On a brain that is anxious and depressed and is also mine and beautiful.

This is a reminder to take care of yourself.

I hear that saying a lot, and it is good advice. It’s also sometimes difficult to accomplish, particularly when you don’t even know what it is that you need. I haven’t had an anxiety attack in awhile, but I had one lately, and I’m writing more for myself than for any of you right now. Perhaps that’s selfish. It probably is. Maybe there’s also something here that will help those of you who feel alone. I suspect that my truth is very similar to the truth of a lot of people. We just don’t talk about it, for all of the reasons you might expect. Because we don’t want to seem crazy. Because the label of “struggling with mental health” doesn’t apply to the immensely capable people we are in our daily lives. Because we don’t want others to worry about us. Because we don’t have the energy to make our loved ones feel better when we confide this in them. Because it can be exhausting to say “I’m fine” to someone, knowing it will be true eventually, even if it is not true in the moment. Because it doesn’t make sense that fierce, hard-working, smart and loyal people can also be reduced to the point of incapacitation over nothing in particular. Especially when that person is you.

I guess all I’m saying is, take care of yourself. Whatever that means. Whatever that means to you.

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression in mostly low-grade forms for a long time now. They suck, but it’s okay. It could be a lot worse. Still.

I’m trying to love my brain, because it is the best and only true partner I have ever had. My brain is my ride-or-die, my long-term relationship, and the only one I’ve got, like it or not, now and forever. Picturing my brain as my boyfriend is a useful device for explaining the sense of betrayal and devastation when I wake up and my brain is not there. Or is there, but not fully present. Dull around the edges. Cloudy. Like when you’re with someone for a long time, so long that you’re eating breakfast together and looking at this person across the table and feeling like you’re eating breakfast with a stranger, that’s how far away you are from each other, even though you are as close as two people can possibly be. That neither of you are really in the room. That’s what it feels like when my brain decides to leave.

I’m trying to love my brain, even though it can feel like an abusive relationship, the kind that your friends warned you against, slamming drinks down on tables and wagging fingers, girl, hell no, you deserve better. When my brain is good, it is good: it is the right joke at the right time to the right person, and it is devouring the stack of books beside my bed. It is the ability to break complex ideas down into simple, digestible thoughts, and it is a spyglass focusing on individual tiny beautiful things. It’s the mechanism through which I process pleasure and laughter and the unknowable magnitude of living in the world. My brain is my language, my sense of humor, my taste buds and my preferences, my hunger to create and to be surrounded by art.

And so when my brain leaves, it’s not like the world around me collapses. It’s nothing that dramatic. It’s just like when your best friend is in the room, and then they walk out the door unexpectedly, and you feel their loss. They’re not dead, and the world around you didn’t suddenly become predatory and dangerous. You’re still in the same room. You just don’t know where they are, and when they’ll return. You feel their loss. You wonder why they didn’t tell you where they are going, or when they’ll be back.

If a partner treated me the way that my brain does, I would have dumped him awhile ago. I’m not here for that from anyone but myself. And yet, I am still trying to love my brain. I am married to my brain, my arranged marriage that is the source of pain and is also the great love of my life. I will wait until my brain comes back, because it always does, and when it does, it is glorious and I feel so whole. If I cry while I wait, it is simply because I miss my friend, and because without my friend, I am not myself. I take deep breaths. I am a writer, an artist, a teacher, and a friend, and I am all of those things because of — not in spite of — my brain.

I don’t know if these words are any good. I can’t evaluate my own work even on the best of days, so on the bad ones, it can feel extra challenging. I’m fighting the urge to delete all of this right now, but I also know the importance of the shared experience, so maybe if there’s someone out there that reads this and sees their own brain mirrored back at them, then I’ve done some good today, and that is enough.

I am fine. I am already fine, and I am going to be fine. My brain is coming back, and it is so good.


Did you like this post? They’re not all so vulnerable, I promise. There’s funny ones with jokes on here, too. Consider helping me keep writing! And thank you for reading. 


47 thoughts on “On a brain that is anxious and depressed and is also mine and beautiful.

  1. Yes, your words are good. And so is your brain! (Even if it lets you down sometimes.) Thank you for writing this beautiful and courageous post.

  2. Katherine, again I feel like we are so similar. So maybe this quote will help you the way it helps me. It works in the context of relationships, including this relationship you’ve described your post.

    “When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

    The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”

    –Anne Morrow Lindbergh

  3. Sometimes shutting down temporarily is the only way to cope when you have been going at warp speed .. as you do most of the time. I find it wonderful that you have learned to be patient with yourself until your “self” kicks back in. Took me longer to learn to do that!

  4. Pingback: On a brain that is anxious and depressed and is also mine and beautiful. – Truth Troubles: Why people hate the truths' of the real world

  5. Thank you for another honest piece of your mind.

    I’m still missing Terry Pratchett’s brain — it was such an extraordinarily lovely, funny, angry, silly thing. Pratchett died a year ago, in his sixties, of early-onset Alzheimers. Since his death, I’ve taken comfort in reading the words of other congenial cranial masses. I’m glad I chanced upon your fine brain, for one!

