Today’s guest post is from a very dear friend of mine. Seamus and I were at VPXIV together – Seriously, current grads, keep up the friendships/oaths/S&M relationships/whatever you forged at VP – and he went on to co-build Paradise Lost. The amount of energy that he puts into the various parts of his life coupled with the ridiculous level of outgoing that he has achieved, makes it easy to forget that there’s still a lot of introspection and careful thought going on inside. Seems to be a repeat lesson for me, over and over, in these blogs: books, covers, the not-judging-of. You know the one.
Learning to Deal
By Seamus Bayne
Sad Pumpkin is sad, and smells a little funny.
Depression isn’t something people like to talk about. It is a ten-letter word, and comes loaded with lethal assumptions and triggers. Just writing about it unnerves me. First, because talking about my own experience scares me. Second, because it is a dangerous subject. There are few conversations that start with, “Let’s talk about depression,” without a pregnant pause on the part of the audience.
My experience with depression is 21 years old, but the scars and emotional clear-cutting are still part of the landscape of my person. In some ways, they define me more than any other experience in my life. You see, I do not think you ever get over depression. You hear people say, “Just snap out of it.” Which is as helpful as telling a burn victim to just stop being scarred. You can get better, and you can put miles and decades between you and your experiences, but the scars are there, and they always will be.
Mine come from the death of my father, when I was nineteen years old. I had a wonderful father, whom I loved dearly. He was one of those larger than life people who lived the edge of being a caricature of American archetypes. I, on the other hand, was quiet, nervous, shy, bookish, fat, and desperately trying to live up to my own perceived expectations of what he wanted from a son, and needless to say, failing badly at it. If he read this now, I have no doubt he would be horrified and hurt to know how deeply I felt I disappointed him. It horrified me to think he perceived me as a screw up. So, his existence defined my own, completely, and in a sense placed a capstone on the expanses of my own ability to imagine who I could be, or was. I did this to myself, and it deeply limited my ability to develop as a person, because I could not be my father. I was never meant to be him, and if he were here today, I would like to think he would hug me and tell me he never wanted me to be.
Knowing this, and knowing how he defined me, when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack at forty-six years of age, it left me alone in an uncertain world, bereft of the confidence he would protect and guide me, and struggling to understand the scope of my new role as the oldest male in my sadly shrunken family. It opened up a place inside me into which I fell, and stayed for years after, perhaps as much as a decade. This was the mouth of depression, swallowing up my childhood, stealing the innocence of youth and leaving me with the weight not carried by most adults until they are well into their middle age and life has prepared them better to understand themselves and the burdens of grief, both personally and as part of a family.
The months following his death I did what a dutiful son does, but I could feel little emotion for anyone, or anything. The world became flat, gray and threatening. To this day, I feel my capacity to trust and love greatly diminished, and only with great effort do I allow myself the luxurious risk of caring for a small garden of friends and family. I spent those years of my life struggling, from nineteen to twenty-six, I fought hard to find some ground on which to stand and figure out who I was. It was not until I was in my early thirties that I sought out a therapist to try to understand my history of mood swings, drinking, drug use, and why I struggled to sustain lasting relationships and friendships.
My therapist looked at me during a session and said, “Well, obviously you were deeply depressed. I wish you had sought help earlier, you could have saved yourself years of suffering.” I recoiled at the thought that I could have been depressed. Depression was for the weak. Right? What did he mean I was depressed? I was furious with him. He was gentle with his application of the two by four of knowledge in explaining my symptoms and how lucky was that over time I had learned ways to cope with them and eventually got better.
Nevertheless, I am still someone who lived with depression, even if I am no longer depressed. I am still someone who has something like a whole decade of his life defined by it. The adult I am today is someone who was born out of learning to deal with that struggle. My cynicism, my anger, my ambition to acquire wealth and power to surround myself with protection. These are all the acts of someone who once had the rug pulled out from underneath their feet, and fell down hard. Someone who knows how fragile life is, and who will always live with that fear, and struggle not to let it define them.
The path of crawling out of depression is how I became who I am. It made me strong, hard and capable. It forced me to trust in myself, and to be mindful of my own goals and needs. It taught me that life is hard, that what other people think is rarely important, and that social convention and rules are made to be broken, if you must.
I could never have climbed so high, if I had not fallen so far, and that is something so few are lucky enough to experience. For that I am thankful.