When I first began thinking of writing about clinical depression, I stopped thinking. I put it to rest. Why would I consider doing what I was considering? What would I do in the face of my family and friends when they found out? I felt so shameful. So inadequate. So inferior. And I felt so alone. Especially as a male. Men aren’t supposed to talk about our feelings. We’re not supposed to cry. Not show weakness. Not show emotion.
This…thing I had, made me do all those things. And it wouldn’t leave. It just lingered there for years. It reared its ugly head more than I could handle. I saw its sinister teeth glistening in the shadows. Its chipped, stiletto nails sliding around the corner and scratching on the walls of my soul.
Later, through years of counseling and medicine, doctors help me put a name to this thing and they called it depression. I’ve come to call it, Specter.
A big step to my living with depression and being haunted by Specter was the realization of what I was going through was real. It was not imagined. I was not a freak or different because I was going through it. I was normal. The Lord just dealt me a hand that was different from other folks in my life. That’s a-whole-‘nother talk which I imagine I’ll address in the future. The biggest help to me was decoding the codex. Once I discovered the following four items, I could live with my depression. Yours may be different my friend. You may have less. You may have more. There’s no standard here. And that’s perfectly fine.
Here are four truths I’ve learned from my years of living with depression:
1. I had no happiness. Life was bleak. A grey filter descended across my life. It could be clear and sunny out and I just couldn’t find the sunshine. Happiness was lost beyond the horizon. And I wondered if it would ever come back. I had given up hope that it ever would. I was on a rotating cornucopia of pills that never seemed to bring me away from zombie state. If a medicine “worked” I didn’t usually experience the extreme lows that are characteristic of Specter’s grip. On the other hand, periods of happiness, true happiness – uncontrollable hysterical laughing, energy, and enthusiasm – was as hard to get as that first high from some mood altering drug. Dang if I didn’t fight for it and want it. Dang if it rarely came. Depression was the cause of this. HOW REFRESHING TO DISCOVER THIS.
2. I had no shame. When it gets bad enough, you don’t care about the things I mentioned in the opening paragraph. When you’re collapsed…no broken on the kitchen floor and clawing at the cabinets, you don’t care. You don’t care how long you sob. You don’t care if your upstairs neighbors can hear your hysterical crying through the floor. You don’t care because the pain and torture you are dealing with is far, far greater than the repercussions and embarrassment of others finding out.
3. I had no drive; I had no energy. At one particular point within the past few years I’ve had an exorbitant amount of Red Box movie marathon love affairs. [red flag] I would come home from work each night, plop myself on the couch, and feed my brain with empty, non-caloric, fast food for the brain in the form of Criminal Minds. [red flag] I didn’t want to go out when my friends asked me. It was always so draining I thought. My introvertedness exacerbated that. [red flag] Compounded it. I did things at home by myself. I justified it. “That’s how I recharge my batteries.” If you can identify with that, please know that’s okay. But please try to balance that with going out with your friends when they invite you. They are your safety net. The conversation may be different in public in a group than it is behind closed doors on a couch while you’re bearing your soul. But they are still your safety net. Trust them. Aim for once a month if it’s a struggle for you to say yes to their offer. This next payday, make it a point to do so. And go from there. Don’t worry, I have to practice what I preach here so I’m in the struggle with you.
4. My relationships suffered. It takes a strong person to live with someone who is depressed. We have mood swings. We’re utterly exhausted. Tiredness leads to irritability. Irritability leads to sleeping. Sleeping leads to resentment from your partner. Resentment and anger lead to breakups, or in my case divorce. It’s not a fun, nor hopeful circle of life. Unfortunately. If you find that one person who accepts that part of you (yes, they are out there), you must open yourself to them. Believe them. Strive to be transparent with them. They are real.
Here’s three things that have helped me the most:
1. My medicine. While I was in the Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center the doctor made a slight change to my medicine. It was medicine I had taken before (Lexapro) but he did one thing no other doctor has ever done. He added a smaller dose (2mg) of Abilify. Abilify enhances the effects of the Lexapro. And that magical concoction worked! Am I wary that one day this thin blanket of peace will end and Specter will break out of the rusty cage he torments me from? You’re dang right I am. So I try to be as proactive and honest with the doctors as I can. I bring my medicine bottles so they can count out the pills. I never leave it to chance or to my memory. I log my dosages into Evernote on my phone. Some folks like to record it in a journal. It’s a personal preference but you need to strive to be proactive and deliberate with this. I consider it a Best practice. I have another issue that compounds my depression. An ally of Specter. Sleep Apnea. At my last sleep study I stopped breathing 83 times in 60 minutes. If you have sleep apnea, men especially, you need to get a C-PAP/B-PAP machine to help you breathe at night. Men have a higher rate than women since we have a thicker neck circumference. This is a growing killer of men and we need to support each other to take it seriously. It is believed that 1 in every 15 Americans have sleep apnea. 1 in 50 individuals have an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea. (SOURCE:http://www.sleepdisordersguide.com/sleepapnea/sleep-apnea-statistics.html) An enhanced quality of sleep will help alleviate our incessant daily fatigue and irritability.
2. My faith. Faith enables hope. And it defeats hopelessness. My faith has taught me grace and humility in my times of affliction. Through my valley. It has taught me kindness and empathy towards others. It has tempered my judgmentalism and matured me. It wasn’t always like this until within the past five years. I need this in my life. We need an anchor in our lives to help us weather this tempest. If your anchor is firmly planted, whatever that may be, your boat may drift but will always come back to that focal point. Make sure you have a focal point. Make sure it is firmly planted.
3. My friends. We are not alone. We have people in our lives that will comfort us. When you’re in Specter’s grip, you lose all sense of this. That’s his power. It’s the first thing he leeches out of you – hope. He flashes a slide show of loneliness in front of you until you crack and break. In reality, all we need to do is reach out. If you don’t have a system in place you. don’t. want. to. talk. to. anyone. By then it is too late. You can’t pick up the phone and talk to someone because your hope has been stolen. You don’t have it anymore. While I was in the psychiatric center, I realized I had to have a system in place on the outside, for when Specter got hungry for my soul and crept out of the shadows. I never did until after I attempted to exit the world. My angel – Chelise – the guardian who pulled the noose off my neck after hanging from the doorknob for 45 minutes, she knew what I was willing to carry out that night. From a text! “Why do you want sleeping pills?” – “I want to die tonight.” She dropped everything without question and sped from a usual 50 minute ride away and made it to me in 20 minutes. She called three times on her way and three times it went to voicemail. That’s what friends do. When I was released, we (myself and the angels who were there from the beginning that night) agreed that we would keep our phones on throughout the night with the volumes set high. We know that if I have an episode, I call, and they answer. No questions. No judgment. That’s my system. Think preventive maintenance over damage control. We put oil in our cars before the engine seizes don’t we? There’s little that can be done once the engine seizes. There’s little will left once our hope is taken. Outsmart Specter.
In moving forward through our valleys, I’m interested in your comments on the following curiosities…