I have written about a lot of things over my almost 45 years on this planet. From what I was going to have for lunch in first grade to boy and girl crushes in a journal in eighth grade, to love, to heartbreak, to sports, to business, to 45 page capstone thesis papers, to erotic poetry, to articles for the newspaper, to mental toughness workbooks, to blogs that became a book, to commencement speeches, to my mom’s eulogy, to a suicide note I never delivered. I have written all of it. This one has been a long time coming.
For so long, I have listened and watched as the world would get dark and then lighten. I was pretty sure it looked like the natural progression of a 24-hour day… like what everyone else imagined was happening while they were asleep. But mine was often really long and really drawn out. Sometimes it would last for days. Some days felt and looked like nights… some nights like days. And most times the dark was like a cave that was underwater and I was drowning in it because I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t find the opening to get out.
When I was in high school, I had a breakdown. I ran away from home. My parents worried. I am not exactly sure why I did it, but when I walked through the door after two days of not being able to find me, they accepted me in with open arms, held me and we all cried. They cried because I scared them, they didn’t know what was going on and didn’t understand why I would do that. I cried and didn’t even know why. That was the night they decided I would make my first trip to see a psychologist. They wanted to help me. They didn’t know. I didn’t know. We were hoping someone would know something.
I remember the feeling like it was yesterday, my knees hitting the floor while I wailed. I felt tormented and couldn’t understand what could possibly be so bad at the age of 16. Several years later I chalked up my angst and my impossible happiness as teenage hormones and my confusion over my sexual identity. Over the years I came out as gay, lesbian and finally settling more along the lines of bisexual. I don’t hide my identity and it’s not THE definition of me. It’s just a part of me. It’s in a long list of words that would describe who I am. It’s just a part of the story.
I have experienced deep love and profound loss and held them both in the same hands at a young age. My first love when I was 13, my first loss long before. And they continued to weave in and out of my existence. Like most people, I have had both pierce my heart and my breath deeply, like a Velcro that is mixed with super glue. They are strong and unforgiving. Binding my claustrophobic self in that cave, underwater, not able to find my way out.
And so it continued… And I chalked it up to grief, or sadness, or “I just feel deeply” and I moved on. I wrote about it, in not so many words. I often wondered why the pain sometimes was so sharp. And other times was so dull I didn’t feel a thing. But I shrugged it off as just being human because, well… I am.
And then in my late 20s my almost 10-year relationship ended. I felt like a failure. I wasn’t worthy of happiness or love. That must be it. I cheated. I caused her pain. I ruined everything.
And just like that I was back on my knees. Helpless. In tears. Yet it felt normal. It felt like what “should” happen when a love ends.
But the thoughts that came next were much like the ones that I wrote about in my journal when my tormented self ran away from home. I was now exposed. I wanted to run away from everything. Except this time never come back. For the second time, this time more sincerely, I contemplated ending my life. I remember the trip to the local CVS to buy a notebook to write in my car. It was then that I penned what would be a suicide note. I just couldn’t handle the pain. It was so deep. I hurt so much it felt like it would never stop. It was then also that my mom was diagnosed with the disease that would take her way from me 13 years later.
And it was then, just after my breakup and mom’s diagnosis, that I had to put my dog down. The one that kept me from ever really being alone. It was too much. And I wasn’t capable of handling it all at once.
It was then that I sought out counseling for the second time in my life. This time they gave me meds that I took for a day and had me see a Cognitive Behavior Therapist. I would do that for a few months until I felt like I was good enough and I had spent enough money that I didn’t have at the time. I walked away feeling ok. Alone and more hollow than before, but ok.
That thread would be constant. In a world where I was surrounded by lots of people, those that surround me daily, and those that have become family, to my DNA family and the people I know casually, there are times I felt intense loneliness. Even the 20+ years of my life I have spent in serious committed relationships. It wasn’t always them. It isn’t always the friends and family that surround me. I have come to recognize it’s a part of what this is all about. It’s part of my story.
I have been in moments where I was surrounded by a whole slew of people and have felt the most alone I have ever felt. I have laid in bed next to someone and felt like I was a mile away. I have felt deeply and at the same time was completely numb.
In my 30s I would contemplate suicide again. I once again got in my car and left. This time for a few days, I disappeared from the world and all who loved me. I was ashamed and sad. I had failed again in a “forever” relationship and felt like I wasn’t good enough to deserve happiness. And I now believed deep down I never would be.
I wasn’t coming back. I didn’t care anymore.
Finally my brother got through to me. And all of a sudden I realized I was hurting everyone around me. I honestly didn’t want that. Of course I knew that. But when you are in the middle of such pain, you don’t see anything clearly. You just want the pain to end. And that cave closed in once more.
