Shawn Henfling finds himself held back by the invisible clutches of depression.
By many respects, I lead a pretty charmed life. I have a family, a nice big home, pets, a pretty good job and people who care about me. Life should be grand.
I feel like none of it is enough though. Somehow, deep down I know that I consistently stand on the precipice of doing something real and big with my life but never seem to get there. I often tell people that I’m just smart enough to realize I’m not quite smart enough. It’s an easy excuse. Truthfully, I feel like I’m destined to do something great, that I’m close to finding it, but unable to grasp what “it” may be.
Friends ask if it’s the depression. The disease does funny things to our minds and almost creates an alternate reality it lays over top of this one. It twists and warps the truth, lying about us, our friends and family and life in general. The lines are blurred though, and it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to know the difference between the truth and what our depression has force fed us. My life is like that.
A few months ago I thought I was on the verge of a breakthrough. I held the position of Lead Editor with The Good Men Project and was beginning a speaking career. Aspirations of writing for larger, paying publications were within reach. If only I could just break through. If only… If only what though?
I awoke one day and it was gone. The clarity I felt was so close suddenly seemed just another lie. I resigned from The Good Men Project. I stopped writing, or rather the words stopped coming to me. I tried. I’d sit in front of my laptop and stare at an intimidatingly white screen. I’d drop myself at my desktop, put on my headphones and capitulate to an embarrassing emptiness. My ability, if it ever existed, was gone like the breakthrough I so desperately wanted and still crave.
I can’t really explain what it’s like to feel this way. It may be impossible to understand if you haven’t been here. Like reaching into a grab bag with only the grand prize left, you KNOW you are within reach of something amazing. You can almost visualize a result that changes your life for the better. Trembling with anticipation you can feel it in your grasp, the whole world watching your glorious moment.
Except there is no moment. There is no validation and no penultimate victory. There is only an empty hand, pulled from a bag that still contains the prize. Stunned, you reach again and again, but the feeling of being close fades quickly and you are left with naught but a terrifying emptiness.
And so, as is so often the case with mental illness, the cycle begins anew. This piece alone has taken me a month to complete. It has come together slowly, a patchwork quilt of ideas and moods stitched only with fragile thread of my depression to keep it together.
This evening, I’m sitting on my front porch enjoying an unseasonably warm evening, laptop perched on my knees and headphones blasting some rock. Each word comes with the difficulty of chipping away at a wall of granite. Slowly the sentiments fill the page, but they lack the power of earlier pieces. The way has been lost to me.
A friend recommended I go deeper, that perhaps what I need to say is hiding somewhere new and unknown. I’m trying. Writing about myself has always been easy, but not because I’m conceited or narcissistic. It’s been easy because I had a story to tell, things I’d been bottling up for so long that each piece simply flowed forth, like a spring that feeding a brook.
I try to go there now and the place is unfamiliar. Like returning to your childhood home after decades away, nothing is the way it was. Unlike that long sought after visit, this place has turned sinister and dark. Where once the words jumped willingly from my mind, now only a stiflingly dark abyss remains.
I can’t stay there. Where once I could sit for hours and simply let the voices become my voice, hammering away at a keyboard, I can now only briefly visit. I peak my head in, hoping something has changed, that it may all have been a nightmare. The abyss remains and I must quickly leave. Too easily now I slip into darkness as the abyss draws me near, pulling me into its soulless embrace.
I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I was close to something big and have lost it forever. Afraid whatever it was might have given this life some kind of larger meaning. I’m afraid I did something wrong, something that pushed it away. I’m afraid the clarity will never come. I’m afraid I will succumb to my depression and allow it to take over for good. I’m afraid because every episode is a little more exhausting and the human psyche has limits. I’m afraid that I still don’t know who I am and may never find out. I’m afraid because I am still so lost, and the promise I felt has abandoned me once again.
Originally published on Shawn Henfling.com. Used with generous permission.
Photo by smswaby