For me, it was all about the bed. When I suffered the worst depression since college the allure of lying between the sheets was like an alcoholic’s need for that second, third drink. My bed pulled me like puppet strings, and, once there, I submerged myself into a dream-state of drunkenness — not quite asleep, but awake enough to numb myself with thoughts of anything else.
I would imagine conversations with old friends I’d not talked to in years, picturing us smiling and jointly apologizing for any disagreements we’d had. I have no idea why I did this (and I would often repeat the conversations), and in retrospect I realize the fantasies didn’t have a locale — they were like scripted dialogues immersed in the ether. But they were soothing.
Dreams at night were also refuge. I’d sleep at least 10 hours, and my subconscious didn’t acknowledge depression, even when the dreams were troubling. I’d wake up adamant in my need to remember the details, and then hurriedly go back to fleshing them out.
Since I wasn’t working at the time the only reason I had to get up was to walk my dog. He’s never needed or wanted to go out early, so the guilt didn’t seep through until about 11. There was guilt, too, in being depressed around him. That my pain was rubbing off on such a devoted animal, one who’s in his later years. I wanted someone, a happy person, to take him away to a cheerful home until I felt better. I also wanted to feel his warmth. He never left my side.
I had three requirements each day: get up, walk my dog, eat. Anything else was like a cripple feeling his toes. Showering was a trek I had to prepare for. Some days I didn’t brush my teeth.
I didn’t have much food in the house, and I would either skip eating till evening or devour leftover ice cream from the night before. For dinner, I often went next door to Dunkin Donuts and ordered about five — I now know that if you go there in the late afternoon they give you extra. I’d eat them directly from the bag, along with the ice cream and cookies I’d buy on my last walk with the dog. I couldn’t smile or make a joke when the owner of the deli saw me one evening and said, jovially, “It’s the ice cream man.” I gained 10 pounds within a couple of weeks. I’d spent a couple of years fighting to keep that weight off.
On a good day I’d go to the gym, a block and a half away. Often I’d pack the bag then put it back in the closet. Some days I’d wander back and forth by then entrance, then give up and go home. And some days I made it inside, hoped no one spoke to me, and managed a few reps on a few machines. On other days I’d give up and go home or ride the bike for 20 minutes so I felt like I’d accomplished something. I’d watch the TV screens and wish I could care. I’ve been going to the gym on a regular basis for 30 years.
I couldn’t make it past the front page of the newspaper, reading the news being something else I’ve been doing for 30 years. They piled up on my coffee table like I’d gone on vacation. In some ways, I had.
Newspapers piled up on my coffee table like I’d gone on vacation. In some ways, I had.
Since my depression occurred during the summer months — my favorite time of year — looking at Facebook posts plunged me into deeper despair. There was so many posts from guys, photos, their fabulous beach plans, their vacations; all of it cruel. Fourth of July was the worst because, not only was I inundated with posts from favorite resort spots, I got happy calls and texts wishing me a wonderful — and safe! — holiday. I didn’t pick up the phone. I spent the day in bed playing Words with Friends. I watched so many TV shows I didn’t care about, and I if I see them advertised now my body cringes.
To cheer me up, a friend took me to the Hamptons, where I could swim and play tennis and go to the beach and be around people who love me. And because it was a beautiful weekend. He snapped at me the first morning because I refused to get out of bed. I understood his frustration: Coffee was percolating, laughter filled the deck, I could hear tennis balls popping back and forth. Barbecue plans were being made. Guys were talking about other cute guys they’d met. And I felt even guiltier for not joining the fun.
At dinner, I sat silently and smiled. The year before I’d eaten at that same table, gone on a date from someone I met in town—I didn’t check to see if he was in town this weekend—body surfed at the beach, and swam each morning. This time I didn’t leave the house and, once again, planned my day around walking the dog.
After dinner I hurriedly did the dishes, knowing I’d be able to excuse myself and go to bed afterward. Just another half hour or so. I craved darkness because it justified being in bed. The inner pull of depression is so strong it takes over your entire being and makes you almost powerless to hold a conversation or produce. It consumes you and is deceptively attractive in its colorful darkness. It’s a place, this feeling.
Depression is like addiction in that, if you talk about it to a group of sufferers, you’ll find that they relate to your every word. And not sharing will only leave you feeling more isolated. Depression is like other physical illnesses because you have to allow it to run its course, and theories abound on the quickest way to recovery. “Get over it” is not one of them.
And depression is real, despite what you’ll sometimes read on memes attached to beautiful men with beautiful things to say about their beautiful life of never feeling anything but their beauty. They’re the Climate Change deniers of emotions.
September is Suicide Prevention month, and studies show that gay men have a higher rate of suicide than heterosexuals, especially those under the age of 25. If you need help or know someone who does, call the number below.
I’m one of the lucky ones because I have a solid support system as well as basic necessities like a house over my head and health insurance. If not, I might still be where I was just a short time ago in the sunny summer month of August. I’m so happy the season’s over.
In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
This essay is part of an ongoing series by the author about issues facing older gay men. If you’ve got a “Daddy Issue,” I want to hear about it. -DRT