it gnaws

As I write this I am currently heading home from a conference, one that took place far away from New York. I know that it’s selfish to travel but I said yes without really thinking and anyway I had grown genuinely concerned that more time alone in my apartment might take my depression into even darker places. I had to get out.

It was nice to be far from home, surrounded by people who knew nothing of me but my book. Thanks in part to the pandemic this was the first time that anyone had approached me and asked me to sign their copy, the first time strangers asked me questions and made critiques in person. My presentation was a mess, a classic case of trying to squeeze too much information into too little time, and I looked ridiculous in a suit I bought when I was 50 pounds lighter but which I couldn’t afford to replace. But the staff was incredibly friendly and competent and it looks like a few copies of the book got sold and everyone else was much more successful than me. It was a privilege and I’m grateful.

It’s all got me thinking about the future. I’m still unemployed, although the gradually accumulation of little gigs is making things seem a little more doable. For the foreseeable future I will continue to grade papers, edit manuscripts, ghostwrite a book, teach a class in the spring. Several people asked me what my next book would be about but, well, my impression is that the book has sold quite poorly so publishing another one wouldn’t be easy. (They have not sent me any sales figures or anything and I am certainly not about to ask.) And I genuinely don’t have any idea what I would write about even if someone would publish me. It would have to be something completely different. I’ve been thinking about the subjects of my book for three years and I can’t stand it anymore.

I don’t have much desire to write short form anymore. I mean obviously I do here all the time, but here is different. Here I’m not intending to broadcast to anyone but my few dozen (?) RSS readers. When I wrote in response to the Harper’s letter and it blew up I was mortified. Usually I’m not really looking for a broad readership, in part because if my work is discovered these days it prompts a very negative response, which I acknowledge is my own fault. I also just don’t feel the need to publish in prominent places anymore, not that they would have me. When I started writing for magazines and newspapers it was mostly about proving to people that I could, and I no longer feel much to prove nor am motivated by petty spite in the way I was before.

It was good of the Washington Post to publish me recently. And brave. I owed it to St. Martin’s to do that promo and the topic they wanted was a perfect match with the book. But that opportunity was sui generis.

Still, there is a part of me that wants badly to write about something, and for a publication other than this website or Medium, and that I think would serve a legitimate public function. And I would write about it well. I can still move people when I want to. I just don’t see any path to doing it for a real audience.

The truth is that my mental life is in many respects dominated by my medications and their side effects. I experience them by experiencing them and I experience them by thinking about the experience of them. I have now been medicated for over three straight years, far and away the longest period of my life. And the thing about the side effects is that they just keep being there, even though there’s some inchoate part of my mind that always thinks that if I work the program long enough, somehow, magically, they will extinguish and burn away. You don’t get used to them, or at least I don’t. Something about the difficulty always seems unexpected, always seems new. And I just don’t think people know. They know in some vague sense that there are side effects to psych meds, but they don’t really understand. This is not metaphor: both my body and my mind have been transformed by these drugs. I am a different person in body and in intellect. And it hurts.

I know that this problem is mine, one that most would think of as minor. And I know describing any hardship will compel some on the internet to accuse me of feeling sorry for myself, as they always do, and many of them believe that I deserve whatever comes to me. But I want to write about this intimately personal subject because it is not personal, because my experiences are shared by millions of others who quietly suffer. And I want to give that voice. I have read hundreds of thousands of words of testimonials, memoirs, personal essays, and exegeses about mental illness and meds, but never have I read anything that quite captures what I need others to see.

For now, I fight the urge to tell strangers on the subway. There is just some part of myself that is still amazed, and that wants the world to know so that it can be amazed as well. Unfortunately it is very unlikely that a prominent publication would give me the space, and I know that this is my fault too.