If you look out the window it’s sunny and seventy-five degrees. The grass is green and the fragrance of wild flowers is carried on the breeze that’s rolling through the front yard. My daughter, Alexis, is riding a scooter up and down the driveway as her brown locks dance flowingly in the breeze. Out here, in the radiance of a summer sun, it’s a perfect day. Out here the world moves on, but the truth is, I’m not here.
I’m stuck behind the window. Its glass panes covered in cobwebs and splintered boards that choke and steal the sparkle attempting to illuminate the labyrinth that is my own personal prison. I’m suffering and I need help.
Over these short thirty years of my life, I’ve learned to project a persona other than the one that I keep buried deep inside the purgatory of emotions that run amuck in my mind. While the world is filled with the soft giggles of a brown eyed girl living in a Midwestern paradise, I’m trapped inside an alternate reality concocted by the chemicals and emotions in my own mind.
Depression is a volatile life partner that annihilates any semblance of order when it comes to pursuing a sense of normalcy in this thing we call life. Just when I think I’ve achieved a bit of regularity, something comes unhinged from inside. In those moments I dawn an intricately designed mask so that the ones I love, mainly my children and wife, don’t see or feel my pain.
Until now I’ve never written about my mental illness. I think much of that stemmed from the stigma I’ve always felt is placed on men who share their emotions. Looking back on my childhood, when I reminisce on the pivotal moments such as the death of a grandparent, I can’t recall one moment where I ever saw my father cry. We didn’t talk about emotions. Those conversations were left to be had with my mother or my siblings. So by the time I’d traversed through adolescence into adulthood, I’d firmly cemented in my mind that the emotions I felt weren’t normal.
After high school I enlisted in the Army. Looking back on it now, this decision was probably more about myself than serving some greater good. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was hoping that the sensitive, non-athletic, poetry and music loving boy could be reshaped and battle hardened into an indomitable figure worthy of calling himself a man. I was mistaken. If anything my new life had forced me to stuff my true self back into the tomb within my own head.
Depression, like many other conditions, can be a major disqualifier. I’d read and heard stories of good soldiers who were discharged once they sought help. So, I kept my mouth shut. Even up until this very day, this mindset created the chains that restricted me from sharing my depression with the world. Want to work in law enforcement? Hope your mental health is clean. Want to work with children? Hope you’re not crazy. All that changed over the last month.
Last month I decided to be completely honest with my wife. She’d seen my emotions change as quickly as one could flick a light switch. A year earlier we’d pushed through the good, the bad and the ugly, including one late night, heartbreaking conversation about the option of divorce from which we’d come out on the other side. While she could see the emotions pushing through to the surface, I wouldn’t allow her to see just how far gone I’d been. Last month, I broke her heart. Last month I read to her what can only be referred to as my final goodbye. I’d written it after that conversation a year prior where the future of our marriage and family was called into question.
After that conversation everything that I’d been holding in throughout life started to erupt. I felt like I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to. I’d stay up at night, staring into the darkness and wondering if I even had a place in their lives anymore. Maybe the kids would be better off without a broken father. So, I planned it all out.
Our relationship was birthed in Tallahassee when we were barely out of high school and I planned on going back to our happy place. A small lake at a local park. I figured I deserved to remember all the good when I ended it. I laid out my apologies for breaking her heart. I asked her to remember the good. I asked her to be happy. Most of all, I wanted her to know that by going out this way, those closest to us would only remember the good times. I read it all in an attempt to give her a glimpse into the frightening world that I traverse on an almost daily basis.
I’d planned to take my own life. It broke her heart and in turn, I’d broken my own. Strangely enough, this was just what we both needed. I’d finally confronted my illness and shared it with my wife who for so long I kept at a distance and from understanding just how much this was hurting me.
This is me. I am unhinged. I am a husband, a father, a son and a brother. Even on what appears to be my happiest days, I battle with demons and thoughts of inadequacy. Some days are better than others. Some days I feel like the exit from that labyrinth has been boarded and chained shut and on others, I’m free to come and go as I please. I’m not where I want to be, but sharing my story has helped me progress on my path to dealing with my depression.
The other day I finally broke my silence and posted a bit of my struggle to a group of fellow dad bloggers I know online. To my surprise I found myself welcomed by many who were in situations such as my own. So, I decided it was the time to share. My only hope is that by sharing my personal battle with depression, I might encourage others to share their own. Talk with your loved ones. Your battle will be long and it will not be easier, but it’s better if you don’t attempt to go it alone. You are loved.
If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Your call will be connected to the crisis center nearest to you. If you are in an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.