I can feel the panic rising within you. There is too much that feels familiar. Your worst fear is repetition of the years-long nightmare you only just got out of. But everything seems to be happening all over again, maybe a little faster this time, with the major difference being that you already know how it’s going to go. You know everybody’s reaction beforehand, and the cyclic nature of it all exhausts you. You are discovering that lacerations you thought had been mended cleanly only had weak thread holding the sides together, now unravelling at the least opportunity. You allowed yourself to hope that your relationships had changed, that perhaps transparent honesty might lead to different, fruitful results this time. Now that you have attempted transparency once again, even though you vowed to yourself a while ago not to anymore, the reactions to it have shocked and disappointed you back into despair.
You have been in deliberate denial for ages about the apparent relapse. There is no one who wants it not to be happening more than you. But on that day last week, when you could not get out of bed once again, could not contain the sadness anymore, could not control any aspect of your life, you were convinced you were done. You would rather die than go through another round of it all (as ironic as it is that the desire to die is also part of repeating the experience). You were convinced that if you did not leave, you would die. But you have not been allowed to terminate either your breath or your circumstance, and so now, with next to no hope, you keep trudging, keep putting one foot in front of the other on the days when you have enough energy to swing yourself out of bed. But every step forward feels like it’s taking you backwards into that place you were in before. You can’t see a future, you can only envision inevitable returns to the past, into the darkness of those dreary days when your own lyrics to “Dear God” were the only accurate summary of your life. You never want to be able to relate to those lyrics again, for the rest of your life. But here you are, locked inside a brain that keeps repeating the words to you especially when you don’t want to hear them. You hate cycles. This is what depression is: an inability to see a way out, ever; the belief that there is none, at least not for you.
You’ve tried to fight it though, through distraction, by focusing obsessively on any writing project. But there is a tragedy you experience each time you pick up a pen: you can only write about one thing.
Three weeks ago, you were sitting in a plane high among the clouds, reading a James Baldwin essay in which he says that “One writes out of one thing only – one’s own experience.” When you read it, it struck you so hard that you had to pause to catch your breath. This is not a good sign; you have only been able to write about one thing for the past two years. Every character is once more turning into yourself and the different scenarios of each story morph eventually into the same setting. Your method of escape has turned into a trap. You have too many pages in your old notebooks that the pages of your new notebooks are echoing.
No! You cannot go back to the way things used to be because if you do, you will never be able to write another word.
You must not allow your experience to repeat itself. You do not want more versions of pieces of art you have already created. You don’t need the same shirt in all the colors of the rainbow. That is your nightmare: that your next EP just might be identical to your last, that you will never be able to write another short story that isn’t a shadow of one you have already written. You are eighteen years old, and it already feels like you have written everything you will ever be able to write. Because if Baldwin is right, if we write out of our experiences alone, and if you are only going to keep experiencing the same thing in repetitive cycles, you cannot figure out how you could possibly keep saying the same things in your writing for the rest of your time on earth. Everyone will get bored extremely quickly, beginning with yourself.
Last week, you had your first real panic attack since you began college. It lasted several days, and you are not entirely sure it has ended. You are now living in fear and anxiety of what you think is the inevitable, living also in cheerful resignation to despair about the future.
A few days ago, someone asked the members of the Twitterverse what the title of this chapter of their lives was. You had to think about it for a few minutes, but soon, it was like the perfect word had dropped right from the sky into your waiting mind: “Retrograde.” (It’s getting stranger and stranger, isn’t it, how nearly every part of your life, every activity, almost every metaphorical thought that occurs to you seems somehow related to the cosmos? Astronomy is underlying every part of your life.)
You call this chapter “Retrograde” because of your backwards motion. There is no language you understand more than the metaphorical. It is what helps you navigate through life. Nothing anyone can say to encourage you will work more effectively on you than this. So, let us hold on to the astronomical concept of retrograde.
Observing a moving thing while standing on a moving thing is always going to be complicated. We have given a name to a thing that by all rights appears from our circumstantial locations to be true but is not. Thank goodness, the retrograde does not exist. Planets appear to loop backwards in their orbits, but not a single one ever does, despite what our eyes on the moving earth claim to see, and it baffled us for ages and ages.
You are in “Retrograde,” you say. But if you had the omniscience to see your trajectory from outwards and above, you would know that in reality you are still moving forward perfectly on your designated course. Hold on to knowledge apart from the senses, contrary to feeling. Hold on to the illusory concept of retrograde. I am talking to you. Read yourself through this chapter, and make sure it has a period that marks its end, when it ends. It will end.
“You mock me
And I’ll probably do my best to convince you that I’m the victim
and you just don’t believe me.
You insist you are me.
And I’ve ran and I’ve ran,
yet your stride is identical.
Every step I took, your foot fit right in it
Why can’t I shake you?
I just can’t shake you.
You are my past.
Why won’t you stay there?
You, that pain that guides us
the strings that tie us
the coincidence that proves to us God’s existence
the joy I misplaced
a scarlet thread
my crimson cord.”
-Propaganda, “You Mock Me”