There is no question that I have lived with depression the vast majority of my life. I find it hard to believe that most haven’t experienced this feeling whether they want to admit it or not, I just don’t see how it is avoidable. There were many moments where I have let it take me over and unfortunately very few where I was able to stand up with my head held high and say that I stood face to face with my depression and in a display of some buried strength pushed it to the side without allowing it to beat me. While I have been through the teenage depression, the self deprecating, the insecurity, and the feeling of not liking the way your life is turning out, the darkest depths I have ever fallen was obviously after she told me she was in love with another man and was leaving. There are very obvious reasons why that would lead to a depressive state, and then there were the ones I wasn’t expecting.
Initially after she said she was leaving depression was masked by a sheer sense of panic. I had no other moments in my life that could teach me how to react to something like this. I panicked for the love I was losing, the companionship, the conversation, the children, and I honestly panicked for her. I was scared for her. I spent the first few months trying to protect her from the negative reactions her decision had garnered and how she was essentially the villain. I didn’t want any of that for her because I didn’t feel she deserved it. Was I hurt, yes there is no question, this was the worst pain I had experienced up to this point in my life, but I love her and I want her to be happy. If this other man makes her happier then why shouldn’t she have the right to make that choice? I had always put her before me, did everything I could to make her happy, but it was because of this mentality that I was able to hide my depression in taking care of her still even after she requested it not be my job anymore. It would be like someone walking up to me and telling me I had to stop using my right hand. I would still default back to that hand for the simplest of tasks, still reach for a pen with it, and reach to shake hands, or simply check my phone. It would take really thinking about it and concentrating on not using it to create muscle memory, therefore escaping the habit of my right hand being the dominant. I loved her, I wanted to do things for her, it is what I knew. I was asked to stop that in a moment but I couldn’t and I didn’t want to. I wasn’t ready to use my other hand and let go of what I knew.
After she left, like really left, moving out of the house there was nothing to distract me. The kids would be gone every other week and it was just me. I was alone with my thoughts, I was alone with everything that we had built together sitting all around me. Pictures, wedding albums, videos, memories everywhere. I sat on the couch we bought together, slept in the bed I bought for her while she was studying in France, ate off of the dishes she and I picked out, and fed the cats that she and I nursed back to health. I was surrounded by memories and there was no escaping them. Nights would be the hardest; these were the times she and I used to sit around for hours sipping on a wine and just talk. Now I sat alone and instead of using the wine glasses that she and I bought on our trip to Canada, the ones that we would sit around and sip from, I would just drink from a water glass or straight from the bottle. This was taking care of two things, it was allowing me to not have a physical reminder and it was taking away the mental reminder. I don’t know if I would be considered and alcoholic during this time but self-medicating seemed to be a common prescription. The nights that I wouldn’t drink and just allow the thoughts to climb around in my head were often the most rewarding but damaging as well. I had to allow the ideas of I had failed, I was sad, and worst of all, that I was angry. I was angry with her; a person I was rarely ever angry with during our 18 years together. The more I recognized how helpful it was to allow the depression to find its place, the anger to find its place, and the fright to find its place the better I was at figuring out where it all belonged in my life. It wasn’t going away but it had its own section in my head. I knew when I was feeling one or the other and I was able to, by compartmentalizing these emotions, deal with each one individually.
