A semi-circle of careful smiles, disheveled hair, and pained postures sitting in plastic chairs, trying not to look directly into the sorrow in each other's eyes. Each person had their time to speak and the group, whoever felt compelled, would respond. I talked to the kaleidoscopic carpet in the middle of the circle about my fears of failure and imperfection, and how I couldn't will myself to do a damned thing. "But you're so handsome. You're so young. And so smart," came the response. Depression doesn't give a fuck what you look like or how intelligent or creative you are. Or even if you're a young athletic black man, poised and well-spoken. A month-long program. Partial hospitalization. The "partial" aspect of the phrase never seems to mean anything when said aloud. I guess it means I got to go home at the end of the day, unlike some of the people I ate next to in the cafeteria or heard wailing down the hall, shut into rooms I couldn't see. Medication. Pill bottles with my name on the label, printed loudly for prying eyes to see that I was on meds. I was crazy enough to need little human inventions to correct me. Cognitive therapy. Words like self-esteem, habits, lifestyle, battle, shame, hope, and support, would bounce off the walls and against my biggest doubt: This isn't going to change anything.
A month before, I was immobilized, stuck in a basement-level government-assisted apartment in Kentucky, on a sofa with an overused Dell laptop and no motivation. My girlfriend made the call to my psychiatrist aunt in Boston who said I needed immediate help and paid for the treatment. I took incompletes in all my classes at the university and felt like a failure.
Seven months earlier, I withdrew from a university in Texas, loaded a suitcase and backpack onto a greyhound, moved to Lexington to be with my girlfriend and forget about the hours I had spent alone in my dorm room, interacting with almost no one. And forget how many times a day I visited the mess hall, piling my tray with cheeseburgers, biscuits and gravy, chili cheese tater tots, french fries, and second helpings of it all. If I moved, I could be with the love of my life and everything would be fine. I could be happy. I could be somebody else -- somebody who doesn't hate himself.
I don't remember the first time I was depressed. I mean, I can't remember feeling the specific symptoms I felt in my early 20s. But I remember the shrink's office. It was small rectangle, a tall thin room. His desk cut across the room with chairs on either side. On his side was the big cherry-leather rolling chair. I can't remember at all what I could have told that man at eleven years old. What was the eleven-year-old me thinking and worrying about? He prescribed Paxil. If I think back, I can't actually remember ever being happy for an extended time or having an upbeat disposition, so I don't doubt that I was depressed. I don't remember much of junior high mostly because my head was always Paxil'd and in a book. And if not physically reading, I was off dreaming in a book or some fictional place I created. At night I would read until I couldn't hold my eyes open and the next day I would sleep through every class.
Depression was everything. People have described it as living in a fog, or a funk. I have to say it is all of those things but it feels like much more. A fog or funk or whatever else people say, are all things that surround you. The problem is, the fog was me. The funk was me. I've often picked at old wounds just so that I could cry. Sitting and thinking about some instance where I messed up, I would rehearse a self-monologue that was all hate. I verbally abused myself whenever I had time alone. I wanted to die. I didn't want to kill myself but I wouldn't have complained if a car careened, or a bullet strayed. I had decided it was all pointless, and no one could convince me otherwise. I had learned to put on these layers of self-doubt and pessimism like essential pieces of myself, and moving to a new place was no escape.
Everything I was doing had to take a backseat so I could confront, head-on, the demons plaguing me. Therapy gave me the tools to manage the disease on my own. It showed me how to deal with myself instead of trying to avoid myself. It wasn't an overnight transformation, but a slow process, personal and painstaking.
My rock bottom wasn't as dramatic as others', but it was hard. I am most grateful for the support. If I had been completely alone, there is no telling how things would have turned out. I got help that evolved into being able to help myself. I learned how my mood is inextricably linked to my diet, exercise, personal hygiene, and attentiveness to my thoughts. These are things I can control that help me and if I focus on them, can alter my mind. My propensity for depression will never leave me, nor will the scars, but I can beat it into submission by acknowledging it when it tries to creep in and dismissing the shame and stigma people may try to assign it.
Hi, I'm Jeremy, and I struggle with depression.
Depression affects more than 350 million people of all ages, in all communities, and is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease, according to the World Health Organization.