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3 Lessons I Learned After My Latest Relapse Into Depression

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If I put together a team of people whose opinions impact the way I go about my business, then my grandfather would be the captain. Last week, at my grandmother’s birthday party, he pulled me aside to talk about my work in suicide prevention.

“I’ve seen the talks you’re doing about suicide,” he said. “And I’m damn proud of you.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate that,” I said.

By which I meant, “He values the work I do! My place in the world is validated!”

“But,” he added, letting the pregnant pause hang in the air, “Make sure you take care of yourself first. That is the most important thing.”

I then thought of my wife, whose work schedule forced her to stay in Kansas City while I drove to Dallas for the party. Before I left with my two young sons, she noticed I was down to my last antidepressant and hadn’t refilled the script.

I value medication and feel no shame taking it, but the lapse was intentional. I went on meds while working a job I hated. I felt stuck in a cycle of failure. Now, I’ve been writing and performing my own work, often in support of a cause I care deeply about. I believed that, combined with strong relationships, was all the medication I needed.

When I merged onto the highway bound for Kansas City, the joy of a week with family began to vanish. For eight hours, I watched the road and thought about things I haven’t accomplished since leaving my corporate job seven months ago, the gigs I haven’t gotten and the calls that haven’t been returned. I beat myself up for every word I didn’t write that week. I could feel the dreaded corporate life I had rejected bearing down on me, suffocated by the thought of sitting in a cubicle again. For me, optimism is as fragile as it is precious, and mine eroded with each passing mile.

I’m trying. I’m failing. It’s only a matter of time.

Many people have a difficult time understanding how people with children can even consider suicide. They believe it’s selfish to put your family through something like that. Until I hit my low point with depression, I agreed with them. I have a great family, but I’ve learned it’s hard to fully love others when you don’t love yourself.

I spent Thanksgiving surrounded by loving family, and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to find a dark, quiet room to hide in. The disappointment in myself made me feel like I had let others down, too. That is when I start testing the waters of self-destruction, pushing others away, being combative for seemingly no reason, basically daring people to abandon me so I can get on with the business of dying alone.

I am luckier than a lot of people who battle depression. I have a partner who is always there to catch me. It’s not easy. I feel guilty every time I put her in that position, but every time I fall, there she is.

Now it’s up to me, like so many who battle depression, to figure out how to minimize the falls. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my latest relapse:

1. Medication

I am neither a doctor, nor have I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express lately. I am in no position to decide when it is or is not time to medicate. Part of treating mental health, like physical health, is trusting a doctor’s diagnosis and following their plan for treatment.

2. Self-care

Health is holistic. Your physical health has a massive impact on your mental health. My downward cycles are almost always accompanied by a lack of exercise and poor diet. I am not saying exercise is a replacement for medication. It is an important piece of the complex puzzle that is mental health. So along with getting back to my doctor, I am going to mix in a workout. I encourage anyone who struggles to do so as well.

3. Comedy > Politics

I write and perform standup, and I am a huge fan of the craft. I am also a political junkie in the throes of a 21-day rage bender.

Have you ever heard the old parable of the two wolves inside all of us?

“A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us, who are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf, who represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, who represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, ‘Grandfather, which one wins?’ The grandfather quietly replies, ‘The one you feed.’”

I have spent a lot of time since the election feeding the bad wolf or at least standing next to his cage, holding the key and eyeballing the locked door. It has not been my healthiest month. Last night, I started queueing up a bunch of new standup specials I’ve been meaning to check out. What I love most about comedy is the shared experience it creates. Watching Michael Che hold court doesn’t eliminate the disappointment in our politics, but it is a nice distraction that reminds me there is a big world outside of the loudest opposing voices in my Facebook feed, and it helps.

Seek the help you need. Go for a jog. Have a laugh. Stick around. As a wise man once said, make sure you take care of yourself. That is the most important thing.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock.
Originally published: December 21, 2016
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