As I sit here at my computer, I’m conditionally writing this as a blog post. I say conditionally, even to myself, since I’m unsure about whether or not it will even make it onto my blog. Do you really want to hear what I have to say? It isn’t pretty or kind or all puppies-and-kittens.
Truth is, my life isn’t like that. I suspect most lives aren’t, but I refuse to hide that fact. More than once, I’ve received looks and comments—dealt behind closed doors when they thought I wasn’t listening— about my refusal to bury my feelings behind fake smiles and platitudes. And more often than not, it brings me into conflict with others. Those who don’t get “it.” Those who only want the superficial, despite what they say. I’ve known countless fair-weather friends who don’t really want to know the reason you’ve withdrawn into yourself, no matter what they say.
I won’t point fingers. They’re scattered through all points of my life. The fact still exists, however, no matter how much we’d love our problems to be covered up or ignored. It’s especially hard on K and me. We’ve met untold people who are positive, upbeat, and wonderful people who just don’t understand that we’re just not that way. It worries me when I meet truly great people—kind, caring people who are just a simple joy to know—and we hit it off. They want to spend time talking and getting to know each other. Then, we slowly seem to turn them off ’cause we’re not like that.
Recently, my wife asked me why it seems like she has no friends. I ignored the question and changed the topic. Why? Because it was neither the time nor place to discuss it. Truth is, it isn’t just her. Both of us have issues keeping people close to us. They see us having problems and withdrawing into ourselves—for sanity’s sake—and they assume that we’re angry at them. Of course, they don’t consider asking us what’s wrong. They only say, “Well, you could always come and talk to us.” We don’t always want to talk. We want our problems to go away. If we’re doing this, then they obviously aren’t normal problems. They are all–consuming, and we’re holding on by our fingernails.
It’s the rare person who goes out of their way to ask. But even then, nine times out of ten, I’ll still lie and say everything is all right. It isn’t, but what good does it do? I’m unsure about that point. I’m pretty sure I suffer from textbook depression. It’s unconfirmed, but also hereditary in my family. How can I explain to you that while the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the world looks beautiful, I am miserable? Most people can’t comprehend that.
But you want a sure way to piss off someone like me? Just tell us to change our mood. Tell us it’s all in our head, and, if we really wanted to, we could change the way we feel. Act like it’s just a switch we have to flip and then—presto!—everything will be wonderful.
IT DOESN’T FUCKING WORK LIKE THAT PEOPLE!
There is no switch, no magic button. You think we haven’t tried? You think we love being miserable? Anyone who says they do—guess what? They’re lying. We’ve just lived with the depression and the sadness and all those issues so long that we forget at times what it feels like to be happy, what having a smile on your face looks and feels like. Happiness can seem almost mythical at times, like unicorns or dragons or some Disney fairytale character. And the worst thing about saying that is, it reinforces the idea that we have the ability to fix it ourselves, to believe whatever we want to believe. If we only tried hard enough, it would go away on its own; we should be able to handle our own problems with ease. That misnomer has probably killed more people than it saves. I struggle with that idea daily—that I should always be in control; I should be able to fix it myself . . . if I only wished and focused hard enough.
Tell that to cancer.
A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh is fantastic in many ways: beloved children’s book, fan-favorite Disney show. But it’s also a fantastic character study. You can label everyone you know by the characters in that book. Your spouse is an Owl; your mother a Pooh. That annoying guy at work? Tigger. Definitely a Tigger. I am an Eeyore. But here is the second part of the lesson. Read the book, watch the show—whichever you prefer. Here’s the thing. Each character is unique, including Eeyore. But never—NOT ONCE—do the others try to change who he is. They still invite him along on their adventures, accepting their friend for who he is. That’s a lesson for all of us.
Depression is an illness. It isn’t a disease that can be cured with chemo or radiation. It’ll always return. We are stuck with this monkey for the rest of our lives. It’s torture, plain and simple. But we still try to move forward. We just want you to be aware, to help us lift that burden on occasion. Take us out for a beer, invite us over for lunch.
Just. Say. Hello.
So when you talk to me and I don’t answer or only grunt, I’m not mad at you. Trust me, I’ll tell you when that happens. Depression is like carrying several tons around with you daily. You grow tired. Sometimes we need to put the burden down for a bit. Care when that happens. Be worried when we have trouble lifting it again, because each time we have to, it gets harder. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of being strong for too long.
Trust me, I know.