    If you haven’t read his work yet, may I commend ‘Wee Free Men’ to you as a place to start? There is healing laughter there, and wholeness, borne along by good will and deep human understanding. It’s a fairy tale — surely one of the best places for good brains to visit, especially when they’re in need of strength, and rest, and (dare we hope? O, what the hell!) happiness.

    “Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.”

    — Terry Pratchett (1948–2015), ‘Jingo’, 1997

  6. Even if there are people who don’t have anxiety attacks or bi-polarism (or whatever they are calling that these days) or any other of a myriad of “mental” issues – they still have days when they are not “themselves” and forget things and say the wrong things and do dumb things… it’s NORMAL! It’s important to keep a thermometer check on how far down or up you may be – but it’s okay to have some down time. And honestly, you are one of the very best writers I have ever come across. I can see your writing being taught in universities – it’s pithy and funny and interesting and profound and kind and many other really good words I can’t think of right this second 🙂 You’re very very good! in a nutshell 🙂 And I am grateful for every post you post – thank you.

  7. I think a lot of people start writing blogs because of this king of experience. Most of us want to either share how we feel and find that there are others out there who are going through the same experiences, or to prove to ourselves that we are better than what our brains sometimes make us out to be.
    So thank you for sharing, and know that there are others like you (me, for instance), and keep on doing what you love!

  8. Dear Katherine,
    You have totally and completely just described my day today. And many of my days last week. Thank you. I, too, feel better, and part of that is laughing at me-refiected-in-you. Laughing brings me back. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do though. Thanks for making it easier.

  9. Dear Katherine,
    You are one of the brightest, most engaging, creative, and articulate writers I have ever read. I’m a 65-year-old retired academic so I’ve read many, many authors. Your piece today pierced my heart. I know that the bouts of depression and anxiety you experience are painful, discouraging, and terrifying in that you cannot predict either how low you will go emotionally when the sadness envelopes you or when the bouts will end. I want you to seek treatment. You may have to shop around (a lot) for the right therapist. This therapist may or may not want to help you through the low periods with medication. Therapists and medication can dramatically help change how you feel and can, potentially, be life-saving. I beg you to seek treatment. My younger half-sister did not. She, like you, was incredibly talented, enormously hard-working, very high achieving, gregarious, and charismatic. She was also one of the kindest souls in the world. She felt that she could handle her recurring low points without help. Ultimately she couldn’t. Please, please, please give yourself permission to seek out a fine therapist and allow this person to help you. In life everyone needs and deserves a little help along the way. Please be as compassionate with yourself as you are with the world around you. This could be the most important gift you give yourself and all the people who love you.

  10. Honest is always best, so yes it was good.. but after readying you I am unable to respond to your writing, as I feel compelled to try to help. I study lots of alternative medicine and have to ask you if your doing any kind of aspartame or diet sodas anything like that , even gum.
    One of my alt med gurus told a story recently that was about someone who was having problems with maintaining a sympathetic brain and she discovered that dietary changes helped a lot, especially eliminating the stuff I mentioned above. If I’m way of base, it doesn’t cost anything to offer this for thought.

    Another approach is that you can try to get into some digital brain work with multiple kinds of tracks. I can’t recommend any because I’ve not done them in a while but they work like CRAZY… I used to do meditation tracks as I fell to sleep and I’d feel the postiive affects for 24 hours. I know that iawake offers some good ones that are like digital euphoria check it out: http://www.iawaketechnologies.com/product/digital-euphoria/ there is a free sample at the bottom.
    I have family members that have similar problems and exercise can be difficult if your brain is not wanting it, but if you can push yourself it can help to get the good things moving around.

    You remind us all that the tides of creation can really take us for a ride at times.

    Hope you’ll be feeling better soon.


  11. This was such a fantastic post. You don’t even know how much this resonated with me. I have a big hole in my bain, literally. I have such a love/hate relationship with my brain. Thanks for your honesty and candidness. You rock, st :P~

  12. Katherine, thank you for your stark and courageous post. You are not alone in feeling the way you do. Trying to love your brain in all its nuances is the way to go. At age 62 I am just now learning how to truly “take care of myself.” It involves (for me) taking the time to check out the gardens, sip the cool water, consider the play of shadow on stone and not answer the texts and phone calls immediately unless I feel totally ready. You will be fine.

  13. Thank you! I too have times of ‘low-grade forms’ that I have felt guilty about in the past because i don’t have any major trauma. This piece is so gentle and loving it will surely help plenty of people and has given me a slightly different take on those times when it feels like my brain has left

  14. Am glad you wrote, and you write so well! Yes, some days are more difficult than others, and I have several friends who are battling their “brains” today. But happiness will return! Thanks for your candidness and your thoughts.

