Trigger warning for depression, suicide, mood, body dysmorphia and other things I can’t think of right now.
This blogpost starts in the cold. The room was dark. I don’t know what time it was when this starts, but I assume it was pre-dawn, because my memory of this moment is tinged blue-white with morning light squeezing past blinds in windows onto institutionally dull walls. I was cold. I’m in a bed, I’m awake for some reason, I don’t know if it’s because I sometimes wake up with the tiniest dust mote lands on the thinnest strand of hair instead of always being able to sleep through the advance of an infantry force, but I’m awake. And I’m cold. My very wonderful soon-to-be wife put a blanket on the bed at some point, I don’t remember when, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid it. Initially that was unintentional, I just didn’t roll over and take some blanket. But as I lay there in the cold room, my brain began to spool a new set of thoughts.
This is how it starts. This is the decline. She doesn’t want you to have any blanket. You’re supposed to be cold. You deserve to be cold.
So I laid there, cold, curling in on myself like a spent match, trying to accept this fact that I had no evidence to support. But it sounded good, so it’s got to be true. It’s about my depression, and I’m a pretty good judge of how that goes, so this can’t be some bullshit my mind cooked up because I’m somehow torn between being “a man” who can take the cold and someone with a crystalline immune system who so much as looks at someone coughing on TV and ends up with bronchitis or worse. Nope, I deserve to be cold, so cold I was.
That was this morning (Sunday). I imagine my very fantastic partner is going to be way unhappy that I’ve shared this story, I suppose it embarrasses her to some degree, or tells of our nighttime rituals where I try to feel comfortable and seldom let myself, but we’ll talk more about that in a bit.
Since one of our early dates, maybe date 5 or 6, I have been trying to express to her what the bad times are like. Not the bad times I used to have in the pre-relationship era of dating and stupid choices. I mean the bad times where I seem to think about killing myself on an hourly basis. The bad times where I both simultaneously want someone to hug me and am sickened by the very idea of having to interact with someone else so that I don’t get my stain on them. The bad times I measure in scars and ideas about how much better off people would be if I weren’t around to be a downer or anchor around their necks. Those times.
I tried and tried to warn her off. To tell her that there on the map there be monsters. To tell her that those are the days that don’t have a lot of good to them, where the expectations for success sometimes begin and end with “I showered and brushed my teeth”. She nodded, she smiled, she said it would be okay. I imagine that’s sort of like anything else you in March when you talk about October: distant and almost theoretical.
Flash forward to later this morning. She’s not smiling. She’s emotionally exhausted. She’s physically drained. She’s stressed over a million things, and I feel responsible for most of them. I spend the meal staring at the knife the waiter brought her to cut her Eggs Benedict. Something in my head is soothed by the idea that I can get to the knife faster than she can, plunge into myself before she can stop me, and I make all the pain go away. Breakfast, as you can imagine, is a meal of chewing punctuated by silences. I feel like a failure in a diner booth. Things hurt.
That’s what I try to get across to her – that things hurt. That I hurt, and as a result, other people are hurt. I know I hurt her. I deprive her of her life. I ask that she spend time with me. I ask that she do one thing instead of another, because it sounds fun. I ask her to be part of a pair of people where one of the pair hurts for six months straight. I give her something to worry about. I give her a reason to sleep poorly. I distract her brilliant creative mind from fun and freedom. I am a life ruiner.
She, for her wonderfulness, continues to tell me it will be okay, but she knows she’s giving up things for me. I counter with the idea that I’m not worth giving anything up for, and would just as soon send her on her way to be happy again, because her happiness trumps anything else I can think of. I leave the diner further down the slide I started the morning on. I’m still cold.
Maybe you know someone with depression. Maybe you’re the depressed one. Maybe you’re married to them, or living with them, or are related to them. Maybe their depression doesn’t look like my depression. In any case, I want to get some ideas out of my head, because I just woke up from another nap, and it seems easier to write now than it would to try and clean or do dishes or unpack from the weekend. But we’ll get there. Here are some ideas, presented in no particular order:
- Some of us are “lucky” enough to know when the depression strikes. We might not be able to map it to a specific calendar date, but it comes up over us like a rising tide. Or a tidal wave. Or a straight jacket made of burlap and razor blades and some other fabric with unacceptably uncomfortable material. For me, this is overdue. I expected this the week after Labor Day, since that’s when it hit last year. I’m pretty sure this hit last week, on that Monday where I felt “fuzzy” and scattered. Knowing when it’s coming pales in comparison to knowing that it’s coming. Like watching the bully march down the hallway shaking down nerds for lunch money, you know eventually it will happen to you, there’s no real way to stand up against it when it’s staring you in the face. In that moment, in that moment it falls on you, you can only hope it’s quick.
