Monday, January 22, 2018

One More Time

Why are you depressed?

That’s the question I often get when people learn that I’m dealing with clinical depression. Should be simple enough to answer it, right? I mean, we’re used to the idea that there’s always a reason why people are sad. Something bad happens, then we get sad. The thing is, it’s not as straightforward for me.

Looking back, I’ve always been the melancholic type. I think it started creeping into my system when I was in college. There were several days when I just didn’t have enough drive to get up and go to class. I would just stay on my bed and not move because it felt like there was no point in getting up. I even missed several exams this way.

My lowest point in college was when I got so addicted to online gaming. I spent almost all of my time, and definitely all of my money, on computer rentals. I got such a kick at being badass in my virtual life that I couldn’t care less about my real one. This went on for a couple of year and culminated with me failing all of my subjects one semester.

I did eventually manage to graduate, but my tendency to withdraw from life carried on. I became notorious as the guy who disappeared for days at a time without telling anyone. My first job kept me in spite of this because I was a high-performer and because my boss saw potential in me. However, I wasn’t as lucky in my next jobs. I got fired a couple of times because of this. In one of those jobs, I got the “Where’s Waldo” award during our Christmas party. You can guess what that was all about.

It wasn’t always clear to me why I did that. I’d just wake up one day and not be able to think of a good reason to get up. It’s not like I didn’t know what my responsibilities were and what the consequences would be if I neglected them. My mind was logically in-tact and I was able to see clearly what the end-game would be for the choice that I would be making. I don’t come from money so those consequences are a huge pain. I was fully aware, and yet it still wasn’t enough to make me get up and face the world outside my room’s door. I didn’t spend my time in anything particularly interesting, either. I just stayed in bed, sometimes played a video game or read random stuff in the internet, maybe ate something if I was hungry enough.

During this time, I also went through a phase of heavy drinking and experimenting with different substances.I found that when I was intoxicated, I was able to break free from whatever it was that was holding me down. This will sound a bit dramatic and cliched, but I felt more alive whenever I was doing those things. Never mind that I was risking a lot, at least I had a chance to live and feel and be drenched in all the colors of life, even if it was only temporary.

Eventually, I did decide to “be more responsible”. That was back in 2014, which I declared to be my “commitment year”. I decided to stick to one job, one boyfriend, and do everything that a 27-year-old is expected to be mature enough to do. It was very tough for me, but I did whatever I could do to motivate myself. I must say, it went well for me. I was able to maintain a relationship that lasted for several months. I was able to start saving up. I went out and traveled with my boyfriend so that I could also be part of that whole “traveling-to-be-a-complete-person” movement. If you had seen me during those times, you would have said that I was at my best, my most responsible. And I probably was. For the first time, I was thinking long-term, and my life was going in a clear direction.

What people didn’t see, though, was that I was caving under all of the pressure that I had put on myself. From the chaotic, irresponsible boy that I had been, I was suddenly trying to be all manned-up and in-control. I was burning out from my job because I had tried to do much too soon. I was stressed out whenever I had to shell out money from my savings. And I was quick to be disappointed whenever something in my relationship didn’t go the way I wanted. But I kept at it, thinking that everything will be worth it in the end, that things will get better.

Only, they didn’t. My boyfriend broke up with me, the company that I was working for all but went bankrupt, I watched my savings burn down as I had no choice but to live off of them, and to top it all off, my estranged father whom I haven’t spoken to for years suddenly fell ill and passed away. This all happened within months.

That broke me. I was finally trying to get my life on track, I was doing everything right even if it was so hard for me, but it still wasn’t enough. In the end, everything still fell apart. If it had been difficult for me to find a reason to get up and face life before, it became downright impossible after that. I didn’t go to work for months. I just stayed at home all day, then went out drinking all night. I had trouble sleeping. My appetite was unpredictable. I was a total mess. I can’t tell you why I’m depressed. I can’t tell you when my depression started. But I can tell you that this was when I succumbed to it.

My road to recovery started when some friends told me that I should get help. The first time I talked to a psychiatrist, she watched me with a concerned face all through the one-and-a-half hours that I talked about the events that led me to her office. When I was done, she told me that I had all the signs of severe clinical depression, and that I’d been trying to fight it alone for far too long. I started going on meds, and therein started my long path to recovery.

One of the biggest challenges about my depression was getting my mom to understand my situation. I had been very distant from her throughout the whole ordeal. This left her feeling inadequate. She felt helpless as she watched her son burn down from afar. That, and she was also still new to the idea of depression as a medical condition. She kept on telling me to get over it, to have a better disposition, to think of those who had “real” problems, etc. She meant well, of course, but it brought me down even more. It took a while for her to really start listening to me. And to her credit, when she did start to listen, she went a step further and did her own research.

My friends and relatives were surprisingly a lot more informed and open-minded than I’d expected. Many of them already knew someone else who had the condition. And for those who didn’t, many of them were receptive to the information that depression was not something that could be overcome with positive-thinking or a change in attitude. In turn, this made it a lot easier for me to accept that I was not just a bad person, or a lazy person, or an irresponsible person. It made it easier for me to accept the fact that I was sick, and the hope that I would get better.

But the road hasn’t been easy. During the first months of my recovery, I decided to stop taking my meds and just try to be more positive about life. Obviously, this didn’t work, and I ended up having to quit a job because I couldn’t handle the pressure, and I accepted that I needed the meds, at least until I got a lot better. I went back to excessive drinking a couple of times. There were also a few times when suicide crossed my mind because the thought of having to deal with this condition for the rest of my life was just too overwhelming. No,it hasn’t been easy. It has been a very long, very difficult road to recovery.

But I’ve made it so far. I’m still here. And I’m better than I’ve ever been. I’ve found a job that I really enjoy and that I’m really good at. My mom and I are now closer than ever. I’m now more connected to my relatives. I have great friends who keep me going. But most of all, I’m really just happy that I’m still here, and I get to keep enjoying life with the people I love. I am lucky. I am so fucking lucky.

That’s not to say that I don’t have bouts of depression anymore. I still do. It’s still a constant struggle to rise up every day and face the world all over again. And I’ll admit, there are still days when the depression gets the better of me. But that’s okay. It’s gonna be a lifelong struggle, but I’m taking it one day at a time. One small victory at a time. There are those people who can work their way by looking at the distance, keeping their eyes set on that goal on the horizon. Then there are those of us who have to navigate through life one step at a time. We move forward by living one more day, winning one more battle, loving one more time. And for us, that’s enough.