It is tempting as a therapist to talk about mental health stuff like it’s a science and we’re in a classroom. People want to hear what their counselor says, right? I have all kinds of relevant articles and YouTube videos we can watch in my office. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of files with enough advice in them to keep you busy for a few lifetimes.
The longer I do this the less I believe in good information helping people change their fundamental personality. If you haven’t had real depression I’m not entirely sure you understand what is truly going on. I wish I was not saying that you can’t really speak intelligently about this topic without practice but nobody is asking me to describe how it feels to have a baby. Cancer patients want to talk to cancer survivors who understand the hell that they and their family are experiencing. Addicts understand addiction on a different level than my wife who grew up as a pentecostal and still hasn’t really consumed alcohol on any level that could result in sloppy sex. You don’t need to be an addict to counsel an addict because counselors know a great deal about poor impulse control and craving for sex or acceptance or meth. Addiction is more about trauma than what your vehicle of choice is. People self-medicate with hundreds of things, not just drugs or booze or sex.
I rarely talk about this publicly on any meaningful level but I had a pretty decent run with depression. My world fell apart and I lacked the coping skills to pull myself out of it, and at least a bit of the reason that I still do this for a living is because of the lessons I learned in the valley of the shadow of death.
I was very depressed for a significant period of time. It became a way of life, the fog that defined my existence. People who know me from that time are not traditionally my friends at this stage of my life, and the few who stuck around don’t need a memory cue about that Scott Williams. It’s been enough time that I can disconnect from that sad little clown, and looking now from a bit of distance he was a pretty hurting unit. So ya, like many who have come before me I fell into a life of depression for a serious piece of my story and I still remember how crazy that bastard was. Depression can gut you. It can take away everything and everyone you love and make your life a crawling waste. There were times when I was so broken that I put myself at the risk of personal harm, and months of such emotional abandonment that I didn’t care if I lived or died and didn’t care that I didn’t care.
I have apologized to my boys countless times but I still carry the stain.
There are people who come to me believing they are depressed because they are deeply sad or grieving or crying every day before work. That may be a form of depression or dysthymia but people who have gone full freaktown deep-dive depression often describe it as feeling nothing at all, not caring or hoping or functionally coping. Meaninglessness and pain and hopelessness. It got dark and nasty for a bigger chunk of time than I can admit to myself and if it wasn’t for Celexa, a few good friends, and the responsibility to solo parent two hurting kids I may not have made it out sane. Days and months and minute after minute after damned minute of despair and depressed thoughts and music that makes you want to hurt kittens. Some of you out there know how slow time can go when every minute of the day is more disappointing than before but you really don’t give enough of a crap to feel anything beyond your own pathetic non-existence.
No one wants to hear it, btw. In the insanity of those days it was a testimony to how messed up I was that I honestly believed other people wanted to hear my litany of pain and woe. News flash 2001 Scott – people don’t want to hear it. If you are a pessimist who is prone to complain to your spouse or friends I need to tell you in love that no one wants to hear you constantly complain. I take that back, there are other complainers who love to talk about that garbage for hours but most of us are far too attention deficit to listen to you talk about your stupid stupid problems that you refuse to deal with year after year after year. We get it, some people need to complain in order to release that bad karma and that is a real thing and I get it. Still. Do yourself a favour and find another miserable friend, someone who shares your interests.
As a counselor, I can tell you that depression is one of the hardest mental health challenges to overcome without time and some decent help along the way. There is no quick fix for such a crippling and insidious illness, and people who tell you to just jog it off or read this or that book or blog (and you will be jim dandy!) are full of crap. It takes months of dedicated work before you even feel like doing anything beyond Netflix and licorice and how do you get motivated to tackle this monster when you can’t even get motivated enough to get motivated? There is nothing I can say to you today, if you are in the valley of the shadow of death, that will pull you out of that funk.
I’m not implying, however, that you should give up or stop reaching out. It all felt meaningless to me for a very long time but sitting on the couch watching daytime television was not the balm it was advertised to be. Moving forward in depression is exhausting but there eventually came a time when I actually didn’t have a bad day. First I would take a few minutes off from my feelings, then a few more. One day I didn’t self-indulge for an entire hour, then a morning, then eventually a day. There was no magic ticket or special medication that pulled me back from the precipice but only a series of little things and a couple of amazing kids and friends who never gave up on me. I started listening to audiobooks between tears, then comic books. I ate real food again and got out of bed before the crushing mind games could pull me under the covers. I went out, even though I hated every minute of it.
In those dark days, I was convinced that this was my forever. I look back and am thankful that I never jumped off that bridge. The only advice I give people who are battling with serious depression is – stay alive. Talk to someone who understands. And get out of bed.