When Blue Becomes Black

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I suffer from clinical depression.

Not the, “I’m down because someone dinged my car in the parking lot and my boss is an asshole” sort of depression. I suffer from real-live, medication-taking, genetically-predisposed, chemically-imbalanced, go to the analyst twice a week depression.

On my best days I don’t feel good, I just feel not so bad. Happy is a very illusive emotion for me.

The depression can come on in many ways, rapidly or slowly, creeping subtly or like the proverbial ton of bricks. When it’s mild, I can grab hold of myself and shake it partially off – maybe distract myself with some mindless activity or watch a stupid comedy on TV until the impulse passes. When it’s bad, it’s very bad.

At its worst, it feels like my most nightmarish bogeyman grabbing me by the neck and plunging me into deep and murky water. I struggle under the surface and fight and flail, but just like a physical drowning, I finally succumb. The emotion makes my lungs heavy, so heavy I can’t breathe. I feel myself begin to float. I see the light above me, but it isn’t some sort of heavenly white like in the movies, it’s the deepest black hole you can imagine. When my life flashes before my eyes, only the bad parts appear.

Many people who know me are probably quite surprised by what I’ve described. They see me as a generally happy-go-lucky sort of guy. One who cracks jokes or tells stories. I’m so adept at this mask that a great many of them have probably never suspected. But the funny thing is, it isn’t a mask. It isn’t something that I trot out to put a happy face on things. What they see is a synthesized version of what I imagine it’s like to be happy. I haven’t had enough experience with the real thing to carry it off naturally. What they see is me, having a not so bad day. A day when I’m using the jokes and stories not to cover what I’m feeling, but to imagine what it must be like to feel what they see.

While I’ve certainly been exposed to things and people in my life that weren’t helpful, none of that caused my illness. I was born with some bad brain wiring, it’s as simple as that. A bad roll of the dice.

Sometimes I get angry about it, but not in the way you might think. Sometimes I get angry at the constant struggle and how “unfair” it is. Sometimes I get angry about the strain it puts on my family. Sometimes I get angry about having to take medication and go to the therapist. But especially, I get angry with myself. I get angry that I’m not some sort of Lance Armstrong of the depressed who can say, “I’ll be back, whip this nasty illness, and win the Tour de France.” There are no miracles here – just another in a long string of days that I take one at a time, hoping that I can turn it into another not so bad day. There’s not even a cheap yellow band to symbolize the struggle. If there were, I’m sure it would be black.

Sometimes the anger gives way to shame, especially if I’ve let it get the better of me. I’m ashamed that I’ve lashed out or that I was too weak to stop the anger when I felt it begin to rise. Sometimes I’m ashamed of the pain it causes others or that I sometimes can’t be strong for them. Sometimes I’m ashamed of complaining because I know there are many people much worse off than me.

When I’m at my best, I feel proud of myself for holding it at bay, even if I couldn’t do it without the meds and the therapy. I can almost fool myself into thinking it’s all my doing and that I’ve finally got the beast in a headlock, ready to take it down. When I’m at my lowest, the anger and shame come back multiplied by the years it has gone on, fuel for the beast I can’t ultimately vanquish.

Mine is a limited battle where the best I can manage is an uneasy peace. My life is like a maniacal teeter-totter, always hovering at the tipping point and making me wonder which way is up and which way is down.

I suffer from depression, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

11 thoughts on “When Blue Becomes Black

  1. Very eloquently put! From someone who suffers from the same (although I don’t go to therapy often at all) you truly struck a chord there.

  2. Our smiling helpful neighbor boy, father of two lovely little girls and a wonderful wife, suffered from depression and committed suicide. The whole community was stunned because he put on a good, happy show. His dad had also committed suicide and I presume suffered from depression (and alcoholism). Just like our hair color and our nose shape, we sometimes inherit our constitutions. I think the simpler and slower our brains are, the better off we are. RX: Now go off, watch Nascar, drink beer, and praise Bush – for stupid is less strain.

  3. Poobah! Beautifully written post… I don’t have clinical depression but do have my bouts and battles with it and I completely understand the dark place one is taken to when it hits full force. I used to live with 4-5 panic attacks a week because of it. At one point I barely left the house in 2 months and yoga became my reason to get a move-on and my husband would literally have to hold me by the hand, force me out of the house, drive me to class, and take me to the class, holding my hand until I eventually gained some emotional strength. Took years and am always working at it. When overwhelmed I call my therapists in San Francisco for a tune up. I had to actually learn how to be happy because even though I felt it deep inside having my husband by my side my past and the darkness consumed me and my eyes revealed much sadness and darkness and tears were all I new. Like you, I know that jovial mask well… It is very hard and I am so sorry to hear you live with it dear friend!

    Yes, I would not wish it on my worst enemy either…

  4. To one and all,

    I just wanted to thank everyone for the kind words, but I wanted to do it with a little splash Please take a look at the new post for today (1/31/06). I am honored to have readers like all of you and a family like I have.

  5. I am going to try, try not to do like full posts on your side. think I may have covered this before, and it may not help, but there is just enough love in this cynical heart. hypomania. had to suck down the lithium, to get me out of the trees. personally, I think the mania was some sort of twisted gift, an attempt by my system to counterbalance the Depression. I have walked in that room you live in. for a long time, I enjoyed that room, considered at my prize. after the salts hit my bloodstream, I saw the real scary world for the first time, and learn to tolerate it. I was very lucky, have a sister who is tried everything, nothing but the paddles work, and the shocks are the only thing to keep her alive. I was advised that when I finally found a stable life existence, that I’ve may not need the Meds. how I found it is beyond me, luck if you will, but they were correct. have tried since to do things in my heart moves me to do, tried to be ethical, pursued my bliss and obligations. for some time now it is been working. once a month at best I take a trip to that room again, and it usually only last for an evening. for both of us, the room also brought a gift, and shows up in your writings. some of the best of ever written, was penned by someone walking around in that room. you do feel deeper, you are more sensitive, and it is a double-edged sword. when the room comes back to visit me, I try to focus on the good edge. you’re given a gift and a curse, my hope is that you are able to view it more as a gift, and tolerate the curse. I will not go on about how we are treated, I have already done that, and I don’t think anyone really cares. it is their loss, the tiny forking little squids, do not let it be ours, because you ever decide to give up.

  6. i am printing your damn lengthy ass post out now. i am sure it will rock. what happened to the unibomber?

  7. Bad brain wiring. Yeah, I’ve got some of that myself. Hang in there, dude. I echo the folks above: courageous post.

  8. It just is, isn’t it? I admire you greatly for posting the truth. Honesty has a beauty that outshines the sun. Thank you.

  9. That was a great piece. The ‘feeling ashamed’ sentiment really hit home, I’d never realised it so coherently in my own thoughts. You gave me perspective, a little bit of sky, blue. As it always is.

    I hope you have more of the almost good days.

    all my love


  10. I’m proud of you too, Poobah. Been there (usually postpartum, but at other times too and it’s scary). The best thing to do is get help and keep getting help. I have to say that for myself, recognizing what it is when it is (that “I want to die, really” feeling has no equal) has been the biggest victory.

  11. I want to give you a standing ovation for putting this out there. I wish more men would. Only its like a double edged sword. Its one thing for a man to admit he suffers from depression, and this in itself is an admitance to an illness. Two stigmas. It cuts both ways, very deep. We are falsely taught that this is a womans disease. If I had the time to champion a cause (along with Habitat) I think this would be it. I feel your pain, though its been some time for me. Very courageous!