McGinnis: The Endless Cycle: My own struggles with depressionWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week’s column was about Robin. This week’s is about everyone else who suffers in silence, facing off with a demon that will never truly be defeated — but who can be controlled. This is my story.
It was in the early part of the year 1999 that I began to think something was wrong with me. A nagging sense inside telling me that I was worthless, that I was a horrible person, that I was a poison to everyone around me and that I didn’t deserve to live. For years, I suffered under the crushing weight of this beast within, never truly believing that it had a name — depression — or that it was something that was common and could be treated.
Many things kept me from seeking help for my problem, which only seemed to intensify over time. Simple stubbornness and self-deception played a big role. But a bigger part came from the horrible cycle of depression itself. When you’re caught in its vicious grip, your existence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy — you tell yourself that even if this is something that can be helped, you don’t deserve to seek that assistance.
There were good days and there were bad days. But the nagging sense of self-doubt and consistent belief that the world would be better off without me never truly went away. I would isolate myself from my friends for days — sometimes months — at a time, telling myself I didn’t deserve their company. I would go through the motions, doing just enough to survive — but little more. Life was to be endured, not lived.
I will admit thoughts of suicide came and receded like the tide over the years I suffered. I can see how some find the idea of taking your own life selfish, as my editor and friend Michael Miller expressed on “Eye on Your Weekend” this past weekend. I can see that point now, outside of depression’s vice grip. But when you’re in the middle of it, you aren’t thinking rationally about the impact on others. You’ve convinced yourself that your existence is a burden on the world, and everyone — your friends, your family, all who has ever cared for you — would be better without you.
I have often told my friends — those who were there for me during my darkest days, who kept in touch and listened when I told myself how worthless I was — that they saved my life. I’m not sure how many of them understand that I am not speaking figuratively when I say that. There were many days when a call or email from someone who meant something to me propped me up enough to keep me from the abyss. They illuminated my sense of self and kept me going. To each of them — who did anything, no matter how small — I will never be able to say thank you enough.
And yet through all that, I still hadn’t dragged my sorry ass to a doctor to see if something could be done. I was still caught in that endless loop. But finally, after eight years — EIGHT YEARS, the figure shocks me as I write it — I went to my family physician. I explained my symptoms, though I still didn’t believe at the time they were anything treatable. He listened, recommended counseling, and prescribed a pill. One pill, once a day.
Eight years, wasted. Eight years, trapped in a personal prison where I wasn’t worthy of joy or success or love. Eight years, not fearing death, because it would end the pain and it would mean my existence wouldn’t hurt anyone I cared about. Eight years, over faster than I could have imagined — with one pill, once a day.
The depression will never truly go away, I know that now. This isn’t an easy fix that can be solved forever. Like alcoholism, it’s a struggle with a dragon that will always be there, curled up in the corner of your mind, waiting for the day to reemerge. There are still bad days. But the good far outnumber the bad. And now I know there is a name for what I go through, and that I’m not alone — not by a long shot.
I’m not saying what worked — works — for me will work for everyone. It’s clear from the stories that have come to light that Robin Williams suffered for years under his own crushing burden, and he’d apparently gotten treatment for much of that time. But I hope that something that comes out of his struggle is that more people are willing to tell of their own experiences with this horror. It is only through sharing those tales that we can continue to demystify depression, and hopefully inspire more people to seek help, in any form.
One day, a few months after I went to my doctor, I realized something. I was reflecting on the nature of life and death — you know, as you do — and the thought of dying chilled me. For the first time in nearly a decade, the idea of death made me scared. And in a strange, paradoxical way, that idea cheered me. Because for the longest time, my illness had worked to convince me only death would end the pain.
Depression lies. Please seek help.