5.18.2010

So, Like, What The Hell, Joe? (AKA Let's Talk Depression)

All three of you who read this blog might have noticed, I've been kinda gone for a while. And before I was gone, I was very irregular with posts.

There's a very good reason for this. The reason is that I didn't post anything.

Now of course, there's a good reason for the reason. And it's one I'm reluctant to talk about, even now, a week after I decided I was going to talk about it. I've agonized over this one, wondering where the lines are between writing to entertain you fine people and spilling my guts. I've opted for something in the middle - an open and frank discussion about the issue without revealing too many personal details.

I have been depressed. And I will give you a second to scoff, chuckle, and shake your head over reading that line, because I know that I've done the exact same thing in the past when I read or hear or see someone saying they're depressed. I think the word has been abused (much like the word "literally" has been - SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, it means "actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy" - if you're literally blue in the face, YOUR FACE IS ACTUALLY BLUE, not just frustrated).

But this depression was not just the inability to find happiness or the loss of joy. What I went through is another thing entirely. The only way I can explain it is that I felt coated in it. I couldn't wrestle my way out of it. No matter how hard I worked out or fast I ran, it was on me and wouldn't go away. Every movement I made was done so out of sheer will - getting out of bed, fixing breakfast, running that marathon back in January... My mind was locked on one very real, very unescapable thought: my life was not worth living.

Those are heavy words, and it's the first time in my life I've ever felt that way. And this wasn't just a few days of bad juju - this was MONTHS. From about October until literally last week (SEE! That's how you use it, folks). To say I lost my perspective is to say the very least. I was joyless. I was an actor. If you saw me at a book signing, you saw a performance, not me. You saw smiles that were well-timed and scripted. I knew when to nod, when to laugh, when to smile, when to shake your hand, when to hug you, when to say "It's so great you came!" - and every single action was a forced act. I was miersable.

The reasons I ended up in this state are many, but can be summed up by saying just about every single irrational fear I have manifested themselves all at once, over a week in October. I'm sorry to tell you that I won't be going into detail - but what you need to know is that I suffer from two irrational fears, neither of which involve spiders or the dark. They're very deep, personal scars received from a childhood spent in fear of nearly everyone I met or knew.

And they both manifested themselves just in time for my house to fall apart (a roof leak flooded our upstairs bath, and a toilet leak from a stupidly-repaired toilet the previous owners left us with rotted out the floor in the downstairs bath). Two of our cats fell ill and I had to manage that. I was coordinating all of the touring, release party crap for the book, some very annoying clients who I couldn't make happy to save my life, and to make matters far worse, my wife was experiencing a fantastic career boon which took her on the road the entire time, leaving me to deal with all of this by myself.

Note: none of this is her fault, and she didn't even know about half of it. That's the thing - she's never, ever even once seen me not be "the strong one." And here I was, learning day by day just how weak I really was, and I couldn't even tell her. It was miserable. And once I revealed to her exactly how deep this all ran, she was pretty much flabberghasted. She had no idea. That was the worst part... Not being able to share any of this with her.

So yeah, I slipped into a depression - one which got worse and worse every single day, because unlike any other time in my entire life, I wasn't able to just wake up the next day and everything would be alright. My creative anxiety, abandonment issues, and inability to be self-reliant stacked on themselves every single day. It was the perfect storm of pain. And once it took hold, it was like a cloak that was coated in that glue they use in rat traps. I couldn't take it off.

The real issue is that I never dealt with any of my childhood issues - ever. I buried them. Every time I'd see a crack forming in the road, I'd just pave over it all over again with Rollins songs and simplistic "rely on yourself! Be your own hero!" punk rock manifestos. Meanwhile, a sinkhole was growing and was never honestly dealt with. It's a shame that I let it go for 33 years, because when that sucker opened, it swallowed me whole. I felt like the entire foundation of my life gave way and the structures that made up who I am collapsed under their own weight.

I don't think anything I write can do the feeling justice for anyone who's never felt it. I know nothing I've ever read did it justice until it finally happened to me. All I can say is imagine the worst feeling you ever felt, coupled with the worst self-doubt you've ever experienced. Multiply this times 100 (yes, 100 - this is not hyperbole, it's the most intense sadness and doubt you've ever experienced). Then, stretch it across a period of six months.

Intense is not the word. It's more like... Oppressive.

So how did I get out of it? In a few ways, I'm still not. But in all the ways that count, I am. I am smiling honestly now. I'm happy. I find joy in things. I see the future as bright and full of hope again. I can say that the Art of Akira Exhibit did wonders for this - it's the first ever "creative" project I've undertaken that had nothing to do with me, so I was able to fully throw myself into it and love it. I've found a new strength in confronting all of this. I'm working on a new book project (details soon) and I'm actually not anxious about it at all.

I have learned to let go of certain people in my life who were damaging and hurtful. I learned to be truly honest with my wife and tell her when it hurts, how it hurts, and why it hurts - and trust her to understand it. And the only way any of that happened was a forced march across the murkiest, darkest swamps I've ever traversed. It was slow, almost torturous... And I made it out. Alive.

I tell you this stuff not because I need an excuse for the lack of writing, or for the absenses, or for any perceived reduction in quality of what I do. I tell you these things because I truly, sincerely love you. Not that I necessarily want to come to your house and hang out with you and trade notes or whatever... But in the sense that you are human and you care enough to read what I write, I love you. And if you never, ever go through this in your life, I will be happy, for I want you to be happy. It's an honest, sincere desire of mine - be happy.

And if you are going through this right now, I want you to know it WILL end. It will stop, and you will make it out alive - despite how badly you might not want to. I know that I had a moment - the first and only in my entire life - when I considered that option. I'm not proud to say it. In fact, it's taking everything I have not to delete this entire paragraph... Hell, this entire post. But it's too important. I think that the ONLY thing that pushed me past the dip and began my journey up the other side of the pit was a long, very heartfelt series of conversations with a very close friend who is the only other person I know to have gone through something like this. It could be said that she saved my life.

I'm not out to save yours. I'm just here to let you know that there is always a tomorrow, and every tomorrow leads to the future. And you can steer that series of tomorrows to bring you wherever you want - and while it's hard (damn, damn hard) to steer it toward a brighter day when you're honestly depressed, trust me - it will happen.

"The only way out is through" - Robert Frost (and, if you're into them, Nine Inch Nails)

It's now one of my favorite passages. It's the most honest and brutal truth I've ever faced. There's no escapes, short of a final one - and that's just cheating. You have to push forward. You have to work harder than you've ever worked. You have to find one - JUST ONE - instance of joy and cling to it. The memories and pain and doubt will quickly begin to wash back over the shore of your happiness... You can't stop it. There's no trite or simple way to say it - you will get sad, over and over... But find that joy. Know where it is. Mark it down; plant a flag. And come back to it every chance you get. Much like shells on the beach, more will show up - plant flags there too. Plant so many flags, you can begin stringing up netting and placing sandbags to keep the tide from rushing over it again. Eventually, the wall will be built, and you will have found your path across the ocean.

UPDATE: I've provided some details and clarity on the whole experience here.