I began to seek help. It’s been a rough ride since then: I dragged myself across the finishing line of my Honours in Economics, then got two months into my PhD before collapsing into a quivering mess of unprocessed trauma, social isolation, and self-loathing. I was speaking to a psychologist and taking antidepressants, but I was also downing a couple of bottles of wine a day: I didn’t want to see any of my friends, but nor did I want to spend time with myself. That kinda limits one’s options. I stopped running. I stopped finding any joy in books or music or cooking. I stopped looking at Facebook, writing, or planning dream backpacking expeditions. If somebody had asked me what I liked doing, I would have been utterly baffled by the question.
And then things got really bad six weeks ago, and that’s when I picked up the phone and called my mother in Brisbane. “Come get me.” She did. We packed up my Melbourne apartment and my one-year-old cat, and installed me in a flat some five doors down from the unit she shares with my stepfather in Brisbane.
I went to a psychiatrist, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, placed on a cocktail of sedatives and antidepressants and anti-craving pills to replace the alcohol and sleepers and prolonged release sleepers and plenty of talking therapy.
All the while things were spilling out of me. The secrets I had held on to, because I blamed myself, hated myself, thought myself weak and deserving of the things that had happened to me.
But my mother and stepfather were my rocks; my father, although he lives abroad, sent enough puzzles to keep a semi-bed-bound (and very sedated) patient busy for months, and offered much moral and financial support; my not-so-little-anymore brother sent flowers. I arranged them where I would see them each morning when I opened my eyes, and along the windowsill I placed pictures of the friends I miss so much.
I’m home again now, after seventeen days in hospital. I still go in a couple of days a week: group cognitive behavioural therapy (GCBT) twice a week, tailored therapy discussion groups once a week, fortnightly appointments with both psychiatrist and psychologist. Basically there are a shit-ton of professionals combing through my brain right now, which is actually pretty reassuring.
But the biggest difference, I think, has come from honesty. All those fragmented, painful memories I had been pushing down, down, down for year after year after year are out. My parents and friends know, and have cried with me and for me. I feel better, lighter; even if I do still have the odd bad hour, afternoon, or day.
The internet now knows, too. I wanted to write this post because there are so many of us – 3 million of us in Australia live with depression or anxiety – locking our secrets inside, drowning them in booze or sex or drugs or food. Pretending that if we don’t look at the bad stuff, it’ll go away on its own.
Links and Resources (Australia):
One of the hardest things I ever did was to tell the people close to me how I was feeling. It can be hard to explain depression to people who have never experienced it, and often their attempts to commiserate by comparing your situation to times when they’ve “felt a bit down” just make you feel weak for succumbing to depression when others have had it as bad or worse. This is an illness. You are sick. Help others to understand how best to support you using resources like the video at the start of the post, those listed immediately above, or the incomparable Allie Brosh‘s work on the subject:
So, that’s what I wanted you, denizens of the internet, to know. This isn’t going to turn into a mental illness blog; largely it will remain a sporadically-updated journal of my political rants and so forth. But the facts that I was raped, that I suffer from mental illness, aren’t things to be kept secret or to be ashamed of. It’s a tiny fraction of who I am, and it’s time to integrate that part of myself and keep on living.
It’s been quite a while, for reasons I will expand upon in another post, in a few more days. Meanwhile, though, some exciting news:
I’ve created a small business, providing editing and proofreading services. I specialise in academic editing in the social sciences, but have also been dipping my toes into short stories, novellas, and poetry. It’s been great fun and a wonderful boost to my own writing.
So come visit me at Marginalia: Words and Edits by Camden Luxford, or follow me @EditsMarginalia for language geekiness and shameless self promotion. I’ll still be tweeting politics, development, and social justice @camdenluxford, although at, perhaps, a less frantic pace than I was before the eighteen-month hiatus.
My business cards came yesterday and are so beautiful I just have to share them with you, so a big thanks to MOO for providing such creative and fun templates.
See you all in a few days!
Fascinating discussion with the man himself, Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz (Columbia University), Paul Krugman (Princeton University), and Steven Durlauf (University of Wisconsin–Madison). I bought the book today and hope to dive into it soon.
Samuel Farber’s Trotsky in Cuba looks at art and dissent in authoritarian societies, through the lens of Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and his ‘The Man Who Loved Dogs’.
What’s the Point if We Can’t Have Fun by David Graeber is wonderful:
Once you reduce all living beings to the equivalent of market actors, rational calculating machines trying to propagate their genetic code, you accept that not only the cells that make up our bodies, but whatever beings are our immediate ancestors, lacked anything even remotely like self-consciousness, freedom, or moral life—which makes it hard to understand how or why consciousness (a mind, a soul) could ever have evolved in the first place.
