Let me start this out by saying I suffer from depression. Not “flavor of the week” depression, but severe mental depression. I have been hospitalized for it and I have seen people come and go through those programs who, in contrast do not seem remotely depressed at all, just sad. That’s not to belittle or say these people don’t suffer from some form of depression, but when a teenage girl comes into the psych ward because she’s upset that her boss is being hard on her so she “needed a break”, I have a hard time relating when I am hiding beneath my sheets in tears because I am so ashamed and don’t want anyone to see me like this.
Depression is hard. It’s hard to live with. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to know what to do- for the sufferer and the support system. Some days I have good days, some days… not so good. Some days are down right impossible while some days are just a huge inconvenience. As a sufferer, it’s hard to describe what it feels like. Even worse, it’s hard to accept it.
When I was first diagnosed with depression, I refused to believe it.
I didn’t “identify” with that term. Sure, I was sad a lot. In an unhappy marriage but nothing to be “depressed” about. I had a wife who loved me dearly, would do anything for me and 3 amazing children that loved me, maybe even admired me. I had a good job, good friends, hobbies I loved and was an active volunteer firefighter in my community. What’s so bad about that?
I suffered a neck injury in 2005 when I fell down a flight of stairs. Freak accident, totally my own fault. The result was a herniated disc in my T4/T5 of my spine. Put your hand around the back of your neck with your pinkie finger touching the bottom of the hairline. Where your thumb rests is pretty close to the T4/T5 area. Right near the base of the brain stem. The doctors talked about surgery at the time but it was CRAZY scary.
It involved laying face down on a bed, they slice you open from the hairline down to as far as they needed to go, fixed the discs and closed you back up. Then you lay in a bed for 6-8 months and then hope you can walk again once it all heals. With a success rate of about 60%. Side note… I have had to learn to walk 3 times in my life, but that’s a story for another time…
Needless to say I chose to not have the surgery. Sometime around 2011/2012, I was having some physio done on my neck (for the pain and lack of mobility that had developed over the years) and when that session was over, I was unable to get up. My legs would not move. At all. I could feel them. I had perfect sensation, but zero ability to move them.
Have you ever seen panic in a doctor’s eyes?
It’s not a fun thing to witness. The physio session was in a hospital in a small town so the PT called the ER and the Doctor came to me. Discussed things with me, discussed things with the PT and after a brief exam, I could see that he was scared for me. I was convinced that he was convinced that the ruptured disc had cut something off in my spinal cord and this was it for me.
After he rushed me to a major hospital with a full neurology department, spending over 2 weeks unable to move anything from the waist down (… except that. That still worked.) they determined there was nothing physically wrong with me. Countless tests and exams and specialists, nothing physically made sense to them. Until they sent in a psychologist; I remember her being there less than 5 minutes, but after a question about my uncle who had committed suicide back in 1990, I was suddenly sobbing.
It made no sense to me that something that had happened almost 20 years earlier would bring up so much emotion.
They sent me back to my local hospital with a diagnosis of “transference disorder”. Basically my brain was suffering and the way it drew attention to itself was by turning off part of my body. It chose my legs. Transferring mental symptoms to a physical body part. Weird right? I didn’t believe it at first.
After weeks of PT and seeing a psychologist, I slowly regained the use of my legs and I learned to walk again, I still believed there was some kind of mistake; the physicians MUST have missed something because there’s nothing really wrong with my brain. I had no reason to be depressed, sure I got sad sometimes, but there was no way I could be “depressed”. It just made no sense to me.
Years of therapy later, with my psychologist constantly telling me how depressed I was despite the fact I hid it very well I STILL did not believe it. I used it as a joke with my friends and on social media;
“It’s official: I am clinically a mental case!”
“Doctors have determined what girlfriends have been telling me for years; despite all their tests and scans they can’t find anything in my head!”
I wasn’t depressed. I was happy. I could make jokes. I could go out in public and meet new people. I had so much good in my life, what did I have to be depressed about? My therapist diagnosed me with “high functioning depression”, meaning I was depressed but could function seamlessly in society. She kept cautioning me that one day things could get very, very dark. She was convinced that my unhappy marriage was the root of it all.
