Man, depression sucks. Believe me, I should know. It’s something I struggle with every day.
It’s something I’ve been struggling with since high school, but I was too chicken to confront it. Too chicken until recently.
The Wide Road
I’ve been a wear-your-emotions-on-your-sleeve kind of guy for as long as I can remember. I went through wild mood swings in high school. My mom and friends probably chalked it up to being a brooding, hormonal teenager. College was much the same. I’d be okay for a few weeks, then I’d get really down on myself and life. I lost enough weight during one spell to have some people worry about me.
In the back of my mind I just kept thinking I would get better. All I needed was to pray more, or be stronger, or smarter. My bootstraps needed pulling, and I was the one to do it.
Enter adulthood. Same ol’ me. Same ol’ temperament. But way more stress.
Moving. A new teaching career. Kids. Managing a home. Kids. Working on my marriage. Teaching. Kids. It was wearing me down to a nub. I’d sort of handle things for a while, then dip low. I would withdrawal, yell, scream, stop talking to people, sleep too much or not enough, or generally just become numb to it all.
I hate that I put my family and loved ones through that. And that’s exactly how the cycle begins.
Depression is a disturbing carousel of pain, sadness, and guilt. I would get down. Really down. Then I would start to feel bad for being down and unable to bring myself out of it. That would lead to guilt. That guilt would compound the sadness into an ever increasing downward spiral. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I felt fine if I were to die.
I would get to the point where I hated myself. I already struggle with confidence and self-worth anyway. It seemed I was increasingly more miserable than not. That’s an awful place to be. Especially as a classroom teacher and a father of four.
The stress and guilt were weighing on me. Things were getting worse. I knew thoughts of pulling into oncoming traffic weren’t right. I was determined to try even harder to will myself through this, though.
But I became more and more inward facing. The harder I tried, the worse it got. My wife lovingly asked me if I needed to go stay with my mom for a while to get some space. That’s when I knew something had to change.
The Narrow Road
My wife suggested that I go see a professional. It took me over a year to work up the courage to do that. I didn’t want to admit defeat. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t hack it at life. I didn’t want to admit that there was something wrong with me.
I took a simple online survey. It wasn’t what I wanted to see, but it was what I needed to see. I was depressed. Severely depressed at that.
I finally went to see a doctor. Sitting in the uncomfortable faux-leather chair of the waiting room, I expected to feel nervous. That emotion didn’t disappoint. But there was another unwelcome visitor- shame. I was not expecting to feel so much shame. I felt shame because this was one more thing I couldn’t do right. I was defeated.
Chemistry, Not Character
The doctor was pleasant enough. He diagnosed me with depression and prescribed some medicine. I continued to see him for almost a year. The medicine helped. I was hoping to talk to him more, but he didn’t seem like that kind of doctor. He was pleasant, but not exactly personable.
At the urging of a friend I switched doctors. This new doctor was phenomenal. He listened to me. He asked questions and answered all of mine. He explained depression to me. We talked about the stigma of mental illness. He helped me see that my depression wasn’t totally something I caused. It was some faulty wiring in my brain among other things.
He told me that if someone had a physical illness that we would give them medicine. So, if someone had a mental illness, why wouldn’t we give them medicine too? I’m no more capable of thinking my way to a cure for depression than someone with the flu can think themselves healthy.
* * *
I’m better today. I’m not perfect or the best. Just better. I’m learning to cut myself some slack and not shoulder so much guilt. It’s a process, but I think it’s working.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, please, please urge them to get professional help. Make the call for them, or ask someone to make it for you.
Set your fears and ego aside and get some help. Life is too short to spend it that way. Our God has given men and women the intelligence and know-how to help those struggling with this. Remember, depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character.