Disclaimer: This post deals with depression and can be a bit of an emotional downer compared to my other pieces. I’ve written about this before, however I feel it’s important to talk about it as much as possible to help remove the stigma associated with mental illness. As compensation, I have included a picture of sleepy Bailey at the top of the post. Thanks for reading. -Chris
‘and I’m so terrified of no one else but me’
Emotions are a funny thing. I’ve been suffering from depression for the last two years now and each day just feels like just a step at a time. For a long time I’ll be fine, just peachy and normal and happy and laughing, I’ll think that everything is starting to be okay. Then something great will happen. For instance, today I was just published for the first time. Other times it will be a great night out with Karen, or seeing some friends for the first time in a long time, or simply enough just a wonderful day where nothing goes wrong.
I start to get that confidence back. I’m a fiction writer, I document the (fictional) human condition. How well I do it I haven’t figured out yet, but I’m learning and trying with each entry and each story. Projects start popping up in my mind, thoughts of horror podcasts and YouTube channels and just picking up a creative hobby that involves working with my hands. I always thought woodworking would be cool, right?
Emotions are a funny thing, but they aren’t ‘haha’ funny.
In high school I wanted to be a therapist. I liked listening to people and trying to help as best I could with their problems. To be there for them, offering words of comfort and guidance. I knew people with depression, and knew how to deal with them. I’d give them sympathy… to a point. Then, in order to motivate them I’d bust out the big guns. “Hey, it’s not so bad for you. There are people starving out there, you know?” “Just move on.” And don’t forget the all time fan favorite, “You’ll be fine, it’s just a phase.”
Right around the age of 24 is when it started. It probably started earlier, but it’s really easy to just rationalize some of it away. Self-medicating to numb yourself is a pretty common first step. I’d love having apartment parties and getting drunk off my ass and doing the whole memory slide show until the next morning. Then I’d wake up, pounding headache, and promise to never do it again. Until the next weekend. In college, when I drank I felt invincible. To me, I was funnier, people liked me more, and that made me happy. I kept trying to go back to that well to make myself feel better, but was luckily limited by the unspoken guidance of my friends, and having expensive tastes that made binge drinking not economically feasible. I am not a cheap date.
Drinking just kept making things fun for me that weren’t really fun anymore. I don’t mean they weren’t fun because they weren’t enjoyable activities, but because I just felt like I was just there while they were happening. I just felt empty emotion wise. Good and bad, I just kind of stood on the train platform waiting for the emotions to arrive. Though, I still fell in love with a great woman, I could still laugh with my friends, and I could still tell myself that I was happy because I was the funny one in our group. People laughed when I talked so I must have been jolly and cheerful and happy.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were many times that I was legitimately happy, however there were many instances of artificial happiness, most of which was used heavily at my job. I worked in a call center, which is the sole reason I’m nice to representatives whenever I call a call center even if I’m speaking with an asshole. The call center focused on college student finance, so things often got rough. Still, it didn’t bug me and I tried to be positive to whoever I spoke with since I knew they may be going through a tough time I didn’t know about.
I was recently married to my amazing, funny, smart, and beautiful wife, making decent money, and trying to close on a house. Everything was going great, and it was like that feeling of finding your own private spot on a busy beach. Things were working out. We all have dreams and expectations that evolve as we get older. I still cling to my dream of being a starfighter pilot, even if that’s a bit of a reach by now. My spot on the beach was like that, things working out great, starting to feel great, and the future was looking even better.
Then I learned I found that patch of sand only because the water had been pulled away from the shoreline. Sitting there beaming in the sun was when the tidal wave came crashing back in.
My phone chirped, connecting me automatically to an incoming call. I followed the script, ready to help, when the woman on the other end of the line began screaming at me. Now, this happened every once in a while, and you learned not to take it personally. Just let that roll right off you. She had called several times earlier and I just was the lucky one ending up with her now. I asked how I could help.
“You can’t help me with shit. You should just go home and fucking shoot yourself.”
That’s the moment that broke me. I was less than 30 seconds into the conversation, earnestly trying to help this person. I stammered through a little more of the call while she went on about how no one would care if myself or any of my coworkers died before I disconnected the call.
I began sobbing a bit at my desk, and ended up taking half a day off. I hid it as best as I could, laughing it off with other coworkers, but the next few days I was just terrified of the phone. I could barely make calls, or answer them. When I did it was with a knot at the bottom of my stomach and the fight or flight response that’s kept our species alive. Fight or flight doesn’t do shit in something as mundane as sitting in an office cubicle, staring at a phone.
A few months later I ended up in the ER with dizziness, pains in my chest, and problems breathing. I figured I had some minor heart tic (there’s been stuff like that in my family.) They took readings and did tests which came back negative for a heart attack or anything like that. They decided to send me home with an overnight heart monitor so they could see my rhythms throughout the day. They also needed my room so I had my chest shaved for the leads in the hallway by an apologetic nurse in front of every new patient and their families. It took weeks for my chest hair’s bat signal shape to grow back in. Anyways, those tests came back negative as well.
