I've made a very tough personal decision to open up and write about my long, ongoing battle with chronic depression.
Writing about this is not easy for me. It’s easier to keep it under wraps and where people see me as a normal, functional person.
Well, quirky, but still well within the Normal Zone™.
Admitting I have this illness breaks a wall and possibly even the way a lot of people look at me. It feels risky, but I’m no longer willing keep up the appearance. If I’m being honest, I’m actually no longer able to keep up the appearance. Resembling normalcy requires a lot of effort and I’m simply out of steam.
But I feel it’s necessary to come clean and let others know about it. I’m making my biggest attempt to overcome this and believe it’s time to bring it out of the dark and into the light of day where others can see it, empathize with it, relate to it, and hopefully understand it.
So, why am I sharing this now?
I already mentioned tthat I am finally done pretending like it is not there. I’ve spent a lifetime playing the role of Sisyphus repeatedly pushing the stone up the hill only to have it repeatedly roll back down and the effort is no longer worth it.
You win, depression. You’re stronger than me and I’m admitting it.
Another reason is that it has grown worse and sometimes unmanageable over the past two years. A year that seen two famous musicians take their own lives in ways that shocked and surprised even those closest to them has convicted me to not put the people in my life in that same position. I never want my friends and family to wish they could have done something for me had they only known about my condition and are now carrying a regret that I am responsible for and that outlives me. That easily outweighs any selfish concerns about how people might label me now that it’s public knowledge.
And yet one more reason is that I consider sharing to be part of what I hope is the healing process that leads me to either defeat this son of a bitch or to cope with it on a healthy level. In addition to attending counseling, taking medication, being good about exercise and, yes, even taking up meditation, I’m hoping that coming clean about my struggle helps me process my feelings and do so with a level of transparency that relieves me from having to carry it on my own. That’s right, I’m a medicated jazzercizing hippie who selfishly wants help mopping up this hot mess. It takes a village, or so I hear.
If you were to ask when my depression started, the answer is probably when I was a kid. I remember thinking at age 8 that I processed my feelings differently than my friends. I was shy and super sensitive. My skin was (and still is) thin to typical elementary school ribbing and I’d avoid hanging out in large groups in favor of a few close friends. Better yet, I’d spend lots of time in my room alone using my tape recorder to construct hypothetical conversations and mash them up into audio screenplays.
But my first real memories of depression begin around age 12. I would spend hours on the floor of my room fantasizing about what the world would look like without me. I didn’t believe in God or heaven back then, but could still imagine an afterlife that let me look in on people I knew and validate whether my absence made any difference. I didn’t have a word for my feelings and wild fascinations back then but I’m able to look at them now and recognize them as an extension of what I continue to struggle with today.
The source of this is something I’ve put a lot of thought into but no longer care to figure out because it simply feels like a part of who I’ve always been. There’s no inciting incident that left me this way. My family history is laced with depression (and suicide) but nothing that has an established pattern.
Call it a low level of maturity. Or a lack of self esteem. Or hereditary. Or whatever you want. The common thread is that I’ve never seen value in myself and am in a constant internal fight for relevance.
The funny thing (if there were such a thing) about my depression is that it totally flies under the radar and that’s because I look great on paper. I’m married to my best friend. I have two of the most beautiful toe-headed daughters you’ve ever seen. I’m my own boss at work, which I get to do from home. I’m the product of a privileged childhood where the only abuse was having to mow the lawn once a week with a severe grass allergy. I mean, come on parents!
My life is all unicorns and rainbows and I’m not ashamed to admit it. If the appearance of happiness was measured in tacos, then I’d be one heaping pile that would put all the world’s Taco Bells to shame. It’s unicorns, rainbows and crunchy shell chicken tacos over here.
And yet, I’m hurting and it’s likely no one can tell. I smile a lot. I’m extremely productive at work. I’m also pretty darn friendly, if I may say so myself. My inability to see value in myself is often regarded as humility and that often makes people like me more. It’s hard to fight something others are unable to see and allows me to look so good on the surface.
I say all of this with no intention to gloat or make light of an awfully real disease. I say it because it forms the crux of what makes depression the heavy, intolerable burden that looms over me at all times, even as I type this post. The paradox of having a good life that’s clouded by an innate inability to appreciate it only compounds the symptoms because my list of virtues becomes outweighed by more intense feelings of guilt and shame. My depression is an invisible, but tangible presence that comes with a heaviness not unlike being held down physically by a much stronger and bigger person.
What makes severe and chronic depression unbearable is the angst that accompanies it. I recently walked to a nearby cafe to do some work and had an episode where I felt out of my own control. My heart was racing, but I was not visibly shaken. I walked forward but lost confidence that my direction wouldn’t veer into oncoming traffic. It was frightening to toe the line between having a perfectly healthy appearance and having no internal sense of what I might do to myself.
Chris Gethard pretty much nails this in his HBO Special, Career Suicide. His own story is an instance where he intentionally lets an avoidable traffic accident happen because dying in a car wreck would be easier to explain and accept than a suicide.
I’m not qualifying the rationale, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered the same thing nor personally relate to it.
That’s the difference between angst and anguish. I was in the midst of internal anxiety marked by an excruciating uncertainty about what might happen next; there was no pain except for the fear of what I might cause, even if I didn’t want to hurt myself.
Depression for me is similar to an earthquake in that sense. You know it can strike at any time and it will be immediate and without warning when it does.
I’m not totally sure how to end a post like this. It’s not like the point of it was clearly established in the first place, so finding a natural conclusion is almost as difficult as coming clean about this in a public post.
One thing I feel is worth punctuating is that I have been seeking help and this is not a cry for more. This past year has come with a lot of experimentation to find out how to deal with my symptoms. Writing this post is one sliver of a much bigger plan of attack to overcome this beast from many angles. I’m serious about making changes in my life and rethinking my boundaries in the process.
Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t want this to be the end of the conversation; nor do I want it to be a one-way dialogue. This is a raw and unvarnished part of my life and it’s likely to be that way for a while. Might as well keep this open-ended and see where it goes.
Hell, I’m meditating and drinking green tea these days. Anything is possible.