On Depression…

I wrote this several years ago, but am posting it here because reading it recently helped a friend of mine work on her own demons….

I’m depressed. We hear people say that all the time. I didn’t get the promotion; my wife forgot our anniversary; why does this always happen to me? And while these things may be important to the affected persons, they are mostly trivial in the larger scheme of things. I’ve often spoken of being depressed, mostly about what were really minor disappointments. And of course, we’ve all known someone who spoke of being depressed, and how it affected them so strongly, and oh, you can’t understand how I’m feeling. Yeah, we tell ourselves, they just need to tough it out; they’re such wimps. I’ve said it, and thought it of people I knew. I want to apologize to all those forgotten souls for ever feeling superior to them, for ever thinking that they were weak, for ever turning my back on them when they may have been asking for help, for someone to understand what they were going through, or for validation that it may be real and not something they were making up in their heads.

I’m depressed.

For the past few years, I’ve not been feeling myself. It started, I think with an ongoing situation with my daughter, but who really knows? That particular hell still continues and, of course, seems like it will never go away. My father and I had always been very close, in a head-butting father and son kind of way. And although it was only rarely mentioned, and that mostly in recent years, I knew he loved me and would always be there for me, and I hope, I believe, that he knew I felt the same. He’s not here for me anymore, although I find myself talking to him now more than ever. After a long illness, the severity of which he kept mostly hidden from us all, he died in his sleep three days before Christmas. I had been expecting it, been waiting for the phone call; someday. I didn’t really think it would have that much of an affect on me and at first it didn’t seem to. We had addressed the issues between us the year before and both felt better for it. Our conversations were easier. “I love you, Son” ended most phone calls. I could probably count on one hand the times I had heard that growing up. Well, I was wrong. Not only did it affect me; it devastated me. It chopped my legs out from under me as I watched my world come crashing down. It’s been five months and I still don’t understand this at all.

It seems things that never used to bother me were now having an impact I couldn’t quite comprehend; and wasn’t actually sure I wanted to. It’ll go away. It didn’t. It doesn’t. It grows, feeding on your insecurities, about life, about relationships, about yourself. Once established, it continues growing, feeding, telling you lies, making you believe in it so deeply that nothing, nothing will ever make it go away. It is omnipotent; it is your master, your poison, a blanket to pull over yourself to avoid having to actually live your life. It doesn’t make sense. It is so hard to discuss depression, especially an entrenched, severe depression with someone who has never gone through it. They may be sympathetic, supporting, caring, and always, always there for you. But, they can never really know. They can never really understand. There is no way to adequately describe it. I’m happy and excited one minute, get up to get a drink of water, and halfway to the kitchen feel like the only thing in the world I want to do right now, the only thing that makes sense to do right now, is sit down on the floor and cry. How do you make someone who hasn’t experienced those feelings understand? I don’t know. I wish I did. How can you describe how it feels to see a long dark tunnel with only a small speck of light showing at the end that you want to reach more than anything in the world, but knowing that you never will, realizing that it’s not even worth the bother of trying; so why try? Why set yourself up for even more disappointment, more darkness, more despair? For even more validation that your situation is indeed hopeless. I can say this very thing to someone, but it lacks so much in the telling. I can’t paint a dark enough picture to describe the sense of hopelessness, to describe why for no reason at all tears well up and don’t want to stop; to share the complete lack of caring about any of this. It just is, and always will be. Why fight it? Why get up today? Why bother doing anything at all? And the weird thing is…no one knows. Everyone thinks I’m fine, happy, living life to the fullest, enjoying everything the world has to offer, because that’s who I was, and I cling to the illusion, for the sake of my loved ones even more than for myself. No one knows because I won’t let them know. I can’t let them know. I can’t let them see me like this, weak and helpless and without hope. I won’t let them even try to understand what it’s like every single day fighting, with all the strength I can muster, to get out from under that blanket, but knowing that I can’t do it no matter how hard I try, so why try? I can’t let anyone see, or know that sometimes it is so dark that I’d consider doing anything, anything to be able to stand in the sunlight once again. Even if that means leaving this existence for another, hopefully better one where the darkness can’t follow. Where the darkness can’t shut out the light, where the chance for happiness exists again. It’s got to be better than this, right?

