I am a thirty eight year old man who has been fighting a battle with depression for the better part of thirty years. I am sharing my story with you, in the hope that it helps others who may be suffering from similar psychological disorders. Please, if you suffer from depression seek professional psychological help, and seek support from your family, friends, neighbors, even acquaintances it will amaze you how much people are willing to care if you just give them a chance.
Foundations of ignominy
My earliest memories are little video snippets of trying to perform tasks like sweeping the floor, feeding myself or mowing the lawn, only to be prevented from completing the task with the admonition that “You aren’t doing it right”. I strove harder and harder to do everything I could “the right way” while never actually achieving that elusive goal. Somewhere along the line “the right way” mutated into an endless, and fruitless, pursuit of “perfection” in any task to which I set my hand.
I also have memories are of “traumas” experienced while trying to do things that seem exciting to a child but are really quite mundane. Falling and suffering bruises or broken bones while ice skating, climbing a tree, trying to walk down the cellar steps wearing daddy’s shoes, being bit by a dog while walking in a strange neighborhood. All of these events formed a general world view by the time I was eight that engaging in tasks that seem fun and exciting or involve an element of risk are rewarded with pain and discomfort and should be avoided at all costs.
Another set of childhood memories involve social interaction with my peers. From the earliest grades of preschool and kindergarten I never seemed to get the hang of “fitting in”. I was always awkward in social situations and never quite felt good enough to be accepted. The more I yearned for acceptance, the harder I tried to be accepted and the harder I tried the less I succeeded.
Development of a “Survivability State”
The struggle for perfection is a vain pursuit. I realized this at about 14 years old. It seemed a perfectly reasonable deduction that the only way to win was not to play, so I gave up trying to do anything that presented a remote possibility of failing. The pursuit of excitement, adventure and fun were shunned as potentially injurious and thus to be avoided at all costs. And people were not to be trusted; they were mean, selfish, cruel, and had no trace of empathy. Life, as I had made it, proved to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes, Thomas Leviathan 1651.
Within this cage that I had constructed for myself, I was safe, safe from “suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Shakespeare, William Hamlet 1605. I lived in this cave, chained to the floor, watching the pale shadows of figures cast upon the wall dance in front of me; never understanding that what I was watching was a pantomime of life not actual life itself. And in this silent despair, I squandered the better part of thirty years.
Rebirth, Redemption or perhaps Re “Cognition”
About six months ago I suffered a mental and emotional breakdown that nearly destroyed my life, my family, my job, pretty much everything. The only thing that kept my tenuous grasp on sanity and life intact was the love that others had for me; I reached out, in my despair, and begged for someone to help me get help. My mother and my wife listened, loved me unconditionally, and got me the psychiatric (and psychotropic) help that I needed to pull me back from the edge of my cliff.
The antidepressants combined with the psychiatric counseling I received (and continue to receive) helped to restore me to the functional old me, that is, my depression and perception of myself and the world were unchanged, I was just able to cope with it again. While this is a marked improvement from active suicidal ideation it is not the Elysian Fields, the Valhalla, the Kingdom on Earth which I had been hoping for. I was not “fixed” I was merely patched up with duck tape and super glue.
So what has changed in the last few months? Why am I writing this in the past tense? I have come to the realization, with help from many dedicated individuals, the following truths. I am not broken nor do I need to be fixed, I am who I choose to be at any given moment on any given day. If what I am choosing for myself at any given moment is not serving me I have the choice to continue being miserable or the choice to change. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that events that I have experienced are merely that, events. I created the meanings that relate to those events and most of those meanings were created by a young, vulnerable, inexperienced, emotionally developing boy under the age of ten. I cast those meanings in stone and carried them around with me for the last thirty years, what a burden! No wonder I was exhausted every day.
The truth is that I needed to let go of all those meanings I chose to attach to events that occurred when I was a boy and choose to view them as events that are simply part of my experience of life. This is an incredibly liberating viewpoint and I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to examine the life they are living and if it isn’t the life they dream of then they need to understand that the choice is theirs to make.