“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.”
“A lot of people don’t realize that depression is an illness. I don’t wish it on anyone, but if they would know how it feels, I swear they would think twice before they just shrug it.”
Earlier today on Twitter, I went on a multiple tweet binge discussing my issues with depression based on a story I saw tweeted about a 22 year old tennis player named Rebecca Marino. This young lady gave up her tennis career for fear of life in the public eye and her inability to cope based on her suffering from depression. If you would like to read more about Rebecca, here is the link. This led me to discuss a bit about my experience with it and despite the multiple tweets, later I felt as though I needed to discuss it further…hence this blog post.
Many who know me know I am a silly, enjoy life kind of guy. I mean to be fair, I post pictures of myself next to Otto and claim he/she is my BFF and also pose every time I am back in Syracuse next to a statue of a cement Turtle. But those who know me best know that there is a counter to that and I have moments where I just want to be left alone and sink into a hole of misery. Now to be fair, at 40, I cope a lot better than I did at say 23 but I still have my moments. I did try multiple therapists and medications and some helped me cope for the moment while others actually just caused other issues (the most successful in my opinion was Xanax but then again, I was so numb on it that I didn’t feel anything but at least I didn’t have side effects). I have also found more ways to cope with it when I feel it coming on and found ways to enjoy life more now than I did but it hasn’t always been that way.
My issues go back even as far as my childhood when I remember feeling depressed about life and think of ways to run away from home or wishing something would happen to me because my grades were terrible. Before I go on, let me preface this by saying that my family is awesome and supportive and this had nothing to do with them but more to do with me and not feeling like I belonged. I would try hard to overcompensate to fit in and belong but still felt awkward and left out often more than I felt like I had a purpose. I even tried to “fit in” by picking fights who annoyed me or the more popular kids but later realized it was not be and I became a bully victim more times than not myself and often sat with the less popular kids or by myself. Other than baseball, wrestling, fantasizing about Syracuse University and time with my family, most of my childhood memories are filled with uncertainty and depression.
My Army days were no exception. I can honestly tell you as I type this that my most vivid memories of my time in the Army involve sitting on a third story ledge wondering what my purpose was in life and the aftermath of a nervous breakdown that involved me punching out a Humvee windshield before banging my hand against a steering wheel for a long period of time. I sought help but I was not ready to face my true demons and I was mostly treated due to my heavy alcohol intake (but to fair, it was Germany and that beer is awesome). The only two things that kept me on that ledge and not jumping to the ground was the constant image of someone breaking the news to my family (especially my mom and dad) and a certain special friend who turned out to be one of the biggest reasons I am who I am now and not done anything stupid.
My twenties were met with further insecurities and days where I would not leave the house. I was sometimes miserable to be around or did not know how to control my emotions. I felt alone and lost and no therapy or pills were helping. Most of my 20′s honestly are just visions of me doing nothing but drinking and hanging out at my apartment all day when I was not working (and sometimes calling into work just because I could not get myself motivated). I once had a doctor tell me I should just make a few adjustments and I would “snap right out of it” which trust me, is not great advice to someone dealing with this.
A lot changed one night when I had a dream that involved that special friend who I had not seen in well over 10 years. You could call her a school boy crush but she was also a very close friend. We were never boyfriend and girlfriend and never intimate but I can remember vividly the night she had a bad night and I held her in my arms stroking her hair as she fell asleep or the time we both fell asleep while talking on the phone for hours. I can still remember the first time I saw her in the break room where we worked together. But this dream was not a reminder of that but sadly a nightmare of her passing away with me never having the chance to express my true feeling towards her.
You see, sometimes in life someone crosses your path and they make an impression in your life so strong that it is like in imprint on your soul and she was that one. She was the Jenny to my Forrest Gump and on this night, I felt this need to find her and tell her. Even though we lost touch, I thought about her everyday and sometimes would look at the stars at night and wander if she was also wherever she was. So I used a friends Classmate account and tracked her down. I told her the whole story and we met up and talked about some things and needless to say, this was the talk I should have had in 1990, not in 2002 but it helped. Six months later, this friend passed away but I do not regret my actions because if not for that dream, I sit here before you now and tell you that I have no idea how I would have handled life but she prepared me well. Sure, I needed the Xanax initially to cope with her lose because to say it hurt would be like saying shooting your foot off may cause some pain but I remember her telling me that I needed to live on and enjoy life if something like that happens. So when I woke to a dream that someone I loved was gone and found out it was her, I had issues but I also remembered how thankful I was for that moment.
I give her a lot of credit for helping me as well as my family and friends who surround me but there is another part of this story that relates to this blog and the title and that is how Syracuse plays a role. Sure, you can point to the crime and down economy of Syracuse and bash it if you want but I contend that is everywhere including limited by your interpretation of a city I love. The memories of the area keep me going but so do the family and friends I have there. Thanks to the power of Twitter, I now have more Syracuse friends who make me feel apart of the city even though I am 12 hours away. I have people I probably never would have talked to whom I love and have the upmost respect for who lift me up when I am feeling down. I know there are awesome people in Syracuse who are just as compassionate and loving as anywhere else in the world. There is a great community surround Central New York in reality and on Twitter if you are willing to respect others and take the time to find them. Why do they make such a big difference? Maybe this video explains it:
Sure, just like Syracuse, Twitter is perception and if you see and perceive it to be a boring or negative place it can be but I have found some awesome people who at times feel like an extended family that help make my life better. And I have some awesome family back in NY who I love and miss everyday who are very special to me as well. Sure, I love my Hofmanns, Tully’s, Sami’s Pizza and trips to Wegmans but what makes part of that special is sharing it with people I care about. You see, part of my family is here in North Carolina now (along with the greatest job I have ever had) and so I will likely never move back but I always feel apart of it as long as I interact with these people. And as such, I feel like I belong and that helps as well. I am accepted by people with college degrees who never belittle me for my lack of one and by those like me who never succeeded at that goal. Some are big sports fans while others just appreciate the city as much as I do and I respect and love them either way.
To be fair, a lot of things played a role in why I cope better these days. I have always had a loving, supportive family who I now appreciate more. I have a job and co-workers that I look forward to everyday. I adopted an awesome girl who is now 24, married and with a beautiful granddaughter. I make more trips back to NY with my parents to enjoy the sites and family back there. Instead of meds, I have found comfort in simply things such as music, quotes, funny shows/movies/video clips. And I have found friends who accept me for me and I no longer feel out of place (though I do occasionally still find myself trying to overcompensate to fit in). Sure I still have my bad times, especially at night when sleeping alone or when I long for a relationship but these days, I have better coping mechanisms to help me handle them.
I want to say thank you to those close to me who do love me unconditionally because it did make a difference. To those who are going through depression, or know someone who is, I ask that you be patient and kind towards them as it will go a long way one day. Be there for them and find subtle ways to get them to do things they enjoy but don’t force it or belittle their emotions. Also, listening and friendly gestures (and if they are open to listening, recommending counseling as well) are major helps. Sometimes a simple smile or a simple good deed can be a great lift when you feel like nobody cares (or help others to find their smile because I know that helps me often). If my interaction with “my Jenny” and other family and friends whom I have lost over the years has taught me anything, it is that life is precious and short and we should enjoy it while we can. So if pictures of your loved one or your pet (who may be your loved one) are what cheer you up, surround yourself with them and do not let others judge you. If writing works for you like it does for me, write until your hand is numb and your ideas are exhausted. As long as you are not hurting anyone, enjoy this life while we have it. And I recommend you surround yourself with encouraging, positive people who lift you up and always try to find to look on the bright side of life.
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”