- Some of us already take pills and seek medical attention, and it still happens. One of the things that really hurt me this weekend was the idea that because I’m as I am right now, my therapy isn’t working and I’m just throwing hundreds of dollars away a week. I don’t know how the people who said this expect to me be, maybe I’m supposed to be turning cartwheels or pooping rainbows and patter songs from the 1940s, but I do take the pills and go to therapy, and it’s still hard work. Week after week I slam facefirst into my problems, dissecting them, getting answers for my questions, building coping strategies and techniques to replace broken strategies. I do this willingly. I take the pills because the pills don’t erase the problem, they keep it from worsening. I go to therapy not so I can hand some woman money, but so that at points when I run into a problem, I have tools I can use to handle that problem. If people are unhappy with how I’m using those tools or how (in)frequently I’m using them, the fault is mine, not the therapist’s. Hearing that people thought it wasn’t working, didn’t make me question my therapist, it made me question myself – maybe I’m not doing enough, maybe I am actually the failure these same people tell me I’m not.
- There’s this terrible catch-22 in how tiring this all is, how sometimes desperately we all want to stop hurting, but we feel so guilty for thinking that, which only makes us more tired. It’s hard work. It’s hard to not let this spread and leak out from between fingers like you’re holding jell-o in wet hands. We’re bombarded with messages that it’s selfish and cowardly to give up, that it hurts other people, but we’re also bombarded with messages that people, even people we think can and should make it, lose their struggle. Because it is tiring. It’s tiring spending even the happy months knowing this is the future. It’s tiring while you go through it, when you’re laying in bed again crying because you just want your brain to stop chewing itself apart and how you can’t muster a reason why someone shouldn’t just leave you and go be happy again. It’s tiring to sit and write about it. I don’t know where the energy is supposed to come to refill these reserves, because you can’t go outside yourself for that. Those people you care about, they’re already bearing this, and it’s draining them. You can see it in their faces. You read it in their gestures. You track it by all the times they turn away or turn you down. How you’re expected to keep mining for strength remains unclear to me.
- We’re well aware that stress doesn’t take a holiday just because we’re already down in a hole. Yes, I have work to do this week. Yes, I have money in the bank account. Yes, I have a calendar loaded with different projects in the coming months. Yes, I have decisions to make about changing my life. Yes, there are things looming in the future over which I have zero control. These things don’t hang out on the sidelines while depression holds us under oily waters of doubt and fear. I’ve never needed the reminder that I have a lot of responsibilities. I’ve needed the reminder that I do things well, that I matter to people. I’m acutely aware of the stress.
- There’s not always a clear “thing to do”. As I tumble down this depressive hole, as I struggle between having the mental focus to put chicken fingers on a tray in the oven and not smash my face through the glass window because maybe that would hurt less than how I do now, I’m reminded of all the times people have said, “I wish there was something I can do.” Well, if there was a clear answer to you, I’d give it in a heartbeat. I know it’s tempting to read what I just wrote and say, “Obviously the thing to do is take away John’s windows” and sort of baby-proof my life so that there’s no pain. I’m pretty sure that even if you put me in a room of foam, marshmallows and soft blankets, I’d find something that would cause me to hurt (hint: it would be the fact that I need a room like that in the first place). Maybe you’re thinking, “Well what I can do is drop everything and help him out.” I’d like to remind you know about how guilty I already feel that I’m even writing 1800 words about how I feel, and knowing that you, a perfectly capable person, gave up whatever you’re doing, even if it was just a few seconds, while it would make me grateful in the immediate, it would make me guilty later. Read that as I-would-feel-so-bad-that-people-had-to-give-fill-in-the-blank-thing-they-do-because-I-am-not-worth-any-manner-of-sacrifice. I don’t know what I’m to do when my partner says she’ll give up this thing on her calendar or that thing because I’m depressed. I don’t want her to give up those activities, I just don’t want to die alone and unloved. The two things are not in a causal relationship.
