There are very few topics that get me riled up, longing for a debate. I am not a political person, so political arguments don’t bother me much and religion, amendments and gun rights issues are debates that I’d rather save for someone else to enjoy.
What does perturb me, though, is when people use terms loosely that should have significant meaning behind them and over time society has twisted a word with serious meaning into one that is taken lightly and thrown around as a ubiquitous saying.
A word that so many of us are afraid to talk about is the “D” word: Depression.
An All Too Familiar Story
Last summer, a tragic event occurred when a very successful man who was actively involved in the Social Media community in Greenville, SC, committed suicide suddenly in a church parking lot. People who knew him best said that he struggled with depression from a failing marriage and he supposedly admitted and discussed his struggle with depression with his friends and family. He sadly left behind his children and, what seemed like, a great number of people who truly admired him and cherished him as a friend and mentor. I never knew this man but after reading his story, I was overtaken with many emotions. It was a story I have heard several times of someone struggling from a disease that many know absolutely nothing about. I genuinely felt for him, even though he was already gone. I felt for his family and children that are now forced to grow up fatherless because of this disease that most people don’t understand. I also felt for his friends who obviously tried to help him and believed that he had been doing better, when all along he was probably pretending just so that he would not hurt them.
Another story that has recently touched me is one of someone I used to see on a daily basis that, at the time, I thought was living a normal, happy life. Mike Cranston, a former AP Sports Writer here in Charlotte, used to frequent the bar where I worked and even though I witnessed his copious amounts of drinking, I never noticed anything too peculiar. But about a year ago, Mike went off the grid after leaving his job due to alcoholism and depression and contemplated committing suicide more than once. Thankfully, he has lived through what is hopefully the worst of his depression and seems to be doing much better today. You can read more of Mike’s insightful story here.
Sadly, there is a stigma behind depression that prevents us all from openly speaking about our experiences with it. Therefore, many helpless people contemplate suicide or are successful in their attempt. Most assume that because someone is depressed they are weak, lazy and selfish, when in fact, it’s actually quite the opposite.
But instead of defining the disease, it might be easier for me to explain how the topic is of interest to me anyway.
I personally, under clinical standards, have been depressed twice. Once, when I was 21 and again when I was 25. For those who don’t know me very well, this may come as a surprise as I think I tend to be pretty happy and strong-willed, but that’s part of the reason why I’m now writing this. I fell into a deep depression due to a manipulative relationship that broke me at the young age of 21. I foolishly gave so much of myself to that one person that I had nothing of myself to live off of and I personally believe this is what jumpstarted my depression. Initially, I drank a lot, slept all the time, acted completely irrationally and ignored top priorities. I don’t think many of my friends or family noticed at first but that also could have been because I didn’t ask for help and hid it pretty well from those that loved me. But over time, I became much worse and stopped eating, talking or even leaving my room. My own world closed in on me so much so that the only person that existed in it was… me. I was in college at the time and stopped going to class only to keep my door shut and watch hours upon hours of TV when I wasn’t already sleeping my day away. I woke up each day, not wanting to be conscious. I hated myself for opening my eyes and seeing that I had made it to another day. The mere thought of existing made me cry and sink further down into my bed. One of my college roommates opened my bedroom door one day and frustratingly asked “Do you even LIKE to watch TV??” (Before my depression, I never really watched much TV. I was always very social and active and had an insane amount of energy; so obviously, this was a red flag for those who knew me best.) I also had a best friend write me a sincere letter explaining how I had abandoned our friendship and had been living my life selfishly. That letter, which was supposed to help pull me out of my depression, instead enraged me and caused an even greater void between my friend and me because I was in denial that I had changed. I still vividly remember the days when I would leave my bedroom to walk to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes and wish that a car would hit and kill me as I crossed the street. It never happened.
After months of denial, I finally made a decision to quit college and move back home to be miserable there. To this day, I still don’t know why my parents didn’t push for me to get help. Maybe, they didn’t see the signs. Maybe they thought I was being an unruly young adult. I’ll never know. I went on to lose 20 pounds in one month alone (which meant I then weighed a whole 115 pounds at the height of 5’8”) and never smiled… not once. My Dad even asked me at one point “Are you always like this??” in regards to my despondence. Without hesitation, I just said “Yup.” Because I was miserable, I wanted everyone around me to be miserable too. I wanted everyone else in the world to feel the same pain and hate that I did. But the WORST part was that even though my world had stopped, everyone else’s world kept rotating around just like any other day. And that just made me hate the world I lived in even more.
After some time went by, I eventually became a little better, but only by default of time passing. I then made the decision to move to Charlotte to start over after my father had passed away. I was definitely not happy or cured in the least bit, but I was strong enough to keep going each day so that I could still laugh and enjoy the small things at times. Then, at the age of 25, I dated someone who challenged my mediocrity of living life with just one saying: “I don’t think you know what you want.” After realizing this person was right, I forced myself to re-evaluate my life by sitting at home alone many nights pondering all my mistakes and shortcomings. What ensued from this self-discovery was a monumental disaster. In hopes that I would truly find myself and then become happier, I actually fell into another deep depression; this one maybe deeper than the first. I, again, had thoughts that no one wanted me or cared and that I had nothing to live for. All because I never dealt with my serious issues of abandonment and rejection the first time I suffered through depression. I, again, started to miss work and constantly made excuses for extremely irrational behavior. I cried constantly and obsessively called/texted that guy I had dated. I bashed myself over and over again each day because I knew I wasn’t worth a damn thing to anyone. I, again, hated waking up each day, but drank a lot and went out almost every night. When I was awake in the late night hours, I felt like I could exist without anyone else knowing. It was like the entire world had stopped and I could just exist there for a little while in frozen, depressed time.
