A History of Depression

I feel that it is important to share this with whoever happens to come across it.  Maybe it will make a difference, who knows;  I never know how many people read these anyway.

I don’t remember when the spiral started, only one day I looked up and realized that I was halfway down the pipe, staring at the faint speckles of daylight coming through the drain cover.  I had slowly watched my life come unglued for months, starting with a gradual peeling away of business associates and friends, followed by students, friends, family, and my wife.  Even simple dealings in day-to-day life became gripping struggles, and it left me feeling tired and beaten down mentally and emotionally.  I also remember not understanding why other people were the way they were and why life was the way it was.  New lines of logic started to creep into my mind.  Strange lines. 

I also remember feeling a distinct lack of control over almost all aspects of my life.  I like to help people out, but very often I began finding myself resenting others, sometimes even close friends, who appeared to be openly taking advantage of my generosity with my talents. I could hide when I wrote music, but over time that seemed to leave me too, and I found myself staring at blank sheets of paper in silence.   It’s only in retrospect that I am able to see how my moods became more eratic and unpredictable over time, and by the end it seemed that even the slightest communication with other people resulted in an irrational, uncontrollable welling up of anger and frustration.

Good days did come now and again.  Some mornings I would wake up and everything would make complete sense.  I had clarity of vision for my life, a perfect understanding of my place and direction, and all I wanted to do was go outside and enjoy my world.  Nature filled me with a profound and inspiring sense of  mythological alignment with life and the world, and I could look at the pergola and patio I built in my backyard and experience a satisfaction that made me feel like an old man reflecting on a wonderful life.  Then, almost as if someone turned off a spigot in my head, it would suddenly all drain away, leaving me feeling empty and alone again in a matter of minutes.    Over time, the happiness slowly gave way to longer, sustained periods of crushing depression, and finally, numbness.  Eventually, I just gave up and let go, sinking into a trench of complacent acceptance of this state of existence.  In a strange sort of way, I think abject resignation was the only way to get relief from the terrible feelings of inadequacy and helplessness.  Not caring allowed me to keep walking around. 

That’s when it started to come unglued.  I distinctly remember sitting in my office one evening writing music, and looking over to see a small creature sitting in the corner.  I don’t think I was startled, just a bit bemused to see it there.  It was a smallish skeleton, sitting in a little ball with its knees drawn up to its chin, dressed in grey rags with a dusty hood covering its smooth, porcelain head.  He looked so tiny and unassuming, and I almost felt a sort of pity for this sad little homunculus.  I don’t know why it didn’t scare me more than it did.  He just sat there, quietly watching me like a frightened puppy.  I watched, strangely amused at this new development, until the novelty ebbed and I calmly went back to work.  I remember feeling contentedly peaceful that this new friend had arrived to break the monotony of the distant, gurgling echos of the real world. 

My new friend started appearing frequently.  Sometimes sitting quietly in the back seat of my car on long drives, sometimes in the chair on the opposite side of the living room.  He never followed me though.  I would be reading a book, and all of a sudden I’d look up and realize he’d been sitting there.  I would always smile quizzically to myself and think of asking him how long he’d been tacitly observing me,  or where he came from, but I never actually did.  I don’t think I really wanted to know the answer lest if break the spell of his arrival.

Over time he began to grow, and eventually he seemed to be strong and healthy.  At least for a skeleton.  After a while,  I felt that he wanted me to come sit with him.  We were a good pair, he and I.  He understood me, required nothing of me, and we enjoyed each other’s company.  I was pleased to have a new, special friend with whom I could spend my evenings, and he proved willing to listen for hours to anything and everything on my mind.  Despite his grotesqueries,  I remember conversing with him at length about my problems, explaining how I just didn’t fit into the world any more, and how I had accepted that I wasn’t able to contribute anything.  All the while he would sit patiently listening and nodding.  In the past I had made attempts to explain these things to the people around me, but inevitably I was greeted with terse responses and empty affirmations.  Ultimately, I concluded others simply were unable to understand my feelings.   

Then one day, at one of my lowest moments as I explained how I had nothing left to offer and I had completely failed at all aspects of my life, I remember him extending his arm as if to offer me a hug.  I drew back, half shocked at this new development, half repulsed by the thought of an embrace, but more than anything suprised by this sudden gesture of comfort.  After a few seconds I went back to my own thoughts, though he sat there for the rest of the evening with me until I went to sleep.

Things changed from that point on.  He began to follow me, and he began to look more human.  As the world around me began to melt and drip like an Edvard Munch painting, he seemed to become more real and more vital.  He stood over my shoulder as a mother would her child, ready at a moment’s notice to wipe away my tears or touch my shoulder.  He became the only constant.  Always there, sometimes dressed in a suit, sometimes a shroud, now with teeth, hair, skin, and a sad pair of deep-lined eyes.  For every hurt, every struggle, every moment of doubt, he was there, looking at me and beckoning with a pitious look on his face at the tiny homunculus before him.   

Eventually, he became the only real thing in my world.  I felt safe, calm, and comforted in his presence, and he offered me a way out.  I suppose there came a point for about two weeks where I actually felt calm and in control for the first time in months when I realized how easy it would be to take the hand I’d been so long avoiding.  It would solve all my problems.  All the pressures, all the family problems, and ultimately, escape from the constant clubbing of my own mind.  For two weeks I considered it, and every time I looked at his face he smiled and his eyes told me everything was alright.  Total freedom, total escape.  No pain, noconsequences.  Just a quiet exit through the stage door and down a dark alley all the way to the end.  It made me happy and content.  Finally, an answer and a comfort I could feel.

I’m still not sure to this day what stopped me.  Some muddled version of real life seems to have supplanted the delusion at the final moment, and I suppose that was enough to spit me out the other side of the drain pipe.  Perhaps my friend just got bored with waiting, but he stopped showing up.  Whatever happened, one day I had the realization that this was just not how other people were living.  They couldn’t possibly.   Also,  I made the connection that these ups and downs weren’t triggered by anything particular as I had always thought.  They were happening for no reason.  That, I realized was simply not normal, and it allowed me to relinquish some of the responsibility I felt for lacking the mental wherewithal or fortitude to solve my own problems.  If I could have controlled this, I would have done it already.

This is not my fault.

At that point I started talking to my wife and close friends openly about my experience, andI have been in therapy for several months.  I guess I’m getting a lot done. I still don’t quite know how to look at the rest of the world, and every day or two the ups and downs still come.  As I look back on it, I can see that this had been going on for at least ten years, and I guess I thought that’s how everyone was all the time.  I thought it was normal.  When I feel good, I almost can’t remember what I was thinking and I feel very distant from that other person.  There’s nothing sensical about it, and worse, I can’t imagine how I could possibly ever go back there again.  When it collapses, I try to remind myself that it will end.  It always  does.  Eventually.

My final thoughts on this issue are incomplete, but I will say this.  Depression happens to everyone.  However, when it becomes a cycle it’s time to get some help.  If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do is talk, because it feels as though you are admitting you are a failure.   Rather than face it I pushed others away like a ship captain ordering his crew to abandon the boat.  I started by isolating my wife, then my family, my friends, and finally everyone.  I didn’t acknowledge that’s what it was at the time, but I can see now that’s what was happening.  After a while I completely lost control of myself, and began helplessly floating whichever way the water took me.  Water always finds the drain.  Depression means that your brain is not working properly any more, and at that point you will not be able to fix it on your own.  You need help.  I don’t know if I will ever see things the way I did before, but I do know that I can move forward and for right now that’s going to have to be enough.  Those around me are willing to extend a hand and put a hand on my shoulder if I need it, and that’s special because it’s real.  Still, I can’t escape the fact that, as far as I’ve come, and as much as I know it’s not real, I still see my old friend now and again.  Sometimes standing on the opposite street corner to pass me in the crosswalk when the light changes, or sitting in a restaraunt patiently waiting for a table.  And when he’s there, he’s always watching me.  Always silent.  Always listening.  Waiting for me to look into those deep-lined, sad eyes.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

One Response to “A History of Depression” Subscribe