I always described my marriage as this;
- Boy meets Girl
- Boy gets Girl pregnant
- Boy marries Girl because it’s the “right thing to do”
I told myself at the time that I would grow to love her, but it never happened.
We did marriage counseling multiple times but we kept coming back to the same place over and over again; I just didn’t love her. 17 years we were married. 3 wonderful children, a nice home, lots of friends and for the most part, things were good. Aside from the fact I wasn’t in love with her. My therapist kept trying to tell me that I “deserved to be happy too.” I didn’t feel my happiness was worth taking away the happiness of someone else. Until I finally did.
When I told her that I was done and that I was leaving- she took it bad. REAL bad. She was not much of a drinker up until that point, but all of a sudden she could not be sober anymore. She stopped caring for herself or for anyone else- including the kids. She was spiraling fast and I was genuinely worried about her. She spoke of hurting herself often and I brushed it off as her just being overly dramatic, until one night she said something about killing herself and taking the kids with her.
That was when I took her to an emergency room to be admitted to a psych ward. Now in retrospect this is the moment when I should have done more to push back, but I was so blown away by what happened that night I was stunned.
We are sitting in the waiting room waiting to see the doctor. She is sitting to my left going on and on about how I was her world, her life. She simply couldn’t go on without me. I did my best to try and console her. I mean I know I did just break her heart, and as I was her first ever boyfriend this was for all intents and purposes her first breakup. Remember your first breakup as a teenager? A horrible mess. Tears and all.
She was a 37 year old going through the emotions of a heartbroken 16 year old who just had her heart stomped on. And then she did it…
She lifted her head out of her hands, slowly turned to look at me with an unnatural look on her face and said to me “I will kill myself and make sure the kids know it was your fault so they will hate you forever.”
I was overwhelmed. More than that- I was crippled. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t respond… I just stared at her as she slowly put her head back down into her hands, hunched over in the waiting room chair. Then the doctor came in. He asked to speak with me first to get an idea from my perspective why I thought she might hurt herself- including what she had just told me. As I sat back in the waiting room, waiting for the doctor to come out and let me know how damaged she is and that they would need to keep her for some kind of 48 hour suicide watch, that never happened. She had somehow convinced the doctor that I made it all up, that I was overreacting and that she simply needed some time to process.
Again- I was speechless. I knew she was manipulative. She had used it many times over the course of our marriage. Sometimes to get her way, sometimes to help us out of tight spots thru out our marriage. Sometimes against the kids. I knew she had a good grasp on the skill but never to the extent of convincing a health care professional, and one trained to spot these kinds of things.
The 45 minute drive home was quiet. Neither of us said a word. We pulled into the driveway and as I turned the vehicle off, she softly asked “How are we going to do this? What’s the next step?” We talked it out for a bit and we settled on her and kids staying in the house and I would stay with my mom until I found a new place to live. We would divorce amicably, no lawyers, no fights, no drama. We would figure something out with the kids so there was no pressure on them to choose a parent- we would make it work. I truly believed that this was a turning point. Maybe whatever the doctor said sank in about processing the trauma and she was ready to begin the next steps.
We went into the house and talked to the kids. They were 17, 16 and 14 at the time. The youngest- our daughter cried. A lot. She was devastated. The boys were sad and cried a few tears, but they were accepting. They live in a generation where single parent families or blended families are very commonplace. I packed up a few things then I left.
I cried. It was hard to say goodbye that night to the kids knowing their lives were suddenly, drastically changed. Our home, our family, our lives… 17 years, gone. Done. Then she did something I will never understand. Something that I cannot fathom any parent doing to their children. Something I will never recover from.
She started using the kids as her therapists.
She unloaded 17 years of marital issues, mistakes I made and on top of that- complete and utter lies to 3 very vulnerable, very hurt and very innocent kids. And I was unable to defend myself. After that night and whatever stories she told, whatever lies she made up, she had manipulated the KIDS, our kids… our babies to believe that their father was a cold-hearted monster with no room for love in his heart and had decided to leave his family. Daddy doesn’t love you and he never did.
