Part of the reason I never used to talk much about Depression is because I was always living in a state of partial (if not total) denial that I even had it. You know how stereotypical alcoholics sometimes refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem at all despite the fact that their lives exhibit clear indicators that they do? Well, that was me in regards to Depression. I thought that I was just sad sometimes. And what I didn’t realize is how negatively it affected my life.
So, let’s talk about Depression…
How Depression Affects My: Sleeping
Many times in my life I have had a problem staying up to ridiculously late hours (it’s currently 1:51AM btw) for no reason other than I didn’t feel like going to bed. That’s one way Depression affects me. I don’t want to go to sleep. It’s not that I can’t sleep. I just long for the peaceful solitude of the late night. Oddly, I never seem to use that solitude to do anything helpful or productive. Most of that time is spent watching YouTube videos or Netflix.
And you may think that staying up late isn’t the worst of side affects, right? Sure, it’s better than anal leakage (re. Olestra) I suppose. But it still sucks. As a self employed person my time is worth my potential money. And as a human being my time is worth potential good times. When I stay up super late one of two things happen. Either I wake up in the morning and feel exhausted all day or I sleep in til a ridiculous hour and lose so much of my day. And I almost never have a good day when I sleep past 11. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.
The summer between my sophomore and junior years of college I was so depressed that I sometimes slept til 4PM. When I worked on my first cruise ship for Second City I sometimes stayed awake til 8AM doing nothing more than binge watching True Blood or House M.D. Those are two examples where I could have been doing something a lot more valuable and satisfying with my time. As a writer it nearly sickens me to think about the sheer number of hours I’ve essentially wasted because of this.
How My Depression Affects: Other People
During my sixth (and unbeknownst to me at the time final) cruise ship my fellow cast mates realized how depressed I was to the point where they were concerned about me. They alerted the higher ups at Second CIty and I had to have a phone call with one of the producers who said, ‘We’ll happily replace you and fly you home if you need it.’ I talked him out of doing that and they let me finish the contract, but I never got much happier. I just got better at hiding it.
My most recent ex girlfriend could tell I was depressed. She gave me an ultimatum at one point. I either had to go to therapy or she would break up with me. I chose therapy. We broke up later for different reasons. But the point is that it was so bad that she not only noticed but felt compelled to force me to get help. That’s not a good sign.
How My Depression Affects: Food and other pleasures
When my depression spikes up I long to fill my mouth with sugar and chips and any other kind of food that’s bad for me. Many years ago I had a stand up joke about how I ate an entire package of Nutter Butters in one sitting. The joke got a fair response from the crowd. I think part of the reason the joke worked was because it was so true. I found a way to make real pain funny.
What It’s Like When I’m Depressed
First of all, I have Depression, but I don’t feel sad 100% of the time. There were times in my life looking back where I realize that I did feel sad 90+% of the time, but even at my worst it was never a 24/7 feeling.
It doesn’t always have a cause. Sure there are life circumstances that come up that trigger it sometimes. But much more often than not it just spikes. Think of it like rain. Meteorologists know more about it than lay persons, but no one can predict it or explain it perfectly well. Sometimes it just rains. And sometimes it rains much harder than others.
The part of Depression I hate the most is that it stops me from doing. I have sat on the couch knowing that I had to go to the bathroom for an hour. My body can ache, but if I don’t have the motivation to get up and walk twenty feet to the bathroom then I’m not getting up until I have to. If I don’t have any need to be awake (like a job or a meeting or something) then I have a hard time convincing myself to get out of bed. I’m not super comfortable in bed by that point. I usually have to pee pretty badly, my mouth is dehydrated and my body aches from sleeping in an awkward position for too long. Yet I will still lie there and scan Facebook on my phone. Not because I’m dying to read Facebook, but because I just can’t make myself get up.
Sometimes when I’m depressed I don’t want to eat. Other times I don’t want to stop eating even when I’m no longer hungry and starting to hurt because of how full I am.