- I just don’t want to die right now. Sure, life hurts. Life hurts so excruciatingly that I feel worse for saying life hurts, as if you were unaware that things are hard. People are bankrupt. Businesses are failing. Countries are at war. How self-absorbed am I to be complaining about my feelings? How narrow-minded must I be that I focus on how this hurts when I’m not dodging sniper fire or wondering how I’m going to feed my kids on a 27-hours-a-week job? (I read a lot of Facebook updates, I know those are things people are going through right now.) This makes me feel guilty and ashamed to have a problem of any size beyond “Oh I’m out of corn chips”, because to me, there are far more important things to focus on. Me and my nattering is quaint, but I’ve struggled with this for more than half my life, and I don’t have the energy to die right now. I just want to sleep more. I just want to feel less hurt.
- I have lost half my life (to date) to this battle. I am used to doing the trench-fighting on my own. I am used to losing more ground than I gain, and I completely expect to lose this fight. On numerous occasions, I have talked about depression like drowning. This suffocating feeling of awfulness punctuated with moments where you catch your breath. I guess it’s more like water-boarding that way. In any case, there are few respites from this siege. What’s worse, my respites tax other people, and I know they do. Sexy times might help me feel better, not feel like a failure, not feel like I’m in an ever blackening hole, but they’re not on demand or on tap. I can’t snap my fingers and under the covers we go. I can cook and cook, but food needs to be eaten, not wasted. I would enthusiastically churn out finger food and entrees if I had people who wanted to eat. I can sit on the couch and play video games or watch Netflix, but ultimately, it’s very passive, and I worry that being seen doing that means I’m not doing the hard work of fighting off depression (see above points where therapists want money and I’m not magically better). Also, that screams “lazy” at me in a voice that sounds very much like my father’s when I was in middle school, so being lazy is just out. Besides, how serious could I be about getting better if I’m not constantly vigilant? How dare I get a breather. And yes, I expect that after a long fight, I’ll lose. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But this fight is tiring, and I am ashamed and guilty and so sorry I’m in it.
- Knowing that this hurts other people is the second-worst part. When I talk about how I feel, people make faces. I spent months in therapy learning that those faces are faces of concern, not mockery, though some of them are all pity or judgment. But I know this stuff drains my partner, leeches things from my friendships, erodes my professionalism and strained my family relationships to the point where several unraveled. I don’t want to hurt people due to my life hurting me. I don’t want them to get caught in the blast radius or AoE of some misery ‘splosion. It’s shitty collateral damage, wholly unintended and I want nothing more than those people to go be happy. Go be what I struggle to be. Go be better than me. I don’t want to be the anchor or albatross or tether. People don’t deserve that.
- I make a lot of apologies. I apologize for not listening, mis-hearing, for taking too much bedspace, for not taking enough, for being in a mood, for being in the mood, for being down, for being tired, for not being excited enough, for not eating, for overeating, for worrying, for worrying about worrying, for playing a video game when I could be doing something else, for doing something else when I could be blogging, for blogging instead of watching football, for watching football and liking it, for knocking over a stack of hand towels i just folded, for feeling guilty for knocking over the stack of hand towels I just folded, for explaining all of that to the dog, for not throwing the dog toy father into the room, for not finding a succinct way to write a blogpost, for knowing that today I made people cry, for crying, for wanting to be less alive, for wanting to sleep more, for wanting to have someone to sleep next to, for calling someone a bitch, for not calling someone a bitch, for forgetting to turn the chicken fingers in the oven so one side crispier than the other, for not having the energy to go to the store and buy more sauces for the chicken fingers, for being embarrassed about owning new clothes, for hating my body to the point where I would prefer a transfer into another vessel, for hating that I didn’t make clothes shopping easier for my partner, for being a problem at all. (See how tiring that is?)
I’ve rambled enough. I still have chicken fingers to eat. I still don’t feel great. I just hope my soon-to-be-wife isn’t angry with me and that the dog doesn’t run away to find better company. Everything else is fluff.
Thanks for reading.