I didn’t realize until about a month or so later that those were panic attacks. I think the realization came to me the first day I found myself crying uncontrollably on the bathroom floor, but it could have been one day over lunch or something. My wife and I knew I had a problem, so I saw my family doctor. Now, I really like my family doctor. He’s great at diagnosing physical issues or viruses and the like, but my initial consultation was 10 minutes of me explaining what was up, him telling me it was probably depression, and giving me a prescription.
So, new lease on life, I started the meds. I didn’t notice any side effects, but the actual condition became worse and worse. My depression had changed from just lack of emotion into severe bouts of sadness coupled with horrible anxiety. I found myself unable to answer my cell phone, and the prospect of fielding calls was making me break down. I began gaining weight, becoming very frightened of social interaction, and found myself with the loss of initiative to do anything or go anywhere. Reading and video games, two of my favorite things, pretty much fell by the wayside.
It got to the point where I realized that I needed actual help. Of course, here’s the problem. Imagine you are terrified of talking on the phone. Scared to the point where you don’t even look at who is calling just so you don’t feel guilty about missing a potentially important call. Now, try and imagine attempting to make calls to therapists and psychiatrists to get an appointment, and contacting your insurance companies to check coverage.
My wife’s family has a great immune system, to the point where she had never needed to even call a doctor for herself other than for a regular check up. My family has apparently descended from people that survived the Black Plague, but just barely. They were probably pulled out of the ‘bring out your dead’ wagons at the last minute, having suffered from a common cold that turned them into walking zombies. Our immune systems are held together by positive thoughts and placebos. My wife wasn’t having much luck checking if our insurance covered the psychiatrists and therapists we were trying to contact, and I was in no emotional state to even try.
One day it reached the point where my family was very concerned about me. My mom, verified expert in setting up family medical appointments, ended up coming over and calling each place we could find on my behalf while I sat there giving verbal confirmation she could speak about my medical record. Long story short, I ended up with a great therapist who was also able to get a rush appointment with a psychiatrist for me, when all the others had been booked for three months straight.
I kept this secret from most of my friends while I started treatment. During this time I figured out I didn’t know shit about depression in high school. Everyone’s experience with it is a bit different, and not to be cliche, but you really don’t understand depression unless you’ve gone through it. Lying on the floor of the bathroom crying uncontrollably and hating yourself, covered with a bath towel for warmth, and thinking “This really makes no sense… I should not be reacting this way,” is not something you can really ‘get’ by having it explained. In my case, I would shut down and become anxious about the stupidest things. “You… you want to go on a walk around the neighborhood? You mean outside?” The littlest things would trigger huge bouts of depression, and I wouldn’t leave my bed for days until my wife came home from work and amazingly was able to start to slowly pull me back. It was a learning experience for both of us, as she learned from scratch just how nonsensical and irrational depression and anxiety can be, and I learned to try and open myself up to new treatments. I totally fell asleep during a meditative exercise once and missed a psychiatrist appointment which ended up costing me $50 for a missed appointment fee. Charging depressed people money because they screwed up when they’re coming to see you about helping their depression is a bit counterintuitive, but I let it slide.
P.S. All of my advice from high school is amongst the worst things you can say to someone with depression. “Man up” is not something you can just will yourself to do when the chemicals in your head are out of whack.
I finally told my friends and they have been great to me. Others have reached out to me with their own stories about how they were dealing with a lot of the same problems, but didn’t want to talk about it openly. I wrote an account of it on my Facebook and published it. It was surprisingly well received.
I’m on much better medication and doing much better.
Anyways, I wanted to get this out. I’m not ashamed of it anymore. I have an illness that I’ve begun to manage with talk therapy and medication. My writing has helped tremendously. As soon as I went crazy at 1am one morning and set up this blog, I attached my name to it. It terrified me to have my presence floating around on the Internet, but it helps me to try and actually better myself. My work is public, even if it’s mainly attached to a small-time, home-brewed blog, so I owe it to myself to do my best work and treat it seriously. I’ve submitted some pieces that I’ve worked hard on to freelance sites that got rejected, and while disappointing, it’s helping me to focus myself. This blog has been slowly transitioning from just my horror stories to my life and my short fiction.
I still have episodes. One tonight inspired me to write this. But, I wanted to write this so people who may be reading and struggling know that they’re not alone. I was originally inspired to start writing about my experiences by the amazingly funny Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half’s depression comics (linked below). Things as simple as YouTube and seeing people just create has become my driving for to realize that maybe I can do it too, (On that subject, a great shout out to Markiplier. His channel is the only one I’ve followed without slowly falling out of over time, and his unbridled enthusiasm and love for the community is contagious and has helped keep me distracted during some bad depressive episodes.)
Most importantly, I want to thank my wonderful wife Karen for keeping it together through all this and being awesome to me. Also, my family and friends, and my dog Bailey. She is the force that keeps both myself and Karen from being forcibly committed.
And of course, if you are suffering from mental illness or thinking you might be, don’t be scared to seek help. Chances are you wouldn’t just sit at home and wait for appendicitis to go away or just ‘man up’ to get through it, so make sure you don’t do that with your brain either. It’s not weakness, it’s an actual medical condition.
Any questions, comments, stories, or whatever else, feel free to put them in the comments or shoot me an email. If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for listening. If you know someone with depression, one of the best things you can do is simply listen.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Markiplier’s YouTube Channel