Just today I heard a brief description of one person’s dark thoughts while in the grip of deep depression. This man is excruciatingly intelligent, accomplished and beloved as a famous actor, comedian, writer, director, etc., etc. Frankly, it makes me sick just how accomplished he is! I don’t mean that, of course, I find his work compelling and I always enjoy watching and listening to him do his thing…
Part of his description of depression really slapped me around the chops and resonated with me, because he was verbalizing, almost word for word, thoughts that I have sometimes had about myself. It made me think that perhaps it’s a good idea to be honest about these thoughts in case anyone out there experiences them too (I’m working the basis that they do) and mistakenly feels that they‘re in a minority of one. So; here goes.
I’ve tended to worry about stuff as long as I can remember thinking. As a kid I worried about small things, but as I grew up…well I carried on worrying about the small stuff. The small stuff is the big stuff – I’m certain of that. However, before I digress, I’ll break the habit of a lifetime and get back onto topic quickly. Worrying isn’t the same for me as being depressed, although for my mum it often seemed to be that one inexorably led to the other. I’ve always worried – about work, money, relationships, nuclear Armageddon, is-this-plane-going-to-crash… but then again, there have been times when I know that almost without any doubt, I wasn’t worried; I was significantly depressed.
The first time that I was (probably clinically) depressed was when I was a young police officer, aged only 19/20, and I began to be quite mercilessly, vindictively and malevolently bullied by my immediate supervisor. For a number of reasons, at that time I felt trapped in a vicious circle of shame, fear and rejection, and felt quite alone – I felt that, in a classic bullying situation, I couldn’t tell anyone about what was happening. The shame of the bullied can be a very powerful thing. Away from work, my girlfriend and my family, I cried, lay awake at night and constantly panicked about the next great shaming episode that was bound to happen, and where my burgeoning adult life was headed. For eighteen months I cried on the way to work, and on the way home after each humiliation that the man in question put me through. Adult life seemed impossible; something that I couldn’t do.
The second time was following the shocking break up of an intense relationship. I descended into a place that I can thankfully barely remember, but which on two occasions at least, almost took me out of this world. The third was during a particularly difficult – in fact indescribably horrible – period of my life when someone very close to me abruptly disappeared and never returned – at least, not as the same person. This was a protracted period (several years) during which I became increasingly stressed by the emotional load I was carrying and consequently I began to behave in ways which with hindsight bear little resemblance to who I consider myself to be. That, by the way, is a very strange thing to look back upon.
Three times, then, I’ve visited the dark side of my being for extended periods of time, but all through my adult life I’ve been susceptible to moments of terrifying blackness; places from which the climb back out is always difficult, but made worthwhile because of my good fortune to always have a spark of hope buzzing around somewhere in my otherwise largely empty noggin. I think I’d be in trouble if it wasn’t for that – I’m fortunate to have always found my way out, and to have been able to keep functioning. I know that my experiences pale in comparison to that of many other people, but they’re still real, still relevant.
I go to that place – less often these days than ever before – typically when I’m feeling emotionally vulnerable, and it’s seemingly fuelled by my life-long difficulty in accepting that I’m worth loving. If that sounds annoyingly pathetic, well I’m not sorry because I’m being honest about this, and if you don’t like it, go away now.
If I’ve upset my wife or if my kids are facing difficulties of any sort, it always tends to feel like my fault (whether it subsequently turns out to have been, or not), which sparks off my worthlessness spiral. In that spiral, I am utterly without redeeming features, I’m a complete failure, unlovable, unpleasant, horrible, nasty, vicious, hideous, ridiculous and contemptible. Within that spiral (from which panic emerges within seconds), I am on the cusp of that thing I fear most; being left utterly alone, to live what remains of my sorry wretched life without love or comfort, and deserving every second of that torture. Everything is my fault, I am responsible for everything negative within and around me, and I deserve what’s coming.
These aren’t abstract thoughts; these are representations of feelings within and about my self – these things ambush my sense of self and push it around like bullies in the school playground, hurting and hurting and hurting more. This is where I go sometimes, and this is the precipice upon which I stand far more often than I care to remember – not for long, thankfully, but often enough to each time strip away what remains of my confidence just a little. In this place there isn’t anything except pain, horror and fear. It is a bad place and I would rather not go there ever again, but I stand and stare into it at least once each week.
I am, however, very fortunate. Like a fool who thinks he’s drowning when he really isn’t, I thrash my way to the side of the emotional pool and grab onto the safety rail, where sanity waits. Sometimes – most often - it’s merely seconds before I find my way there, sometimes it’s minutes and occasionally it takes hours for me to escape the deep water. No matter how quickly I get there, there is always a recovery period. I’m lucky because I always do emerge; I have an escape strategy which works for me - the hard part is remembering it in the moments of panic.
I’d be happier if I forgot how to get to the dark place and maybe that’s finally happening, because I don’t go there nearly as often as I used to. My life, surrounded by people who do indeed love me, is pretty darned good and I am a lucky man – and lucky to appreciate that I’m lucky! Intellectually I know that my experience is unique to me, but the kind of experience I have had and occasionally still have is anything but unique. We’re human, we’re interesting and every day is different.
Sometimes I get a little lost, but loving is my lifeline; I have a lot of loving to do – way too much loving to be wasting time and energy panicking. What I get out of loving makes life worth living; makes every day worth experiencing and makes the future worth anticipating.