Graeber celebrates freedom and play – the expenditure of energy for the sheer joy of it – and wonders about play at an elemental level.
Mary Beard’s The Public Voice of Women was brought to my attention at last week’s IWDA Half the Sky event. Beard takes a historical view of the denial of women’s voices from Homer through Ovid to Henry James and Twitter:
But the more I have looked at the threats and insults that women have received, the more I have found that they fit into the old patterns I’ve been talking about. For a start it doesn’t much matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it, it’s the fact you’re saying it. And that matches the detail of the threats themselves. They include a fairly predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder and so forth (I may sound very relaxed about it now; that doesn’t mean it’s not scary when it comes late at night). But a significant subsection is directed at silencing the woman – ‘Shut up you bitch’ is a fairly common refrain. Or it promises to remove the capacity of the woman to speak. ‘I’m going to cut off your head and rape it’ was one tweet I got. ‘Headlessfemalepig’ was the Twitter name chosen by someone threatening an American journalist. ‘You should have your tongue ripped out’ was tweeted to another journalist. In its crude, aggressive way, this is about keeping, or getting, women out of man’s talk.
Francisco Toro at the Campaign for Boring Development takes issue with the Guardian’s Valentine’s Day Ethics: How Green is your Red Rose? which advocates for ethical consumption of cut flowers and chocolate based on murky working conditions and environmental standards in producing … Continue reading
It occurs to me that as an impassioned democrat I should, perhaps, draw on that great democratic resource: impassioned letter writing.
Next week the Australian Senate will discuss the Greens’ motion to disallow Temporary Protection Visas. I encourage you to contact your Senators and ask them to exercise compassion. Queensland’s Senators are:
Senator the Hon Ronald Boswell – The Nationals
(07) 3001 8150
Senator Sue Boyce – Liberal Party
(07) 3862 4044
Senator the Hon George Brandis QC – Liberal Party
(07) 3001 8180
Senator Mark Furner – ALP
(07) 3881 3710
Senator the Hon John Hogg – ALP
(07) 3843 4066
Senator the Hon Joe Ludwig – ALP
(07) 3229 4477
I sent each Senator the following email and will be calling their offices on Monday. Please join me.
I am writing to you in the hope that you will support the Greens’ motion to disallow Temporary Protection Visas. In the hope that you will, together with your fellow Senators, reaffirm the values that make this country great: a fair go, mateship, support for the underdog. This is not a country that turns its back, slams the door shut, closes its heart.
But it is not only compassion that should convince you TPVs are a bad idea. They have no deterrent effect: it is well-established that their introduction simply led to increased numbers of women and children risking their lives on leaky boats. If they are not intended for deterrence, one imagines the intent is to punish those who have arrived by boat: a breach of international law, which prohibits the punishment of refugees for their mode of arrival, and an intent unworthy of this nation.
But perhaps it is not intended to punish, but merely to prevent refugees from putting down serious roots in this country, in the hopes that they will, one day, be able to leave. It is difficult to comprehend the value Australia gains from this policy: indeed, the Department of Immigration and Border Control, on page 5 of the Community Programmes Service Providers’ Newsletter #8 recognises the benefits refugees can bring to Australian businesses. “They provide employers with unique skills, international experience and diverse cultural perspectives”.
Knowing that these refugees are liable, every three years, to have their TPVs revoked makes investment in these unique skills less attractive to potential employers. It robs the Australian economy of a source of growth and may, in some cases, contribute to welfare dependency.
But perhaps this is a national security issue. In that case, I fail to see how keeping an often traumatised and certainly vulnerable refugee community on the margins of our society – discouraging them from integrating into the community, from embracing our liberal democratic values – can possibly make us more secure. Why breed discontent and resentment where we could embrace different perspectives and a demonstrated determination to survive and thrive?
For me, though, this is not about economics or national security. It is about compassion. Please, Senator, try, for just one moment, to imagine a world turned upside down. A world in which Australia is no longer safe for you and I, a world in which torture and hunger and persecution are suddenly a part of our day-to-day, a world in which we are forced to flee. A world in which the only sanctuary we find is temporary.
I would be consumed by fear.
But we were lucky, you and I, to be born into the Lucky Country. Please, remember the arbitrariness of this luck. We did nothing to deserve it. But we can, through our actions, earn it, and extend that luck to the most vulnerable among us.
Support the Greens’ motion to disallow Temporary Protection Visas.