My name is Phil, and I struggle with depression.
I’ve been writing a lot about depression recently, and I apologize if I am wearing out the ears of those who listen. But rarely I have little else I can do, and writing is my way of speaking to the world. I don’t really know how big my audience is, beyond my mother, but I write anyway because if I can reach just one person, that it is worth it.
If you are reading this, then you know me, and that means you know at least one depressed person. Knowing is half the battle. Part of being human is caring for your fellow human. It helps to know what someone is feeling so that you can adequately and appropriately care for them. Helping someone with a broken leg walk on the leg isn’t helping. You have to immobilize the leg and keep pressure off of it, and help them walk on crutches. Knowing how to help is everything, and you can’t do that unless you know what is wrong in the first place.
I write about my depression so that you know what it feels like. Depression is such a hard thing to understand precisely because most people think they do understand. The “blues”, feeling sad, or dealing with life’s normal problems is what most people think of when they contemplate depression. That isn’t it. Those things fade, or come and go with life’s ups and downs.
Depression, that is, clinical depression, what I suffer from, is a constant feeling of heaviness. Constantly being sad or weary for no reason at all. Life goes up and I stay numb. Life goes down and I stay numb, or get worse. Something sad happens and I cry for days. The blues, and most other colors, are black or shades of grey. There is no color.
There is fear as well. In my case, debilitating terror. Fear that I will never feel better, which is, in part, justified. Clinical depression can be managed, but not cured. Fear that I can’t do anything. This fear they tell me is irrational. It doesn’t matter, I feel it all the same, and most days, it overwhelms me.
There is guilt. Did I do this to myself? Answer: no. But it doesn’t matter. I feel guilty that I am not normal, that I don’t function and live like everyone else. My mind constantly tells me that I screwed up, that I made this happen, and that if I just bucked up and got with it, I could be better. Nothing is further from the truth. No, I didn’t make this happen, and I can’t unmake it either.
There is sadness. I am sad for all that I have lost, all that I don’t have, all that I am not normal. I have lost a wife, friends, family, several jobs, self-sufficiency, happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, a full palette of emotions. I know that I have lost or lack those things. I can’t will them back, or make them happen just because I want to. Sometimes I feel vestiges, sometimes I hear echoes of those things, but sometimes I merely remember or imagine what they must be like.
There is anger. Anger is born of helplessness, in this case. I know exactly how little I can do to alter my situation. There are no bootstraps, and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps usually results in you smacking your chin on your knees and getting nowhere. I can be proactive. I can get out of bed. I can take my medication. I can do something, no matter how inconsequential or irrelevant. But nothing will banish my depression. Nothing will make it go away. And that makes me mad, angry and upset. It is unfair and frustrating. It is wrong. But it is nonetheless.
And that is just four little things. I hesitate to keep going for fear that it will sound like wallowing or self-pity or “woe-is-me”. This, too, is a symptom of depression. It is difficult for me to fully articulate what I feel because I don’t want to sound like I am merely complaining or moaning. But someone needs to tell it like it is, someone needs to speak up about how it feels. I have no pride left, so it might as well be me. Judge me all you want, tell me to suck it up and be a man if it makes you feel better about who you are, but this is my everyday reality as of right now. I wish 1000% that I could just change it. I pray and ask God to make me better. But wishes aren’t real. God, if he is real, doesn’t do that sort of thing. Medical science can only make my condition manageable, and right now, barely so. What else is there to do but speak up?
But speaking is only half the battle. Now you know how I feel, in part. How do you help me walk with a broken mind? Be a crutch.
It is a failing of American culture that we abhor help. Americans are all about “do-it-yourself” and “self-made-men”. Mostly that’s bullshit. Sorry, but there is no better term. Be a crutch, be a help, do not make me do this myself. Being alone only makes all of this depression worse. Trying to go it alone is mostly impossible. Speak to me: let me know that I still have friends, people who care. Help me out: literally. Offer to come over and help me clean up the apartment. Offer to pay for my laundry and or help me haul it up the stairs. (I’ll probably say no out of humiliation or misplaced pride.) Come and cook with me so I have meals to re-heat. (I don’t know how I’d respond.) Come and go grocery shopping with me. (That could work.) Come and play games with me or hang out and watch a movie or hang out and talk or just hang out and be quiet. (I’m always up for this.) Take me out somewhere to do something. Depression keeps me apartment bound so much of the time. (I’ll almost never say no.) Every little gesture means the world. I can feel and live vicariously. By literally being with me and helping me I can be, even for a little while, normal through you.
Is it your responsibility to make me better? No. Do not feel guilty if you can’t do any of those things. Don’t make it your place to be my everything. That is on me. But anything you can do is a help. I have to walk on the crutches, but without crutches to walk on, it is hard to walk. Crutches come alongside the injury and lift up the heaviness. Help by being a crutch.
And that is why I write. So that you know how I feel and how to help. But not just me: there are millions of depressed people. Some function better than I do, some worse. All need crutches. Get out there and help people walk.
To read what else I have written about depression, search this blog for “depression”.