I got a few emails and texts from the kids. It started with a lot of “Why daddy”, and “We can be better daddy” and they eventually turned into “I hate you” and I hope we never see you again”. It didn’t make a difference what I tried telling them, her “story” was so convincing that within a couple days they were so angry with me that they never wanted to see me again. Ever.
Remember where my therapist told me that one day things would get very dark? This was that day. October 13, 2015. The day that 17 years of holding it all in finally came out. The day that my therapist spent years warning me about- that I spent years not believing.
The day the darkness took over.
I was done. She had taken the only thing I loved more than life itself away from me. I had nothing left to live for. So I decided I wouldn’t live anymore. I was at work in my office working late that night. I called each kid, one by one. None of them would answer, so I left a voicemail for each of them saying goodbye. I called my best friend. In hindsight, I think I was trying to reach out and call for help, but she was a couple hours away. Impossibly far away in my mind. I asked her how she was doing, told her I loved her and then said “goodbye”.
There I was, standing in my office with tears streaming down my face when I heard a knock on the building’s exterior door. Another friend of mine. I have no idea why she decided to show up at my workplace. No idea how she knew I would even be there. But she did.
I tried ignoring her at first, but with a glass storefront, she could see me. Standing in my office. Tears in my eyes. After relentlessly phoning my cell, I eventually answered her. I told her to go away. I screamed at her to leave me alone. But she wouldn’t. At some point she was able to convince me to open the door.
My memories at that point get kind of fuzzy but somehow she convinced me to come with her to the hospital. I remember bawling while standing in the hallway to get to the triage nurse. I remember sitting in the very same chair I had several nights ago when my wife had told me she would kill herself so the kids would blame me.
I remember being admitted to a seclusion room where I cried for days.
It still hurts, years later. My kids still don’t really talk to me. I don’t cry as much. I remember telling the psychiatrist at the time that I felt like I was covered in a thick, black wet blanket, holding me down. Making my life completely dark. I still have that blanket. Not by choice, I can’t get rid of it. It’s part of who I am now. I hate it, but I have to deal with it.
Over the years it’s been since I was first diagnosed with depression, they had me on many different medications. Far too many to remember. I used to joke with specialists when they asked me what medications I have been on, and I would say “all of them”. I always took the meds but didn’t really believe I needed them. Now I take the meds because I know I need them.
I have come to learn that depression is a very real thing not to be taken lightly. Since “the incident”, it took months to find the right combination of meds to keep me from completely crashing. But I still do. Everyone describes depression differently. For me it’s that big, black wet blanket, only it’s a body of water and I am trapped under the surface. The blanket comes and goes like waves crashing on the beach. When my meds are stable, the beach is usually calm. But there are days waves come crashing out of nowhere- I have no idea why, but there is always a reason.
I underestimated depression once before and I will NEVER do that again!
Sometimes it’s a TV show or a movie, some days its seeing a father playing with his young children. Sometimes I just don’t know what that reason is or what triggered the wave. I will probably have a low day tomorrow because I was focused on this today. Most of the time I can ride the wave out but there are still days that I can’t get out of bed. Days where I am just low all day and others where I am full of energy and can do anything. Most of my bad days I can’t think of any reason for me to feel as bad as I do.
Depression is real, its unpredictable and it’s incurable. It’s a result of chemical imbalances in the brain- the most complex organ in the human body. Hopefully one day science will be able to map it out and fully understand how our brains work, but today we are not there. I have no idea when the chemicals went out of balance in my brain, but I will need to live with this for the rest of my life. I can’t explain it and I don’t need to. I have depression and I get depressed.
I may not know the reason but I do know, it’s not for no reason.
If you are reading this and you also suffer from depression- everything will be OK. The best phrase I have learned through this journey that helps me out when I am low is that you have survived 100% of your bad days. Remember that.
If you are reading this because you have a loved one who suffers with depression and you are looking for ways to help, just be there for them. Don’t judge. Don’t ask why they are down. Don’t ask how you can help (because honestly- you can’t), just accept that they are having a low day, and tell them that tomorrow will be a better day.