"Frank's crying on the inside."
Roger (not his real name) said that without a clue that two hours before I had been crying on the outside. He was making a joke, and I'm not angry about it. He had no way of knowing. Especially when I reply with a big smile and a witty retort. You've seen my smile before. It is so big that it makes crows feet appear by my eyes. That's the secret to faking a smile: crows feet. I am 35 years old, and I have the deepest crows feet of anybody I know because I fake smiles all the time. I am well practiced.
I live with Major Depressive Disorder. That is putting it mildly. It would be much more accurate to say that I suffer from debilitating, acute, chronic, suicidal depression. I have been depressed for so long that I simply do not know who I am not depressed. I don't remember a time in my adult life, adolescence, or childhood that I would consider myself not depressed. It is who I am.
I have been married to my wonderful wife for almost 10 years. I told her for the first time of my thoughts of suicide just four years ago. We found a doctor, and I have been taking medicine since then. It took us three years to figure out the combination of meds that work the best, but my depression was under control. I love her and truthfully owe my life to her. She saved me.
On the morning of Aug. 11, I had my quarterly appointment with my doctor. We both agreed that I was doing well. I was happy about how things were going at work (I had been promoted since our last meeting). Things were good in my personal life. My autistic son had spoken to his teacher that morning. He started the third grade that day, and this was the first time he had said his teacher's name ever. That morning I even came out about my depression to my mother-in-law. She had lost her husband of over 40 years in May. I wanted her to know that if she was feeling depressed, she could talk to me. It went well. Life was... good.
Things change quickly. That evening my wife looked at her phone and said, "Oh my god, Robin Williams committed suicide." I nodded my head. She asked me if I knew already. "No," I replied, "He suffered from depression all his life." I felt like another one of us had lost their battle. Because one of us had lost, we all lost. In retrospect, I don't think I nodded my head because of Robin's death. I nodded my head because I knew what was coming next.
The ruminations began. I began to spiral. By the next day I was lashing out violently. I didn't hurt anybody, but I did destroy a two-foot level against a fence outside our house. I scared my wife horribly. Of course, this only made me feel worse. It didn't take me long to be crying on her shoulder. Sobbing because I am 35 and Robin Williams was 63. Crying because it was hard for me to imagine fighting my demons for another three decades. Bawling because I was entering an episode of depression.
I had accepted a long time ago that I may need to take a pill for the rest of my life. But until Robin joined Ernest Hemingway (gunshot, 62), Tony Scott (jumper, 68), and George Reeves (gunshot, 45), it had not occurred to me that I will be depressed for the rest of my life in the same way an addict is an addict for the rest of theirs. I'm only 35, and I don't know that I can hold on to make it to Superman's age, let alone Mrs. Doubtfire's.
And so I cry and keep my insanity to myself and a few trusted relatives. I live in perpetual fear that if they found out at work that I cry on the outside, no one would turn to me for help when they need it. Believe it or not, that's my job. I help people get better at their jobs. I train. I educate. I tell front line representatives what the answer is with a confidence that leaves them no doubt. And they have no reason to doubt me. They don't know that I'm crying on the inside. And the outside. They don't know that I am in a dark tunnel at night. I know I am moving forward, but there is no end in sight. Not now. Not 28 years from now.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.