Author’s note: This is the full text of a long-hand letter I wrote to myself six years ago, when in the middle of an acute period of depression. While I cannot vouch for the trustworthiness of the narrator, I share it because its a raw first-person account of what it feels to be depressed. P.S. I came out of it.
My sister says I should write. So I’m writing to see if it helps to find my way out.
I’m afraid that it won’t. People don’t seem to understand—I suppose I don’t understand what is going on with me; how serious it is. I think that there is something seriously wrong with the way my brain is functioning; particularly in approaching and dealing with tasks. I don’t know when this happened, but I feel it acutely and it is causing tremendous stress—as tasks pile up and up uncompleted and more and more come in. I feel like there was a time not too long ago when I had everything organized and in balance and now its all slipped away. I lack focus. I put things off, because I don’t know what to do, how to push forward, how to solve problems. At work, a certain case is the source of stress. I’m unable to cope with the day-to-day tasks, no idea what to say, what to do. Now, down the road this far, every day becomes more and more difficult to cope with. Nothing makes it better.
The degree of lack of focus is unbelievable. I feel like a fraud. I lack confidence and know-how that I should have, that I did have. Before that dark time last Fall when I first become so depressed, I don’t think it was like this. But now it is.
Maybe some combination of tasks and stress and emails and the steady stream of things to be read/thought about/digested/acted upon/filed away every day has pushed my brain over the edge. It’s like that red light on the Blackberry, always blinking. It’s like I’m over-loaded. Tilted. Broken. Just zombie’ing through.
My brain is filled to the brim with the bad stuff. I don’t even want to check my email. How did it get this bad? This acute? I feel like I’m just digging and digging and digging myself into a large hole, deeper and deeper every day.
I don’t know how to get back to being me.
I don’t know how to cure my brain and become functional again.
I feel truly sick.
And I am scared about how to address it—this mental problem.
I desperately want to rid myself of it. Change. Start new. Release the build-up of stress. But how?
I’m not stressed because I’m crazy or take work too seriously. It’s not that at all. The stress is because of this inability to focus over a period of many months; and so many things piled up, undone and scary. I think I’ve kind of floated by, without realizing it, for a long time.
Separately, or maybe not, I find no joy in what I’m doing. There is no meaning to it. No value to it. All these tasks. No joy. I don’t find it exciting either; its just like some silly pointless game.
If I’m being honest, this inability to focus my mind to do tasks is not limited solely to work. That’s where it impacts on me and produces the debilitating stress. But if I look at myself, I am also lacking in that area in my personal life. Putting off things around the house. Like cleaning a drain or fixing a computer. Some of that is a lack of time. But not all of it. It’s the same symptom.
I don’t know how to help myself here. I can’t quit. I can’t go in any say, “I’m a mental case and need some time off.” Not without destroying my career.
The low confidence spirals in all ways.
I’ve put on weight – so I hardly have work clothes that fit. I’m exercising less, playing less basketball, focusing less on hobbies, playing less, relaxing less. I feel like the stress just fills up all the space. I’m stuck in the cycle of get up, work, come home, sleep.
I feel less connected to my friends than usual.
This part of it is like an instant replay of the first time that this happened. Last Fall.
I feel like I’m just dragging myself around through life; un-engaged, less connected, less happy.
This is not me.
I love life and people and friends and engaging and connecting and reading and learning.
Now my life is worry and stress and anxiety and ineffectiveness. Constantly.
I feel completely drained. I want the old me back. If I can’t push away the stress, I fear it will consume me more and more until I am physically sick and mentally destroyed. It’s like my brain is sabotaging me.
But I don’t see a way out. I desperately need a way out.
I’m embarrassed and ashamed. But most of all scared.
I feel like I’m a good husband But being all out of balance lately is not good. And being a mentally weak basket-case unable, all of the sudden, to deal with day-to-day life, has made me a burden.
I love my kids more than anything. J—for all his stubbornness and tough behavior—is wonderful and loving and interesting and fun to be with. He’s the ultimate kid. Coaching summer little league was one of the best and most fun experiences of my life. I loved being Coach Mike. I loved doing it for all those kids, and especially for him. L is the sweetest most fun-to-be-around kid I could imagine there being. Whip-smart, energetic, joyful, soulful. Everything I could wish for in a daughter. I miss them during the today; it’s so hard to cram in time with them for a few minutes in the morning and a few more in the evening. I need more.
I don’t like what I’m doing now. I also don’t know what else to do—what else I can do and how else to make money and support my family. What am I an expert in? Nothing. I can’t even manage day-to-day tasks at work anymore. I lack the skills and desire to even do that.
I’ve hardly read or written. This after reading for pleasure voraciously for years and writing often. How am I so off track? Why?
What if I don’t recover? What will happen to me? To us? To my family?
All my family and friends, trying to help. I don’t think there is anything they can say that really helps me because there is a problem with my brain function and my ability to focus and cope and do.
I feel shaky on the inside. And warm. And tired. Exhausted. And it makes every day harder.
Climbing out seems so impossible.
Ugh. I hate all this doom and gloom. But that’s the thing. That’s how I’m really feeling.
This post is part of a joint series by The Good Men Project and Stigma Fighters in sharing stories of real men living with mental illness. To submit your story, see below.
Stigma Fighters is an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the millions of people who are seemingly “regular” or “normal” but who are actually hiding the big secret: that they are living with mental illness and fighting hard to survive.
The more people who share their stories, the more light is shone on these invisible illnesses, and the more the stigma of living with mental illness is reduced.
For Stigma Fighters’ Founder Sarah Fader’s recent profile in The Washington Post that discusses how more and more people are “coming out” with their mental illness, see here.
The Good Men Project is the only international conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century.
Mental health and the reducing the social stigma of talking about mental health is and has been a crucial area of focus for The Good Men Project.
As Dr. Andrew Solomon stated during his interview with us, people writing about their own experiences mitigates each of our aloneness in a profound way: “One of the primary struggles in all the worlds I have written about is the sense each of us has that his or her experience is isolating. A society in which that isolation is curtailed is really a better society.”
We are partnering together on this Call For Submissions, because our missions overlap and because we want to extend this conversation further.
If you are a man living with mental illness, and want to share your story, we would love to help.
To submit to the Good Men Project, please submit here.
To submit to Stigma Fighters, please submit here.
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Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Alden Chadwick