I don’t know how much of a surprise this is, but for as long as I can remember I have battled with depression. It still happens occasionally, but I’m significantly better at coping with it now than I used to be.
For many years I assumed that my extreme feelings were just normal, or a product of circumstance, or maybe prolonged grief, and it wasn’t until a few of years ago that I first sought professional help.
At that point in my life, in November 2014, my life was actually going pretty well. Whereas previously I could point to deaths, or divorce, or loneliness, or homesickness, or stress at work as being a reason to feel down, at that time there was no obvious reason for me to be falling into bouts of depression. And yet I still did. So eventually, with Farah’s encouragement, I went to see someone.
This is something that I’ve only ever shared with a handful of people. I think I have been reluctant to discuss it, because from someone else’s perspective, there is no reason for me to be depressed about anything. And I would agree with that perspective 100%. The list of good things in my life is long, and I know that.
I’m married to an amazing woman. We have a beautiful healthy kid. I live in Austin. We have a nice house. Cars. Jobs. I have loving parents. I have great friends. I’m healthy. I’m young. I still have my own hair. The list is long. It doesn’t make any sense why I should ever get depressed. But it still happens.
What I’ve learned is that for me, it has nothing to do with circumstance or rationale. In fact, it’s entirely unpredictable and irrational.
When it happens, I feel it coming on like I’m falling into quicksand. And it quickly overwhelms me. It feels like a heavy weight is pulling me down and sucking my energy, as the dark clouds surround me. But it’s never because of one single thing. It’s not because somebody does something, or that one particular thought causes a ripple. I can’t ever attribute anything to it. It’s not because I’m watching too much cable news, or because I’m listening to too much Radiohead. It’s not because I’ve been in an argument, or I’ve lost money, or I’m under a lot of stress. It’s not because I’m busy, and it’s not because I’m bored. It’s not because of anything.
Sometimes it lasts a few hours; sometimes it lingers for a day or two. It starts with that overwhelming lethargy, followed by feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, then complete social withdrawal. I want to lock myself away. And then after locking myself away, come the thoughts of locking myself away permanently. Often I feel like I am a burden. I try to remember the list of good things, and that’s when the battle starts.
But as much as I’ve tried, I can’t always think away the darkness. Just like when it rains, you can’t stop the rain. You can take shelter, but sometimes you just have to accept that it’s going to rain for a while.
It’s painful and it’s exhausting too. My mind takes me to very dark places. Work and family can be a good distraction, although I’m not the easiest to be around when it’s happening. Still, I’ve never missed a day of work because of it. You don’t need an excuse to be a dick if you are a lawyer. But that’s often all I need – a distraction. Because I know the clouds will pass. The rain will eventually stop.
I would say that when I was in my 20s and early 30s, it used to happen at least once a month. In 2016, it happened maybe three times.
I started seeing a therapist in 2014. At first I went every two weeks, and now I go once a month. She’s a psychologist, as opposed to a psychiatrist, and I’ve never taken any drugs or medicine to counter it. Instead we just talk. We talk about everything, the good and the bad, and over time, she has equipped me with mental tools to help out when the darkness comes.
Some tools are more obvious than others, but one that has been effective for me is the understanding that this has happened before, and that things have always got better. In other words, sometimes if I can’t fight it, I just ride it out. Or I write. Writing really helps me.
This entire writing project started as a way to help focus my ‘monkey mind’, as my therapist calls it, and it’s why I plan to keep on writing. I’ve accepted that the dark moments will continue to happen, but that now I have ways to handle it.
I remember one of the big revelations I had back when I was in Melbourne, and writing about my brother’s death, was realizing that I’d actually experienced profound moments of sadness before he died. Basically, I realized that there would always be moments of sadness. That was a bizarrely joyous moment for me. At the time, I didn’t recognize the grief or sadness as anything abnormal though.
But now, like I said, in the last year or two, it has happened less and less, and the clouds pass much quicker. In that time, I’ve had many more times of happiness than sadness, and I’m much better at handling life when things do go to shit. I’ve stopped worrying about when the next bout will come, and I’ve focused more on creative outlets like writing and even singing.
I give a huge amount of the credit for this change to just talking about it with a professional. I know a lot of people suffer from some form of depression, and that it’s different for everyone. But my life, and probably that of my family’s, has been significantly improved because I got help.
I think being Scottish made me put if off for as long as I did. If someone expresses any feelings of depression in Scotland, I guarantee you someone will offer them a drink. And not a soft drink either. As a kid, we used to make fun of Americans because they all had therapists, as if it was a sign of weakness. As if they didn’t have the strength of character to deal with life, unlike us Scots. Well, fuck that.
You have to take care of your mental health, the same way you have to take care of your physical health. I ignored mine for a while, but now I think I’m in good shape. Help is out there.
On reflection, I’ve actually grown to appreciate the visits from the darkness when it comes. Sometimes, when I’m coming out the other side, it’s quite amusing to consider the places my mind took me. Well, it’s amusing to me. In fact, I think I’m going to use some of those interesting inner journeys in my next, fictional, writing project. And it’s going to be a comedy.