Keeping her depression to herself meant she wasn’t truly managing it, so Annamarya Scaccia is letting the world in on her secret and hoping she touches someone else battling a mental illness in the process.
Before typing out this post, I spent weeks writing it in my head.
Confused snippets of sentences and fragmented paragraphs ran tracks around my mind, rummaging through the clutter to find an empty space to sit. Words would explode then melt back into the black.
The chaotic race would eventually exhaust me, tire my lids, and quiet my brain. Then I would sit with remote in hand, clicking buttons repeatedly to find some mind-numbing TV show. I spread out on the couch, hopeless, bags under my eyes holding the weight of my world. I would shut down and disconnect from the reality of the home I am trapped in.
I become a shell.
This pattern is nothing new to me because this pattern is my every day.
This pattern is my depression.
From the moment I wake until the moment I succumb to slumber, I am a constant fury of emotions—an F5 tornado of inner turmoil. Bursts of self-righteous brilliance give way to earsplitting silence. Eruptions of confidence flow down mountains of self-doubt. Inside, I have no control.
There is no overseeing authority over my constant low self-esteem, my constant mistrust, my constant anger, my constant sadness. There’s no box caging my endless loneliness, my endless disbelief, my endless bitterness. Every day, I am engaged in a battle with the other Annamarya—the one who sees nothing but a terrible person, a person who’s just a stain on the lives of those around me. To say I don’t like myself is an understatement.
It’s a storm raging since I was a teenager, even before I was diagnosed with clinical depression by an anarchist therapist at 16 years old. For the last 14 years, I have lived with this labeled part of me and, in those years, it’s reared its ugly head differently. From 16 to age 23—the era I call the “Blur” spent partly on Prozac—I wore my depression on my sleeve (figuratively and literally—self-inflicted scars define that period). I broke down at work, school, and on the streets. I was unstable, emotionally fragile, and unable to get a grip. I wrote blog posts about my angst and anxiety. I was an open book, insisting upon itself. I could hold down a job and stay in school but I couldn’t hold myself. I let my depression expose itself to friends and family, to unsuspecting strangers. I was a nuisance.
That changed seven years ago. My depression retreated, becoming my little secret—the girl screaming in the corner with no sound escaping her mouth. Maybe you can see her in my eyes, the way my lips curl, or how my hips move. But she’s buried underneath piles of descriptors I designated for the way I should act. To the outside, I am a loud woman who lives as a journalist and works as a graphic designer. I am just another ordinary tattooed and pierced body walking through a life prescribed.
In the stillness of my apartment, I break. Not entirely—never again entirely. But moments pass where old Annamarya appears. Whether it’s through salty seas provoked by bad events, lethargy disguised as television watching or a To-Do list that’s never quite completed, depressed Annamarya knocks.
I don’t let her in. Instead, she stands there, her shrieks muted by the heavy oak door.
Now, I acknowledge depressed Annamarya only in analytical terms, mentioning it lightly here and there like it’s the mole on my thigh. It’s a truth that’s purely chemical. It’s something that existed first as clinical depression and now as severe major depressive disorder (the updated diagnosis I received in 2008 when I saw another therapist for a brief time). It’s something I can recognize in my day-to-day. I can identify the bad episodes and push them to the side. But, emotionally, I am closed off from depressed Annamarya. I don’t give her a space to live, to breathe, to enfold me so I can comfort her. She is just a crying child.
I don’t acknowledge depressed Annamarya because I stigmatize her. You see, also living with depressed Annamarya is naysayer Annamarya, the woman who says my depression isn’t real. Naysayer Annamarya is the internal voice of the real family member who told me so many years ago to never write down that I have depression on college applications because they wouldn’t accept me—they would think I was crazy. Naysayer Annamarya is the woman who echoes a societal belief that depression is just a teenage girl’s game—an illness invented for attention.
She is the woman who reminds me to get over it, that I’m just wallowing over old bullshit, that my issues aren’t as important as people with “real” problems.
By stigmatizing my depression, I’ve closed myself off to my partner of eight years. He knew my diagnosis from the beginning of our relationship, yet I never truly let him in. Sure, I’ve complained, cried, and ranted to him but those outbursts are hardly about my unceasing reality. They’re just responses to moments that angered or saddened me. Telling my partner about those flashes of self-hatred, those seconds of self-doubt, those urges of self-mutilation—thoughts not tied to the palpable—is out of the question. It doesn’t matter if he supports me and wants to understand. If I showed who I really am, then he wouldn’t love me. If I showed anyone—even my best friend who lives just the same—who I really am, then they wouldn’t like me at all.
That’s the story I’ve written for myself.
Writer and activist Jessica Luther wrote a blog post in January chronicling her depression that turned my world upside down. The words that scrolled across the page could have been my own. I related so deeply to it that I sent her an email thanking her for her brutal honesty, and admitting that I wished I had the same courage.
Since reading her post, I’ve thought a lot about how I’ve managed my own depression—and whether I was managing it at all. And I came to the stark realization that I wasn’t. Instead, I was ignoring it. Denial disguised itself as acceptance, and despair disguised itself as hope. So, because of Jessica, I decided to confront it once and for all, before there was some traumatic experience in my life that I had to get passed.
I decided to be proactive and start therapy once again.
I decided to finally lay all of me out for everyone to see.
This is the first step in me truly accepting my depression. The second will be my long-term boyfriend sitting in on a therapy session so he can see me truly naked.
I’ll admit, though, the thought of what comments will pepper this post frightens me. In a fit of fortune telling, I imagine all the criticism, trolling, and venom that’ll appear—a scroll of odium affirming the stigma I apply to myself. I am convinced writing this post will keep me from landing jobs or freelance writing gigs because, hey, who wants to work with someone who’s “crazy”?
But I am refusing to let that stop me from opening up because maybe, just maybe, I can connect with another person. Maybe I can help someone else like Jessica helped me.
As a side note, I wanted to say that Bring Change 2 Mind, Glenn Close and her sister Jessie’s national campaign, is working hard to eliminate stigma and discrimination around mental illness. Please take a minute to check out their commercial, one that always brings me to tears.
Annamarya Scaccia is an award-winning freelance journalist and graphic designer who’s written extensively on sexual violence, reproductive health & rights, marriage equality, constitutional issues, body image, and gender roles, among other rousing topics. Her work has appeared in/on Philadelphia Weekly, Philadelphia City Paper, Prince George’s Suite Magazine, RHRealityCheck.org, TheDailyFemme.com, BLURT, and Origivation. Follow her on Twitter @annamarya_s.