Meet Agnes

Agnes, my depression

Meet Agnes.

I’d rather not introduce her to you, because I don’t like her.

She’s a liar.

A thief.

A mean-spirited manipulator.

My constant companion.

Agnes is my depression.

I named her several years ago, during a conversation with my therapist. I was nearly hysterical, sobbing so hard I could barely talk, all because of a phone call I was dreading. I was supposed to have a conversation with a boss who had at first seemed supportive of me and my battle with depression, but had suggested perhaps I’d be better off renegotiating the terms of my employment.

“I can’t do it!” I insisted.

“Yes you can,” said my therapist.

“I can’t. I just can’t.”

“That’s your depression talking.”

Dr. Lorraine had told me that before. She said that my depression wasn’t me. That it didn’t define me. That I needed to separate myself from it. That I needed to push it away, make it smaller, and not let it speak for me.

But I couldn’t grasp that concept, couldn’t put my arms around something so huge, so intangible, yet oh so powerful. Something that was so much a part of me that I couldn’t see where I ended and it began.

“It’s not you.” Dr. Lorraine’s firm, kind voice penetrated my sobs.

I had trouble believing her. How do I separate myself from myself? It’s still me. It’s my voice. It’s how I feel.

In a fit of snark, I spat out, “Maybe I should give it a name.  Call it… Agnes or something. Sounds like agony. Or aggressive. Or aggravate.”

“That’s it!”

The proverbial turning point. Naming my depression.

So, meet Agnes.

She is, as I said earlier, a liar. She tells me I’m stupid. Ugly. Unlikable. Worthless. Untalented. I’ll never be a writer. Never sell a book. I might as well go eat worms.

Agnes steals time as I find myself putting something off because she tells me I can’t do it, and I get sucked into that black hole of productive procrastination, reorganizing my sock drawer because that’s something I can do, and I get that false sense of accomplishment that doesn’t mask the sinking feeling in my stomach because I still didn’t finish that project, make that phone call, write that chapter.

Agnes robs me of joy, always finding a reason why a happy moment is an exception, that it can’t last, isn’t real, and disaster is just around the corner and hope isn’t worth it because it will be crushed.

Agnes is illogical. She’s doesn’t care if facts show that I am a published author, that my writing has won awards, that I’ve delivered projects with enviable results, that people call me friend. She doesn’t trust history or data, creating her own reality and enveloping me in it, so that I can’t see what’s real, am blind to truth.

Agnes is mean and hateful. Bitter and spiteful.

But she’s not me.

Naming my depression gave me the distance I needed to be able to talk about Agnes as a thing, an entity separate from myself. And with that distance, I began to look at her objectively.

I could go into linguistic studies that show how naming something changes a person’s perception of it. Or I could pull from folklore the tradition that knowing the true name of someone is to have power over them. But none of that matters because whatever the reason, naming Agnes helps me combat her lies and threats.

I’ve learned I can push her away. Imagine shrinking her or stuffing her in a closet. Or as I did before I actually made that dreaded phone call, envisioning her locked in a trunk, inside a soundproof chamber, behind a series of impenetrable steel doors like the ones in the opening credits of the old TV show Get Smart.

Naming my depression gives me a shorthand way of talking about how I’m feeling. I can discuss her with my therapist. “I’m not sure if this is me or Agnes speaking,” I might say when I’m feeling incapable and incompetent, and Dr. Lorraine can help me sort through my thoughts.

When I’m discouraged about progress with my book, I’ll wail, “This isn’t worth it! I’ll never be published!” and my husband is able to reach me with a simple, “That sounds like Agnes, not you.” I can stop for a moment and attempt to objectively consider my emotions, and to try to see beyond the shrouding layer of lies.

My friends now understand when I show up at a party and tell them, “Agnes came with me today.” or “Agnes tried to convince me to stay home.” And they’ll call her a bitch, or put her in a corner, or tell her to just plain ef off.

