Depression was not what I had thought it would be.
I haven’t been a happy person in a long, long time. Probably not since early grade school, as far as I can remember. Right now, I am deeply, deeply unhappy.
I was laid off nearly a year ago and have been unable to find a job. My two closest friends moved away long ago, and my other friends have mostly married and had kids, and no longer have any free time to hang out with a single guy. And, yes, I’m single and have no one with whom to share my life. I’m in my mid-30s and have accomplished almost nothing. I don’t believe I’ve even made much of an impact on most people.
Often I do truly feel like the proverbial ‘waste of space’.
Sometimes I think about mortality: I live alone, I don’t work, I don’t have anyone to hang out with or the money to go out on my own. I spend most of my time in my home, alone. I realize that if I died it would probably be at least a week or two before anyone figured it out. And I wonder if anyone would care. Well, I know my family would, and some of my close friends. But I also realize that most people I know would probably hear about my death, make a sad face, possibly make a sad post on Facebook, and then never think about me again.
But this deep unhappiness, the aimlessness, the never-ending feelings of being lonely and unloved, they’re all just that: unhappiness.
Depression is a different beast.
I worked at my last job for eight years. One of the benefits they offered was a service which would provide up to 6 free sessions with a therapist or counselor. After a couple of years working there, I decided I needed to take advantage of this.
Why? Well, as I said, I’ve been unhappy for a long, long time, but this was different. For a long time I stopped feeling unhappy. Instead I felt an odd combination of emptiness, tiredness, and anger. The anger was worst: I’m generally a pretty laid-back guy, slow to anger, quick to forgive. But I began feeling sudden flashes of intense anger at the slightest provocation. My commutes became nightmares of rage any time any other driver did anything even remotely bad.
Driving slightly too slow in front of me? Rage. Driving a little too close behind me? Rage. Cut me off? Oh boy, rage like you wouldn’t believe. Up until this time I’d always thought that “seeing red” was a figure of speech, but I felt such intensely powerful rushes of anger that I would, quite literally, lose my vision under a haze of red, even if just for a fleeting moment.
I was angry at family, at coworkers, store employees, anyone I came across. I could hide it, fortunately, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel it.
The flipside of the situation: when I wasn’t filled with rage, I felt empty and tired. I began to feel almost nothing when not angry. I lost all motivation to do anything other than drink a lot of alcohol and watch my DVD collection of the first decade of The Simpsons. Over and over. In a drunken stupor. Because that brief duration of that pleasant buzz of drunkenness was the only time I felt anything that wasn’t anger or emptiness.
Since I had no good friends in the area, my only way to vent was via Facebook. This was a mistake. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the actual response: I was almost completely ignored. A few people would occasionally respond with some pithy advice; one or two actually sent me PMs to lecture me about how they didn’t want to read about my problems.
Well, I was hoping to find some kind of sympathetic ear (or eye, I suppose) through my Facebook friends. One or two did actually provide helpful advice and support after having gone through similar issues themselves, and for that I’m eternally grateful. But the cold silence coming from almost everyone else destroyed what little was left of my well-being.
Finally I got to the point where I started calling in to work and taking sick days because I couldn’t even muster the energy or motivation to get out of bed. That was when I knew I had to try the free counseling sessions offered through my benefits package.
The therapy was, sad to say, a disaster from the start. I called the group offering the services and they hung up on me. Several times. Of course they said it was due to their people accidentally hitting the hang-up button instead of the transfer button on their phones, and I do believe them, but at the time, in the mental state I was in? It seemed like another instance of everyone going out of their way to make me miserable.
Anyway, I eventually got an appointment for a therapist.
I did not like my therapist.
She did not listen to me.
I could only get my appointments for the very end of the day, due to my work schedule at the time, and the therapist made very little effort to hide the fact that she just wanted to be done for the day.
She would ask me questions. I would answer. She did at least listen to me at the beginning of the first session, when I described how I was feeling. Much to my deep surprise she suggested depression as the cause.
I did not believe her, at first. Depression is just a deep sadness, right?
Well, no. We unfortunately live in a culture which stigmatizes mental illnesses in various ways. Depression is brushed off as unhappiness, yes, with many people seemingly convinced that you only have to get over it, stop moping, go out, have fun, fake it ’til you make it, etc. I grew up in this culture and so had absorbed this vague feeling of depression just being another word for sadness.
I was surprised when my therapist explained that my feelings of emptiness, listlessness, and anger were all major symptoms of depression.
