There was recently a themed writing call from one of my dream journals. It asked for works that feature or explore joy. Writing to a theme is one of my strengths, but I was flummoxed. The only take I have on joy is that I don’t have a take on joy. I see the world, and create my work, via a depressive lens.
What is the depressive lens? (Or to be more specific, what is my depressive lens?)
To start with, it is physical. I have butt-loads of diagnoses, some useful, others cumbersome. I’m put into about a half dozen boxes that posit that the way my brain functions is not The Norm™. Depression is the biggest matryoshka doll, wrapped around others like ADHD, anxiety, and cPTSD. I exist inside of these and they exist inside of me. Depressionception. There are physical manifestations of all of them. I move through the world—and write—inclusive of them. I write through brain fog. I write through exhaustion. I write through physical discomfort and pain. My characters, even when they don’t share my experiences, still come from them.
The depressive lens is a vibe. You know the phrase, “seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses?” My depressive lens isn’t the opposite of that, it is the absence of it. When I write a story, there are no easy heroes, no safety nets, no soft places to land. When I write a poem, I know it will never find a home on a Hallmark card (unless they’ve added a category for weird thoughts I had about an avocado while I was homeless).
In my work, an ending is never an ending. My disability is cyclic, meaning it ebbs and flows. It’s always coming back around to punch me in the face. In my stories, the same is true. Resolution is never absolute. I’m forced to be creative with my non-endings. How can I give people the satisfaction of completion while still telling stories that reflect the inevitability of Hard Times: The Sequel?
The depressive lens determines the breadth of my work. My mental illnesses, all of them, make my world small. Sometimes my world is my bed, or even the gap between my bed and the wall. As a child, that’s where I hid. Being pressed in on both sides meant I couldn’t be surprised.
This smallness informs my stories. My minimalism reflects my stamina. My lens is incomplete. It rushes to capture creativity before it’s re-buried. It’s short stories but not novels, poems but not epics. It’s last minute cancellations and self-imposed guilt. It can make me appear unreliable, but writing is actually a way to be reliable. Once the words are published, they are permanent. In my most depressed spaces, they still exist.
The depressive lens comes with trigger warnings, which I’m cool with. Give people a heads up. I wish I’d gotten one, if I’m being honest. Maybe that’s why I don’t shy away from the depressive lens, or the anxious lens, or the post-traumatic lens. This is how I exist. This is how lots of us exist. We benefit from seeing ourselves and—more importantly—sensing our point of view in stories.
To be clear: the depressive lens does not preclude hope. Hope is a feature of it. Continuing to write when stopping is easier? Hope. Writing this essay or submitting a story or slipping in a stealth rhyme and believing someone will catch it? All hope. Because I’m starting at a deficit, I’m generating buckets full of hope to wake up, to get up, to put words on screen.
So what does this all mean? It means there was a call for a magazine recently that asked for works on joy. I tried to fill the brief. I tried to bend my lens toward joy. It didn’t work.
For a while, it made me sad(der). But joy is not my language and it’s not my home. Instead I wrote this essay, through the fog and around the exhaustion, explaining the possibility still present in a space where joy cannot be centred.
Here I am celebrating honesty and vulnerability. I am celebrating voices that deserve to be heard not just on the “good” days, but on every day. I am celebrating my depressive lens, giving it a polish, because I don’t have the option to take it off and I refuse to pretend it’s not there.
H. E. Casson (they/them) is a queer poet and performer whose words have been shared by Cast of Wonders, Lunate, The Quilliad, Serotonin, and Taco Bell Quarterly—among others. They are a Best of the Net nominee and have been selected for the Best Indie Speculative Fiction 2020 anthology. H. E.’s voice can be heard in the Moonbase Theta Out and Disenchanted podcasts. You can visit them and see more of their work at hecasson.com and as @hecasson on Twitter.