Hiding in Plain Sight
This is the blog I’ve always wanted to write. Or, I hope it will be. It’s also one I’ve kept locked away for so many reasons. So many other people have made this easier to say. Brave people willing to say it before me have helped make it less taboo. I live with depression.
I say I live with depression because it is my constant companion. It isn’t something I have of which I could simply rid myself. It is a part of who I am and who I have been my entire life. Until now, only a tiny fraction of those in my life have ever experienced the shadow which follows me everywhere.
My earliest memories of depression and anxiety go back to when I was five years old. I stayed in bed, in my room for several days. I left to eat and use the bathroom. Otherwise, I stayed in the bottom bunk of my bunk bed hiding from death. As I grew older I would carry these burdens in the form of isolation, self-doubt, self-loathing. I found solace in making friends online and holding onto a few long term friendships from early childhood. I wasn’t always as unhappy as a child. In fact, for much of the time, I had a relatively happy childhood.
But, there were also plenty of moments where I’d break. Seen only by one or two as anything more than a burst of rage, the weight inside me would blast out and the strength I tried so hard to project would crumble. At one point my senior year of high school I was noticeably depressed, though almost no one suspected. My parents even had me tested for mono.
The point is, this isn’t something to pick up and put down. It has traveled with me through life and it isn’t going anywhere. So, why write this? Why have I waited? What do I want?
I write this for two reasons. The first is that I have learned over time that hiding my depression gives it power over me. Trying to hold it in doesn’t help, it only leads to lashing out at those I love most. The second reason is that the more people speak about it, the more likely it is for others to feel comfortable sharing their own stories.
I’ve hidden this for so many reasons over the years. I don’t want people to think I’m weak. I don’t want people to treat me differently. I don’t want people to bother me day after day like I should be on suicide watch. I don’t want to have my professionalism, my work, or my life choices questioned by people who treat depression with a stigma. In short I’ve been afraid, not of me, but of everyone else.
What do I want from sharing this? First I want to take power over my depression. I want to be an example for others that you can live a really good life while you fight this private battle. And, I want to share with those of you who don’t have this experience what it’s like on the inside and how you can help your people who may be struggling silently.
I won’t pretend to own the patent on depression. It is unique for each person. But, here is my experience as best I can describe it. At various points in a depressive episode, I feel differently. At its worst, I feel like my physical self operates underwater. The weight crushing my ambition to accomplish anything or even move. Through most of it, I feel like a spectator in my own life, as though I am watching life happen before my eyes and I am powerless to change it. On a daily basis, it is overthinking, being overly critical, connecting dots that only I see. It’s a state of mild paranoia combined with repetitive negative self-talk. All of this is wrapped in a package that constantly questions my own decisions so extensively that I am exhausted. It looks like I am distant, lost in thought, or distracted. It isn’t sadness, it’s the absence of feeling. Sadness is a sign that I’m on the way up. Having feelings, even bad ones are a step away from the deep nothingness of depression.
So what can you do if you have friends or family with depression? Again it isn’t the same for everyone, but I would guess most people want to be treated the same way you’d treat someone who wasn’t depressed. They want to know you’re there even if they don’t want anything else. They want you to listen, even if all you hear is silence. In one of my favorite Robin Williams movies, What Dreams May Come (spoiler coming, but 20+ years ought to be long enough) he plays a character who loses both children. Then dies himself. As he constructs his own heaven he finds his wife has taken her life. He dives into her own personal hell (clearly depression) to save her. What he realizes is he can’t save her, but she doesn’t need saving, she needs someone to join her. In the end, he helps her by giving up on saving her and choosing to just be there with her instead, a beautiful metaphor for depression. Check on your people, but not on eggshells, not like they are broken, just do it because you can.
I will end with this: I have lived and will live with depression my entire life. It does not change the person you know other than maybe it explains why I am the way I am. Yes, I’ve done therapy. It helps. Yes, I take medication, it helps. Living with depression isn’t a weakness if anything I feel stronger knowing I am still here, living the hell out of every second I get as much as I possibly can. I am strong, I have accomplished great things, and I have much to be positive about. Don’t pity me, don’t fear for me. Just know that if I’ve made a seat for you in this wild roller coaster of life, that I do so wanting you to join me, and stay with me until the ride ends.
For many of you that know me this will come as a surprise. You know me as someone who laughs, jokes around, crushes karaoke, tries to help and support others, and asks way too many questions. Depression may be the last thing that comes to mind. That’s the point. You don’t know who struggles if they are hiding it. My name is Brian Costello and I’m not hiding anymore.
PS: One of my outlets is writing poetry. Not everything is as dark and channels my depression like these, but if you really want a window into that space, you can check them out here. Warning, you may find these disturbing. Also, these aren’t here for your literary criticism, if they aren’t for you, move on.