It was March 2001. I woke up in my bed completely paralyzed. I could barely move; tears were streaming down my face. That was my low point. That’s when I accepted my depression. I had always been depressed, I just never did anything about it.
During this time, I was single and could afford to live in a 1 bedroom apartment in Pacific Heights in San Francisco with a parking garage. I was working for one of the coolest publications in San Francisco, I could get into any bar or club simply by flashing my business card. On the outside, what could possibly be wrong?
Yet on the inside, everything was wrong.
I was working 12 hour days because I had convinced myself that’s what you do. I had no social game when it came to dating or even making friends. The people I knew and hung with at work were my only friends. Fortunately, it was a social culture, but that actually became a big part of the problem. We worked hard and drank hard- a lot! Drinking with work friends helped me to mask all my challenges, but I was lying to myself. At work my confidence was 110%, while in the real world it was 0%. Ultimately my work was my life. I didn’t know where ‘WorkRicky’ ended – I was always ‘WorkRicky’.
So back to being in bed. I did what every sick little boy does when the chips are down, I called my mom. And of course, she was there for me. Her first suggestion was “why don’t you come home” (Savannah, GA). But I couldn’t do that. I’ve always been independent, doing everything on my own. I left home for college when I was 18 and went across the country to Arizona not knowing anyone. I was so independent I wouldn’t even let my mom drive cross country with me or fly to meet me there. In the immortal words of my hero, Bruce Springsteen, “I was a tramp, and I was Born to Run”. So when she said, “Why don’t you come home.” I told her I couldn’t . She asked why, and I remember this vividly to this day.
“If I come home, then the city wins. I can’t let the city win.” I was Born To Run, not Born To Run Home. Unfortunately, it took a long time to understand that’s a love song, not just a song about being defiant and independent.
She did give me some amazing advice:
Call in sick, you are sick and you need a mental health day. (It was 2001, the peak of the first .com bubble and there was no such thing as a “mental health day”) I did call in sick though.
She reached out and found a therapist through a friend here in the Bay Area. I still see my therapist to this day.
She told me to call my college roommate and see if he can meet me for a beer after work. He did.
And thus began my long journey to understanding mental health, depression, facing my fears and working on rebuilding myself one day at a time.
In some ways I am lucky. While many people have thoughts of suicide, I can say that I never was serious about it.. I know others can go down this dark hole to varying degrees, yet fortunately, I just see the hole and can step to the side.
People have asked me to describe what depression feels like for me. These are the best examples I can come up with.
In my chest and stomach, there is a string that hangs straight down from my neck to my stomach. And it feels like someone or something is pulling hard on that string which pulls the entire weight of my body closer to the ground. It makes lifting my feet to walk feel like there are extra 5lb weights on each foot. I’m not stuck, but it’s hard for me to move forward.
In a social situation, I could be standing and talking to someone or a small group of people from about 2 feet away, yet I actually feel like I am having an out of body experience and watching the conversation from outside a house, looking through a window. I am watching me speak, but because of the wall and distance, I cannot “feel” the emotions or connections of a conversation.
When my parents told me they were splitting up, my recollection was that it was no big deal. I was going to be moving next door to my best friend, so I was excited about that and completely ignored reality. I was 10, how could I know any better? It was the early 1980’s, my parents didn’t know any better either. The house I was “standing outside” of, was the house my mom, sister, and I moved into when my parents got divorced. I was living next door to my very best, life long friend and his 2 brothers who are still like family to this very day. I thought I was happy back then, but clearly, these are the defining moments of childhood that stick with us our entire life.
NOW IT’S 2019.
So 18 years later, countless individual and group therapy sessions I am happier. I have a wife who understands me, two amazing kids, a fantastic house, a job I love, and of course a dog. And yet, I am still depressed. Not like “movie depressed,” but still not what I think people would call “normal”. My therapist and I have called it “functionally depressed”. It’s not a deep sadness, but there is still a sense of “grey” hanging around. Some days it’s not there at all, other days it’s just 1%-2% and other days it’s a deep sadness.
Here are the steps I’ve taken over the years to help me:
- The stigma is real but you can get through it. Here is what it felt like for me: