So it turns out I’m depressed.
Yeah, I know, I had the same reaction – it sounds like a lame Facebook status update – but apparently my doctor’s convinced. I even have the little white pills to prove it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Some of you might have noticed my jokes over the past few weeks, but the end of the holidays – along with the return to real life – hit me particularly hard this year. I couldn’t shake the lingering sense of dread that followed me around like the stench of a bad reheated lunch in a small office. Everything seemed to be tinted gray.
Then the sleep left me. It’s true, we’ve never been the best of friends, but I’d lay awake for hours, burning through books like Terry Jones, to the chorus of my dog and daughter’s snores. Of course, I’d stir awake a few hours later, slip the iPad off the nightstand and hopelessly reach for a few more minutes of sleep. The sunrise nearly always came first.
A single week of that lead to irrational thoughts, conclusions or questions. You know, the idea that pops into your head that makes absolutely no sense – and on some level you still know this – but you can’t shake it loose. It creeps in like an earworm, humming its hateful tune, driving you crazy. So to speak.
But the panic attacks are what finally drove me to the doctor. The worst hit just this morning. My chest seized up as I pulled my Jeep into the parking lot here at work. I couldn’t breathe. I was scared to death. I couldn’t move. My workday started with 10 minutes of paralyzed, terrified gasping. It was as if every ounce of stress suddenly sat on my chest, pinning me down like some kind of schoolyard bully.
“What’s wrong with me,” was all I could manage for the next 10 minutes. Over and over again through the tears.
I couldn’t live like this anymore. Restless, unrested and ready to snap.
So I fled to my doctor. I felt stupid. Who goes to the doctor over a few sleepless nights, scattered thoughts and shortness of breath?
Worse, after a lengthy Q&A, he decided that, yeah, I was suffering from depression. He ran some blood tests (eight vials worth) to rule out a few other things, handed me a ’scrip and told me not to “make any major life decisions over the next 30 days.”
The diagnosis left me embarrassed, humbled and relieved. While it was nice to know what was wrong with me – mostly – I couldn’t apologize to my wife fast enough.
Why? she texted back (they were still drawing blood).
I feel like I let you down, I typed through blurred eyes, like this is some kind of moral failing.
Which is what we’re taught, right? Especially if you’re a man, a dad, a husband, a boss. You’re not allowed to “lose it,” “get down in the dumps” or “go crazy.” But I have, and I did.
And what happens when people find out? Will they avoid you like some kind of mental leper? Treat you with kid gloves, worried they might spook you off the ledge? Or flash you that distrustful glare, afraid to leave you alone with their kids?
(I know Kathryn keeps popping her head in to my office, clearly worried I might break right here at my keyboard.)
We’ll see. I’m sharing for a few reasons. I thought it might help me to work through it. I thought you should know. And I thought that if at least one other person felt the same way, who knows, maybe it would make them feel a little less alone about it.
Christopher Hitchens once said, “I’ve had some dark nights of the soul, of course, but giving in to depression would be a sellout, a defeat.”
And while today’s probably one of the darkest I can remember, it’s definitely brighter than it was this morning. Maybe I can sleep tonight. And tomorrow’s dawn might be just a little bit brighter than that. I’ll take it.