Shooting Your Shot with Atypical Depression
My uncle took his life in 1989 when I was seven years old. He was the epitome of a “starving artist” and a wildly talented painter and photographer. He was also an addict and lived with mental illness. He took his life during a bout of depression because, as the note he left explained, he just couldn’t keep going in a life full of rejection. He had been rejected by his parents and siblings, his wife and son, and continually throughout his creative career.
I never got to know my uncle while he was alive. I was still very young and his addiction and mental illness deemed him someone I needed to be kept from, protected from. At his memorial service I recall seeing his beautiful paintings on display and wondering how on earth someone could be so good at something and still want to die. I had yet to be impacted by my own mental illness that would bring me to understand exactly how his mental state came to be.
When I was in my mid-20s, I was diagnosed with atypical depression with rejection sensitivity. The best I can explain it to anyone that doesn’t live with it is that it’s similar to bipolar disorder but my highs and lows always have a cause. Friends wanting to include me in something or texting me just because they’re thinking of me? I’m elated and all is right with the world. If I feel that I’ve been forgotten about or a friendship begins to feel like it exists only because the person wants what I can do for them and I struggle with suicidal ideation.
As great as it is to have a name for what’s “wrong” with me after spending all of my teens and early 20s simply believing I was a bad person, there’s not really any treatment that works for me short of avoiding the triggers that cause my lows. How do I avoid those triggers? By having adapted to live a very limited life. I don’t take risks that would put me in a position of being rejected. I don’t have more than a few close friends and even with those I do have, I would never ask anything of them that may result in rejection. Sure, my life can come to feel stagnant sometimes but it also feels safe and keeps my mental state level.
I was a teen when people started comparing me to my uncle, but only for the things they praised him for, not the entire man he was. My creative talents blossomed and thus began the, “Oh you are just like your uncle,” “Wow, you have your uncle’s talent,” and “You caught the creative bug from your uncle, huh?” I grew to resent the comparison because they only praised what he could do while never having a kind word for his humanity. I learned over time that I share his creative talent as well as the various mental health struggles he lived with. He experienced the ups and downs of life and relationships in a very deep way and so do I. There is no joy like that of being wanted by someone and there is no deeper depth of depression than being rejected for the thing you want most in the world.
The difference between my uncle and me? There are a couple. I am an adult in a time when therapy is readily available and encouraged. He had no access to such help. I am and always have been sober because of what I know of him. He had no family member that came before him to show the wrong path. And I live in what I think of as the middle path, limiting myself to experiences that won’t cause my mental health to swing wildly to one extreme or another, where my uncle lived a life of extremes.
You can imagine what my “middle path” approach to life has done to my professional life, I’m sure. Building a career requires risk taking. You must shoot your shot or you will never get anywhere. This is complicated by the fact that I am a writer with the goal of being published. The life of a writer is one of rejection. Fiction writers face hundreds of rejections. Freelance writers pitch and get rejected daily. I don’t do either of these things. I self-published my novel and I started my own outlet for my games journalism so that rejection is not a part of my daily life. But neither of these chosen paths of writing are particularly fruitful for me — because of the limitations I put on myself in avoiding rejection — so I also have a day job.
I have been comfortably doing my current job for three years and getting this job involved zero risk on my part. I was offered it without ever having applied. There couldn’t have been a more ideal professional opportunity for me. I’m doing what I’m good at but it’s not what I love. The opportunity of my professional dreams came along recently and I shot my shot. The job felt as though it was made for me and I would spend every day actively living my dream job if I got it. I submitted my resume, got an interview, and I was flying high in the two weeks after my interview while I waited to hear back. I felt that the interview went very well and as I said, the position I was a candidate for felt like it was designed around all of the things I do very well.
Atypical depression took that “this went well” high and ran with it. Of course I would get the job, I’m amazing, obviously they would want me. There was no space in my mind for the possibility, the reality, that they may very well choose a different candidate. While I may live on the middle path, when emotional experiences do happen to me, because there’s not really treatment that works for me that lessens the highs and lows, I am largely at their mercy and it simply doesn’t occur to me that perhaps I should try to level myself out. Who doesn’t love feeling amazing, after all?
Then came the email. The “we’ve decided to go with another candidate” notification. The logical part of my brain understood. Of course they chose the candidate that had more experience in one key area. It wasn’t personal, it was a good professional decision. The atypically depressed part of my brain though, it did what it does. Loser, of course they didn’t hire you. You don’t even deserve the job you have. What the hell makes you think you could be good enough? You’ll never be good enough because you’re a fraud faking your way through your career. Nobody wants you and why should they? This doesn’t feel very good, does it? It can stop hurting if you die. YES, you could die and never have to feel this low again. And trust me you will always feel this low. But you can stop it all right now if you just die.
It’s so easy to believe that joy will never be yours again when you’re in that horrible place. And I spent the next 15 hours or so after receiving that email with my only thoughts being different ways I could end my life. Even my dogs, who are my constant source of rejection-free joy, couldn’t pull me from my depression. Dying was the only thing that could, as dictated by the lowest low of atypical depression
I am very fortunate to have two people in my life that I can share a rejection with and immediately, they know where my mind will go and they support me through it. Sit there beside me and ride it out. That is how I was able to endure this, the biggest rejection I have faced thus far. I was also able to see my therapist the very next day and will talk with her daily until my mind has again leveled back to my middle path life. She scolded me, in her therapisty way, for not having put a rejection plan in place. She told me that I know myself too well to have opened myself up for that big of a rejection without planning for the “what ifs” and she’s right. I do know myself too well and I should have planned better.
I can’t stay in the same professional place forever, so how will I plan for next time? For starters, I will write down my plan before the happy extreme of an interview going well takes over so possible bad outcomes won’t be clouded or seem improbable. And in writing it down, I will also share it with my two people so they can be aware that I’m doing a thing and may need to call on them for support. There’s nothing I hate more than that feeling of being seen as an emergency that they need to drop everything to help with. I also went wrong in not telling my therapist that I’d even submitted my resume for a job, as I learned after the fact that she has many tips and things I can do to work through the lows instead of simply sitting there and suffering until it goes away. While there may be nothing I can do to treat my mental health because, much to my dismay I cannot control the entire world, I will gladly do anything I can to manage my mental health.
I was never allowed to develop a bond with my uncle while he was alive. In fact, I never got to meet him. I came to know him after his death by having gained a new perspective on all the bad things people ever said about him because of how many similarities I see between us. He wasn’t the terrible, selfish, and greedy man he was made out to be when I was young. He was brilliant and struggling and caring for himself the only way he knew how. I will never know the real man he was, what he was like to have a casual conversation with, whether he felt the same way I do when I’m behind a camera. And I will probably always resent my family a little bit because I understand through the way they speak of him that they don’t really want to know me. But I am grateful for my uncle’s life and his experiences that made a path for me to thrive in, and yes, sometimes simply endure life.