A friend of mine killed himself 10 years ago. I’ll never forgive him for it. Went home for lunch, walked outside his house into the woods and shot himself. The note said that he was fairly certain that his wife had been having an affair for awhile, that he couldn’t live with that, but wanted her to be happy, and taken care of. One thing about being in the Air Force, $250,000 worth of life insurance is a nice chunk of change. That’s all he thought he had to give her anymore. I had known him for several years. We were stationed together in Panama, and at that time were stationed together in Arizona. We worked in Air Force Intelligence. We were the elite. No brag, just fact, as the line goes. He was an Airborne Mission Supervisor, respected and liked by we, his peers, all the way to Air Force Intelligence Command Headquarters staff. I worked very closely with him. I was his Intelligence Analyst in the air and on the ground. I talked to him an hour before he killed himself; he was laughing and joking as he usually was. We made plans to get together the next day, Saturday, for lunch and maybe to go for a hike in the desert… I found out the next morning when our former Commander from our days in Panama, and who was now at headquarters level, called me and asked me if I had known anything. I hadn’t had a clue. None of us did. We all wondered why he hadn’t talked to one of us; it’s a very close, tight knit command. We were all stunned. How could something like this have happened? To him? He was one of the good guys, at the top of his field. His name came up in briefings, his reputation as one of the best was more than deserved; he was. He had friends all around him. Why hadn’t he talked to someone? Why hadn’t he talked to me? I didn’t understand, then. Now I do. You can’t…Depression is such an ugly, all-powerful, all-consuming Demon that it’s no use talking about it. It won’t do any good anyway, so why even bring it up. Why burden your family and your friends with it? Why bring them into the Demon’s reach? Why acknowledge that he even exists by talking about it? It’s a hopeless situation, so why try to hope?

I got lucky. My wife gradually noticed that something was wrong, but couldn’t quite figure out what. I was no help – – – “Nothing’s wrong, Sweetheart. I’m fine, just tired”. I couldn’t let the Demon get close to her. I needed to protect her, keep her safe. I was wrong.

The medication seems to be helping; although it’s too early to be sure. My therapist (there’s words I never thought I’d utter) is wonderful, a truly genuine, caring individual. I think it’s going to help. Plus, I’ve been facing the Demon, as well as some of the damage he’s caused, and that seems to be helping. I’ve realized that although he has a very strong hold on me, and doesn’t have any intention of letting go; there are hints of weakness there if you look close enough. My wife, my meds, and my therapist are helping me start to look in the right places. Are helping me want to start looking, and fighting. But, the darkness is still there, is just as strong, and has just as much a hold on me as it ever did…now, however, I’m beginning to believe in hope once more.

…and when the sky grows dark, whether from storm or depression —- I grab lightning from the sky to light my path, and wander evermore…


Addendum … 20050224

Most of a year has passed since the Demon faced the light for the first time. It hasn’t been an easy journey to get to this point, but it has most definitely been a worthwhile struggle. A year of searching; for answers, for questions, for remnants of who I used to be, and wished to be once more. A mostly successful passage of time in which I’ve learned many things I used to know, but had forgotten. And, I learned many new things; about myself, about the world around me, and about the Demon that still lurks in the darkness. He’s really not as powerful as he wants you to believe. But, I can still see his eyes glowing in the dark corners if I look. I try not to look; to not even acknowledge that he exists still inside me. I can feel his grip upon me if I give it half a chance. I try not to. It’s much better if he stays back in the darkness, away from me, away from those I care about, but where I can watch him and keep him bound. He doesn’t like it there, powerless, striving ever to come forth and reveal himself again. But I can name him now, so his power over me has diminished to a mere shadow of its former self. Knowledge and understanding have given me the weapons I need to drive him away. From being the controlled, I have become the controller. From being the vanquished, I have become the conqueror. I like it much better this way.

A lot of searching inside myself has gone on these past months. I wouldn’t have been able to find my way back without the support and guidance that seemed to materialize all around me when I needed it. Amazed, because I had all but come to the conclusion that such things no longer existed for me; that I was in this fight by myself, with no allies to help. Amazed, because there it was; I only had to ask.

My wife gave me a Christmas card that really opened my eyes, and made things so clear for me. It read, “Merry Christmas! Welcome back, I’ve missed you.” Wow! I really was a long way from where I’m meant to be. I’ve only recently begun to realize just how far I had strayed.

My therapist and I have had many discussions about a very simple idea that had eluded me for a very long time. It’s okay to feel bad about something without having to feel guilty about it. I had been beating myself up because I couldn’t change certain situations, and feeling guilty because somehow it had to have been my fault. It wasn’t. I can see that now, and although there are still twinges of guilt, I can consciously look at things and separate the guilt from simply feeling bad. Sometimes things just happen, and despite all efforts to the contrary, they simply can’t be changed. Life will be life.

My life has gotten better over the past year, in so many ways. For one, I once more feel free. I no longer feel like I’m watching things go by from inside a cage. I laugh more, I play more, I find joy in the simplest things. Like I used to. Life holds itself before me for the taking, beckoning me to become part of it; not, as before, to be something I yearned for, but knew I’d never be able to have. I’m inside looking out instead of outside looking in, which is a very different thing than looking out at life from within the Demon’s chamber.

I guess the best way I can describe it is that before, I felt that I was traveling through a dark tunnel with no chance of finding light at its end. Now, I’m bathed in light, and hardly notice as I pass the occasional dark doorway along the way that leads to what I know is the tunnel where I spent so much time believing that this light no longer existed, not daring to hope that someway, someday, I’d be able to escape. God, what a difference a year makes.

Thank you to all who showed me that the light was still here, and who gave me the strength and the desire to reach for it. As much as those few words can never express to you what a difference you’ve made in my life, please know that you are forever in my heart.

A! Elbereth! Gilthoniel!

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