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Why I Consider My Depression to Be a Chronic Illness

Depression is the white noise of my life. Even when I’m not noticing it, it’s there — hanging out just beyond my line of sight. It’s a menace I can never wholly ignore.

Even with medication, it never goes away. Meds keep it at bay but it lingers in the shadows, around the fringes and pops out when I least expect, need or want it.

I know when people say, “It’ll get better,” they mean well. But they don’t know what it’s like to live with the constant fear I’m terrible and the world would be better off without me, or that I’m replaceable and might as well not be here at all.

These feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness have long permeated my very being, but they came to a head one year ago. On the night of my second car accident in six weeks — both total wrecks — I felt the world was closing in on me. Privately, I’d been considering taking my life for a long time, but I dared not bring it up with anyone — not even my therapist. It felt too painful, as if I were somehow weaker because of it. So I pushed it down, tried not to think about it and attempted to tell myself I could fend it off.

Then I was in two car accidents and that little voice I’d been repressing decided it was time for a hostile takeover. With my guards and defenses down due to the accident, the voice got louder and louder until finally, it wore me down. I was so tired of things in my life going wrong. I was miserable at my job, feeling like a failure as a parent and a husband. And now apparently, I couldn’t even do basic functional tasks like drive. What good was I? What was the point of it all?

So yes, one year ago, I attempted to take my own life. Lucky for me, my wife caught me and stopped me before things could get to an irrevocable point.

The thing is, while a suicide attempt is usually cast as the lowest point someone can get to, for me it was not. It was desperation that didn’t really go away just because the attempt was not completed. The next morning, I didn’t feel any better. And so, not trusting myself to be able to function, I checked myself into the mental health unit at my local hospital.

I’d love to tell you my worldview changed entirely after my stay in the hospital and when I got out, I was determined to live the life I had been gifted to its fullest. Indeed, I wanted it to be that way.

I listened to a lot more music than I had been, stuff that got me in touch with myself and made me feel good about being alive (the singer Lady Lamb was basically my reason for living for a few days). I finally saw my daughter again after not seeing her the entire time I was in the hospital. My wife, who had been taking care of all the accident stuff in my absence, stood by me and encouraged me. I eventually found a new therapist and psychiatrist who have helped me navigate the murky waters. I have changed up my medications a few times and what I’m on now seems to be working pretty well. I started playing music again — first by myself, then with others at a local jam session, which helped me make some new friends. All these things helped me refocus on feeling better, and in some cases, they worked wonders.

But the hard truth is my worldview still hasn’t changed, at least not entirely. I’ve definitely turned a corner, but depression still seeps in through the edges. At times, I can’t go out because it’s debilitating. Most days, I wake up and I just want to stay in bed. I get grumpy with my daughter and my wife for no reason. I’m wracked with indecision and self-doubt. I still have grave misgivings about my job and most of the time, it’s a struggle to have any desire to go into the office — but I also don’t have a clue what I’d rather be doing.

With all that said, I still feel I’m in a better place than I was a year ago. I have a better support network now and people in my life are aware that I periodically go through these feelings. I have hobbies and interests I’ve picked back up — most importantly music, which is best when done with others. I’m with a therapist I trust now. That’s really helpful because on the bad days, I need that extra hand to get through.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m saying nothing gets better. It does and it has for me. But depression isn’t like the flu; for many, it’s more like a chronic illness that sometimes flares up when we least expect it to. We can mitigate the symptoms with things like medication, diet, exercise, meditation, etc. But in many ways, it’s still out of our control. So we fight on because we have to.

The fight is worth it because there is still so much out there for us to see and do. And when the depression seeps in, I try to remind myself it’s just a chronic illness flaring up again — and the symptoms will eventually pass. And when it’s really hard, as it is some days, I rely on my network to prop me up.

That’s the biggest takeaway I’ve learned over the last year: Don’t be afraid to talk to people about my mental illness. People generally understand and want to help. And all we have to do is be honest with them. There is nothing shameful in asking for help. It indicates strength to do so — the strength to know when you can’t do it on your own. And in those deepest, darkest moments, relying on those people does wonders for making us feel better.

Getty Images: Victor_Tongdee

Originally published: October 17, 2019
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