The Monster Inside Me

Depression has a bottomless appetite for destruction, and it almost destroyed David Perez.

It took me 23 years to find a reason to live. I had experienced joy, passion, rage, and total despair, but had not once felt completely at ease with any of it. I did not relax until 24, and it took two suicide attempts, years of self-hatred, therapy, and a moment where those who cared for me most saw me hit the bottom to get there. Things have been tumultuous since, but I have so much to lose now that harming myself seems unfathomable. I am extraordinarily fortunate. Many in similar situations, including a close friend of mine, could not find a way out and killed themselves. It is a reality I think of daily.

♦◊♦

We first became acquainted when I was in second grade. It was a class during a particularly boring afternoon. Very few seven-year-old boys could spell “Czechoslovakia” properly, much less find it on a map. I could, and was proud enough of this feat to write on the exercise sheet: “I want to kill myself in Prague, Czechoslovakia.” I spent an afternoon in a shrink’s office. I liked him because he looked like Bill Clinton. We talked at length about the 1992 election. He seemed to think I was fine.

I was an angry child wedged into the body of a man rapidly approaching six-feet tall with a fierce intellect and no sense of emotional restraint.

Four years later, I hung up the phone on my grandmother and tried to asphyxiate myself to death with a sock wrapped around a doorknob. I was 11, picked on daily and getting into fistfights almost as often. I genuinely wanted to die, but my mother came home before I could figure out how to make myself pass out. I was in and out of therapy for the next three years. My mother strained to keep it all from flying apart. Sometimes, it didn’t work. Our running dialogue until I was well into my twenties was one of recriminations and sarcasm between moments of innocence and humor.

The good doctor was a mild-mannered man with a weak handshake who didn’t really know what to do with me. In hindsight, he had no chance. I was an angry child, wedged into the body of a man rapidly approaching six-feet tall with a fierce intellect and no sense of emotional restraint. Occasionally, my mother would sit in as well; her and her baggage squared off against my monster and I. (The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.) Those sessions stopped quickly.

If he treated me like an adult, I reminded him indirectly of my tender age and my genuine innocence of the world of adults. When he treated me like a child, I ignored him, staying silent for minutes at a time. He whined in a dull, placid tone: “This isn’t going to work if you aren’t cooperating, David.” I would nod, smile, and continue to count down the 40 minutes until my mother came to pick up me with a check in hand. Sometimes, payment was an issue. This did not help me respect a process I already saw as wasteful. We would head home and have the following dialogue:

“How’d it go, Dave?”

“Good.”

“And?”

“It was alright.”

The conversation usually ended there unless my mother wanted to pick a fight. If she did, we would argue for the entire car ride home, sometimes for days afterward.

As the sessions continued, I began high school. My monster now had a name—clinical depression—but it remained abstract for now. What was all too real was that I began a term of four years in an all-boys Catholic school at precisely the moment that I craved female attention the most. I completely lost my mind. I left early to head off to the all-girls schools, came in late, and threw batteries in class. Indefinite JUG, the Catholic school equivalent of detention, was the punishment; I absconded from that, too. I even flunked classes, which brought about a very public verbal and physical assault from my mother after parent-teacher conferences.

Oddly enough, I was really happy. This was in large part due to the furtive and awkward attentions of Stephanie, an overweight girl from a nearby school I tried miserably to make conversation with when we weren’t having sex or making out on mall benches. It didn’t work out, but then others followed. I turned it around academically, only to get thrown out of school and then reinstated for something I hadn’t done. I can’t win, I thought, but at least I’m fucking. This was a real accomplishment.

It was a shock, then, when the urge to harm myself returned during a school dance. Where did this overwhelming feeling of panic and despair come from? It had been nearly three years, and plenty had passed; but my skin was cold to the touch now and I was sweating profusely…what’s happening to me? I refused a dance and walked out early, ashen-faced. A teacher asked if I was all right; I waved him off. I rode the bus home, and shivered in my bed: I could not talk.

♦◊♦

I spent some Saturdays with a woman who said she was going to change the way I thought, the way I behaved. These sessions ended quickly, and the feeling of despair lingered for another year. I attempted to drown out the feelings of self-loathing with copious amounts of food and pot. I gained 60 pounds in a year, the stretch marks and extra skin scarring my torso to this day.

To my pleasant surprise, I ended up on a gorgeous campus where each spring was a riot of color and everyone else felt even more unsure of themselves in social situations than I was. Here, I thought, I would bloom.

