Being Gone and Coming Back

The following is a very special guest post regarding one person’s experience with depression. It was written by the client of a colleague as a way to make sense of their time with depression. These are their words…unedited.

For anyone who is currently in depression’s grasp, you may be able to relate to this person’s story and take hope that ‘coming back’ is possible. For those who have never had to cope with a mental illness, this first-hand account provides amazing insight into what it is like.

I would like to thank the author of this piece for their courage in sharing their story…

I wake up, and immediately wish that I hadn’t. The overwhelming feeling of despair isn’t the first thought I have, it is just there from the day before. It’s like I never slept at all.

There is a constant darkness pushing down on me, it surrounds and invades me. It’s the most oppressive feeling I’ve ever had. I feel trapped.

I’m in a deep, narrow hole like a well. I’m standing on a small, slippery rock with thick mud up to my waist. If I slip off the rock, I will sink in the mud. The top of the hole is covered, there is very little light. I’m desperately clinging to a small strand of hope that I’ll get
out, but I have no idea how.

I am thinking and moving very slowly.

I endure living for the sake of my family. I tolerate living because I want to see them all again. I miss them horribly.

Every thought I have is sad, anxiety-provoking or both. I try to push everything out of my head, and I will do anything to avoid being alone with my thoughts.

I spend the day waiting to be able to go back to sleep. While I’m awake, I constantly crave distraction from what’s going on in my brain. TV & movies give me a distraction for 5-10 minutes at a time. I have no emotional reaction to the stories, and only vaguely
care what happens to the characters. I have a lot of trouble following a plotline and remember few details about what happened afterwards. A game on my phone will give me distraction for 10 minutes at a time.

People are not a distraction, basic interaction seems impossible and scary.
I sit alone in the basement for hours at a time watching TV, frozen in place with no interest in moving. When I hear my family upstairs, some deeply buried part of me wants to join them, but most of the time I just can’t do it.

Just getting through a day is mentally and physically exhausting. I can’t nap because that means being alone with my thoughts, and I’m terrified of not being able to sleep at night.

I desperately want to talk to my family, but also just want to be alone. I have things to say, but at the same time I have no idea what I would say if I did talk.

It can take days to figure out how to say something. When I do talk, I usually regret what I say or how I said it. I’m often irritated and harsh with my family and hate myself for it. When they talk to me, I struggle to show that I hear them and that I care, and I hate
myself for that too.

I hate the effect I am having on my family. I don’t know if I really comprehend how I affect them, I just know it’s not good.

I hate the fact that I am absent and missing a big and important chunk of my daughters’ lives. I hate being an absent husband and father.

I go to watch them in sports or performances, but I’m not really there. I desperately want to find enjoyment, but the emotional response is buried far inside and that makes me sad. I know I’m proud, but can’t really feel it, or communicate it. Afterwards, I have a poor memory of what happened.

I’m proud of who my daughters have become, but don’t know how to tell them. I’m disconnected from the positive feeling of that pride, more just sad that I’m absent. I hate that I’m not the Dad I want to be, and hate myself for not being able to help them with their
challenges. I’m vaguely aware and thankful that they are being unbelievably patient with me.

I am enormously grateful for my wife’s support and patience, and that she somehow picks up the huge amount of slack I create. The gratitude doesn’t feel good, I hate myself for what I’m putting her through and I don’t know how she puts up with it. I’m aware though,
that her support makes things easier. I’m scared she’s going to leave, and really wouldn’t blame her.

At the beginning, I used to be able to cry, but I can’t anymore. Although I feel intense sadness, I’m somehow disconnected from it.

I think it’s possible or even likely I will die of a heart attack or blood clot from being so immobile, which seems sad in an abstract way, but I don’t seem to really care.
I’m so lonely but have no idea how to change that. I feel completely isolated. I don’t like myself and can’t see why anyone would feel any differently about me.

I’m constantly fearful that someone will talk to me, but disappointed when they don’t. I fear being alone with another person, any silence is deafening. Eye contact is terrifying.

The smallest things seem impossible to do. I delay everything until it becomes absolutely necessary, even the basics like going to the bathroom. The only reason I do anything is to try to avoid disappointing my family or people at work.

I have limited interest in basic personal hygiene, and am only sometimes embarrassed by it. I just want it to happen without having to do it, showering seems like a huge, difficult effort. When I do shower, I don’t feel refreshed.

