I battle a disease that has no physical ailment, no test and no proven cure.
I battle a disease that has no physical ailment, no test and no proven cure. Every day I wake up and take stock of myself and wonder if that’s the day it all falls apart. There are good days and bad and there are days I feel lucky to escape with my life. I wonder how things might be different if I weren’t so afflicted. I daydream about living a life without the fear of losing my sanity. That fear is always there, like the ever present monster from the closets of our youth. I can’t see it, can’t grapple with it or expel it from the vast expanse of my universe, but it is there nonetheless.
I’m clinically depressed, and maybe more. I may suffer from anxiety or bipolar. I’m medicated but even that seems like a cop-out. I know I need to see a professional, someone who helps people like me for a living, but I can’t seem to pull the trigger. Not pulling the trigger is why I’m still here, but also why I can’t seem to fall far enough to realize I need more help. I’m that guy, the hypocrite. I imagine myself as an advocate for mens mental health; mental health in general really. I seem to know the right things to say to people and how to nudge them in the directions they need to go. It’s a gift I’m happy to have but I wish I could follow my own advice.
I’m fresh out of a very dark place. I fell into it quickly and without realizing what was happening. One day I was doing well and suddenly I was on emergency power. I spent three days there and yesterday (Monday) was deeper and darker than I’ve been in a long time. It seemed as though I’d fallen down into the rabbit hole, an abyss of my own creation. I couldn’t see a way out and I sat on my couch before work nearly in tears. I was paralyzed. I had to go to work. Who calls out and says they just can’t face the day? I don’t lie about my depression but sometimes I gloss over just how debilitating it can be.
How does a man that struggles to deal with people on a good day face a day in sales when he’s barely functioning? How did I become successful in sales to begin with? Why would I have chosen a career that forces me to interact with people every day, a career that directly ties my income to my ability to morph into whatever person my customers and clients need me to be? Because I’ve been faking it for a long time. I’m good at lying to people, making them believe everything is A OK when deep down I’m barely breathing.
Barely breathing. I guess that’s a pretty solid way of putting it, though more of a symbolic phrasing than literal. I’m barely breathing because on no less than a dozen occasions serious thoughts of suicide have crossed my mind. I’ve been perilously close. A little more pressure on the trigger. A few more pills in the bottle. Always something stops me. Always someone steps up and steers me clear. I need there to be a reason for this, to make sense of something I don’t understand and perhaps never will.
I’m not driven to thoughts of suicide because I’m sad or unhappy, though in a depressive state both are undoubtedly true. I’m pushed there because of fear. I fear that I will always wage this battle. I am afraid that I will never fully recover and that the relapses will continue indefinitely. Above all else, I am terrified that the one thing I cherish about myself, the only thing I truly believe I have to offer, will be lost. If I lose that one thing, I have nothing left to give and no sense of who I am or can be. I cannot bear the thought of losing my mind.
With most diseases, we know if they’ll be lethal. We can perform tests, look at imaging and engage in physical examinations that let us know what’s going on with our bodies. With few exceptions, our family doctor can prescribe medication or send us to a specialist and we become better. Our mental health leaves us with no such luxury. When something is wrong with our minds, there are no blood tests we can take to let us know a specific diagnosis. There is never an “all clear” at the end.
There really are only two alternatives when we have something wrong with our minds. We survive, seeking improvement and coping abilities, or we do not. Each and every day we stand at Robert Frost’s two roads. We can travel either, one leading to the same choice the next day or the other eliminating all hope of anything ever improving. That’s what it comes down to. Hope.
Some days I don’t have any and I have to borrow it from others. I’m ashamed to admit I have more of those than I’m comfortable with. It’s as if my inner voice won’t let me accept that I need help, that displaying so much weakness means I’m somehow less of a man and less independent. Other days I feel strong enough to lend what hope I have. The endless cycle is exhausting, and often I have no will left to carry on. I don’t really know how I get through those days. I just do. I function because I must.
I’d like to say I’m constantly struggling against this beast, the squatters in my mind, the terrorists of my consciousness. I want to be able to say I have the strength to fight it every day. I want to be the brave and courageous person who fights hard every day. It’d be a lie. Some days I don’t fight it. I allow the blackness to swallow me. Those days I don’t have the energy or the will to swim against the tide. Those days I simply exist and keep breathing because some part of my mind will not allow my body to give up. On those days, I lose the very essence of who I am. Those days I am a raw nerve aggravated by every sound and sight, touch and smell.
It’s been about a year since I opened up about how I feel and the way I am. A year of growth and awakenings. New friends and more support came my way, and I have been able to grow as a man and a father. I’ve also found new and imaginative ways of torturing myself.
I’ve recently begun using the analogy that I spent much of my life “dug in like a tick”. I shielded myself from life by not engaging in it. I simply floated along and if I was met with a challenge, I walked around it. If I was good at something and it came easily, I walked that path. If I wasn’t, I left it be. I existed solely to take up space. I have always wanted a job that made a difference. I wanted what I do to be a part of who I am. I wanted to change the world, or a small part of it. Somehow though, time slipped away and I lost 20 years to slumber and digging in. Something different has begun however, and I’m not sure what to do with it.
When I finally came out to myself, friends, family and the world at large with my depression, I changed. I became less private, more open and likely to talk about scary things like feelings. As my awakening has progressed I’ve come to realize I’m not happy just existing. I’m not happy subsisting in sales when my entire purpose is the transaction. I am at least beginning to wake up to life and how it SHOULD be. I know what I want. I know there need to be wholesale changes. I know I need to rise to the challenge. The question then becomes How?
This new awakening has left me with new and more troublesome questions. What have I done for twenty years? How do I change a lifetimes worth of bad habits? What does my next step truly need to be? Can I overcome an insane fear of failure and the terror that comes with each new setback? How do I reconcile a good job (pay, benefits, etc) that I loathe with finding a new career that I love that may not be quite enough to make ends meet? Though there are more questions than answers, fear to conquer and setbacks to withstand, I am excited to be aware for the first time in my life. Where I go from here is truly up to me. Can I overcome my greatest fear? I guess that depends on whether I finally lose my mind.
Also by Shawn Henfling
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Photo Credit: Adriano Agulló/flickr