I spent my 18th birthday sobbing on a bench in the rain. The comically awkward parties remained intimidating throughout my time in college. This absurd turnabout was only made tolerable by copious amounts of alcohol and pot. For the first time in my life, I was quite often the slow kid in class. My confidence crushed; I went to class only when it was a subject I was confident I could handle. Gradually, I adapted, but I could not shake the nagging voice telling me that it’d be easier if I just ended it all.

The friends I made kept me at Swarthmore, their terrifying intellects checked only by the depth of their compassion. They took me on road trips, built bonfires, and then ate hallucinogens by the handful—all the while overachieving. I couldn’t keep up, but the peer pressure to do something great kept the monster in check. I was having too much fun eating tuna fish with pasta and mayonnaise; laughing too hard at defrosted whale dicks flung at cars; flaunting my pipes on college radio between bong rips. Life was happening, and I was content.

My misery had morphed into something more sinister. I was set on suicide. The date was even decided—May 28, the day before I was to graduate.

My senior year began poorly. I was now noticeably obese. Hair was falling out of my head in clumps. Worst of all, I couldn’t breathe. I spent most of winter in bed, inhaling steroids to keep my airways open, reading Faulkner. I would not graduate on time. This was a failure, but not catastrophic: I only needed a few extra credits. Spring came, and I would not leave my dorm room. I slept 15, 20 hours at a time. The doctors prescribed Atavan. I wanted to peel my skin off. My inner monologue would not stop, blathering on and on until I passed out. I stopped taking the pills. Nothing changed.

I finished my credits the next fall, juggling a job and an apartment. Things seemed back on track, but I wasn’t right. My misery had morphed into something more sinister. I was set on suicide. The date was even decided—May 28, the day before I was to graduate.

March folded into April. Obsession with my impending death overwhelmed me. I watched fatal racecar crashes on YouTube repeatedly, taught myself how to tie a hangman’s noose. I slept three or four hours a night, if at all. Weed and whiskey were now supported by my first dabbles in cocaine and a steady supply of Adderall. People complimented me on my weight loss: “You look great—working out?” I was being devoured from within.

The night before my graduation, I sneaked away from the parties and walked into the woods with a significant length of cable wire. I was nervous, but this had to happen—this all would end. I sat out there for hours, occasionally searching for a tree that could support me. I found the right tree and stared in disbelief at the rising sun—had I fallen asleep? I slung the cable around the tree, put the noose around my neck and jumped expecting an end. But I had given the cable too much slack, and I landed with a thud on the forest floor.

Just then, a jogger came through the middle of the woods, mumbled “Good morning,” and wandered off. Did he not see that I had a noose around my neck? It still doesn’t make sense.

I went back to my apartment, threw a few tables and chairs, ripped off my clothes, and passed out. I thought I could try again after the ceremony. I awoke to my mother pushing in my window, calling my name. It was the worst moment of my life, lying there half-naked, clumsily getting dressed as my family carried my belongings and a hollowed-out version of myself in a car back to New York.

♦◊♦

On the opposite couch from me now was a mustachioed man with a pot belly who prominently displayed a Columbia diploma on his wall and spoke for 20 minutes about the impressive reputation of Swarthmore and its slight inferiority to Columbia (“not quite an Ivy”). This did not pluck any heartstrings. When I called him later that week to tell him that I would not be continuing with him, he spouted a string of obscenities and accused me of betrayal. Shocked, I called him the foulest word extant in American English (it begins with the letter ‘c’) and hung up the phone.

I moved on and found a gentleman with a trimmed white beard, a strong aversion to bullshit, and an interest in politics. There is little to say about our sessions because I don’t remember much of what was said—though I remember what his bathroom looked like and that I read an old Men’s Fitness article on kettle bells every time I sat in his waiting room. Whatever happened, it worked. The loathing I felt withered into an occasional surge of doubt and discomfort. We talked of women, of my dreams, of irrelevancies. I felt comfortable being honest for the first time in my life. Confidence remained elusive, but self-respect had to begin someplace.

A year passed, and we shook hands. I went to Paris to start grad school, and all sorts of nonsense went on. There were times where I did not leave the apartment for days at a time, but I survived and was a bit bemused to note how intact I was when I made it back home. My family, especially my mother, held my head when I wanted to put it through a wall. They kicked my ass when they thought I was dawdling. Most of all, they listened and tried to understand. I live for them, and for myself.

I will not lie to you or myself and say I destroyed my monster. We are brothers with the same memories, scars, and triumphs. We occasionally stare at the train tracks and wonder, but that’s an idle thought these days. At least I hope it is. There is no broadly applicable cure or triumph to trumpet here. I haven’t gone all Tony Robbins and embraced a BRIGHTER, MORE BRILLIANT ME!!! That would be a lie. The truth is harrowing; but the alternative is lying, every day, to everyone, forever.

