It’s been a weird few months.
“How are ya?”
I’ve stopped lying to the people who are only trying to be congenial. Sometimes I respond with a soft “…I’m…alright.” Sometimes I ignore the question altogether, and throw it in reverse with the always popular “How are you?”
I don’t want to lie. And if we’re being honest, you – being relative stranger – don’t really care how I’m doing, do you? I don’t ask that to be rude. I really don’t. But I’m a realist who often dips a toe – or leg – into pessimism. You’re asking because we are trained to ask how someone is – regardless of relational status or whether you even care or not. You likely don’t want to hear how I really am. And I really don’t have time – or energy – to tell you how I really am. Fact is, since you asked:
I’m not ok.
I’ve struggled putting these feelings into words. I don’t really know how to explain it. Anytime I’ve tried, it’s come down to one simple, albeit convoluted, statement:
It feels like my brain is on fire.
But that statement isn’t even entirely right. It’s not hot. There’s no burning.
But there’s plenty of smoke. And where there’s smoke…
I started going to therapy about 5 weeks ago.
For the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve known that its been necessary, I’ve just never had the means until this year. Thanks, Obama. I’ve heard stories of how people had breakthroughs in therapy, reaching a contentment within themselves, facing issues, dealing with struggles, and that’s been something for which I’ve been longing: some kind of breakthrough, contentment. Peace.
And for some reason, I thought after 5 weeks, I’d feel better. Call it a result of not knowing what to expect yet having unattainable expectations or living in a culture that needs instant gratification, but I’ve actually felt worse after each weekly session. I even said as much in my last session this week. It’s likely because everything I’ve been feeling – this last year especially – became more real as I say it out loud to another human. Which is…strange, because those things have always been there: the struggles I face, the issues I have, the problems I’ve had to deal with. But talking about them has caused me to feel their impact greater. And as difficult the last year has been for me, these last 5 weeks have been excruciating.
I have no official diagnosis from my therapist. And I’m not one for self-diagnosis. But just based on what I’ve read and heard from others, it’s likely that I’m dealing with depression. And that’s always been a word that I’ve struggled to understand.
For much of my life, I’ve heard ‘depression’ used as a synonym for sadness, being in a bad mood or just general unhappiness because of a singular result. He’s depressed because he didn’t make the baseball team. But as I’ve gained a better understanding of mental health, I know depression is an entirely different animal. I don’t have answers. I don’t know how to fix it. Right now, I’m just trying to live with it and, ultimately, through it.
I read Kristen Bell’s open letter about her own struggle with depression today, and it hit me where I am. HARD.
“For me, depression is not sadness,” she wrote. “It’s not having a bad day and needing a hug. It gave me a complete and utter sense of isolation and loneliness. Its debilitation was all-consuming, and it shut down my mental circuit board. I felt worthless, like I had nothing to offer, like I was a failure.”
Hello, my name is Justin. I hope you have enjoyed reading my biography.
In 54 words, someone I’ve never met perfectly summed up my entire life right now. The isolation. The loneliness. The feeling of failure – as a man, a husband, a father, a designer. That’s me right now. I can’t shake those feelings. They’re just there.
And it’s paralyzing.
I don’t know the root cause of what I’m going through right now. I know that the events of the last year have had a major part in at least magnifying underlying issues: finding out my mother-in-law had acute leukemia, deciding to move cross-country (again) and leaving a city we utterly loved, my father having a stroke a week before our move, transitioning into a new job, raising three boys, getting a puppy (because we didn’t have enough stress), my mother-in-law fighting valiantly until she could fight no more, and making the difficult decision to give up our puppy.
To say the last 13 months has been a whirlwind would get you the side-est of side eye. It has been insane. I’m working on breathing techniques, relaxing my muscles, trying to ease tension. It works. Sometimes. Not often.
It has always been my nature to fight when faced with the threat of attack – real or perceived. I like to stand up for myself. But lately? Lately I’ve been in full-on flight mode. I retreat, distance myself emotionally. I become quiet. Reserved. And anyone who knew me growing up or knows me now knows how crazy that sounds. Whether at work, or at home, or in public, during one of my … ‘episodes’… I am presently invisible. I shut down. And those ‘episodes’ (I honestly don’t have a better word for it) can last a couple of hours or a couple of days. It affects my work, the way I parent, how I am as a husband.
And it sucks.
I don’t feel good about where I am. If I could wish it all away I would. But it’s something I’m living with right now. It’s hard. It’s not fun at all. But it is what it is. There are days when I want to throw my hands up, run away from everything.
But here I am.