Every once in a while, I introduce Agnes to someone new, usually when they mention their own struggle with depression. It’s a way for me to let them know I understand, to say “Been there, done that, got the mug, the stories, and the scars to prove it.”

I get the same reaction nearly every time. Their eyes light up. Their voices ring with delight, like they’ve just been given a gift: “I’ve gotta name mine!”

Usually the names come quick, right then and there. Often the name is one of a malicious individual from someone’s history: Beatrice. Sometimes it’s an evil character out of a book or TV show or movie: Bedelia. Sometimes it’s a name that just sounds right, like Agnes.

Other times they’re nicknames or just labels: The Darkness. The Nothing.

Everyone I’ve told my story to who has named their depression or their anxiety or whatever internal enemy is besieging them, has encouraged me to write about it. To share this idea, so others can name their anonymous demons, and by doing so increase their power when wrestling with them: naming as the first step toward taming.

Agnes, of course, has her own opinion on whether I should go public with her. She tells me I don’t know who will see my post, or what unforeseen and terrible calamity will take place if I go public with our story. That people will think I’m weak and untrustworthy. That clients will no longer hire me. That I’ll lose followers, lose respect, lose opportunities. That my friends will drop me like a hot potato because nobody wants to be around a depressing person who takes more than she gives.  

She also tells me that once I write about depression, it will define me. That people will categorize me. I won’t be Susan or the woman who writes about dogs and cats, but instead will be Susan with depression, or that depressed dog and cat blogger.

With tears in my eyes, my heart pounding, my finger trembling as my mouse hovers over Publish, I’m trying really hard to ignore Agnes, as she screams in my mind’s ear, “Don’t do it!” I am not brave, and a good chunk of me believes her lies. But I’m going to lock her back in that trunk, close the door to that soundproof chamber, and slam those Get Smart steel doors.

Then I will click on that button.

Best prescription: Snuggle 1 or more dogs 3x daily. Apply purring cats as needed.

My favorite prescription for chasing Agnes away.



36 Comments on "Meet Agnes"

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  1. YOU are so awesome and amazing. While this isn’t something I struggle with, I know those that do and just having seen some initial comments, YOU are making a difference to those around you. YOU are an amazing friend, writing, mom, pet guardian and everything else you want to be. LOVE YOU!!

    • Thank you so much. Thank you for the kind words and the love. If by me putting this out there, someone else might realize the lying nature of depression, and find the tools, resources, people or support to battle mental illness then that’s a very good thing, and maybe—if only for a little while—Agnes will shut up. Love you too!

  2. Anyone who is small enough to define you as that depressed cat and dog blogger is not someone who is going to value your work in the first place (aka Agnes). This post is going to help a lot of people and if for some reason it does end your writing career and everything else dries up (which will never happen because you are awesome) you will have that, and helping someone else is the best gift you have to give.

    • Thank you Connie. That’s the problem with Agnes. Logically, what you said makes sense. I agree. But Agnes has no logic, and she’ll twist those words and tell me if people define me that way, it’s because that’s the only important thing about me. That I fool myself into thinking my writing is good, or that I can help anyone in any way. That’s her lies. And that’s the essence of my struggle. I have to hear you and what you say, over Agnes and her mendacity.

  3. Lynne says:

    Wow, just wow. Beautifully written, Susan. Your passion and determination come through your words. You can write, my Erma buddy!! Love this piece. A few months ago, I shoved my “Agnes” in a box and wrote something so deep and scary and I was so moved by the people who supported me. It was therapeutic to me, as I am sure this piece is to you. You are strong!

  4. Agnes can’t define you, and neither can one blog post. But what it can do is give others who need tools for coping a great insight into one that works, one that feels empowering when they aren’t feeling very empowered at all. One they can do themselves, today, right now. Thank you for sharing it.

