It was 2003. My sister-in-law was visiting us. It was a weekend, and her, my wife, and our niece were going to go up the coast to a fish shack just over the Ventura County line. They asked if I wanted to join them. I said no.
The fly-by-night telecommunications company for which I worked had just closed its doors, but I had quickly found a job at a similar company. I started that following Monday. And all I could see was a hopeless, endless succession of dead-end jobs, one following the other, none leading to anything, no hope of doing anything better, anything more meaningful. I was trapped. I was in the grip of my depression.
Depression can be triggered by anything—or it can be triggered by nothing. It can have warning signs; or it can come upon you like Judgment Day, as a thief in the night. It robs you of you, turning you into someone other than who you were, altering you irrevocably. You are suddenly or not so suddenly this person you weren’t before, a distorted image of the person loved and cherished by others, an image of yourself dark, twisted, sent into the world too soon.
My depressive episodes, stretching back to the late Nineties, have usually been triggered by the combination of pointless work, or lack of work, and the curious malady of my stutter which made me despair of ever being able to do anything other than what I was doing. But triggers don’t always happen. As Robin Williams shows, people who have it all can feel as if they have nothing. Fame, glory, money: they don’t matter. When depression strikes, it doesn’t discriminate. It will take the high and the low, the rich and the poor. It’s very democratic in that way.
Depression is the soul destroyer. It consumes the soul, stamping out whatever joy it may have gloried in. Depression is the sly counselor, whispering in your ear that nothing matters, that there’s no hope, that you are worthless.
Depression tells you to tie the noose, tightly, and look through it. Outside of the circle all is fractured and torn, a world of tears and regrets. Within the noose it shows you peace, tranquility, finality. Just put that noose around your neck, just jump off that chair, and it will all be over, you’ll finally be at rest, the demons will be defeated. Of course, it will be the demons who have won, chuckling as they move on to claim another life.
Most of those dear to me have fought the demons. My wife, my best friend, my niece, my brother, my mother. All either have gone through or continue to battle depression. Depression does not respect you. It is the lord of darkness, ever working to draw more people into its kingdom.
No one in my family or circle of love, aside from my wife and best friend, have ever known about my depression. I haven’t wanted to burden them, I’ve felt ashamed, I’ve felt weak. I wanted to maintain the facade of the happy go lucky baby of the family, always with a smile on his face, always ready to lend an ear to other people’s problems. I didn’t want to be pitied.
And that was the exactly wrong thing to do. Depression festers in the silence of shame. The quiet leads to the overdose, or the gunshot, or the noose. I’m lucky in that the love my wife has for me was so powerful that I was able to rise up and escape depression’s grip, making changes which defeated it. But many times love is not enough. Sometimes the loneliest place is in the middle of loved ones who don’t understand. And that is not shameful; it is not weak. It is an illness, it is a disease, and it is life. What depression relishes is the despairing silence. What it fears is when you tell one person, and then one person more, and those people understand, and those people love you enough to give you the support you need.
To those reading this who may be going through the darkness: speak. Speak your truth. Do not suffer in silence. There’s no honor in that, neither is there relief. Suffering in silence will lead to the silence of the grave. You are a human being, who is loved, and by that you have worth, whatever the demons may be whispering. Depression is the soul devourer. Hope is its mortal enemy.
(Author’s note: “A Darkness Visible” is William Styron’s memoir about his battles with depression. It is a recounting of depression’s palpable physicality.)