I was having a conversation with someone important to me a few months ago and they said something I had never heard before.
We were talking about depression. More specifically- the flash-flood of bulletproof mania, and it’s inevitable descent into lengthy, paralyzing anguish- our shared condition.
“The Happy-Sads.” they said. “That’s what my doctor calls them”.
I rested in the hum-quiet lapse that happens every so often on the phone.
It seemed such a simple way to put it, but it summed it all up. I hear these little pieces all the time- I think we all do- someone says something, a turn of phrase, or a sentence fragment- and it sticks. It resonates. It becomes a short story or the subject of a comic, a song title- sometimes more.
It felt like something larger and smaller at the same time- it made sense of everything, boiling it down to a simple phrase- and I laid down under it’s gravity.
I remember being a boy, and the times where everything was quiet. Those were the briefest moments, and you had to catch them like comets. Then came chaos and noise- reckless, indestructible enthusiasm. That part lasted longer than the quiet, but not nearly as long as the empty.
I think it was easier for those older than me to say I was simply shy, and I wasn’t to hear the word “introverted” until I got to high school, and I didn’t hear anyone seriously talk about “depression” until I was in college- and even then it was just something you could “will away”. No one’s son or daughter was “crazy” or a “manic-depressive”. Labels. From youth to adulthood I would bounce back and forth from “very artistic” to “quiet”.
If my depression was robbing the bank, then my anxiety was waiting in the get-away car outside, masked and armed. There would be stretches that would go on for weeks where I thought I was going to Hell. These would segue into stretches where, knowing that everyone was going to die eventually and I would lose everyone I knew, I couldn’t spend more than 2 minutes in school before going home in hysterics. I just didn’t want to lose a single moment with people I loved- moments I could never get back.
My anxiety found different ways of manifesting itself- more subdued versions as I got older, but the back and forth, the up and down, stayed the same. You couldn’t wind a watch to it, but you could see it just over the hill, and you’d wait for it to hit.
Years of it.
Then I learned to use it, to tap into it, but I was hiding, not facing.
Being a singer in a band allowed me to tap into 2 very extreme emotions, and ones I knew very well- violent happiness and theatrical despair. This worked for me for years. And the more I could use them every night, the less I had to deal with them during the day, or night afterwards. Zeroes in a bunk, zeroes in the morning, drinking coffee, watching mile-markers.
Zeroes. Years of them.
I then decided to deal with it.
I had another conversation, again with someone important to me, but this person was life-threateningly ill. They said to me one thing that was the most important.
“Everything is temporary. When you’re happy- it’s temporary. Sad? Temporary. Job? Temporary. Bought a house? It’s only yours until you no longer need it. “
There were two ways to look at it- happy or sad. But everything was temporary.
In your worst moments, where you are staring into the blackest hole, the razor-lined mouth of a vicious, rabid animal- when you aren’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough- when the worst thing inside you chooses to attack- it is temporary. Likewise, when you are in those moments of pure joy, surrounded by your loved ones, high scoring skee-ball, holding your best friends hand at a concert- it is also temporary.
And that is ok.
It is life, and living, or the closest thing to it- but more than that there is help.
I go to therapy- my doctor and I don’t use labels, because she believes that every single person is a different case. What one person has more of, another has less of.
And in the differences, we are all the same- imbalanced, and some of us need an assist. I grew up in an era that came off the tail end of damning the notion of mental treatment, so it was a dirty phrase. Unfortunately it still is today. The labels linger, the stigma exists, and all of it keeps help further away.
This is the part where I get serious and say that if you suffer from severe depression, you should seek treatment. If no one takes you seriously- find someone that will. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t fear a single repercussion for taking my mental health seriously and in my hands. Nothing would stop me. Not a label, or a joke- nothing.
I hope you find comfort in this. I hope you know that a lot of people, including myself, battle the beast all the time, and we win. I have finally gotten myself to a place where I no longer face the extremes, but it takes work, every week- I get up, and I make sure I am at my session- even the days where I don’t want to be there. I would imagine you’d feel the same way sometimes, and that is ok. Maybe it’s even hard for you to take the first steps- and that’s ok too.
I know you can.