10.25.2013

"Dear Joe: How Did You Beat Depression?"



It was never on any of the aptitude and vocational tests I took in high school, but apparently I have the qualities of an advice columnist. Because I get a LOT of email asking about a LOT of things. One of those things, especially over the last few months, is depression. 

Most of the time, I just respond. I tell the truth about my experiences and I wish them well. This email this evening, however...

I just... I don't know how to say it. I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried:

Dear Joe: 
How did you beat depression? I need help learning how because if I can't, I'm afraid of what the rest of my life will look like. I'm 14 years old and every day I wake up sad. I think I want to die sometimes. I feel like no one will listen to me when I tell them what I am feeling. I Googled "How to beat depression" and found your articles on depression and I am hoping you can tell me, because I read a lot of articles and none of them actually explain how you beat it. You seem like you have. Can you help me? 
-- [Name Withheld]

Fourteen. I remember being fourteen and sad all the time. Sad and lonely and scared. I put on a brave face at school, because what was the point? I wasn't going to let the kids who already had no idea how to handle me know that I had weak parts. I wasn't about to make things ten times worse for myself.

I remember being sixteen and thinking the only way out was to die. I wasn't very serious about it... But I scared myself enough to not want to screw around with that particular solution again. Not until a few years ago. I'm not really in a place to discuss that topic in depth just yet... Maybe someday. But not right now.

Maybe it's because of this person's age, or because of how they wrote the email, but it struck a chord within me. Both because it reminded me of being young and scared and ignorant, and because I still can feel that way right now. Tonight, in fact. I just felt I had to share it, as well as my response:

[Name Withheld],
First, it means a lot to me that you wrote me. Not because you chose me. I'm not that egotistical (well, maybe I am, but not about this). Like you said, you Googled "Depression" and my name came up in the lottery.
It's because you had the courage to ask in the first place. And you may not realize it right now, but that courage to ask -- the spark that lights the fire of inquiry -- is exactly the kind of bravery that is going to get you out of this moment, and every other moment just like it. 
To me, depression is like climbing a muddy hill... Sometimes you slip. Hell, sometimes you slip a LOT. In fact, it's practically guaranteed you're doing to slip and slide and get really filthy in the process. You may fall. You may hit bottom a few times.
And if you want out of it, once you're done crying from frustration and fatigue and exhaustion, you lace up your cleats and you stab your fingers into that mud and you start climbing again, all the while saying - nay, screaming - "I will get out of this."
And again.
And again.
At some point you want to give up. Not just tell yourself you should... You actually truly seriously want to give up. You're done. You're finished. This is the end. 
Right then -- that very moment -- you get a choice. Quit or go again. If you quit, we all cry and tell stories about you over lemonade and beer at the wake and that's certainly very sad. But if you don't... That's the exact moment you gain power. Your faith in yourself overtakes you. You choose YOU.
Something magical happens. The mere act of trying and not giving up seems to solidify the ground and gives you something to hold on to. It's like a super power. And the more you believe and the more you try, the more your power seems to radiate until the mud is grass and you're at the peak looking down wondering why the hell you thought that was so hard. 
That's why you can't stop. Ever. Because you never beat it. You just learn better where the slippery parts are and, if you hit them, how to stop sliding so far so fast. 
And if you do hit bottom again, at least you've got your cleats and the proof that you did this once before... You can do it again.
The fact that you asked me for help shows you have what it takes to WANT to get free from this moment of feeling sadness and fear and despair. The thing is, I can't pull you from it. Just like literally climbing a muddy hill, I can throw you a rope (in the form of this email and my perspective). I can cheer you on. But you've got to do the climbing.
I don't know what else is going on in your life. I don't know if there's external enemies out there making your life miserable, or if you're doing poorly in school, or if there's other stuff involved. What I WILL tell you is that, if you really think about it, there aren't really any external enemies. There are only people you give permission to make you feel like crap.
Take that permission away. Instead, give yourself permission to feel great. I think you'll find that climbing that emotional muddy hill will teach you that you're the only one who can do either of those things, and the second you do, you will fly up that son of a bitch with deft skill and lightning speed. 
Good luck to you, and keep in touch.
Joe Peacock