I've been taking medication to battle clinical depression for 25 years now. I've written that sentence first mostly to get it out of the way, but also because it's taken me 25 years to write it. Talk about procrastination. The problem with suffering from depression (well, one of them anyway) is that it's often the condition itself that prevents one from talking about the condition. (The first rule of Depression Club is: Don't talk about depression.) It is, at times, like walking around with a giant anvil over your head, ready to pound you into submission at any random moment, ready to take you down 20 pegs until you're just a sniveling puddle of goo utterly convinced of your own inherent worthlessness. It is, in short, a handicap. A debilitating one, and a real one.
The other, maybe bigger problem is that depression is still, if no longer a taboo subject, one that is largely misunderstood, and still somewhat embarrassing to admit. And it's why there are so many cases in which you don't find out that someone "suffers from depression" sometimes ever, or sometimes not until after they're gone. But I'm kind of tired, at age 50, of not talking about it, not even once, so I figure there's no better time than now, on the 4th of July, to talk about it. Consider it my Independence Day from my own shame around it.
So here's the main thing to know: I am not sad. Really. I don't need anyone to send me teddy bears or hugs, though of course both would be awesome and I wouldn't return them. Cash, too, would be great, preferably in small, unmarked bills. I have a great life: A great family, a great job, great friends. If this isn't entirely the life I envisioned for myself as a boy (I'd always wanted to be an English gravedigger), it is one that I feel pretty good about and won't complain about. Suffering from depression doesn't translate to the more casual use of "I'm depressed!" in the way you might say after, say, you've just eaten two Snicker bars in a row, or after discovering that Bristol Palin has her own reality TV show. It's not like that. Most of the time, most days, I'm just like everyone else: Plugging along, trying to avoid thoughts of my own mortality, and trying to squeeze the maximum amount out of fun and pleasure into days annoyingly riddled with real-world responsibility.
What it does do, though, especially on days when, for whatever reason, the meds aren't working well, or (worse) I either forget to take them or (way worse) convince myself I "don't need them anymore," is remove the floor from underneath my feet. Not literally, of course, because that would be rather disturbing and surreal and make me a walking public health hazard. But figuratively, it puts me off balance, quite often in a way I don't fully feel or see or understand until it's already kicked in in a bad way. Those few who are close to me who have known about my depression usually see it before I do. "You haven't taken your meds, have you?" they'll say--because the things I'm saying and my worldview and my energy level become different, different in ways I have no control over or no awareness around in the early stages.
The biggest bummer around it all, for me, is that even when I am being good, the pills don't eliminate it entirely. It's not an on/off switch. Shit seeps through. And the toll of this has affected every aspect of my life for decades. I have days where I can't write anything, decide anything, or really be much of an effective human being at all because of it. It's screwed up my ability to be a good friend, to focus, to be productive. It's kept me, at times, in a fog of self-doubt and self-hate, of low energy, of recrimination and regret over things not accomplished or things never even attempted. It's kept me in a perpetual state of wishing I could do things over again, of feeling like "I've failed" no matter what I accomplish or how many total strangers come up to me and say they like what I've done. I register it, I appreciate it (more than I can express), but it never fully overcomes my own internal dialog, so much of which is just a loud, mean, clattering cloud of noise that a few little pills do their best to dispel day after day. (And not just pills, either, I should say. They're not magic. They are supplemented by a steady, weekly decades-long stream of therapy, to talk the stuff out and get it out of my head.)
I should be clear about one thing. None of this is being written today to either elicit pity or to excuse myself from any choices or actions I've made in life. It's all on me. Always. It's like when people try to excuse their behavior because "they were drunk"--when of course part of them is always conscious. Any stupid or irresponsible thing I'm doing, or avoiding, is done with at least a chunk of awareness that I am doing (or not doing) that thing. The problem is that, even while seeing it, I can't grasp it by the horns and cut it out. This is the key issue. I see it, I'm aware of it, and yet I can't do anything about it. What the medication does, when it's really working, is just eliminate that aspect of it. It puts the floor back under my feet. It makes me have what I imagine to be the strength and resolve of "normal" people. I can act and respond and simply tell myself to keep going. To just write that email or call that person or finish that article rather than just sit in the chair for an hour and tell myself what a shitty, worthless person I am.
It's exhausting. I get tired of being me. It's so much noise all the time. I think about what I might have accomplished, or what my life might have been, if I didn't have to deal with this. But one thing I'm trying to come to grips with at age 50 - because if not now, when, dude? - is that fighting it is just a fool's game, and maybe a little bit of a cruel thing to do to myself. I mean, I'm never going to stop being hard on myself, ever, and I think a lot of that - depression aside - is good for a person. I want to constantly challenge myself and be better. So I'm not asking for a free ride for myself. What I think I am asking for is the ability to forgive myself for "only" being the person I am today, for "only" having the level of success (whatever that is) that I have - rather than some mythical, theoretical success I imagine some Alternative Jeff from Earth 2 to have. I guess, in a way, I'm asking myself not to "be depressed" over having depression. I'm stuck with it, and so my decision now is to accept and acknowledge it, rather than fight it and hide it and beat myself up about it, which is a guaranteed loser of a strategy.
Anyway, I hope I didn't depress you with this blog post. Though if I did, I might have a couple pills to recommend. Just kidding. It doesn't work that way. What I think I mainly want to say, and my bigger reason for writing this, is that if you are younger than me, or, heck, even older than me (if that's possible), and any of this sounds familiar or resonates, know that you are not alone, that it is probably more common than you think, and that there are solutions. There are ways to regulate it and control it. You too can go on to have a family, a home and a degree of success you might not think possible within the turmoil of your own noisy brain, as long as you're not afraid to acknowledge the problem and do something about it. I encourage you, strongly, to not give up, and not be afraid to seek help if you think you need it. Odds are you do, and odds are there are people, both personal and professional, ready right there to help you, if only you'll reach out. That itself is probably the hardest step you'll ever take. But it will be the most important one, too.
Okay. That's enough New Agey self-revelation and self-help for one 4th of July, don't you think? I have a couple teeny little pills to swallow, and then after that I'm going to go out and have a kickass holiday with my friends and family. Here's hoping you have a great day - and life - too.
Remember that you deserve it.