I woke up this morning feeling a twinge of disappointment that I didn’t die in my sleep. It’s not so much that I really want to be dead, so much as I just want to stop being alive, and that’s my depression working its special magic on me.
I used to think that I understood depression—that I knew what it meant to be depressed. I was wrong. I had no clue. I had no idea what it actually felt like to be depressed, until I began to truly suffer from depression a little over three years ago. I got very sick. Then I suffered the indescribable trauma of a friend’s sudden death. And then another death. And another. And then the health crisis of a family member. And then another death. Stress on top of stress on top of stress, with just a little more stress for good measure, all of it effecting the chemical balance in my brain and body, transforming me into a new person, terrified to go to bed for fear of dying in my sleep, and disappointed to wake up still alive. This is me. This is what I’ve become. I am depressed.
Most people that know me don’t realize that I suffer from depression, and I suspect those that do know it, don’t realize how bad it gets. I talk about a lot of personal things, and over the years I’ve divulged all sorts of information about my life that could’ve probably been best left unsaid. But I’m a storyteller, and my mantra in life has largely been that of “if it happens to me, it is material to be used in a story.” I can talk about going to the bathroom without hesitation, but talking about depression isn’t as easy. Instead, I mention it casually at times—hinting at what is really going on, as if my subtle mentions of feeling like crap will actually translate into a more resonant explanation of where I am emotionally, when in fact I am drowning in a seemingly bottomless pit of doom and gloom.
I recently tried to explain my depression to someone else. I must emphasize that it was my depression I was trying to explain, and not depression in general. Depression manifests itself in many ways that can be recognizable, but I believe it is something that must be owned on an individual level. Millions of people suffer depression, and many of them share the same symptoms, but no two people experience those same symptoms in the same way. And that is why it is important for me to clarify that my description is of my depression. If other people want to take it and use it for themselves, that’s fine with me.
So, my depression…there’s a scene in Jaws where Brody (Roy Scheider) is tossing chopped up fish guts into the water, trying to attract the attention of the shark he and the others are hunting. With his back to the water, Brody is complaining about the chum—the fish guts—when the shark rises up. In that moment, when Brody really sees the shark for the first time, his entire reality shifts. He realizes that he and the others are up against something far bigger than any of them had realized. You can see it on Brody’s face—his entire world has been changed, and he knows that he is not prepared to deal with the danger at hand. Struck with fear, Brody makes his way to Quint (Robert Shaw), and says, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
That is what my life with depression is like. I feel like Chief Martin Brody, trying to deal with a problem I don’t fully understand, and then the problem pops up out of the water and reveals itself. My depression is the shark, and I realize I’m gonna need a bigger boat.
Today started out bad. I went to bed depressed, woke up depressed, and perhaps worst of all, I see it and know it in the moment. I know some people can’t recognize their depression in the moment. Maybe that’s because they’ve lived with it for so long they’ve gotten used to it. It feels normal to them. Mine doesn’t feel normal to me, even though these cycles of darkness and despair have become a new normal for me. Notice that I said “a new normal,” not “the new normal.” To be sure, there are good days. There are even good weeks. But there are too many days in a row where I can look down into the water, and see that giant shark swimming around. It’s waiting for me to fall into the water, so it can devour me. It slams into my boat, trying to knock me overboard because it is hungry. Depression is a ravenous animal that feeds on me, with no pity or remorse. It chews me up and spits me out, and then eats what it has spat out.
I need a bigger boat.