Depression is a Killer, and it Almost Killed Me Last Year

Gosh, I can’t believe it’s been more than two years since my last post here. Hello readers, sorry to keep you waiting so long. If you pop back in occasionally to see if I’ve posted anything new, or if you subscribe to my posts and are happy to see a new one, I’m truly flattered. Let me update you about some of the things that have been happening in my life.

I guess since the title of this post is dramatic I should get to that right away. A big part of the reason why I haven’t posted in so long is because I struggled with severe depression in 2017 and 2018. In fact, I’ve struggled with chronic depression since I was a teenager. Last year the depression was especially bad and it was extremely difficult not to kill myself.

[I’m torn here as I write between an impulse to go on and on and the desire not to let this become another 10,000 word ‘draft’ like a few others on different subjects that sit neglected in my WordPress archive already.]

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, is strongly linked with depression, and has been increasing for twenty years. It has been a theme in my writing, because I have felt a strong, often constant, suicidal impulse throughout my adult life. Not killing myself is, by a wide margin, the most difficult thing I have ever done. Though it is no accomplishment.

Don’t be alarmed, this post has a “the rest of the story” and is not a cry for help.

I find it difficult to talk directly about depression and suicide because I have no particular answers or solutions to offer to other people who suffer. I also find it difficult to not talk about these subjects because they have been such a huge part of my life. There are several other reasons to not talk about them.

But when your life is so heavily impacted, it is difficult to have relationships with other people if you don’t talk about what ails you. Depression makes it difficult anyway, but not being able to tell people about your dysfunction makes you incongruent.

In 2018, I had a kind of a dream job but was chronically unable to complete my assignments in time. Not only was the job great, I badly needed the money to support my family — I was 110% motivated, but still failing.

[that’s where I ran out of energy when I started writing this post in July]

Well, let me see if I can make this a short-ish version and finish it up before I run out of energy again. I was seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist and tried several different medications, none of which helped me very much or for very long. Eventually it became apparent to my wife and I that, in addition to the depression, my physical health was failing in some way. I could hardly get out of bed, even when I didn’t feel depressed at all. I’ve actually had some chronic diseases since childhood and my health has always been fragile, but it had gotten worse to the point that I was almost completely debilitated. Unable to complete any of my assignments, I was forced to finally resign at work.

After many tests and visits to specialists, I was diagnosed with Addison’s disease in early 2019. Treatment since then has given me a bit of my life back, though I continue to struggle with energy issues that leave me somewhat disabled. Getting through the minimum necessities of each day is a struggle and I can rarely summon up the energy to write. My depression, however, has improved dramatically.

Depression and other mood effects are a common symptom of Addison’s disease. As soon as I started treatment with hydrocortisone the “bad depression” that I had struggled so much with went away. Life is difficult and I still get depressed sometimes, but it feels like natural emotion tied to my life and circumstances, not like a monster inside of me. The overwhelming impulse that ‘something is really really wrong and I need to kill myself’, which was a constant part of my internal life, has been gone for the past eleven months. And what’s wild is that if I forget to take my Addison’s medication that feeling starts to come back right away.

One theory of clinical depression, perhaps the main theory of the disease, is that it is caused by undiagnosed physical or bio-chemical pathology. When experiencing grief, for example, it is natural to be ‘down’ or ‘depressed’, but that natural emotion turns into clinical depression when some part of the bio-chemical process in the brain gets out of order. People can’t “snap out of it” anymore than they can “snap out” of heart disease or cancer. Depression also isn’t any one particular thing, each depressed person doesn’t have the same particular dysfunction, rather it is a pattern of symptoms with a huge number of known causes and contributing factors (and doubtless many that are unknown). There is some hope in that, because medical technology will continue to improve and the specific physical or biochemical problems causing or contributing to a particular individual’s depression might some day be identified and treated. I mean, that’s basically what happened to me, and it could also happen to you. In the mean time, treatment therapies are targeted at the general symptoms of depression and still offer significant relief for millions of people.

I wish I had some great advice to give or solutions to offer to people who are reading this and struggling with depression themselves. Addison’s disease is somewhat rare and unlikely to be the answer for the next person down the row. Anti-depressants didn’t help me much, but they help some people a lot and are certainly worth a try. Keep hanging in there, keep trying to find things that help.

Something that did help me, before I was diagnosed with Addison’s, was coming to grips with the fact that whatever was happening to me I couldn’t help, I couldn’t control, and wasn’t my fault — that my frequent inability to push forward and get things done wasn’t from lack of trying hard but rather was in spite of all my earnest efforts. When I finally admitted that often I just needed to sit down and rest or lay down and rest, that it wasn’t a choice and that fighting it didn’t accomplish anything, and forgave myself for that weakness, the intensity of my emotions became easier to bear. As my psychiatrist pointed out, “If you keep continuously banging your head against a brick wall it doesn’t feel good!”

There are other things that are almost certain to help with depression, and all of them have helped my depression a little bit when I could manage them: getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, getting out of the house regularly, keeping to a daily schedule, socializing regularly. These are things that are actually important for anyone’s mental health.

One thing that my psychiatrist talked about with me is that it is important to seek help before the point when you are about to kill yourself. This is hard. By the time you are in a state of active crisis, like if you are riding the elevator up to the top of a building to jump off, you are often in too deteriorated of a mental state to reach out for help. So you should call a crisis line, or go in for crisis counseling, or talk to your doctor about your depression, when things start to get bad — try not to wait until things have already gone completely bad. One thing that we did, when my depression was getting especially bad, was remove some of the items in our home that would facilitate suicide.

Life continues to be a struggle for me, but it is a lot less miserable of a struggle today. I hope to be able to post more here in the coming year and get more writing done. The sequel to BLAZING THE SUN has been mostly finished for two years already and I want to finally get it out the door.

What else has happened… Did you hear I have a son? He’s two years old now and just the sweetest, brightest little boy you could hope to meet. Check out my Instagram for a few pics. We have another baby on the way now too, a little brother or sister due in May. Life marches forward in spite of everything.

I’ll update the short story section with a piece of personal narrative that I wrote years ago, describing some of the struggles I have had with my health and with depression in the past. Erica thinks it might be the best thing I have ever written, though I’m not too sure. It’s at least half good, and no one else has ever really read it before, so maybe I should share it.