Sometime in January I started to experience the symptoms of clinical depression. It was very gradual, but over the next few weeks I lost interest in most of the things that used to make me happy, like writing and drawing and reading and hiking. I felt like all the life was draining out of me. I wasn’t sleeping well, but it was hard to find the motivation to even get out of bed unless there was someplace I had to be. Riding Mahogany still offered a temporary relief from the dull numbness, but between my job and the weather I’ve been going weeks at a time without seeing her at all.
I know that depression is a complex and sensitive topic, but in this particular case I knew what was wrong. The friends I used to hang out with and laugh with and cry with and share my most intimate thoughts with are now physically unavailable to me. We live in different states. Facebook is a lifesaver for sure, but it can’t provide the sort of personal interaction and platonic physical affection that I apparently require to thrive. I haven’t had any luck yet making those kinds of friends in Texas. Although, as Giles once said to Buffy, “I almost made a new one, which I believe is statistically impossible for a person of my age.”
Anyway, the holidays had also taken their toll. This was the first Christmas and New Year in my entire life that I have ever spent completely alone. The kids were in California with their dad, and I was here in Texas discovering that working in retail during the holidays is its own kind of special. I made a few efforts to share some of my favorite parts of Christmas with my coworkers, but it obviously wasn’t the same.
After the holidays, some new issues cropped up. These were not problems that I could fix or change; my options were to endure them or walk away from them. And if I had had my close friends around me, I think it might have all been endurable. In my depressed state, walking away was definitely the right choice. The whole situation was starting to affect my health, which is where I draw a pretty hard line.
As soon as I made the decision to change what I could and leave behind what I couldn’t, the fog started to lift. As I implemented the changes, the numbness went away completely. I still have some bad days now and then, because it’s painful to walk away from things that you would prefer to have in your life, even when you know they’re not good for you. But that kind of grief has a keener edge than depression, so at least it lets you know you’re still alive.
And that’s enough exposition. The reason I came here to write this post is because I haven’t had much firsthand experience with depression, unless you count the last year of my marriage, and now that I have I would like to offer a personal observation.
When I finally admitted to my loved ones what I was dealing with, they were there for me. All we had was Facebook and my cellphone, but their love and support and well-wishes shone warmly through the fog I was drifting in. It made such a difference. Friends are so fucking important.
But there’s something else I need to say, as lovingly and respectfully as I can. There was one person…and I know that this person meant well. I know for an absolute fact that this person loves me and wants me to be happy and healthy and have a successful life. But when I began speaking openly about my depression, this person began treating me like A Depressed Person. Like that was my new identity, my defining characteristic. They would talk about all the changes I was going to have to make in my diet and lifestyle and whatnot, as if I weren’t already doing the best I could with what I had to work with. And I was like, “This isn’t my normal state of being,” and they were like, “That was then, this is now.”
Life tip: When someone is muddling along in a numb fog of depression, they don’t want to hear, “This is your life now.” They want to hear, “It’s going to be okay. I love you, I’m here for you, you’re important to me. We’ve shared some great times together, and we’ll share more in the days to come. The best is yet to be.”
I feel like people need to understand that, but I’m not trying to hurt anyone here, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.
In related news, I have traded my retail job for one that I think is a better fit for me. I am infinitely grateful for everything that I’ve learned during the past year, but I never really felt like I belonged in retail. I’m back in the food industry now, where all of my earliest jobs were as a teen and young adult. Retail felt like a soulless alien world to me. Going back to working in a restaurant felt like walking into a crowded party where all the people seem vaguely familiar. Plus it’s closer to where I live, and I’ll probably end up making more money there. I was afraid it might not be strenuous enough and that I would gain back the weight I’d lost in the retail job, but it turns out I’m going to have to develop more upper body strength before I’ll be able to keep up with all the heavy lifting. So that should keep me nice and fit. And as an interesting bonus, most of the people I work with there have absolutely no concept of personal space. It’s a busy, crowded, interactive environment and there is more friendly oversharing and casual physical contact going on than I know what to do with. Which is great for someone like me who thrives on that sort of thing.
Maybe I’ll even make some new friends there. I never cared much for statistics anyway.