The posting was a simple one but in reality it said a lot, “Depression is an evil nasty little bitch and I absolutely refuse to let it win. If I’m being honest, it’s got a pretty good lead on me right now.”
It was Friday afternoon and I was sitting in the parking lot at work about to begin my shift making a post on Instagram. Because that’s what I do.
Rewind about 24 hours to Thursday afternoon.
I knew something wasn’t right and even said so much in a text conversation with Erica.
Thursday 4:18pm “I may be on the verge of a breakdown.”
I think I knew the truth then but didn’t want to acknowledge it. I wasn’t on the verge, I was there. I could feel it in every ounce of my being but I didn’t want it to be true.
The pressure I put on myself to be this perfect person is immeasurable. I know people look up to me and my biggest fear is letting them down.
God forbid they know I’m human.
Friday I woke up and couldn’t function. I stayed in bed until the last possible moment that I could, knowing I had to drag myself from under the safety of the covers and get to it.
I am not okay. I know this. To me it’s the most obvious thing in the world, but I can’t let the world know. I bury it.
I sit in the parking lot holding back tears. Fighting off those bad feelings I know are bubbling deep inside.
“Triggered” has become a fad phrase over the past year. Have you noticed? People like to joke that a meme, a photo, a situation has them triggered. Who the hell knows what they think they mean by this. I know they think they’re funny. Maybe they are.
Do you know what it’s like to really be triggered?
Here I am, ten minutes from having to clock in for a serving shift in the bar area of restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day and I am triggered. Really, truly, triggered.
It’s not as cute as you think it is.
My heart is beating like crazy, to the point where it feels like I may actually be having a heart attack. I’m sweating and I feel like I’m a million degrees but freezing cold. I’m thinking ten thousands thoughts at once but none at all. My hands shake and I grip the steering wheel of my car just to feel the steadiness, some sort of control. I have none. My throat tightens and my mouth is bone try.
I’m afraid. Like REAL afraid.
This isn’t even the worst of it. Oh no.
That’s still to come.
But I have to go to work. I can’t call out when I’m in the parking lot and my shift starts in five minutes.
I go through all the calming exercises they say will help. I don’t know who they are but sometimes they can go fuck themselves.
I hate them.
But I breath. I’m calm. I walk into work and no one is the wiser.
There is a comic I found recently on Facebook and thankfully I was able to track is back to its origin on a blog called “Beatrice the Biologist.”
It’s funny because it’s true.
People don’t see mental illness and therefore don’t understand it.
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to relax when I felt panicked, I’d be a rich man.
Here’s a fun fact, telling me to just relax isn’t a cure. You’ve done nothing to help. You’ve succeeded in annoying the living crap out of me.
So I buried the pain, the panic, the depression. I put on my smiling face and I clocked in.
Working while in a persistent state of panic and anxiety probably wasn’t the smartest idea in the world. Many times through the night I found myself clutching either side of my head, hoping the screaming on the inside would stop.
The perk of working in a busy restaurant is that very few people are actually paying attention to you unless you’ve screwed something up. So when I disappeared to the bathroom just to get a few minutes away from it all, no one noticed. I was on top of my rotation and my guests were happy, why need to worry about me?
When I did lash out it was easily excusable.
Have you ever worked in a restaurant? It’s all laughing and smiles on the floor but put us in the kitchen and we’re at each other’s throats. Me yelling at a co-worker, no one is giving that a second thought. It’s busy, we’re all in the weeds. No one is happy.
I’m just less happy.
I’m more than less happy. Something ugly is brewing under there.
My brain has shut down and gone into auto-pilot. My vision has narrowed to tunnel vision and I’m going through the motions of being a human being. This was most evident in the fact that I walked out of the restaurant and went home without clocking out.
I’ve never done that before. It’s minor in the grand scheme but major in my mind.
I’ve begun to dissociate. It was happening all night, gradually but in the calm of my home, I’m breaking down.
Then the scariest thing out of it all happens. A small thought born in the furthest and deepest part of my brain slowly moving to the front, blaring a ready to go.
I want pain.
It has been years since the thought of hurting myself has crossed my mind. So long that I haven’t bothered to keep track because, frankly, I thought that part of my life was over. I thought it had gone away forever.
I was better.
Better, not best.
The first time I ever hurt myself is a distant memory from what seems like another life. The years of my teenage angst and anger. I hurt myself because I was mad.
I honestly wish it were something far more poetic than that but the truth is, I was angry.
I was fighting with my step-father about god only knows what- we were always fighting. Sometimes it turned violent other times it was just words. He was an abusive wreck of a human being.
We fought and I stormed down to my basement room where, in a rage, I grabbed a pair of scissors and tore into the flesh of my inner thigh. It all happened in a blind rage and I wasn’t fully conscious of the situation until blood was running down my leg.
The damage was minimal but real. I was dumbfounded by what I had done and worked quickly to patch myself up and pretend it never happened.
That wasn’t real. That wasn’t me. That was never going to happen again.
Until it did.
Again and again.
Eventually I came away from this and learned to channel those feelings in other ways. I eventually regressed back to my old comfort of eating my feelings and turned to food to ease my pain and frustrations.
Over time I learned to manage it all in healthy ways while sometimes backsliding to more destructive means. But each time I began to feel destructive, I recognized the behavior and worked to move away from it.
While is what made this feeling on Friday night so scary. It was one that had been buried so long, I thought it was gone for good.
Nothing stays buried forever.