It was a breakthrough right off the bat, but unfortunately it ended there. As I mentioned, my therapist didn’t really listen to me after that. I’d answer her questions and she’d ask follow-up questions which showed she hadn’t really been paying attention to my original answer.
She also suggested a few exercises. The biggest one was to talk to people more. I probably mentioned that I was single and lonely. She had suggested that, if there were any women I was interested in, I should strike up a conversation with them and ask them out. She suggested doing so at work, perhaps during lunch hour.
Oh boy, this is some of the worst advice I’ve ever received.
I’m both shy and introverted. I’m incredibly awkward around people and don’t know what to say to strangers, even at the absolute best of times. Sending me off to try to flirt with someone, out of the blue, in the mental state that I was in? Well… it sounded completely insane but I trusted that she knew what she was talking about and decided to give it a try.
Let’s just say it did not go well. In fact, it went SO not well, that it made me feel significantly worse than I already did, which was quite a feat, I assure you.
So therapy in itself did nothing for me. However, aside from (correctly) diagnosing my depression, my therapist did one other thing that ended up saving me: she suggested I go to my doctor and get a prescription for antidepressants.
So I did.
I’m not much of a doctor person. I had only seen this doctor once before, for what was my first checkup in probably ten or fifteen years. So I was surprised to find that this doctor showed much more empathy and compassion than my therapist had. He gave me the prescription for the antidepressants, saying that there were different types and that this one might not work.
Well, lo and behold, it did.
The antidepressants were an odd experience. I suppose I half expected them to turn me into some sort of artificially, deliriously happy fool. That’s not what happened. What happened was more of an extreme mellowing, almost to the point of emotional deadening. I didn’t feel happy again, but the anger went away, along with, I have to say, my sex drive. I think this would be a problem for most people but it was actually a boon for me.
See, I’ve been turned down by every woman I’ve ever asked out. I’ve never gotten so much as a pity date. The closest thing I had was meeting up with someone I met online for what I thought was a date, but which she didn’t. Anyway, the combination of loneliness and extreme sexual frustration had contributed a lot to my overall misery, so when the antidepressants killed my emotions and my sex drive, it was a huge relief.
Well, I saw my therapist a handful of times and got nothing else useful from her. I spent about two years, near as I can recall, taking the antidepressants, until the prescribing doctor asked to see me again to check up on me before continuing the prescription.
Unfortunately things had changed with my insurance in the interim, and he was no longer part of my network and, for reasons I can’t completely remember, wasn’t able to see me. I essentially would have had to go through the hassle of finding a new doctor and going through this entire process all over again in order to continue the prescription.
Things had changed, though. While the medication was still suppressing most of my feelings, I could still feel enough to know that things had changed. Deep down I no longer felt that emptiness or rage. I didn’t know if they were still lurking there, deep under the surface, but my life had (somewhat) improved during those two years, so I decided to take a gamble. I gradually reduced my dosage with the remainder of my final bottle of medication, taking smaller amounts with more time between dosages, until I finally ran out.
I braced for the worst.
Nothing much happened.
It must have taken another few weeks for the effects to fully wear off. Gradually I began to feel feelings again, and my sex drive (unfortunately, as I was still single) came roaring back, but the blind, pointless rage was no longer there. I was no longer listless and completely lacking in motivation. I was still unhappy, yes, but the pills had taken me through the worst of the storm – the actual depression.
I’m not entirely sure what happened. I don’t even really know the cause – was it a temporary chemical imbalance in my brain? Was it due to my life spiraling down into a giant, dark chasm of despair? I suspect it was a combination of the two. Whatever the cause, it seems to have corrected itself during the time I was on the antidepressants. I don’t know how or why, but it did.
And that’s it. That’s the story of my depression. As I said at the start, I’m still a deeply lonely and unhappy person, but I also feel times of joy and excitement and energy, and when I get angry it’s reasonable, level anger, not sudden massive flashes of rage at the slightest thing.
I wrote this because I’m still wrestling with it, many years later. I fear that the actual, legitimate depression may suddenly come back, out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. But I also know that, horrible as depression is, it is survivable. And I know that, while most people will run like hell from anyone looking for help or solace, there are good people out there who care about me.
So, if you take anything away from this, please take these two things: help and recovery are possible, and there are people who care about you, even if it most people shun you in your times of need.
Anyway, one final note: probably the best thing I’ve seen on depression are Allie Brosh’s posts on Hyperbole and a Half, here and here (she also has a terrific book which includes the depression stories.)