  15. Hi, i have been a silent regular reader of your blogs. But today i just had to type down some words because you have written exactly what i go through sometime.I too am going through metal health issues and have been going under medication and self therapy(yoga,exercise). I can literally feel what you have been going through but in all those lines there is still so much of humor, i love it. Thanks so much for sharing how you look at your brain, because i have never thought that way and i guess following your method will just add to my therapy.
    Just the other day i was writing something for a school magazine and it was about being your own inspiration. I think doing things that relieve you is not at all selfish. In fact it is the first step of showing kindness to the world.
    Keep it up and never stop writing.
    By now I hope your brain has returned to being chivalrous. 🙂

    From India

  16. So true! I’m the same way, just mild enough that somedays I feel so down I don’t want to see anyone or leave my house, then I’m fine a few days later.

  17. Thank you so much for sharing this, Katherine. You’re right, there are souls out there who needed to hear this today. I try to keep my brain on a leash most times but it is a wild thing, after all. Maybe it’s out there with yours having great adventures so it can tell me fantastical stories as I fall asleep.

  18. This is amazing, one of the best pieces I have ever read on WordPress or on depression/anxiety. I wish I could make this into a little book and have people read it when I try to explain my past 3 years. Amazing amazing amazing. Thank you.

  19. Brilliant. Thank you for sharing. I’m a firm believer in sharing pieces we’ve written for ourselves. They are usually the most insightful and beneficial for others, not to mention ourselves. Take care of you. 😉

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  21. Thanks for sharing this part of yourself; it’s brave of you. I’m a big fan of your blog; I love what comes out of that beautiful brain of yours. Depression has been a constant, unwelcome, unfriendly companion of mine for 13 years now, so I know the struggle. It’s a relationship we never asked for and can’t get out of, so we just try and figure out how to deal. The most important thing for anyone in this relationship is to GET HELP. It’s available, and there is no shame in asking for it. That includes MEN!
    Bless you, ma’am, and keep up the great work.

  22. You know those blogs, or books, or articles that just kind of leap out at you, and suddenly you feel this deep, overwhelming connection to them as the words of another person give depth and tangibility to your own muddled thoughts on the same issue, and you suddenly realize, “I really needed to read this”?

    Because that’s what this did for me. So thank you.

  23. Thank you for putting into words and out into the universe what so many of us feel! You shared and made me feel less alone and less crazy. Thank you so much!

  24. Thank you for this from the bottom of my heart. I know all to well the feeling of the never ending curse of emotions and thoughts such as these. I think it’s important to share pieces like this with the world. We have become so afraid to do so because of how we will be labeled, but I say no more. We should speak freely without judgement. It’s important for others to learn to understand. I appreciate you speaking the words many of us may not say. *HUGS*
    Thank You

  25. The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

    — Jellaludin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

    Thank you for your blog. It’s always a wonderful read. When I read this post, I immediately thought of this Rumi poem to share. It’s helped me a lot. Peace.

  26. Thankyou for your post and honesty. I am reading your post for the very first time.

    This has helped me with comprehending on depression and how a loved one is struggling and recently admitted/ agreed to seek help. You are right–as they couldn’t explain–depression take a toll on you. It comes and it goes. I glad you didn’t erase or press the delete key.

  27. I thought this was really insightful. I love the part where you compare your relationship to a marriage where the couple has been together so long they look at each other across the table like strangers but no one could know the other better… Perhaps though you are dealing with some form of mental illness, it is in its backwards way a gift because you see things so beautifully- panfully beautiful. Thanks for sharing!!!

  28. No problem with writing what comes to mind at all! Writing is like therapy for me and I know a lot of other people are the same way. Last night I wrote 10 pages (not all at one time, I cant write too long) I always write longhand on my Short Hand pad of paper I have in every room of the house. It gets me through, and even if I don’t post it, it just feels better to let it out, release it. Keep up the writing!

  29. I’ve been following your work for some time now, i do love your style in writing.

    I, too, suffer with it and find it difficult to speak about. It’s people like you who are brave enough to speak out that help change societies attitudes on depression. Thanks for sharing.

    I was hoping, if you’ve got the time, maybe you’d take a look at my latest post perhaps? I would love some thoughts, positive feedback and/or constructive criticism. It’s titled “The Physics of my Magical Black Hair” and is Part 3 of my project I’ve called “Black Enough”:


    I really do hope you enjoy it and are blessed to share 🙂

    God bless,

  30. I can’t pick which part of this is my favorite. Only that I can relate so much. The way you describe your brain leaving and compared your brain like an arranged marriage…I’m going to have to start using those analogies when trying convey how I’m feeling to me. I’m also trying to love my brain recently. Instead of feeling like I’m fighting it, ashamed of it, or afraid of it, I’ve been trying to love it as part of me and as a good thing. Easier said than done, but maybe thinking of it like my husband or something will help. Thanks for sharing this!

  31. There’s a sound Jamaicans make when something is really good. It cannot be spelled out, cannot be reduced to words. I just made that sound after ready this post. Thanks!

  32. Pingback: A very well written reminder to everyone… – beachbumlife

  33. This is one of the best analogies I have read about anxiety and depression; a continuous relationship with the brain. Thank you for your honesty and helping me save something which is truly worth reading when my brain decides to leave

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