Depression was the hardest to deal with. I have been scared before, I had been angry before, but I had never been this depressed. The typical depressive thoughts ran through my head. The ones where you hope you don’t wake up from your latest sleep, the ones where you feel like people would be better off with out you, and the ones where you just do not feel like there will ever be a moment in your life where you will be happy again. I wouldn’t leave my house, call friends, write, play my guitar, or even listen to music. I wallowed in it. This initially had a hugely negative effect. This level of depression was a stranger to me, one that had a van and offered me candy. The one parents warned you to avoid. It was taking over, kidnapping me and dragging me away from anything and everything I held dear. I didn’t see it though. When you are depressed you see it as no one wants to be around you. For some that was the truth, they cannot handle the depths you have sunk and don’t know what to do so they stay away, others become angry that you are not strong enough, and others offer unconditional support and love. I could not see it though; I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I can remember one particularly low time, the kids were away at her apartment, I had actually recognized that I was feeling dangerously low and knew I needed someone to talk to. I messaged and called everyone I knew and I couldn’t reach anyone. I was alone in my darkness; I was there to work through it on my own. Panic set in. It climbed out of its compartment and sat right there with depression mocking me. Depression kept me low while the panic allowed me to believe that I wasn’t going to get out of this one. I started to give in a little, slowly inching my way towards both of them. I was embracing that this was the end and that it was for the best. I remember standing up from the couch and walking upstairs. In my bedroom was a knife. I walked toward that room like I was going to sleep, and I may have been, but at the last second I walked past the room and went into the room with all of my guitars. I picked up the guitar I had built, a black Stratocaster with newer Seymour Duncan pickups, a maple neck, and brand new strings. I plugged the guitar into my amp, turned the amp to 11, tapped my toes on the distortion pedal and drove my entire self through those strings to make a growling sound that seemed to release some of the built up shit that was stuck inside. I didn’t play long but long enough for there to be just a little relief. It was just enough for me to feel like I had a small victory, that I was just strong enough to avoid the easier way out of this.
I call it riding the wave. It has been two years now; I live with dark episodes of depression. I still think of who would be better off without me but I know now that it will pass just like the ones before have passed. I can feel it building inside. It reminds me of watching the ocean. Those moments where you are looking out watching the water and you see a little bump and you just focus on that ump to see, will it grow? Will this be the one that I ride or will it wash out amongst the rest of the water. Could this be the wave that grows so high you cannot resist the temptation to turn your back to it and start paddling as fast as you can go hoping to body surf that to the beach or is this going to be the one that crests way to early and it comes crashing down upon you. I have watched/ ridden both. I got on a wave that I thought was going to crush me but it turned out to fade into the waters and I have seen that ripple that looked like nothing and have been crushed by it. Either way I always recognize its potential as a wave. I recognize the strength of the waters I wade daily. I feel the undertow yanking at my feet and legs hoping to drag me out further and further from where I can stand. Yet I still stand. It is because I recognize the wave not matter what the size, strength, or intent that it has. I know what it is, I know I wade in these waters and watch each ripple form one way or another. I know that this wave, this 20 foot wave and a killer undertow, is just a wave and it too will just become part of the water I stand in daily. It will wash back out to sea and I will still be standing there watching. I may be beaten up, I may get bloodied, I may even choke on salted water as it washes over me but I know now how to stand to avoid falling. There may be times where I reach out for a comforting voice to say I can make it through this one, there may be times where I withdraw and confront the wave myself but each time I gain knowledge about the waters I find myself in and how I should navigate the tides.
Depression is like an addiction. It can make you feel comfortable trying to get your guard down so that wave can take you over. The wave of temptation leading you out further and further into a sea of what could eventually kill you. The deeper you get into this addiction compares to swimming further and further out to sea. The further you let yourself go the more tired you become. The more tired you become the harder it is when you turn around and look at where you came from to even fathom making it back. So it is easier to just sit there and float. For a while you say to yourself that you are just building your strength back up for the long swim back to shore but as time passes, as you wade kicking your legs and holding your head above the water, the less compelled you are to even start the journey back in. This leaves you with two options, continue wading in the deep waters hoping for rescue, or succumb to your exhaustion. When you are left alone, in a new town, with only strangers around, no one is coming to rescue. When you are aware of the depths you find yourself in succumbing is the easy choice, the ocean is right there outside your window fortunately you also know that you have swam back to shore before. You know that you will be tired, emotionally spent, drained of any and all desires, but you are able to place your feet down, touch the ground, and lift yourself up to stand. There is very little time to catch your breath before the need to look around and find that next ripple becomes a necessity so you can be ready. Each time you face the wave, each time the water wobbles your legs, each time it pushes you to the point of falling, you are gaining experience in how to handle it. With depression it is the same way. Each time I feel it, each time I see the fog covering my eyes, each sigh, and each tear, makes me more prepared for the next time. My name is (name here) and I have depression, but it doesn’t have me.