I rarely ever want to exercise. I can’t stand the thought of answering email. And the ideas of creating something like writing a sketch or educating myself like reading a book seem so foreign to me when I feel depressed that I can barely think about them.
And lastly…anger. This one was way more of a problem when I was younger. It doesn’t happen as much anymore, though it does happen. I can get so angry with everything. Other people, drivers, the city, traffic, dogs, elevators, slow internet connections, etc. When I was younger I used to take my anger out on inanimate objects. I once punched a hole in a drywall. Fortunately it was in the back of a closet at my high school so no one noticed it. So, I switched to bricks. And when I was alone and pissed I would full on swing (keep in mind I have never known the proper technique for throwing a punch, so that probably added to the stupidity) at brick walls. Hurt like hell, but I didn’t know what else to do. Thankfully I haven’t punched too many things in the past five years.
What Others Can Do and Not Do
I have amazing friends and family. They’re all great in their own ways. I am so thankful for them.
However, please don’t ask me why I’m depressed. I don’t know. Because I am. That’s all I got. There is no answer to your question and it’s frustrating not to know.
Also, please stop telling me what cheers you up in the hopes that it will cheer me up. I’m happy to hear a story about you having a good time doing whatever, but I don’t need a happiness prescription. I know you mean well, but it’s frustrating. I either have to explain to you why that’s not going to help or I skip that part and lie to you by acting like that was helpful.
Don’t ask me how I’m doing if you don’t wanna know. I’m sad sometimes. I will say when I am. It’s nothing to get bent out of shape over. It’ll pass. I’ve been sad before. I am still me. Chances are excellent that you won’t even know that I’m sad unless you ask me. This is particularly true if we’re on a job together. When I’m on a stage, in front of a camera or teaching a class, almost no one would be able to tell that I’m experiencing anything sad.
I love friendship. And sometimes it’s really nice to talk to people about it. What’s best is if you just will listen. Don’t offer advice. No need. Tell me how you’re doing. Listen to me bitch and moan for three minutes and then we’ll move onto a more fun topic like whether The Hulk is the greatest super hero ever (spoiler alert: he is). Just be my friend. Not my therapist or my healer. You’ll do a lot more for me by just being your awesome self. I chose you as a friend because you’re amazing.
The Good News
I’m gonna be 35 in two months. And one thing I can say that’s pretty cool is that I have a better handle on my depression now than I ever have. First of all, I recognize that I have it. It’s totally real. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either. We have a healthy relationship – well, maybe not ‘healthy,’ but far from toxic.
I experience the rainy times less intensely, shorter in duration and less often. Today was rough. This whole week’s not been great. I can feel it lifting. I think tomorrow will be great.
Also, I’m rarely completely useless when my depression spikes. Used to I would do nothing when I was feeling the sadness. Now, I can usually convince myself to do at least a few things. Today I convinced myself to go jogging before I had to go to a job. Only got in 15 minutes and I didn’t run anywhere near my hardest, but I got out and did something. I moved my muscles and felt better. I used to not be able to convince myself to do anything close to that.
I’m not a doctor, but I have healed quite a bit. Maybe some of the things that helped me to heal can help others. They also might not, but it’s worth noting them just in case:
The Tools by Phil Stutz
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Easy Street the Hard Way by Ron Perlman
An Improvised Life by Alan Arkin
‘One day we’ll all die.’ ‘Yes, but every other day we won’t.’ -Calvin & Hobbes
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
Bite Size Psych
I write this post just because I need to say all this. I need a record to show that I finally know something about what I live with and how far I’ve come to deal with it so much better. If it helps someone else, that’s amazing. Depression is real and sneaky. It often disguised itself to me as ‘natural.’ Everyone felt this way. And I believed it.
If you think you might have Depression I encourage you to try to look at the behaviors and experiences in your life. Are there any common negative patterns? Oversleeping, insomnia, binge eating, drinking heavily, anger management issues, etc. If something is holding you back from living the kind of life you want to live, there may be ways to help you. Please ask for it. So many others have gone thru the same thing. Don’t give up on yourself. You are probably worth the effort it will take to heal.