If you’re tired of reading about my ongoing battle with major depression, please forgive me. I write to increase awareness and understanding. Not everyone gets it, as we continue to educate and seek to erase the stigma of mental illness.
About 14 ½ years ago, my first indication that something wasn’t right about me was that I couldn’t get out of bed many mornings. Save for a bad flu bug or a cancer patient dealing with chemo treatments, I never had heard of anyone facing such a thing. Every time I fall into another depressive episode, the same thing happens.
A couple of years ago, I mentioned to a friend that I again was struggling to step out of bed and get to work on time. I actually had taken several sick days and vacation days during the three previous weeks.
“Get your a – – out of bed!” the friend screamed at me in a text message.
I appreciated the sentiment. The friend was just trying to help in the way my most honest friend could. The answer simply isn’t that clear-cut or obvious. I always had motivation and desire. Another friend, hearing me say I was struggling to get out of bed before noon most days, wondered what that was like. I told her the best metaphor I had heard was that it’s like trying to stand up when I was wearing clothes made of thick, heavy wood.
All the yelling and well-intentioned advice doesn’t help lighten the burden in those morning hours – or even early afternoon hours – when I’m telling myself to get up in five more minutes, then 15 more minutes, then 30 more minutes, then before lunchtime.
For almost two months, it has been happening again. I want to get up at 7 in the morning. Many days I get up about 8:30. I have had a few days of getting up about 10 or 11. I have had a couple of days of getting up after noon.
Believe me, I have yelled at myself plenty of times: “Mike, get your tail out of bed right now!”
It happened again this morning. The alarm went off at 7. I reset it for 7:30, then 8. I lectured myself. Finally, I begged God to be my strength, to push me out of bed if that’s what it took. It was almost 11 when I finally got up. Life turned more challenging the next hour or so. As I was shaving, I remembered a dream I had at some point in the previous hours. It was about a couple of my friends who are moving to another state; in the dream, I was saying good-bye in an emotional way.
I went to take my shower, where I cried ferociously and stood under the warm water for a long time, without the energy to shut it off. My mind flooded with thoughts of my inadequacies – as a husband and dad and grandfather and brother and son and employee and …
Beginning my half-hour commute to the office, I decided to listen to some music. I found a couple of my favorite songs from Godspell on my smart phone. Alas, each song had several lines that brought me to tears; I drove sobbing most the way. Then, unexpectedly, I found myself missing my friends – old friends, from when life was happy, and current friends, whom I don’t see often enough.
I finally got to my desk at work. I slipped in quietly, hoping not to draw any attention to my late arrival – I had emailed my boss that I would be late, and he knows what is happening with me, but I haven’t said anything to other co-workers. As I logged onto my computer, I wondered what the people with whom I work think of me. I’m mostly quiet. Do they interpret that as meaning that I’m sullen, sad, aloof, unfriendly?
Honestly, the office is a difficult place to be. I need my job, and I mostly do good work. The work itself isn’t the problem.
The problem is that at my office, there are people.
I work in a busy seven-story building. Things happen in a whirlwind of activity, conversation, decisions, meetings. Phones ring. Reports roll off the printer and need reviewing. People are busy at jobs that many of them actually enjoy. They have ambition and excel. And many of them take the time to enjoy each other in conversation. There is occasional laughter, hearty laughter. People are having fun. People are happy.
I’m not happy. I don’t feel social at all. That included today. How do I deal with times such as these? I have certain unique “self-medicating” ideas. I eat McDonald’s fast food, my comfort food to which I feel truly addicted; today was the eighth consecutive day I’ve gone without McDonald’s, though, and I want to stay firm in that abstinence. I drink Diet Coke like it’s going out of style, as many as 150 ounces a day when the depression is the heaviest; I haven’t had more than 50 ounces any day yet this month, and I want that streak to continue as well.
Sometimes, my mind fills with all sorts of “bad thoughts,” images of things I shouldn’t ponder. I fought that urge off today. I sometimes mindlessly watch TV for hours on end, most of the shows reruns of episodes I already have seen many times. McDonald’s, Diet Coke, sinful thoughts, TV – I feel guilty every time I go in those directions. Even though I have successfully avoided all those things today, I have the guilt about getting to work so late. The guilt only increases the depression.
“Everything is glorious,” a friend told me in an email. When this friend prays for me, the friend wishes me peace and joy. I appreciate those prayers more than any treasure I might find. And I know that everything is glorious, thanks to my faith and my life experience.
But right now, I can perceive only darkness. I immediately recall Psalm 88: I have borne your terrors and I am made numb. (verse 16) My only friend is darkness. (verse 19)
I will hope for glorious. Tomorrow. The next day. Next week. I will hope to get out of bed.