This made its way into my inbox with a note that perhaps the writer would feel comfortable sharing something with his name in the future, but for now wanted to leave it anonymous. For me it's most important to be sharing these stories, name included or not, and helping others to recognize that they're not alone in what they're feeling.
- sometime last year
i had a frightening thought the other day. while i'm oft-telling other people (in person, never online) that the fight for your own mental health is a daily battle, i thought i had my own sanity in check. i had a breakdown - a real, honest-to-goodness life-shattering breakdown. i thought i was on track and that my days of losing myself to substance abuse (and not substance indulgence; a difference of intent) and panic attacks were behind me. and then we had thursday.
i broke. my brain broke. i started hyperventilating, my meds lost their ability to bring me up to zero¹ and the only thing i ate all day were the five shots of tequila i downed before texting a friend of mine to drag me back from the brink.
and i'm the picture of health. the reformed. i've been to therapy. i'm on daily anti-depressants and infrequent anti-anxiety meds². i eat well and i’m in reasonably good shape. i've told many a soul (always in person and never online) how that breakdown³ was one of the hardest things i ever forded in my life and also one of the most character defining moments i will ever have.
well, it turns out you're never truly over mental illness and depression is always lurking near you like a two-bit bully, both pushing you relentlessly to give in to your demons and on its knees behind you for the eventual shove.
i may not have taken that final step, the one i don't like to talk about but that comes to mind the minute life becomes over-fucking-whelming, but i certainly made lists in my head. dark lists. lists of people who'd miss me, or be disappointed, or glad even if i weren't there to handle my own problems anymore.
and why was i so desperate you ask? fucking life.
debt and career angst. probably the two most common stressers in anyone's life, no matter your age. but for me, the fact that i sunk five years into a career that didn't love me4, forcing myself to apply for job after job - that never called back - or go in for three different sets of interviews at summer's end - only to get none of the three jobs i was overqualified for and interviewed amazingly at - and then three months into a new career that can't pay my current bills in their entirety, let alone chip away at the monumental debt hole i've somehow sunk myself into, that i broke.
my usual upbeat attitude was replaced with the suicidal look of a desperate man pushed back to the edge of a cliff.
you might notice a pattern. i'm crazy open-book in person. most people that i'm even remotely friends with, or good work chums, or meet at a party, know that i'm on meds. they know i have already been married and divorced. they know that where i’m working, what i’ve done before and a lot more.
but for some reason, online, i can never bring myself to share. and this coming from the guy who values honesty in all its disgusting, grimy details from everyone else. i want it real and i want it rough when i'm bothering to read online.
i can't figure out if my problem stems from not wanting people to see me differently than the persona i tried to maintain for years (never shit-talked anyone, never begged for sympathy) or if i just didn't want anyone i loved to worry about me. or at least not anymore than they already do. i figured that if i aired any of this truly personal shit online, i'd never hear the end of it. all i could think was that it seemed like a cry for help, or for attention or for someone i don't even know to shed a tear on my behalf.
but maybe it's all the bottling i did, after my wife cheated on me and left, after i had a breakdown where i severed ties with everything i'd known and believed, after i changed my life overnight, gave up drinking, red meat, weed and coffee overnight and for the next six months afterwards. through therapy, finding anti-depressants, i kept this journey private but slowly began to share the less grimy parts with my friends. but online, online i was still a straight professional. i was the dude that always held his shit together. the dude that didn't ask for help.
the more i needed help, the more i needed everyone to know i didn't need it. it's probably the hardest part of my insecurity for me to understand so i really get if no one else does. i needed to be strong as everyone else. because in my head, no one else is as weak as the giant man5 who's sad all the time. the man who holds his crutches close and can't bring up the now 2-year nose-dive course his life has been on. since my failed marriage (over in less than a year from its start), i've been fired, laid off and consequently unemployed for three months. after that i got a minimum wage job but, due to my unique brain chemistry, i tried to make it into the career i'd never considered but always wanted. i guess i was protecting myself.
i was happy for a bit. or i convinced myself i was. i was working hard and making callouses on my art school hands. i felt good because i was working with my hands and was making some money but after having a couple of disappointments over the next five months, i couldn’t take it.
and breaking down never happens in a predictable way. at least not for me. it's this monumental swell. a wave that cascades over your body and each time you try to get a handle on one particularly nasty sensation, another shows up to remind you you aren't the man you thought you were. every insecurity about being strong, or being smart or being good looking just jumps up, slaps you in the face and then settles down on the couch next to you to tell you what an awful shit you are. to tell you that you are lazy, and dumb and ugly and hopeless and that the world wouldn't just be better if you weren't here, it would be unchanged. your impact is nil. your pursuits, fruitless. your efforts, in vain.
and that brings us up to now. only, in trying to figure out how to dig my way out of this hole, i usually push and pull people simultaneously. exercise control over what little i have (personal relationships) and basically make myself a very hard to like person. a person whose intents might always be good but whose actions can be reprehensible.
"i'm really a nice guy" i tell myself, "when i'm not going crazy".
but crazy is forever man. it's not one breakdown, even if it was the culmination of over a decade of denial. no, that breakdown is just a sign that you can never let your guard down against your own brain. you can never be complacent with your life, your love or anything that might one day look at you the wrong way on the wrong day. and that you hope won't one day lose you all your friends forever. when people get tired. or bored. or are just over the amount of effort and patience it takes to keep winching you back to calm.
i'm sure i'll be fine. because there are people i know who haven't given up yet. and because, even in this state of despair, i have more tools than i've ever had before to deal with it. both chemical and emotional. it's just the nasty shock that you're not "better" once you have a plan for mental health that isn't a fun revelation. it's not a cold. you can't get over it. it's an ongoing struggle that pitches and wanes in volume every day. sometimes you feel like a real boy. sometimes you're a hollow puppet. sometimes you're right in the middle, searing with emotion but knowing you can't succumb. the journey continues
---5 I’m tall but no giant, although I feel like I’ve somehow tied that to some societal pressure to be tough. But I digress. It’s too easy to diagnose yourself with nearly everything.
¹ if you don’t take antidepressants, it’s hard to understand this but my medication doesn’t make me happy. in general, unmedicated, I feel awful most of the time and can sometimes feel ok. the meds just level off my poor chemistry so that I start at zero instead of minus five. And that’s the ideal. If your meds don’t work, it can be even harder.
² Cipralex for the ADs (an SSRI) and Clonazepam for my anxiety. During less stressful times, I won’t take an anti-anxiety pill for three months. They’re only for emergencies, like an asthma inhaler but for panic attacks.
³ An incident where my wife cheated on me, ending the marriage and I was stuck in a dead-end job; all of which lead me to the doctor in the first place. It was the worst day of my life but also the start of working towards understanding why I didn’t feel like everyone else.4 The field I got my degree in and the one where I had zero job satisfaction during those five years.