I reached out to that guy several times asking him to help me, and of course, he bravely told me that there was no way he could help me and that only a friend or family member should help me. He was right. Looking back now, I realize I only wanted him because he was the only person that confirmed my depressed thoughts of not being wanted. It was like I wanted to prove him wrong and show him I was worthy of happiness. Now I know the only person I should have proven that notion to was MYSELF. I was my own worst enemy. My own thoughts were killing me slowly with each day. During that time, not a day went by where I did not think to myself “If I died in this very moment… not a single person would care.” Sometimes, now, I think about those thoughts that I had and it brings tears to my eyes to remember the emotional pain that surged through my body on a daily basis. I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy. I truly wouldn’t.
It’s Going to Get Worse before It Gets Better
After a night out with friends, I was sitting on my friend’s porch, feeling as helpless as ever and had grown so tired of being a victim of depression, that I decided that the world didn’t need me anymore. My friend was asleep in her bed and as I remembered the high-dose pain relievers she had in her medicine cabinet, I realized that if I were to go out, that would be the way I was going to do it.
After much crying and blaming God, I mustered up the strength to drive back to my apartment. I then sent two of my best friends a text that said “I wanted to kill myself tonight. I need help.” I then passed out in my bed without taking any pills.
…The next day, very early in the morning, I woke up to a banging on my bedroom window. I jumped up, still drunk, startled and confused and opened the door to one of my best friends standing in my doorway who had frantically hopped my balcony hoping to find me alive. Her and my other best friend had been on the phone with each other all morning worried that they would never see me again. They had also called the guy I dated for help as well as the sheriff’s office on ways to get me help or escort me if I refused help. I still cry every time I think of what I put those girls through that day. They had no business worrying if their best friend was going to kill herself. But, I am somewhat glad that I did finally reach out. I had mentioned being sad before to them but I think they thought it was a “boy” problem, or that I would get over it soon enough. They just didn’t know how to notice the signs and I don’t blame them. That day, I called my Mom and broke down. I told her that I had wanted to kill myself just the night before and she willingly drove that same day from Virginia to take me to a clinic to put me on anti-depressants.
I was then on different anti-depressants for about a year and a half, seeing things in a haze, but living life enough to get through the worst of it. After being put on medication, my lows weren’t as desperately low but I still wasn’t 100% myself. I never had health insurance so I never had a therapist to talk to or help me to understand why I had become someone else for far too long. The next few years I struggled with my identity and had to discover again what truly makes me happy.
I haven’t taken anti-depressants in about 2 years and I never want to again. I will admit that the medication got me through the worst of it, but it also prohibited me from living my life for a very long time. After weaning myself off of the meds, I eventually learned how to cope better with disappointment and rejection, but I would be lying if I told you I’m back to 100% even after the worst depression being 3 years ago. I believe that I will always have the disease lingering in my body, waiting to surface if I allow it. Some believe (including myself) that depression is hereditary and I know of my own family members who have suffered from it in a major way and still take medication for depression.
To this day, I have to make my decisions carefully. I have learned that because I am so sensitive to other’s perceptions of myself that I must be very careful of whom I let in or trust. I am still trying to learn to have more self worth and self respect. It’s hard to regain that when you had NONE for years. Depression has also taught me to be more compassionate and understanding. But more importantly, I have learned that even the strongest people are affected by this disease.
Depression does not discriminate.
Depression is, without a doubt, a disease that controls one’s mind. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain that takes over one’s conscience and poisons it with the worst thoughts imaginable. It is not laziness, selfishness or irresponsibility, although it may manifest itself as those things. I guess you could say that depression is selfishness in the sense that the depressed is only consumed with his/her own thoughts of worthlessness. But even that’s a half-empty observation. In most cases, a person who is clinically depressed would probably rather others not focus on them at all because they don’t feel the attention is warranted. If you have never experienced depression yourself, these concepts are very hard to grasp. Depression is most definitely a twisted mind-screw. It is the devil of your mind that you can’t silence, no matter how hard you try.
There Are Signs
The next time you notice someone being distant, sad or deflated, ask yourself if you think it may be depression. If someone you love sleeps in too late, misses engagements, is losing weight, is always disengaged or is constantly bringing up the same issue in a subtle way, ask them seriously if they are well. Listen to them and offer help in any way you can. If there are any signs of depression, do not ignore them. Force the person to talk if you must or involve the authorities if need be. You may be able to help someone you truly care about before it is too late. I wish someone had done the same for me when I was 21. If so, there’s a chance I may not have gone through that horrible experience again just a few years later. And maybe if someone had helped the many people who committed suicide before it was too late, they would still be here today.
Our superficial society has created a stigma that depression is embarrassing but more people should be educated on the true effect that this disease has on millions of people every day, like me, Mike and maybe even your own loved ones.
Just because someone is smiling, doesn’t mean they are not hurting on the inside and you NEVER know what road each person has gone down to get to where they are today. Please help someone suffering from depression if you can and feel free to share my story if it will help.
“Funny, when you’re dead how people start listenin’…”
~ ‘If I Die Young’ by The Band Perry