Accepting the Gravitational Pull of Depression
Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
I have depression. It’s an illness, and if not treated properly, then it can be as lethal as any terminal illness. I think it’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life, but I never put a name to it. Other people were depressed, I would think. I didn’t have depression. I would just feel really sad sometimes and calling this sadness “depression” would be insulting to the people who really had been diagnosed with the disorder.
While I can’t think of too many specific examples from my past, this feeling is old and familiar. My most recent , and currently ongoing , battle with depression began sometime around the time my son was born. After my wife (soon to be ex), our son and I moved to Seattle in September 2014, my mental and emotional states took a turn for the worse. A vague sense of sadness had come over me and I couldn’t shake it. A feeling of detachment from my friends, family and heartbreakingly, my wife, grew and grew. I had trouble finding enjoyment in anything.
As impending social engagements drew near, my anxiety would skyrocket, and I’d cancel the plans I’d made and hide in my home alone. Over the course of 2015, my mental and emotional states further decayed, until the only thing I felt was sadness and despair. I didn’t understand what was happening to me or why. I didn’t want to be alive anymore.
At first, it was fantasies of being killed in some freak accident , getting hit by a car as I crossed the street, being shot or stabbed as I walked home late at night down a dark street or some random construction-related accident while walking past one of the many sites in Seattle. From there, it evolved into a desire to harm myself. I became convinced my brain was broken and it was the source of and reason for these feelings. I wasn’t normal. I’d never get better. My brain was a traitor and it needed to be held accountable for its treason.
New fantasies replaced the old. I dreamed of destroying (that was the specific word I thought of) my brain in a variety of ways. They were the most brutal and gory scenarios I could imagine.
There was also a period of time when I didn’t want to kill myself, I just wanted to not exist somehow. Eventually, I settled on a plan.
The morning after my company’s Christmas party in early December 2015, I woke up feeling an exhaustion I’d never felt before. I was done, done feeling miserable and hopeless. Life had become pointless. I wasn’t living for myself anymore. I was only living because everyone else told me I should keep living. Everyone was going to be better off without me.
This was a Saturday. My wife and I , we had separated by this point and I was living alone , had an appointment with our couple’s counselor scheduled for later that morning. After I woke up, I laid in bed, not feeling much of anything. Eventually I got out of bed, got dressed and went to the bathroom to pee. As I was standing there, I looked over at the bathtub, and thought, “What would it feel like if I sat in the tub? What would things look like from that point of view?” Fully clothed, I stepped into the empty bathtub and sat down. It felt right. This feeling terrified me. I had never felt so scared, sad and alone. For what felt like a very long time, I sat there, bawling, coming to a resigned acceptance of the end of my life.
I can’t remember what stopped me from following through with killing myself. Eventually I got out of the tub and laid in bed feeling numb until my wife picked me up for our appointment. I had nothing left in me. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye, speak above a whisper or do anything more than the absolute minimum to keep moving forward. Our therapist noticed my changed behavior, and told me, “Here’s what we’re going to do. The three of us are going to get in the car, drive up to the hospital on Cherry Hill, and you’re going to check yourself into their mental health ward.”
I argued. I couldn’t do that.
1. I had band practice the next day, and I needed to rehearse.
2. The coming week was the last week my office was open before it would be closed for two weeks for the holidays. I couldn’t miss that much work.
3. Three new developers had started on my team within the previous two weeks. I was their boss. I needed to be there to help get them acclimated.
4. I had tickets to see the new Star Wars movie that Friday.
I was coming up with whatever excuse I could think of because I was scared. I was worried if I went everyone would find out and that wouldn’t be good. If I went in, then my cover would be blown. Everyone would know I wasn’t really the person I had been pretending to be.
My therapist was patient with me. She was careful not to push too hard but never yielded to my excuses. I started asking questions about what the process would be for checking in, what the facility was like and how long I might be there. I finally I agreed to go.
At some point on the 15 minute drive to the hospital, I started feeling better or at least I thought I was feeling better. This has happened to me in the past. I’ll feel like sh*t. Then, it seems to wear off, and I’ll think I’m all better until the next time it happens and the hurt is more intense, the sadness is deeper and the self-hate more damaging.
My therapist must have picked up on this because she said something to me like, “I bet you think you’re feeling better right now.” I told her I was feeling foolish and embarrassed about the whole ordeal. I felt like I was being an inconvenience. I didn’t need to go to the hospital. I was better and checking myself in would just take away resources from a patient who really needed them. I’d be wasting the doctor’s time.
It’s amazing how good human beings are at lying to themselves. For almost an entire year, I had been repeating to myself, “I’m not normal. I’ll never be normal. I’m broken and can’t be fixed.” Here I am, on the way to get the help I need, and I’d convinced myself I was better. In the 10 minutes after we’d left the therapist’s office, I was certain I had been miraculously cured. I didn’t have depression. Other people struggle with depression. I was normal. I was fixed.
My 10-day stay in the hospital saved my life. I wasn’t “cured” when I left because depression isn’t the kind of illness that can be cured, but it can be kept in check. When I left, I had more tools in my toolbox so I could better cope with my illness. In the eight and a half months since I’ve been out of the hospital, I’ve struggled, endured and reconsidered suicide. I’ve also laughed and felt happiness and hope. I’ve been able to appreciate more of the little things in life that are so easily overlooked but make living an awesome and beautiful thing.
Living with depression is a struggle. It gets better, and then, it gets worse. And then better again… but then worse. That’s where I’m at right now. History, however, tells me things will get better again. My life has been significantly altered over the past two years. It’s no longer going to be the life I had hoped for, dreamed of and made plans for. This life is going to be something else. And that’s not a bad thing.
It’s so hard to accept. So goddamn hard. But just because it’s not going to be what I had planned for doesn’t mean it can’t be great. It sounds cliché, but I’m taking it one day at a time right now, and I’m getting by. My baseline mental state is slowly moving further away from, “Nothing matters and life is pointless.” I feel happy sometimes.
Also, I cry a lot. I cry in the morning and at night. I cry while reading, “Guess How Much I Love You,” with my son. I cry on the toilet. I cry while making grilled cheese sandwiches. I cry at work in front of the mirror in the bathroom, two floors below my office so my coworkers won’t hear me, in the car, on my couch and in my bed. And that’s not a bad thing.
That’s part of how I have to deal with this sadness I feel. This unrelenting, deep, painful, black hole of sadness situated just below my sternum that makes it hard to breathe and is trying to consume me. It’s impossible to escape a black hole once you’re caught in its gravitational pull. So instead of fighting against it, I’m trying to accept it.
Nobody knows what’s inside of a black hole. It could be nothing, and once I pass through the boundary into the unknown, I’ll be crushed by a gravitational force so great not even light can escape. Or when I cross the event horizon, I’ll come out the other side in a whole new universe, one where everything is kinda the same as this one, but different, beautiful and good in its own way. And that’s not a bad thing.
Image via Thinkstock.
This post originally appeared on The Medium.
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