In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m depressed.
Depression. I never thought I suffered from it. I always just thought I was hung over. Then I quit drinking. Turns out it’s been there all along.
In bed with the one-night stands. Lurking behind the anxiety. Adjacent to the First World guilt. Buried under piles of gratitude lists. Tucked away deep in the basement of my ego along with my hyper-color memories of idyllic childhood summers and my abandoned dreams. A Late Night set on Letterman. A lifesize garden Yeti. A child.
But this isn’t a pity party. This is a cautionary tale of what happens when you quit self-medicating. DON’T DO IT. Unless it’s ruining your life or you’re rotting from the inside out – like I was – keep your edibles and your wine tastings and craft beers and your vapes and your Adderalls and your Coors Light. Take those feelings and bury them deep like the Greatest Generation. Because they knew the truth. Reality bites.
Sobriety is great. But it’s also really sobering. Is this how normal people feel ALL THE TIME? Just “MEH”? Emotional stability feels like a flat line to the grave. I’m used to the soaring highs of delusions of grandeur and the crushing lows of a wicked hangover in conjunction with an even more wicked shame spiral.
Why do I have permanent marker on my face? What are these bruises from? Did I really have a threesome with that married couple?
Gone are the days when I feel like a FRIGGIN’ ROCKSTAR. No longer will I be known as “ROBOT” in far distant parts of the globe for my ability to go without sleep or food for days at a time. Tales of stripping down in the middle of a fancy NYC hotel lobby or going down like a bowling pin in Coachella VIP, dehydrated and high on something, are urban legend. Eyes bloodshot. Hair always looking fantastic.
These days I feel awkward and socially retarded. I SEE TOO MUCH. All the coy body language. Passive aggressive non-verbal cues. The subtle truth behind the phony bullshit mask we parade around town – broken clowns in a traveling circus.
We are all SO desperate. Desperate for love. For attention. Sex. Money. Power. For esteem or notoriety. For connection. Or solitude. For a moment’s peace. For a reason to fight. Or live. Or a cause worth dying for. For a hug. Or a sandwich.
Most of my life has been dedicated to running and/or chasing. A desperate dog with its tail. Spinning in circles. Feeling like I’m making progress. Ending up in the same, damn, warn-out spot. Now, stripped of all my self-medications and distractions, I’m forced into the moment in between chasing desire and running from fear. Stillness.
Horrifying, deafening stillness.
Under that stillness lurks sadness. My Kryptonite exposed. Weakness revealed. My Super Ego rages.
Turn on the bright, flashing strobe lights! Where is the disco ball? Turn up the music. Get me off the disabled list and put me back in, coach! Two weeks of binge-watching other people’s reality! Sixty hours a week slinging pancakes. I don’t care. Anything. Anything to avoid that basement of sadness. The regret. Remorse. Shame. Loss. Embarrassment. Indignation. Lust. Resentment. Insecurity. Anything. The basement is scary. And I’m afraid.
I have options. Sit with the discomfort. Kill myself. Or drink, which is just the extended version of killing myself. There are moments the discomfort is so great, I admit, suicide seems like the right thing to do. It’s definitely the easy way out. This is a new feeling to me. And it’s terrifying. Forget calling upon a God. Where’s Darwin in my moment of darkness?
I’ve always been a fighter. I like to think I’m a survivor. (At least I did until recently losing the will to persevere.) I’ve always been defiant in the face of challenges.
Lately, however, I’m tired. I feel weak. Human conditions I don’t like to accept or admit, to myself and definitely not anyone else. And I’m feeling morose and defeated. The struggle IS real. These pesky emotions are, too. I just can’t seem to get out of my own damn way.
Not since 9/11 have I wanted to lie around for days at a time and watch TV like a zombie. Nihilism reigns supreme. I turn to Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning in the hopes his recollection of his time in various concentration camps will snap me out of my funk. It doesn’t. I wind up feeling like an asshole for being so lucky.
Maybe I need meds.
Almost exactly 17 years ago, May 10, 1998, I put myself in rehab at age 19 for a heroin addiction. The very first thing they wanted to do was put me on meds.
“You’re depressed, sweetie.”
Yeah, well, no shit, Sherlock. I’m a teenager sitting in rehab while all my friends party on the lake. I should be depressed.
Well, duh. I just lost everything. I should be anxious. I didn’t put myself on welfare and check myself into a state-funded halfway house with 40 women I’m now doing dishes for to do legally what I was doing perfectly illegally on the streets. Numb myself.
I resist the drug dealer’s (nurses) offers to take away the yucky feelings. I sit with the discomfort, and I recover. Although I do start drinking again. And smoking weed. And doing blow. And a year and a half ago, I quit all those things, again. To this day I haven’t touched heroin, and it’s the only anniversary in my life I proudly celebrate.
We have a tendency to want to run from our pain. I’m not saying that meds are bad. Pretty much everyone I know is on something, and most of those people feel they cannot function without the help of their anti-whatever.
But I also believe anxiety and depression offer wisdom and gifts; we shouldn’t always rush to make the bad feelings disappear. They’re often signposts pointing to a deeper truth we may be avoiding. It’s much easier to pop a pill and stay in that bad marriage or suppress that sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs after a two-day bender than it is to have to make any real life changes.
I’ve recently made major life changes, and I’m grieving a lifestyle I lived for decades that I can’t live anymore, friends I can’t hang out with, places I no longer enjoy. It occurs to me today that I’m expending most of my energy resisting this reality. I’m fighting, but I’m fighting myself. No wonder I’m exhausted. I’m beating myself up all day for being human. Still trying to catch that tail.
I’m depressed. That’s it. That’s where I am today. It happens. Life is hard. The world is crazy. I feel powerless to make any significant difference, yet overexposed to it all.
It doesn’t mean I have to completely succumb to the vicious, downward cycle. It doesn’t mean it’s forever. But it does mean I have to acknowledge that for reasons that may be beyond my conscious understanding, I’ve got the blues.
The one thing I can change is myself. Times like these call for simple actions. Baby steps into positive thinking. Exercise. Good food. Water. So, like any proper, aging rock star who manages to survive the glory days, I’m currently sitting with my feelings. In the tub. Drinking tea.
Bridget Phetasy is a writer and comic in Los Angeles.