The title is misleading. My story is rather long and would never fit into a simple blog post but I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. I have several theories about my personal struggle and I spend a lot of time these days analyzing my feelings and trying to deal with them logically – however, for us ‘creative types’ logic isn’t second nature, and applying logic to a condition that doesn’t follow the rules is difficult at best.
As I said in the introduction to this series, everyone will experience depression at one time or another. For the majority of people these episodes will last only a short time – say as part of the grief process when you lose a loved one. Most people feel sad, angry, hopeless, worthless, or guilty at point in their lives and are able to live through those feelings until they pass or address them in some way that allows them to move on. The problem with people who suffer from depression is that more often than not, those feelings don’t pass – they pile up on one another. Without help, it can quickly and completely consume your life.
I was a moody, brooding, emotional kid. Adults always told me that I was so smart and grown up, and often referred to me as having an ‘old soul’. I have decided that having an ‘old soul’ when you are seven is not necessarily a compliment. That ‘old soul’ was me growing up well before I should have had to. That was a kid who had the weight of the world on her shoulders. My Mom I now realize, was always depressed. In fact, I was about the only thing in her life that she had some pride in. I was her joy. That too is a lot of pressure for a child. I always knew that without me my Mom would be lost (whether that is true or not I can’t say – but growing up that is how I felt and I dealt with that alone). My Mom modeled to me how to deal with sadness – my Mom was an alcoholic, and I would grow up to abuse alcohol in the exact same ways that she did. Seriously, for a while there I was my Mom – my only joy in all of that is that she passed away before I really lost myself. I honestly don’t think she could have handled watching me turn into her – she always wanted more for me, and had faith that I would grow up and be happier, that I would do great things with my life. I wouldn’t make her mistakes, I was so smart.
However, my Moms passing was the catalyst of my depression. While I recognize now that I always struggled with it, for the most part I was a happy kid. I was a serious attention seeker though. I wanted to be the center of everyone’s world and if they didn’t put me there on their own, I would engage in behaviors that demanded it. I learned how to manipulate people at a very young age and for a really long time that seemed to work for me (it didn’t really). Of course when someone didn’t fall for my tricks, I would be hopelessly sad and that feeling would continue until I found someone new to make me feel happy. You can see from that last statement that relationships in my youth were not at all healthy ones – I needed someone else to be happy. Be it my Mom, my youth group, church leaders, my friends, a girlfriend/boyfriend, strangers – you name it. As long as I didn’t have to look at myself – I was okay.
My Mom passed away from colon cancer when I was 26. I was in the Army reserves and had secured a nice entry level government job at my reserve unit when I got the call that she had cancer. I promptly quit that job to move back home and take care of her and my grandmother who lived with her. The doctors said that my Mom had 6 months at best. She lasted two years from her initial diagnosis – the hospice nurse actually said to me that, “she refuses to die.” Our hospice nurse was an asshole. My grandmother passed away three months later. So in just a few short months I lost my entire family. I have a brother – but he wasn’t around much when I was growing up, and he certainly didn’t help when I was caring for my mother and grandmother – so after they passed there was no real reason to continue a relationship with him (my family is a long story in itself). So, for the first time in my life, I was really, truly, alone. So what did I do? I joined the active duty side of the Army. The best and worst decision I have ever made.
The Army is a great place for depressed people to hide. You aren’t allowed to have feelings. You are told what to wear, where to go, who to hang out with, where you will live… You are not responsible for yourself – your leaders are responsible for you. For probably the same reasons, alcohol abuse is the drug of choice for service members. It is part of Army life. You can go in the Army sober, and come out a drooling alcoholic if you aren’t careful. It is a drinking culture. Add a drinking culture to untreated depression and a sincere desire to be liked and included along with a family history of alcohol abuse and it really is a recipe for self destruction. Suicide rates for military members are appalling – there is a reason for that no one talks about because if they were to seriously address the issue at it’s core, the military itself would collapse. The military runs on people like me – people that can be trained to throw away self and sacrifice everything for an ideal. For a depressed person, it gives you purpose, it makes you feel needed. I will talk more about the Army later – more for the book…
Anyway, I drank so much, so constantly that I have entire years that I do not remember. The Army will forgive any drunken adventure – until you seriously fuck up – and that’s exactly what I did. I put my brand spanking new Jeep into a ditch in Italy. I wasn’t hurt thank God and neither was anyone else – but I got in trouble for the first time in 15 years. I lost rank, ruined any chance I had at a career, and lost the respect of my peers and leaders in an instant; before the DUI – I was lauded as a drinking champ- I was admired for my alcohol consumption abilities; the tables turned quickly from admiration to shame. I was devastated. I was ordered into Alcoholics Anonymous and had to get counseling. AA didn’t do anything for me, but the counseling did. I was still drinking (even though I was ordered not to). I had to write an essay about my drinking habits and that essay convinced me that if I didn’t get out of the Army – I was going to just slowly kill myself with alcohol. I asked to get out and thankfully I had leaders that really did care about me and backed up my request to leave. That was 5 years ago.
There is a lot left out here obviously. This post is already too long. I just felt it was fair to let you all know where exactly I am coming from, and what I have struggled with before I start doling out my advice, opinions, and lessons. I am only an expert on my own life and can only help people through that lens, but I figure if even one person puts the beer down and calls a therapist then it is worth it. I am actually genuinely happy now; and that is because I have done some really hard work to get here. I am currently on a low dose anti-depressant, have a super awesome therapist that I am actually honest with, and a partner who supports and loves me. I still have drinks once in a while, but like normal people drink – one or two beers – not 17 or 18 (seriously). I still fight with depression but I now can recognize it and deal with it instead of drinking it away or finding another way to hide from it. Like anything else in life; the results come when we face things head on. It isn’t easy, but so far, I am better than I have ever been.
If you have thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts or actions and need help RIGHT NOW please call:
1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK