The following post was told to HOPE. Names have been changed for privacy.
My name is Bill, and I’m 55. I believe I’ve had depression since I was 18, but wasn’t officially diagnosed until 20 years ago. Yeah, on my 35th birthday.
I’d had another sleepless night, and I had actually started sleeping on the couch in the back room of the house because my tossing and turning was driving my wife insane. The morning of my birthday, she walked into the back room, stood over me, and said to me, “Honey, for your birthday I’m going to ask you to please see a sleep specialist.” And I said to her, “What on earth for? I don’t need to see a sleep specialist. I know why I’m not sleeping. I’m depressed.”
I told you I’ve had depression since I was 18, but no one ever told me that. I hadn’t ever told anyone I was depressed, and I never went to see a doctor or a therapist or anything. But I guess deep down I knew, because it’s not normal to feel bad more than you feel good, you know? I often had this debilitating feeling like, “I don’t want to move, I don’t want to think, I don’t want to breathe,” so that morning, I guess it just came out. Oh my God. I’m depressed.
I went to see a therapist that same week, and you know, I never knew I was a talker until I sat down in front of that man and he asked me one question and everything just kind of started flowing out me. It was like wave after wave of relief – the more I talked, the more it felt like this weight was being lifted.
So I left that first session and I was on top of the world, kinda, and then… it was like a bag of bricks. I went to bed that night and I still couldn’t sleep. And I laid there and stared at the ceiling and I thought, “Am I broken?”
I hadn’t talked to any therapists before, like I told you, but I hadn’t talked to anyone with depression before, either. So my understanding of it was so limited, and I guess for a minute I felt like, well, if I just tell someone I’m sad, it’ll make me feel better, and I can move on with my life. But that’s now how depression works. I kept going wanting to get better, and I just didn’t. I stayed sad, even though the talk therapy was a major relief. I’m not saying it didn’t work. I’m saying yes, I was getting better, but not so good it was going away.
My therapist, bless him, explained to me that because I’d been so sad for so long, I was chemically changed, and he asked if I might want to see a psychiatrist and consider medication. That, I thought, was just crazy. “What do you mean I have to take drugs to be happy? I’m not insane! I’m just depressed. I’m not a lunatic. I’m not a psycho. What are you talking about?”
So you can see I had a lot to learn.
The years went by, and I did stay with my therapist, but I also did see a doctor, and I did get on meds for a little while. But then I started writing.
I’ve never been a writer. I tinker around the house and I like watching late night TV and I play a little golf here and there, but writing was never my thing. I can’t even remember writing papers in college, you know? But there was one afternoon I was sitting in my office and I was on a call and just scribbling half-heartedly and I wrote, “I’m sad.” That moment was like the first time I went to therapy. There was something so powerful about writing down the words “I’m sad” and it kicked something off for me. After my call, I kept writing.
I haven’t read that first entry in a long time, but I do remember it read like a letter to myself. It felt like stages of grief, or something. I went from saying, “Hey! I have depression,” to “There’s no way this is depression – I mean, I work. I have kids and they’re happy. I have a job, man,” to “I can’t believe this is my (expletive) life! Why is this happening to me?”
I can’t say I felt better after that first journal entry – I guess you could call it a journal entry – but I do remember thinking that writing out my pain helped me to see it from a different perspective. I’m writing it, but reading it back to myself felt like I was reading a letter from a friend, and it wasn’t so scary, you know? It felt like at least this, I had control over, that I could be sad but I could write about it, and I was still standing.
I don’t write professionally. I don’t write about my depression on social media or whatever. I mean, now and again, I’ll put something out in support of mental health, but I haven’t made a public thing of it. It’s been cathartic for me, and I think it supplements the exercise and the therapy sessions.
I don’t think you have to be a professional writer, or even what someone would consider a good writer, to do this for yourself. Because that’s the thing – it’s for yourself. It’s not for anyone else. It’s for you to feel, even just for a little bit, just a little bit better.