Photo Fayez/Flickr

♦◊♦

More from David Perez: A Modern Indignity.

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About David Perez

David Perez lives in New York and wears a belt that reads 'FOR SALE' in LED lights at all times. You can talk to him about anything on Twitter @ContrarioMan.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, David. While I suffer from depression and can relate, it never went as bad for me. You’re doing good, keep up!

  2. Tom Matlack says:

    Great story David. I too suffer from depression. The more we talk about it openly the better off we will all be. Thank you.

  3. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, David. Your article was powerful and vivid, and I could very much relate to some of your experiences.

    Fortunately, most of my worst days are now far behind me.

  4. Thanks for sharing, David. I, too, am a sufferer, and years ago (before I tried my hand at serious writing, so please forgive some of the rookie mistakes), I wrote an essay for my then girlfriend to let her know what living with (and as) a depressed person was like.

    Not trying to generate traffic here, but if you’re interested, it’s here: http://liam-and-janet.blogspot.com/2005/02/what-depression-means-to-me.html

    Liam.

  5. Reading David Perez is like riding a gravy train through Eden.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing! I see my son traveling down the same path you were on (he’s 11)…I don’t know what to do for him. He’s very angry, very emotional (both my boys are, the other is 6) (I also have an 8 yr old daughter)….well, all of my kids are emotional, but my boys express their anger and frustration physically. My oldest has said he wants to kill himself (when he was in trouble for something). I don’t know what to do. I am a single mom, I get very little child support, make $300 too much for food stamps…I can barely feed them, much less afford therapy. They go to their father’s house every other week, but he was verbally and mentally cruel and abusive throughout our marriage and I’m sure he is (at the very least) neglectful of them; he has a video game addiction and he works alot and goes to the bar (“working” he tells me at 9 pm)….I didn’t get any documentation of the abuse I incurred, so I have no choice but to share custody. I cannot move away to be closer to my family (I have no one here)…

    Do you have any advice for me? I have struggled with depression and wanting to die my entire life; my husband only made it worse. Now, my children are on the same path, but things are so much worse and harder for them today than it was for me….what do I do? where do I go? How can I help them to have fulfilling and rewarding lives instead of suffering the hell that you and I have? I appreciate any help you can suggest. Thank you.

    • What would have helped you as a child? to avoid what was to come next? That’s what I need to know…. Thank you.

      • David P. says:

        There were plenty of things that went wrong with my treatment during early adolescence; one was that my mother was forced to handle all of this on her own and was quite overwhelmed just trying to keep food on the table–much less handle my mental health issues. Unfortunately, that wasn’t about to change in my situation–or yours–so I think that there simply needs to be recognition that single moms in particular are shortchanged at work by discriminatory pay practices that continue in spite of the Lily Ledbetter Act. It’s a practice that victimizes entire families, especially those most vulnerable to hardships–and it has to stop.

        In getting back off the soapbox, I don’t think that your children are doomed to follow the same path you took. My mother was terrified that I would grow up to be just like her and deal with the same challenges–and in some ways, I did. That’s not always bad, but everyone has challenges that they will have to cope with at some point. It is neither fair nor particularly discriminating in terms of deservedness, but it is a cold fact. Establishing healthy coping mechanisms is vital–how do you deal with problems? what do you when things go wrong? how big a deal is this particular issue?–because when the aforementioned questions don’t get asked or are not dealt with properly, that’s when real issues arise. There’s a place for anger and rage; and, indeed, sometimes they are healthy emotions to express. Finding a channel and filter for such feelings is the key. I’m not a licensed professional by any means, but I think that’s a brief summary of what my experience has been. Thanks for reading.

  7. Thank you for your frank and open piece. BUT how did you or what did you and the last doctor do to end the self-loathing and begin getting better? eventhough, like you said and I agree with wholeheartedly, this monster never goes away

    • David P. says:

      There is no easy answer for this question. In writing this, I asked myself how I was able to move on and came to the conclusion that part of this was simply a matter of maturation. As I entered by mid-twenties, I became less manic and less hard on myself as a factor of not having the same sharp edge to the emotions that I felt as a teenager and in college. That said, my work with Dr. S pointed me in the right direction–there was no preaching and no judging, but plenty of empathy and constructive, natural dialogue. It’s really a matter of chemistry; I needed a father figure-type of shrink and he was perfect for that sort of role. Everyone is different; and there are people for whom medication along with therapy may be the best solution. As I mentioned, a friend of mine was completely consumed by depression and ended up killing herself–she had medication, the absolute best psychiatric care from the time her symptoms first appeared until her death, and two absolutely loving and supportive parents. None of this kept her alive, and it is just a sad fact. Some people don’t make it. Most, however, can cope–not beat–with depression to some degree. There’s no one answer. Pathologically, it just doesn’t work that way; and the sooner that is recognized, the easier it becomes to size up.

