Almost every day for a few years, I’ve started this essay in my head and given up.
Perhaps, too hard to acknowledge.
I’m acknowledging it now.
I am severely depressed, and most people have no clue.
Not just sad. Not just unfulfilled. Not just uncertain.
As in, I wish I could just cease to exist, and more to the point, I wish never existed at all.
I’ve consciously experienced the symptoms of depression since I was in high school, and slowly these episodes have strengthened from infrequent blips throughout my teenage years into a constant, heavy shadow in my head that chokes me dizzy. I don’t just feel “down.” I feel physically sick most of the time, much like that nauseous feeling one gets shortly before vomiting. It’s a maelstrom of melancholy.
I wish I could vomit out this depression and relieve myself of its grip. No such luck.
I take pills to control these feelings, and while successful at stabilizing my mood swings — no more outbursts at family members for missing a turn or failing to rinse a dish before putting it in the dishwasher — these pills do little to improve my outlook on my life or that of the world in general.
Sometimes I think I’m too intelligent to be happy or to think there is meaning in life. That sucks. To think that way is so arrogant and narcissistic, the awareness of which makes me feel even shittier.
Occasionally, I am able to distract myself — mostly by playing sports or watching a good movie — but these interludes are brief and immediately afterwards my depression waves hello and invites itself to crash my company. At best, I feel numb, hollow, and pointless.
I can be chatting with friends, working out at the gym or even sharing a private moment with my partner, and my mind literally begins wandering and wondering why I’m doing this. There’s a high probability I will bail out of whatever I’m doing when this occurs.
During the workweek, I look eagerly toward a sexy idyll of going out on the weekend and then sleeping in before doing fun and productive weekend activities, but then the weekend arrives and it turns out that my depression was just as eagerly awaiting the weekend as I was.
Date night dinners turn into me being incapable of focusing on my partner or anything other than the fact that I feel tired and hate myself. We ditch the plans to stay out and have fun and hang with friends, settling for a more modest Netflix night. Except when we get home I just go to bed in order to shut off my thoughts, leaving my partner to wonder what they did wrong and whether I even care about them.
I do care about them, which is one of the reasons suicide is not an option. But I think about suicide a lot.
I scheme for the most effortless, painless, and least-messy suicide. Then I think about my friends who have in fact killed themselves and the different ways they did so. And I think about the aftermath and persistent suffering they have left their family members and friends to endure for the rest of their lives. I don’t blame or shame my friends who have taken their own lives — they each had reasons and experiences that only they can truly comprehend — but I wouldn’t wish the ugly aftermath on even my worst enemy.
So I shoulder the weight and do my best to be “functional.”
To outsiders, I’m highly functional. I am an overachiever in a well-paid job in a town where those kinds of jobs aren’t easy to come by and money can go a long way. I have degrees from prestigious and highly-selective institutions of higher education. I volunteer in my community and am even viewed as a “leader” in some circles. I own a nice home, drive nice cars, wear nice clothes. More significantly, I am partnered with someone who is out of my league in all senses. We are surrounded by brilliant and caring and loyal friends. We have everything and everyone we need and most of what we want in our lives.
And yet, truth be told, all I ever want to do is crawl under the bed covers and disappear.
My job is a welcome distraction, and yet it is also the reason I have shared this essay anonymously. Being preoccupied with work helps me forget how empty I feel. I don’t so much feel purposeful as feel that I am less of a waste of time in those moments at work. I’m pretty good at my job and on “the career fast-track,” which means I can at least provide for my partner. It also means that I have to hide my depression, as I know that if anyone suspected this part of my life and personality, they would likely fear that I would be unreliable and unfit to be trusted.
My partner and a few, very close know about my depression, because one can only pretend to be someone else for so long. I worry that they think I am unhappy or unsatisfied with them. But in this case, the cliche is apt: it’s not them, it’s me. I can’t even talk about the suicide thoughts with my psychiatrist or therapist because, as the documents they make me sign clearly state, doing so could force these practitioners to institutionalize me. Maybe I need that, but it would be career suicide, and I can’t afford that.
Which is why I am writing this essay, dear reader. Perhaps you know the darkness of depression yourself or know someone who does. Well, you’re not alone, and yes, the stigmas and misunderstandings are real. People are uncomfortable around people who they believe have mental health issues.
The thing is, most “normal” people don’t realize how many other “normal” people they work with and hang with and enjoy life with are actually playing a part and trying like hell to hang in there without being discovered and ostracized for their mental health issues.
I suspect that many of us who are depressed don’t realize how often the person next to us is battling through something similar.
And that they, too, are struggling in silence.