Another post about my lifelong struggle to face major depressive disorder (concealed depression)
They say you always remember your first time. Well with my `depression, that is not true. For me, major moments stand out, including what I came to call “my lost year.” But most of my depression, up until 4 years ago, is one big blur. In hindsight, it is easy to see the big events. But depression, or at least my depression, is forever floating trial balloons.
Until my time in 5 East, I never understood the low-hanging fruit my depression was targeting.
You would think that admitting I lost an entire year would somehow make me see this at the very least as a warning sign. Yet, I was oblivious to it’s meaning. I guess everyone’s vision of what is normal is different. So, in later years, I began to think of 1977 as just “one of those things.” After all, as my depression wrapped up, that time, I began running. Not your ½ mile here and there walking fast and jogging, but hardcore, go for the gold, long-distance running. Forest Gump-type running without the crowds or the media coverage.
This newfound physical growth led to 15 years of depression-free living.
Of course, now I can see that even in the best of times, my depression was just under the surface. My depression is unequivocally patient. I mean waiting 15 years for its next big opportunity is a long, long time. And even then, depression was leaving breadcrumbs for me to follow.
Heck, I listened to my depression instead of my family and ended up moving to New Jersey for work.
From there, I can see a major depressive event that wiped out ½ of a year. And most recently, there was my decision to toss 35 years of planning out the window and retire early. This led to four days in 5 East. Even getting there required huge amounts of self-advocacy. It seems crazy that I needed to prove I was feeling crazy to get the help I needed. (I am not sure it is PC to use the word crazy anymore, even to describe yourself)
And 39 months later, I am still writing and working to understand my depression.
I challenged myself to write a journal in which I would work on my relationship with depression. 560 blog posts later, I am still noticing subtle ways my depression is attempting to get me back under its wing. After all, my depression is certain that only it knows what I need. Only it can guide me. But doing so requires secrecy. After all, unhelpful thinking creates easy ways to block out everything except me and my depression.
So here I am, still writing with the hope of better understanding my relationship with depression.
Some days I have insights, and some days I just write what is on my mind. I write because that is what I need to work through how my depression operates. However, I write even as I am working with a psychiatrist for medication management. I have a Peer Advocate. And over the past four years, I have worked with several talk therapists. I am still working on this because I seem to find reasons to stop seeing them.
Stigma has played a role in my sweeping depression under the rug.
After all, how can I be the leader, the man with a plan, and have depression? And let’s not forget that I have lived most of my life worrying about what “they will say.” Some of this is real. Those who admit they have depression are not always valued. Even some of your biggest supporters will slowly back away and dart out of an exit the first chance they have.
And then there is the workplace stigma associated with depression.
In fact, this type of stigma still extends to any mental health issues. Yes, you read stories about celebrities who admit they or their loved ones have depression. The Rock and Wynona Judd come to mind. And recently, I found out Bruce Springstein has struggled with depression. For me, their stories are encouraging. They have challenged themselves to speak for those of us who have yet to announce to the world our mental health issues. And I for one know I have yet to share the news with the world.
Part of that is “Who’s business is it anyway?”
I am not taking out billboards to announce I have an ingrown toenail. Why then would I shout out my lifelong relationship with depression? In part, I feel compelled because depression has changed the direction of my life many times. And while I have always taken lemons and made lemonade, the reality is, I have more responsibility than just what is right for me.
My family is important, and I wish that I had been a better listener in the past.
Many times, depression was whispering in one ear and my family was speaking in animated tones in my other ear. And many times, I could not hear the words of wisdom and historical perspective that close family members would share with me. All I would be aware of is the subtle whispering of my depression. There is never an authoritative, “you must do this,” but rather a soft “Have you ever considered…?”
During many major decisions, my depression would win, and I would not be able to stop myself from doing what depression had suggested.
In fact, all the obstacles that I would later face seem unimportant when I talk to my depression. Any concern I have is quickly chased away with compelling testimony. Just do this, it will be OK my depression would say that, and I would go along with it. And as we ventured further into each of depression’s grand plans, I would find myself more and more alone. Depression loves this because secrecy is a major tool in my depression’s bag of tricks.
Having Major Depressive Disorder is why I have always thought of myself as evergreen.
I have always felt I needed to be the go-to guy. My work requires definite, positive decision-making. And there are often competing factions that must be appeased. So, I for one, leave my outside life, and my depression, at the door as I go into work. Being seen and known as evergreen is hugely important to me. It is my job to solve problems within company policy. And I cannot do that if I am not positive and able to make decisions.
I have found that my sense of what others will say is not borne out by facts.
For example, it is not true that everyone is looking at me as I walk into a restaurant. They have their own agendas, their own lives to live, and this doesn’t involve me. I envision my saying to the world; I have depression and then the entire world will know and will judge me. This is so not true. Almost everyone doesn’t care and would never notice, they have enough of their own things to think about.
A more poignant example was a visit at work by our new Executive Vice President, COO – Eastern Division. He and I had worked together for many years, though he had been promoted and had regional responsibilities before having the entire Eastern division.
The day he visited was when it was clear to me that “it is not all about me.”
I had spent the days before his visit wondering what he would remember of our work together. I imagined different scenarios where he might start a conversation about something we had shared. My depression took me time traveling to the past to gather examples of our positive work together.
And once my mind was back there, it began to remember things that didn’t go as planned and the shouting that often ensued. Up until he walked in the door, I assumed he would have looked at the manning roster for the building and knew I was there.
Then, as I walked up to greet him, he said “Oh, I didn’t know you were here.”
We made a minute’s worth of small talk, and he was on to the inspection. But I was knocked down to think that I had thought he would have known I was in that building. I know he has a thousand things on his plate and even reviewing our manager hierarchy was not on the top of his list.
But his visit left me finally understanding, “It is not all about me.”
So why do I care and why do I worry about the stigma of having a mental health condition? I cannot be my true, authentic, self if I am constantly on, constantly evergreen. And as ready as I am to confront everyone knowing, I still am not 100% committed to saying it. Can I be an effective boss, if I am not 100% evergreen, every second of every day?
Will the laws of nature suddenly change, with everyone focused solely on what I am doing?
You can be sure that will not happen. So, I am going to attempt to write my next blog post as an open letter, sharing my depression with the world. And while I am sure there will be those who will bring it up, most will never even know that I have said out loud.
“I have depression, but depression does not have me.”