And that’s it. That’s why people do it. For all those who wonder how people can take their own lives, it’s not clear cut and simple. It’s not easily understood unless you are standing in the midst of this underwater cave that has no opening. You can’t breathe. And you can’t explain it to those who are carrying oxygen tanks around wondering why you don’t just borrow theirs.
In the minds of those who are suffering, it’s not actually a selfish thing… it feels selfless in the moment. If I take away my suffering, it will be easier for those around me to not have to deal with me or feel pain because of me.
When you stand on the outside and look in, it’s so much easier to see the obvious flaws with that idea. And as I have written of my turmoil above, from the logical brain, it feels “dramatic and somewhat ridiculous.” I have heard those words from loved ones and those with whom I have shared my bed. I know they meant well. They just didn’t know. How could they? Neither did I.
And so I finally found my calling. I found what I was meant to do with my life. And they say those who struggle with something often make that their life’s mission. And so it was with me. I think I became good at giving others inspiration and hope because I was needing to find it for myself. If my life had a purpose that was bigger than me, I think, in some ways, it gave me a reason. It has caused me to embrace my struggles more authentically and come to terms with the fact that my story is just like so many other’s. And that’s not a bad thing. I think it is what has made me relatable.
I was devastated and hurt and felt deep pain and struggle when my mom died in 2013. And shortly after when another relationship ended very painfully. I once again found that deep place. And yes, my mind would wonder what I could do to just stop the pain. I fought it this time with everything I had. I went to counseling for the third time and finally started to actually take the meds I was once again prescribed.
This time I let go of the “strong” routine. I stopped worrying about what people would think. I started to embrace the fact that this is real life for me. That I needed to learn to handle loss and grief and not spiral out of control each time I started to feel it. That if I continued to find my way into the underwater cave over and over again, at some point, I may not make it out. In fact, I knew I wouldn’t.
I have listened to stories of some of my heroes in my field. They have bared souls, shown cuts and scrapes and bruises, and often times allowed us to see them bleed. And cry. And be human. And that is what makes them so good. There have been many people who said creatives usually have a dark and tormented side. Who knows if that’s true but if it is I understand it.
And as authentic as I have always tried to be, I realized that this is a part of my story that has remained silent. Not necessarily on purpose but just because I haven’t sat to actually put words around it.
Tonight, for some reason, it felt right. I have watched icons and stars and brilliant people who felt a whole lot of pain and could never escape that underwater cave leave this earth because it was just too hard to find their way out time and time again. I have listened to people mourn them. I have watched as people wondered why. How could they? And I have quietly understood the pain and the desire and the angst. I have lived that torment. The only difference is I was lucky enough to find my way out somehow each time.
Depression is unyielding. It is silent. It sneaks up sometimes when you least expect it. It is unforgiving. It doesn’t care who you are or what you do for a living, as much as it doesn’t care your status or age or religion or sexuality or what you have in your bank account.
And so this is my authentic life.
I have struggled with mild depression my whole life. I haven’t put words to it and I haven’t spoken about it because it was just a part of my story. But it’s part of my story.
And one that I need to tell.
And maybe, like the reason I wrote my first book, because I just need to put words to it for me. It’s how I have learned to handle the hard things. Put words to it, understand it, embrace it, and if someone else is better for it, then that is a good secondary result.
And I know the pressure I feel is from no one but myself. I never wanted anyone to doubt my ability to do my job. To deliver something important and powerful and intelligent. To be a good and whole partner. To be a stable and fun friend.
There is such a stigma around depression. I never wanted to appear weak.
But I realized that I am part of that exact problem. The stigma is because we don’t talk about it. And we haven’t done a good job putting a face to it.
It’s not always scary or ugly. It doesn’t always look like the disheveled mess on the street corner. Or the quiet neighbor that kept to themselves and never left the house. It’s not always wrapped up in tears or sadness or silence. It looks like your neighbor, your sister, your boss, your doctor, your best friend, your partner.
It looks like me. Included with my Master’s Degree, my love of life, my sense of humor, my ability to love deeply, my friendships, my passion, my creativity, my sexuality, my drive to inspire, my fun, my crazy, wild side that are all parts of me. So is depression.
This is a part of my story.
And whether or not it’s yours too, I know for sure someone you know can relate to this.
And the true power is in being able to talk about it.
It is time to put words to it. For me. And maybe for you.
This is my realization that even through the hard times, I am ok.
I am ok.
Actually, I am better than ok.
And in fact recognizing that doesn’t make me weak in the least.
I used to think that I was broken. That being whole and finding true happiness was a fairytale.
But the truth is, in vulnerability is real strength.
I am, in fact, not broken. Having depression isn’t about being less than whole anymore than having blue eyes or being right-handed or being five foot eleven is.
It isn’t the definition of who I am.
This is a part of my story.
And this is my authentic life.