    And when Agnes is making a din, you have friends who love you and will keep telling you that you’re amazing and talented and you’re an awesome dogs and cats writer, full stop. We’ll keep telling you until you can hear it over her again. <3

  5. JaneA says:

    I know this struggle all too well. I think it’s more common than many people think it is, especially among creative people (among whom bloggers are, of course, included). I’ve been cautious about “coming out” as having this illness because of the stigma involved, but I have been more public about it than I thought I would be (I’ve written about it a couple of times for Catster). I’ve been fortunate to have gotten many supportive comments when I have written about it, and so far, to the best of my knowledge, nobody’s referred to me as “that blogger with mental illness” or “that crazy woman” or anything like that. When I’m depressed (as in depression, not as in “I’m feeling so depressed today”), I say that my brain is being a jerk. It’s a way that I use to separate the depression from who I am as a person, and it reminds me that it is, in fact, an illness and not a weakness of character or willpower.

    • It’s amazing how many writers and creative people struggle with demons like ours. I think sometimes we feel more, see more, internalize more. And creativity is one of our outlets, one of the ways we do battle. That potential for stigma has stifled me for the longest time, but the more I talk about it, the better it feels, and the more others come forward. I believe now that the stigma concept comes from Agnes, and in posting this essay, in “coming out” as you say, I have shut her down on that front. And you’re so right; depression is an illness, it is not me. It is not you. It does not define any of us, any more than cancer or diabetes or strep throat does.

  6. Charles Huss says:

    I am no expert but I believe when you set yourself apart from your mind, or in your case your depression, you reach a higher level of consciousness.

  7. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    Susan:

    I guess maybe Agnes needs glasses because she hasn’t looked at your sidebar, I guess Agnes needs a band aid or a few hundred, because in my opinion you just beat the crap outta her, I guess Agnes needs a wee bit oh sympathy, because Agnes has no family, no friends, no home, no pets, no blog, no nothin ~~~~.

    There’s not a person alive; or one who was living, that doesn’t have some “type” of demon in their head…..if there is….let them stop by with a comment…..frankly; I think you’re gonna be waitin a looooong time to see that ~

    hugs and loves ♥♥ Laura

    • Thanks Laura. I appreciate your support; you’ve been such a loyal fan and friend. Agnes may be bruised and bleeding right now, but she always finds a way to come back. She’s like those monsters in the scary movies that got shot a bazillion times and still get up and keep coming. But I’ll keep fighting her, and hopefully she will grow smaller and lose her power.

      • da tabbies o trout towne says:

        PS….if you ever want to discuss ways to keep Agnes at bay, send me an email, to quote Calvin, I don’t always have answers, but when I do, they might just help❤️

  8. Laura C says:

    Thank you for this – for articulating it. And you can tell Agnes that she’s so full of crap.

  9. Zooperson says:

    Well done! Perfectly written and explains how that little bugger Agnes keeps trying to push to the front of the line. Luckily you have warriors in your corner and mighty dogs (and cats) to sig on her. Keep the faith, friend.

  10. Debbie says:

    You are an inspiration Susan! I have panic disorder and I’m wondering if this will help with my panic. I’m going to give it a try. Thank you!

  11. suzanprincess says:

    Thank you, Susan, for sharing Agnes with us, along with your joyous furry household. I’m thinking now of what I will name my own version of her, and sharing your post with friends and family who might appreciate your inspiring, healing words. I’ve been preaching the benefits of medication to silence the Agnes-things for decades now, based on my own experience, but hadn’t thought of giving her/him/it a name!

    • Thank you. So sorry you have your own version of Agnes. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone. And thank you so much for sharing my post. Therapy and medication are wonderful things to help with mental illnesses. Having depression or anxiety is an illness just like cancer or diabetes or heart disease. They don’t reflect on who we are; they are a reflection of chemistry and signals not working optimally. So just as we seek therapy for those other physical illnesses, we should seek help for mental ones. The challenge is that mental illness affects how we think, and colors our world and our perceptions, so in addition to medication we need mental tools to help us recover, no different than needing a cast for a broken leg, or a brace for an injured wrist. I am not a therapist, but I’m happy my words might encourage others to name their beasts, to stop blaming themselves and to seek help.