I have no interest in food, except to fill a void. I’ll eat until I feel sick trying to fill the void.
My brain isn’t functioning. It does the basics like keeping me breathing and my heart beating, and I’m somewhat surprised it can. My brain is encased in wet concrete that is hardening, any thought processes with the slightest complexity or need for problem-solving seem impossible. My thoughts are very slow, like fighting my way through heavy sludge.

I’m paralyzed by uncertainty and fear; I have no confidence in my judgement, even for simple decisions.

I can hear what people are saying, but usually don’t really understand what they are telling me. I can understand simple statements but have a hard time piecing together more than one simple concept or understanding the implications of what is being said. More
often than not, I don’t remember what people tell me, or that we had a conversation.

Somehow I desperately want to understand and figure things out, while at the same time I have absolutely no interest.

When at work, I spend most of the time staring at the computer and trying to figure out how to get out of there as soon as possible. I focus on small, simple, necessary tasks. I don’t know what else to do, or if I do know of something I could or should do, I can’t
picture the steps that are needed and can’t figure out how to start. I can’t remember the details of repeated tasks and need to relearn them each time. I’m fearful and embarrassed that others know how little I am able to do.

I generally don’t remember what happened the day before, or even earlier in the day, everything is in a deep fog.

Irritation with commotion or noise around me is all-consuming. Any noise is too noisy. I feel like I’m made of ice and the noise will shatter the ice.

Outdoors is too bright, too cold or too hot, and always too noisy.
I can’t listen to music, it just sounds like noise and is irritating. I can hear the music but have no emotional response other than irritation and a sadness that I can’t connect to it.

Hearing people laugh irritates me and makes me sad. People talking around me, and most of their actions, are deeply irritating.

I can’t imagine talking to people or being in social situations. I have no interest and have all-consuming anxiety they’ll see through me and quickly become disinterested or disapproving. It’s exhausting to have basic conversations. I’m embarrassed to be who I am.

I occasionally go to things like family gatherings, but only because I know it’s important to my wife and to prove to her that I am trying and care about what is important to her. I have no interest in being there other than that and am consumed by painful anxiety. All I
can think about is how to get out of there.

I believe I am weak for not being able to lift myself out of this. I feel shame and guilt that I’m not doing enough to fix the problem.

None of these are things that I can just shake off, they are deeply rooted and they just are who I am.

I feel intense sadness, despair, fear and desperation. Not much else. If I smile, I’m faking it.

I’m terrified of the future.

That was my life. More than 5 years ago, it started with an anxiety that quickly grew to be severe and constant. Over time, life spiralled into the depressive state that I’ve tried to describe. It’s bleak but doesn’t quite capture how horrible life was, or the intensity of the
desperation. I don’t have the words for an adequate description.

But I’m back now.

I’m back after being very far gone for a long time. The oppressive weight has lifted, and somehow, I’ve emerged from a dark and desperate state of being.

My brain is working again. I can think, I can feel, and I smile for real. I can see the humour in things, I make jokes, and unbelievably, I can laugh a real laugh.

I can talk to my family. Instead of feeling like I’m on the outside looking in, I know I’m part of the family. I’m capable of engagement, and no longer absent.

I don’t push everything away anymore, I take things in, and it feels good.

I can see things that need to be done, and I can think through the steps that need to be taken. I actually want to do things, and I don’t question my every thought and move.
Music is deeply meaningful to me again. The first time I chose to listen to music in a very long time I cried, overcome by the enormity of having access to real emotions back.

In quiet times, I can feel a sense of calm and peace.

I still have worries, concerns and irritations but they are no longer all-consuming and are manageable. They feel normal.

I feel a bit fragile and cautious, but that is slowly getting better every week. I know I will be alright. I’m saddened by the tragedy of what I’ve missed, but it’s ok.

I have my life back.

Getting better involved prolonged periods of trial and error with pharmaceuticals and their side effects, talk therapy and naturopathic treatments – all endured with some form of seemingly impossible patience.

If you think you should be able to do it alone, you’re wrong. Anyone who implies that you should be able to just “get your act together”, “pick yourself up”, and “snap out of it” doesn’t know what they are talking about.

While I was gone, with my wife’s encouragement I somehow managed to reach out for help. Help from healthcare professionals, and compassion from friends and family. Asking for help was not a sign of weakness, it was a sign of strength and courage.

Wary of the cliche, but without exaggeration, reaching out for help probably saved my life. And I can see now it is a life worth saving.

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