Between the depression I was feeling and the anxiety pouring over me, I was in a lot of pain. Physical, mental, everything. It was overwhelming and the screaming in my mind was maddening.
I wanted to control it. I wanted to feel control. I wanted to cut myself to channel and control that pain. To feel like I had control over anything and everything and if I could just feel it, control it, harness it, I could make it go away.
It was now 2am.
I sat, curled into a ball on my kitchen floor. The cats cautiously approached me, likely attracted by my crying but also scared of it.
I was scared.
If I could go just one hour. One hour without cutting myself. Maybe the feeling would go away.
My eyes burned holes into the clock on the stove as I watched the minutes tick away.
One hour became two, two became three.
I don’t know when I fell asleep. I don’t even know how I got into my bed that night. I was woken by my alarm at the unforgiving hour of 8am because I had a mandatory meeting to get to.
Put on the happy face. A smile means everything is okay.
The meeting happens. I pass as a functional human being.
I have some time to kill between the meeting’s end and having to be back to work the lunch shift.
I go home and sit on the couch, completely disassociated from reality.
Another alarm snaps me back to the real world telling me it’s time to get back to it.
My hands are shaking for most of the shift. I hide in the bathroom when I can, the walk in cooler when it makes more sense. I get through it. I crack jokes with my guests and co-workers.
I’m a normal human. It’s fine.
Here’s the thing, sometimes depression is fakes smiles and laughter. It’s cracking jokes and saying ‘I’m fine.” Depression, anxiety, panic isn’t always easy to notice. It’s not easy to talk about.
There is so much stigma behind mental illness that people suffering are afraid to talk about it. To divulge that darkness just below the surface. There’s the fear of rejection. The fear of being brushed off. The fear of being “too dramatic.” The fear of being told it’s all in my head. The fear of being told to just get over it.
Why can’t you just get over it.
Do you have any idea how many times I’ve told that to myself?
It doesn’t work like that.
When you are depressed. When you are having an anxiety or panic attack. When this is all happening, you have no control over your thoughts, they have now taken control of you and you are fighting a battle against yourself.
Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?
I have no recollection of leaving work on Saturday evening. I was in full autopilot mode and my vision had narrowed to a fine point.
My alarm went off Sunday morning at 5:00am. I had a race. Out of sheer habit I got out of bed and got ready. Got in the car and pointed myself towards the start line.
I don’t remember the race. I ran it. Ten miles. Couldn’t tell you a thing about it.
I don’t remember driving home.
I was losing time.
I was sitting in the waiting room at the Florida Hospital in Orlando when I called out from work on Sunday. I had no idea what the plan was at that point I just knew I wasn’t going to work. I had no idea if they were going to let me leave once I talked to someone about what was happening.
“Tell me about what you’re feeling Josh.”
“I’m feeling everything and nothing. I just want to scream and cry and just be angry at everything and I don’t know why.”
“Do you want to hurt yourself?”
I choke on the words but they come with almost no hesitation, “I do.”
There’s a pause and I start again.
“I do, but I don’t. The urge is there. I want the pain, you know? That makes no sense but it does. I want to feel it.”
“Do you want to die?”
I laugh sob. That’s a thing. I did it. It’s a thing.
“The angry, sad side of me does. The irrational part. The depression. But my rational brain doesn’t. It wants to be alive for the stupidest most rational reasons.”
“My cats. I can barely find people to take care of them while I’m out of town, who on earth is going to take care of them if something happens to me? And I’ve also invested far too much money in upcoming Disney races. They don’t just give refunds for that and there’s no transferring in Disney, if I don’t run that’s just wasted money. Nope, I gotta stick around.”
I spent a good chunk of the day at the hospital. My phone was taken away when I checked in and it was actually refreshing to be disconnected, even for a short while.
I was allowed to go home but I had to promise to come in for a follow up the next day.
I honestly went in anticipating a psych-hold.
Depression lies. It leads you to believe so many things that aren’t true and once it gets a hold on you it doesn’t let go easily.
I know there are people that love and care about me. The friends I can lean on and talk to. I know I have that support system.
Depression tells me I don’t. Anxiety tells me I’m a burden.
They are liars.
Sometimes it’s just too hard to recognize it. To see through that haze, the curtain that it throws over your eyes.
Depression is a lying bitch. Anxiety it it’s best friend.
The two are a wonder duo.
I hate them.
Monday morning I called out of work from that same waiting room. Was it going to be another long day at the hospital or a short one?
All I knew is that I had used every ounce of my being to be in this moment and it was all the strength I had to be there.
“How are you feeling today?”
I take a genuine moment to ponder this question.
“I feel empty. Well, not empty but numb… I feel blank.”
I go home and watch a stupid movie. I laugh more than I probably would have under different circumstances. It was the laughter of someone who just wanted to be happy. I think that’s why Hollywood makes stupid movies.
Thanks for that.
This morning I went back in for one last talk. I understood now that rather than a 72-hour hold I was given a bit of freedom but still under a 72 hour watch. I signed an agreement each day that I would come back the next.
I’m a people pleaser.
Sometimes you need to give yourself that one hour.
“How are you feeling today?”
“My version of human.”
I wish I had some answers or solutions of offer here as I bring this to a close. But I don’t.
Each of us is fighting our own battles and every one’s is different. My anxiety and depression are not yours and they never will be.
I do know that I applaud everyone who goes out there every day and fights those battles. Sometimes that just means getting out of bed to move to the couch. Sometimes that’s all we have the energy for and that’s just fine.
If all you did today was manage to hold yourself together then I applaud you.
I applaud me.