  12. Daisy says:

    Anyone who scratches you or your blog off their list wasn’t worth having around in the first place. I doubt much of that will happen, but if it does, think of it as separating the milk from the cream. Writing about Agnes will not only help you, but it’ll help countless others who are living with the same issue – and you’re FAR from alone. I think you’re stronger than you believe you are, and soon, Agnes won’t be able to hide that fact from you. <3

    • Thank you for your kind and supportive words. That’s a great way of looking at, so take that Agnes! That is truly my goal, to be able to combat Agnes so she can no longer have that power over me, and I no longer believe her lies. <3

  13. Mary McNeil says:

    Thank you so much for this ! It is just the reinforcement i needed at this time !

    • So very welcome. So glad it helps. I hope you find the strength to keep on keeping on. I think we all have that strength; we just have to find it, and not let the Agneses of the world hide it from us.

  14. I’ve never named my Agnes. I came to a crossroads many years ago where I had my own epiphany moment in which I consciously understood I had the power to take control of my life, not the demons that seemed so determined to take immense joy in letting me crawl down a deep, dark hole of depression. I would watch myself above that hole of depression, seeing that horrible, angry, bitter, and insecure person, wondering why I couldn’t just allow myself to see the light. Somehow the black hole seemed easier than peace and happiness.

    It’s not an overnight road to recovery and sometimes I do revert back to several days at a time where the only place I want to live is in that black hole, but thankfully those moments are becoming fewer and farther in-between.

    As you see from all the wonderful love, support, and comments you are getting, you are not alone. You are strong. You are brave. You are talented. You are beautiful. Agnes is a part of you, but it doesn’t mean she has to define you.

    xoxo

    • Deb, you are so strong, and I’m so impressed that you pulled yourself out of that hole, because I’ve been there, too, and I know how hard it is to climb out. You’re an inspiration.

      Thanks as well for the kind words. They mean a lot to me.

      And you’re right; I don’t think the Agneses of the world ever go away completely, but we can find tools to combat them, and learn how to reduce their power and ignore their voices.

  15. Lee and Phod says:

    I am so glad you told her to shut up and pushed publish. Too bad she wasn’t Angus so you could kick him in the nads. Be you and tell that witch where to go! Hugs!

    • Ooh, never thought about the benefit of being able to kick my depression where it hurts. That’s a great visual! I may find a way to use it. Thanks so much for your support!

  16. Amazing article. It takes a ton of courage hit that publish button – but I hope your experiences are like mine and you feel tired, yet strangely energized and loved. You deserve love and support and Agnes deserves to be hit a couple times because she doesn’t know anything about anything! I can identify with every word. After 18 years of anorexia (and the 4 since in recovery), I came to think of my anorexia as separate from me. It took some getting used to – but it made me feel better to separate that ugliness from myself. And in the four years since I gave it up, I’ve seen just how much it isn’t me – wasn’t me – and can’t be me. But depression still rears its ugly head and I haven’t had the clarity to truly separate it from who I am. I also know it’s easier to see that clarity in others. It’s easier to say, “She doesn’t deserve that nonsense from Agnes!” or “But she’s SO talented! How can she doubt herself?” It’s easier for me to love you, be grateful for your friendship and want to beat the crap out of her. Myself though? {Crickets}

    • I hear you. So sorry to hear about your struggles, though. But you should feel incredibly good about yourself, and proud. I know a few people who have successfully won their battles with anorexia (and one who is still working on it), and I know it’s a particularly evil demon. Four years post? Yay you! That takes such strength and I admire you and love you for it. As for your cricket-inducing depression? You know you have people around you—like me—who get it, and are more than happy to be there, to listen, to pile on your own personal Agnes of the moment. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for a little support in your corner. Because, if we all help each other, even if we can be our own best advocates—in the midst of a capital M Moment—then we know others who will. All we have to do is let them know we need them. And I promise I will try really hard to follow my own advice, if you will too. Deal?

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