About a year and half ago I started a totally different blog with the intent of writing about my trails and tribulations with depression. There was one post written on the topic and absolutely nothing to follow. I felt bad about leaving it hanging there, but I just didn’t have it in me to go back and revisit all of those emotions on a consistent basis. Writing that post, putting it out there in the world like I did, left me physically and emotionally drained much longer than I anticipated. It won’t be easy but I think I’m finally ready to share my stories with the hope that others will benefit and gain some sort of insight into their own situations. Even the one measly post I referred to opened up conversation with others that may not have happened otherwise. For that I’m happy and it makes all of this worth it.
Back in 2008, when I was 26 I visited a psychologist for the first time. In the months leading up to that visit I noticed myself thinking, feeling, and acting in ways that didn’t make sense. The smallest disagreement with loved ones would bring on a massive sense of panic, I couldn’t control my temper, and tears were flowing on what seemed like an every other day basis. To state it plainly, everything I was feeling was extreme, especially when compared to my normal disposition. I honestly didn’t recognize myself and it started to freak me out. All of the characteristics I previously believed about myself to be true seemed like a lie when I started evaluating my current actions. How could someone that everyone always said was such a nice guy say some of the stuff I had said?
There were weird urges to go sit in the woods by myself. Looking back on it the woods thing always makes me laugh, but it was very real at the time. Anytime I’d come across a bunch of trees all I wanted was to run straight into the middle of the forest, plop down underneath a tree and listen to nothing but the wind. I never did go out and live in the woods and it’s kind of a shame because I had a lot training under my belt watching Bear Grylls on Man vs Wild. After fighting back the urge to live like a wild man, I realized that these thoughts and my actions at that time were out of character so I made an appointment to visit a psychologist.
I can’t remember if it was one or two visits in, but after I told the doctor my entire spiel he plainly stated that I had clinical depression and I had probably had it for years without knowing. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but to hear the words “you have clinical depression” hit me so hard. To have had it for years? I knew I was acting out of sorts at the time but it never dawned on me that depression could have been a reality long before the crazy few months that spurred the appointments.
So to answer the question laid out in the title of this post, how did I know I was depressed? I didn’t. I had no clue. At least not until things were so bad that my thoughts and actions seemed like those of a stranger.
After the session with my doctor where he laid it all out for me, I spent a lot of time thinking about clues I may have missed over the years. My mom died when I was 16 and I definitely didn’t miss that. I felt it all and I think I attributed any shitty feeling that followed to that experience. How long are you supposed to be sad when your parent dies? I didn’t know. I still don’t. But I always just thought I’d “get over it” with time, just like everyone says you will. And if it takes awhile to get over, it takes awhile. In my mind I had a reason to be sad so it couldn’t be depression. Ignorantly, I thought depression was something drama queens who couldn’t handle their emotions claimed to have. I wasn’t a drama queen so I just took my sadness in silence.
I remembered a conversation I had with one of my friends in high school. We were driving around town and when he asked me to put my seat belt on I said something to the tune of not needing a seat belt because if we crash maybe I’ll get to be with my Mom sooner than later. A few days after those comments were made he was telling me that hearing me talk like that made him sad, that I shouldn’t be thinking about dying, and people would miss me if that happened. But I ignored it. I was sad, I felt that way, and I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me I should feel different — especially if they didn’t have any clue what it was like to live through what I had. It wasn’t until 10 years after the fact that I realized having feelings like this wasn’t healthy.
About the same time as the conversation with my friend I started my first serious relationship, and while I don’t regret it, I definitely think it acted as a bit of a shield from my problems at the time. It’s a lot easier not to dwell on your sadness when there are still good things going on in your life to distract you. Maybe the depression would have boiled over back then if I were left to my own devices, but this relationship had so much of my focus that it kept the sadness on a slow simmer. And over time, I think that slow simmer of sadness became my default state of being long after the relationship had ended. In my mind if I weren’t extremely sad then I had no reason to complain and I just learned to go about my day with a constant presence of “bleh” always hovering over me.
Should I have picked up on these things earlier in the process? Maybe, but I was a kid and at that age and introspection at the level I would have needed wasn’t a reality for me. But here’s what I know now. Depression isn’t always obvious. It builds slowly and most likely won’t knock on your front door to let you know it’s there. It’s wily, quiet, covert, and subtle. You have to know yourself. You have to listen to your own rhythms. Show humility and understand that it can happen to you, because it can happen to anybody. Be observant, and as soon as you notice something out of place pounce on it with everything you’ve got. Give depression the respect it deserves and ask for help as soon as you need it.