  8. thank you, mr. d. perez. love you always.

  9. rick cocktease says:

    you the man don perez, 360 degrees. got your back like you got mine, but you got the talent like you got the talent. keep it coming, please.

  10. Brian (Vancouver) says:

    Thank you for the detail in which you described events. I’ve lived with depression on & off for the past 10 years now, and it always helps to feel “not alone.”

  11. Yeah DP, thanks for sharing these powerful words. It’s good to be real.

  12. David … YES to all of it. There is so much a person has to survive … Depression is corrosive. It’s everything raw that we shove underground until someday, somehow, KABOOM. It’s like salt that gets into *all* the crevices of a car — Eats away at the whole thing from the inside out until one day it just falls apart. And if it starts when you’re a kid — By middle age you feel just about done. You think you’re about to give out, and then comes this voice that does what you’re doing here. You’re saving lives.

    All respect to you.

  13. This is grace and sugar; thank you. Wrote just the other day on my own blog about that to lie, to not lie conundrum. Still sifting it, but to find yours today helps clarify my own thoughts.

    cheers.

  14. I was raised by a mother with borderline personality disorder who tried to commit suicide at least 10 times, twice in college, which resulted in expulsion and numerous times during my adolescence and young adulthood and spent four years in a mental hospital. Additiionally I have a a sister with an eating disorder and extreme irritability and high emotionality (no formal diagnosis). I married a man with a family history of mental illness who is OCD and a recovering alcoholic. I have three children. My oldest is classically bipolar who HAS put his head through a wall and been hospitalized, and a daughter with seasonal affective disorder (she gets extremely depressed in the winter months, migraines) Both my older children have been extremely wild in school and done it all in terms of drugs. Yet they are both highly intelligent, socially skilled, and are getting their acts together. My youngest child looks as though she may be bipolar as well. Myself? I’ve suffered from low-grade depression my whole life, but with all these people to take care of, I’ve never been able to indulge or dwell on it (thank goodnesss). Living for your family is what get you through it. Although, these days, I’m feeling exhausted.

  15. “…I read an old Men’s Fitness article on kettle bells every time I sat in his waiting room. ” Nice imagery there. I love your writing.

    And… I’ve spent weeks at a time in my Paris apartment too, until my friends lure me out or I’m down to one square of toilet paper or cheese. Other than my friends, two things also save me: 1. my sense of humor as the writer/observer in me who stands back and lovingly laughs at my fears and 2. the simple act of breathing in and saying, “Lisa, remember who you are.”

    Dealing with paralysis/depression/fear seems to be a patchwork quilt for me. Chance meetings with strangers, chunks of therapy, inspirational reading, silence in the morning, ah-ha moments, washing my mother’s little old body when she was too sick to do it herself (the mother with whom I never imagined I would ever really connect)… all weave together in their own time and at some point I feel like I’ve grown, yet it happened so subtly that I missed the exact moment.

  16. Sandrap says:

    Thank you for telling your truth. Keep on following your path… it is helping more people than you will ever truly know.

  17. i, too, have suffered both clinical depression and going to swarthmore. not a great combo.

  18. Thank you for sharing this, David. I’ve also suffered from depression coupled with period strings of panic attacks for about 5 1/2 years, and after doing better for a while after quitting lexapro (which made my behavior even more whacked), things over the past few months have gotten darker again and my current therapist is suggesting meds again, which I’m dreading. It’s encouraging to know you found someone who through talk therapy was able to help get you through it and onto a better path.

  19. I went thru most of your problems, obesity,bullying,drop out, fired from work, and I’m still 16, I’ve had my fair share of suicide attempts and therapists and blah blah blah, only one thing changed, I learned how to embrace my monster, me and him are best friends now, we cope with eachother, sounds like insanity doesnt it? but it’s not, we all have a monster, only difference is some embrace it as equal, others conquer it but some just give in to the urges, I no longer wish to die, I just want to delight in the path of destruction and chaos that happens around me, around us, around the world death is there, dont fear it, just learn to cope with it, fear is what drives me.

  20. Writing helps me a lot. At least it helps getting the crazy thoughts out of my brain. I have had depression since I was a kid but over the last few years I have had made fighting the soul sucking depression that has taken most of my life.

  21. good read, I can relate to a degree. I’m glad I read this instead of calling it quits, thanks

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