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The Healer

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“There’s an untold distance between knowing happiness and knowing about it.” —Jennifer Senior

As I continue to find my own path toward “happiness” — with my life, with my surroundings, with myself — I’m confronted by an endless selection of resources that speak from the standpoint of healer. What immediately raises conflicting emotions for me when I wade through this sea of resources is that I am still so very very far away from what I might consider normalcy, myself, that I’m anything but confident in adding to the discussion by raising my own opinions (as I’m trying to do here). How is it that I can approach the subjects of happiness or overcoming depression when I might be neither happy nor free of depression? That considered, how realistic might it be that everyone with a blog, book, or soapbox expressing their opinions on the subject has actually found what they claim? Do they have an answer, or are they still searching, confused, and at times lost, like I am?

The last few weeks have been especially difficult for me. Anxiety and depression, which were only worsened by drinking, put me in a state of mental fatigue that I felt I couldn’t overcome. Health concerns surfaced for my family and myself, but my main source of struggle was an internal one: despite the allure of health care, a steady income, and opportunity for advancement, I already dreaded facing the job that I’d just months ago moved across the country to pursue. I felt that my options had become non-existent. Family and friends continued to tell me that I wasn’t seeing reality for what it was, that I was simply lost in a storm, that I needed to find a safe harbor, dock my ship and let the nastiness pass. Despite knowing full well that they were right, something within me felt different this time.

When I was a young child I had this recurring idea — as most do, I’m sure — about what it’d be like to be the last person on the planet. But at the time I only really considered the romantic and short-sided aspects of such a wild fantasy: I could do what I wanted and not have to deal with the burdens of modern life, or at least those consistent with a child’s imagination, which added up to little more than speeding in cars and eating junk food without consequence. But last year, while on one of my routinely long walks through the heart of Nashville, the reality struck me: high-speed freeway races aside, I was actually living the life I’d once imagined, only it was a far cloudier life than my daydreams had once fabricated. Not to sound overly sensational, but it finally clicked with me that depression had distanced me from the city I was actually walking through and transported me to a sort of parallel universe where I felt like I actually was the only person alive. This feeling became known again recently, but this time it left me with an alien emotion of apathetic abandon that was stronger and more persistent than any I’d felt before.

Even since I can remember I’ve been my own worst critic, irrationally internalizing everything around me without the ability to shrug off what I should and only absorb what I truly need to. Positive thinking, self-talk, and the support of loved ones only goes so far in combating this though, and somewhere along the way this inability to cope manifested itself in focusing largely on a dreamt up existence of “what if’s” rather than the real moment that I was living in. It’s not really that I’ve grown more and more into being a half-glass-empty kind of guy, but as this outlook continues to age, more often than not I find myself left with a blankness where there was once “something.” What it is and when I lost it, I’m not entirely sure of, but to better frame where I was at when I most recently could have used my missing “something,” I have to go back a few years to the last time I emotionally bottomed-out.

“How small we are when our minds develop minds of their own.” —Jennifer Senior

It was 2008, I was 24, and I was working a desk job, acting as an internal point of contact for traveling salesmen, servicing their accounts, and working the customer service angle far more consistently than I generally cared to. After graduating from University in 2006 I quickly became aware of the reality that I might not necessarily have been in line for a dream job in a perfect economic marketplace, but rather, was burdened with a degree which served more as a bill for services rendered than a representation of actual achievement. Four years after leaving a job working in a warehouse to pursue higher education I was faced with two immediate career options that were hardly any more enticing: an introductory managerial position working third shift at a production facility in a small Midwestern town I’d never heard of, or working retail. I chose the latter, moving back in with my parents to save some money and assuming the lackluster title of assistant department manager at a rather nauseating regional home renovation chain. Before long the legitimately agonizing schedule, based largely around closing up after 12 hour shifts at 10 o’clock before returning to open the department the next morning at 6:30, grew old (not to mention the added candle-burning of typically following most shifts by hitting the bar where work-friends would gather to get drunk and trade war stories). There’s a little more to it than this, of course, but a well-timed appendectomy gave me the window I needed to move on. After a month or so I landed the office gig, moved to my own place and after a half-year of maintaining appearances, I positioned myself to purchase my own suburban condo.

Despite what I had going for me at the time, I didn’t feel like I was actually “succeeding,” but that I was fulfilling expectation: I was buying into the idea that following this blueprint would result in some sort of larger satisfaction. Before long something within me broke though, the result being a near week-long stint in detox & county after being pulled over for drunken driving. I had been day-drinking and decided I wanted out, so I took off to visit with friends out of state. I didn’t forget to pack a bottle or two to-go though, and by the time I arrived in Southern Minnesota and was pulled over I was in such a state of submissive blackout that rather than resisting charges, I gleefully accepted my clumsy lack of discretion and offered the arresting officer a drink from the wine I’d been nursing. Or, at least that’s what I’m told, I don’t really remember. What followed was a rather memorable period of confused embarrassment as I couldn’t even drive myself to the job that I had already mentally checked-out on to pay for a condo that I’m not sure I ever really wanted.

I began going to therapy and taking medication for the previously undiagnosed depression that was all-too apparent to everyone around me, but by that time the damage to my perspective was already done. I felt that I was doing my family — not to mention my close friends — nothing but harm and with my head firmly encased in a hazy bubble of despair I quite literally prepared my deathbed. I went through all the “correct” motions: I assembled necessary information for when someone found me, explained my decision as best I could in written form, shot off a few emails and text messages to friends (including a rather unfortunate message to someone I was close to at the time which, only in retrospect, was regrettably insensitive), set the scene with a little mood lighting and proceeded to lay down and consume roughly 60-80 Tylenol PM sleeping pills; at that point I didn’t really see counting as a necessity.

“It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” —Woody Allen

The moment where the balance shifts from “is this happening” to “this is happening” is a bizarre one, but any hesitancy that I felt was quickly overwhelmed by a steadily growing sense of relief. I hadn’t been drinking for a number of weeks prior to that moment (and I wasn’t that night either) but the therapy I was attending seemed more ineffective than I’d previously thought therapy could be, and the medication I’d been prescribed was lending me none of the advertised benefits. In my eyes I was a constant source of pain for my family and I’d practically drank my way out of every (even remotely) romantic relationship I’d had in recent memory. After weeks of contemplation everything seemed to add up and that night I tried to walk away from the whole mess of it.

I can’t count how many times my parents have told me about how they didn’t have enough money to buy Christmas gifts when I was a baby, and how it still haunts them. I, not being old enough at the time to remember one way or another, don’t really think too much about it unless they bring it up because for as long as I can recall, we’ve never really been “poor.” If I remember correctly, there was once a kid on my youth hockey team who had to wear plastic bags over his socks inside his boots in the winter so his feet wouldn’t get wet. Sure, we’ve had a few rough years here and there, but by no means were we ever double-bagging body parts to stay dry. In fact, even to this point in my life, I’ve suffered little economic hardship. I’ve always found a way to make enough money to get by, and each time I’ve stumbled a bit and needed a safe place to gather myself, my family’s been there without question to pick me back up. General safety and well-being aside though, I’ve often felt like I’d trade it all in for something I feel that I’ve never really had in my life: an honest sense of direction.

I’ve never really had any life-affirming goal that I’ve been working toward. I suppose that University gave me something temporary in terms of purpose: working toward surviving the next exam seemed to occupy enough of my attention to just barely survive the four years that it took to graduate. But once the realization kicked in that there was no pot of golden purpose at the end of the reading rainbow, things began falling apart at a far quicker rate than they had in the past. For years I’ve been struggling with simply figuring out what I want from life and in 2008 that came to a head: No matter how happy I should have been with my life, my job, or my family — I wasn’t, and I didn’t know what would fix that. I took what I could into consideration, facing my hyper-sensitivity with the understanding that I might have been viewing the world through cloudy, scuffed-up lenses, but in the end the exit-plan I concluded on still made the most sense of all my options. It didn’t make me happy, mind you, but the momentary sense of purpose — as if I were Moving On for a reason — made sense. Hospital time, therapy, treatment, and nearly four years have passed since then, and so too had passed, I thought, was the remotest possibility of making such similar conclusions about my life. Thoughts of suicide have never left my head entirely, but until the past few weeks they hadn’t again made sense. Whether or not this new feeling was unique I can’t be sure of — perhaps some relative to that which I felt before — but it was real: I didn’t know what I wanted from life, but didn’t want to stick it out and see if an answer might arise out of the confusion.

About seven percent of the country shares my diagnosis of major depressive disorder, and all across the world someone tries to kill themselves every three seconds or so. My situation is nothing new. I understand that I’m obviously not alone in this and am dealing with something that millions the world over also struggle with on a daily basis. But simply “dealing” has become a sore spot for me; not because it’s tiring, but mostly because of a strange sense of guilt that accompanies it. Amid daily tragedy, discord, pain, and suffering are those who face it all head on, seemingly immune to incoming perils. Let me assure you of this: when a depressive can’t face a world in which they are fully employed, clothed, fed, sheltered, and loved, it’s remarkably painful to see a homeless person flash a smile or an aging waitress happily work a double-shift to simply survive the day. What do they have that I’m missing? Why can’t I get my shit together and simply be happy and work through everyday issues like everyone else does? It might be that somewhere along the way I lost my “something,” but for as long as I can remember I feel like I’ve been the poor kid in school lacking the correct attire to battle the elements: not financially, but emotionally.

“Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.” —David R. Hawkins

The deeper I get into this project the better my understanding is that there really isn’t any end-point that I’m working toward with it. The same holds true for life, but I guess that’s the point: The plan right now is to just keep going, hoping that the “something” I’m looking for makes itself known between now and death. Revisiting these old memories is interesting because it really reinforces how difficult a lot of this depression-stuff is to overcome. I wish I had an answer of how to get over the hump or turn the overwhelming hurdle into a doorway, but the more time I spend in reflection the more apparent it is that I wouldn’t make a good healer even if I tried. No matter though, I don’t have any real qualms with being one of the healing.