My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex. I wrote a book.
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Imagine me raising my hand and saying, “Okay, any writers out there with depression?” Imagine thousands of hands across the world going up — every working writer in New York; my friend Astoria, my friend Sophia, my friend Nicholas, my friend Patrick, all brilliant writers, all battling depression in their own ways. Every peer I studied writing with in college was depressed. Many living writers out there (John Green, Stephen King) have publicly struggled with depression — they raise their hands, too. From beyond the veil, a sea of hands, all the great literary suicides: Virginia Woolf, Jack London, Sylvia Plath, Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace.
So I’m in good company. I’m not sure what it is about being bards and soothsayers that gives us the blues, but we have them. I have them. I am working through a depression of a strange tenor, not as bad as I’ve had before, but here. It feels like a grown-up kind of depression, one laced with happiness and grief. I have support: friends, lovers, and, above all else, my writing. For writers, writing is the only way out. Or death, which some have chosen, and which I’ve long believed I will choose someday, too. I don’t ever want someone to have to take care of me, and I never want to be unable to remember my life; in other words, I have absolutely no desire to be very old. When life becomes more pain than pleasure, I’ll gather my people and ask them to send me off to that queer disco Heaven where I’ll see my friends. But today is not that day.
Ten years ago, I flirted heavily with the idea of dying. I’m very glad I didn’t do it, because HIV, which was so terrifying then — a glob of shame and dirtiness stretched over me — became something meaningful, something that redefined my life by placing it on a historic timeline with my elders, my people. HIV made me need people — need sex — for the first time and taught me how to ask for sex and talk about it. It freed me to pursue more adventurous sex with adventurous people who had more knowledge of HIV or were HIV-positive themselves. Those who’ve shared this disease with me have been among the most creative and interesting people on earth. I’m glad I stuck around to meet some of them and to understand myself better. HIV is now something I hardly think about and is certainly not worth throwing my life away over, especially when my ability to live so well with it was already paid for by the lives of others.
I was much younger then and didn’t know any of this. I thought life and joy were over (unknown to me, they were just beginning). The depression that followed my HIV diagnosis was deep and sudden. This one isn’t like that. It’s a depression of being a bit older and more aware of what living entails, the labor of it. It’s the depression of no longer being with a man I love and knowing that is for the best. It’s the sadness of knowing I still have to put myself out there, have to navigate new relationships and friendships, and continue being — or trying to be — a good friend. Life lessons, particularly ones about friendship, never stop — they in fact grow more complex, more difficult. I now know my parents will die someday and that I have more time with them behind me than ahead of me. I have to make adult choices — I have to be an adult.
I don’t know what first got me thinking about all of this, but my thoughts are cloudy and my mood is low. I have been pretty sexually ravenous since my breakup with Brent, and I think my blues stem primarily from the amount of sex I’ve been having: lots of fun, not enough self-care.
And some friendships are building and getting stronger, some doing the opposite; some friends are leaving, others returning. The movement of people in and out of my life continues to bewilder me and I can get melancholy watching the flow of it. And writers, I think, have an especially hard time doing this. We think in narratives — narrative with its comforting structure and direction — so time confounds us. The concept of narrative implies change and growth, things that are not linear in the real world. It takes some years of life to see how things and people can revert, or worse, stagnate. Sitting still is not narrative, and so much of life is sitting still, waiting, putting in tedious hours, completing tasks, and trying to find the time and the energy. It’s hard to abandon our fiction of progress for the harsh reality of time.
When we are young, we are narratives. Young people have an unshakable sense that they are moving forward into something, adulthood — its great and terrifying expanse. But I am here now, and sitting here from the other side of youth, I can say, as everyone says, that I wish I had cherished seeing that vast horizon before me a little more. Instead, I raced into it, hungry to be in the world, certain — childishly certain — that a force, something like god, governed things and recognized greatness in certain children and simply doled it out when they got older. I was certain that I would invariably be the recipient of this fortune, this inheritance I was owed.
Young twenty-somethings, listen up: there is no such force, and that idea is bullshit. There is a lot of greatness out there that’s never been seen because of laziness, money (lack of it), and simple bad luck. You have to work harder than you think you do while still enjoying and appreciating life — a near impossible issuance but one that is nevertheless true and mandatory.
This is an advice blog, so I’ll get to the advice. But first: I’m okay. I know I’m okay. Most parts of my life are the best they’ve ever been — ever — and I’m not sure if it’s more accurate to say I’m depressed or simply melancholic; sad, or just a little tired. I think the line between those two feelings — between abject sorrow and the lesser thing, the quiet of busy afternoons — gets murkier with age. I am grateful for this state because it tells me I’ve lived and am still trying to live. This feeling may be love itself, just aged: love for the ones who’ve come and gone and for myself for having recognized (mostly) when someone was worth keeping.
If you feel this way — nothing more or less than the blues — you know there’s no easy way to manage it. I’ve taken a wee mental health break from writing, which is why this post is late, and with this post, I’m returning to something that always propped me up in the past: this blog.
This blog kept me going in my last heavy bout of depression and has been there for me through the hardest parts of my life. And therein lies my advice: every adult needs an outlet for expression, whether that’s journaling, blogging, throwing paint on a canvas, or whatever. You have to make something. It doesn’t matter if no one sees it: feelings want to go outward, and sadder ones even more so. So start a blog. Doodle. Buy a drawing notebook and decent pens.
In my post-diagnosis depression post, when I was still in the early months of my new life as an HIV-positive man, I recommended reading (specifically, reading Harry Potter books). Reading is good, but I’ll amend that advice here and say that reading is not enough. Write responses to what you read. Put something into the world that didn’t exist before. Every writer who has ever had the blues knows there’s no better way to quiet the demons than to put them on the page.