Depression + Me

“…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I thumb through my old pocket-sized journal, I always stop at March 12, 2009.

I had used that notepad for scheduling, phone numbers and reminders when working my last “real” job: a body man to a state officeholder and campaigning gubernatorial candidate. An image of my scribbled notes from that day are pictured here.

When I look at those scribbles from that day, I’m overcome with a rush of memories — or perhaps, more accurately, a desperate rush of faint blurs.

You see, that March day was both the first and last day that I took prescription anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication as it had been prescribed to me by a physician — without anyone else’s knowing. The first day quickly became the last because of the sharp reaction my body had to that the anxiety med, in particular: I can barely remember what happened that day.

The tiny little white anxiety pill prescribed to calm my nerves turned me into a totally zonked out, medicated zombie. The day was a complete blur. I have about 5 distinct memories from the day. Maybe a minute of total recollection.

As my uncharacteristically sloppy notes reveal, I could hardly write coherently, let alone function in my daily duties as a driver, executive aide and body man.

March 12, 2009 was not my first or last experience with depression. But when I flip through that old notebook, that day is one day that I’ll never forget — even though I can barely remember it.

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Why, Why Now, & Why We’re Here

Almost two years into my journey as a writer, after fielding dozens of questions and writing hundreds of blog posts, there’s one question that I can’t believe no one has ever asked me:

“Have you ever been depressed or diagnosed with depression?”

I’m not sure why this question has been asked–especially since I’ve fielded so many questions from readers who are themselves dealing with feelings of depression and sadness.

I’d say I have probably been depressed between 1 and 3 times in my young life. I can’t really be sure. I was diagnosed once, and kept it a secret. There were a few other times in high school and college that I could probably say were prolonged periods of mild depression.

If I had to guess, I’d figure that if the question ever crossed your mind, you probably dismissed it outright.

After all, I’m that self-described “perpetual optimist” — the one who writes of love and light and life’s intrinsic goodness. The one who strives to live for others, to uplift those in dark places, to inspire millions with earnest words of encouragement and positivity.

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Depression & Me

Today, I’m going to share with you things about me that I’ve never told anyone.

These admissions will probably surprise many people, especially my close friends and family members. This is difficult for me to write because of the very personal and “secretive” nature of my experiences with depression. But that’s just my personality.

I tend to keep things to myself, and ultimately, these sorts of experiences greatly help me  in the long run because I learn so much from them — hyper-condensed periods of challenge and learning and growth — and I’m thus able to share these valuable lessons with others through my writing and speaking.

Of course, the point of this blog post is not to host any sort of personal confession.

My reasons for opening up to you and sharing these stories — a complete, personal expose on my personal history of depression — are because I’m feeling very inspired, determined, and renewed. It’s just time for me to open up.

  1. I want you to know the story of depression and me in vivid detail in hopes that you too might feel inspired or determined or motivated to conquer your own demons.
  2. I want you to better know the human being behind the name and face on this blog.
  3. And I want you to know that the guy who strives to write words of inspiration has actually had a personal history of depression and anxiety; something you’d probably not have otherwise figured.

Reflect back to the quote above by Ralph Waldo Emerson: If but one person comes across this story to realize that depression is not the end-all, be-all of his or her life, but perhaps a mere blip; then my own experiences with depression will have been even more worth the battle.

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March 12, 2009

That March day wasn’t my first or last experience with depression. And it doesn’t truly sum up the story of depression and me. But in many ways, it does: it’s a unique snapshot into a point and time in my life where I struggled for direction both in my life and in my head.

It’s a lasting imprint of the struggle that compelled me to abandon a working experience and lifestyle that were completely non-conducive to my sense of purpose, passion and fulfillment in life.

Here’s all that I remember from that day, during which I scribbled those above illegible notes in my notepad:

  • Breakfast meeting with fundraisers. Dad was there. Eggs on a Styrofoam plate.
  • Nearly losing control of my car. Bumping the curb during a sharp turn. My boss, “Are you alright?!”
  • Fiddling with a curtain separator in the hallway of the State House.
  • Talking to a boss. Explaining I took Sudafed without breakfast. Felt lightheaded earlier, fine now.
  • Calling my doctor. Instead of 1 whole pill, take 1/4th of a pill.
  • Late afternoon. Dark office, lights off. Conference call with New York. Topic unknown.

It’s peculiar to remember a day in such vivid detail considering I remember so little of it at all. And the memory is not affected by the two years that have passed since: this much I remembered during that very day; it’s all I could remember that night and for days afterwards.

But right now you should be asking,

“How did it get to this point?”

Great question. Like some of my previous experiences with bouts of depression, this one began with heartbreak. Isn’t that so often the story? But truly, the details of that situation don’t much matter.

The heartache triggered severe sadness and feelings of uncontrollable anxiety. But far beyond the heartache — which always recedes with time — it was my working environment itself that exacerbated the acute symptoms of depression and anxiety: My work ran so contrary to my nature, my morals, my beliefs, my dreams.

I believe this deficit of fulfillment, of purpose, and the extreme challenges my work in politics posed to my spirit are what most greatly forced depression symptoms upon me.

I worked long hours of brainless, unfulfilling duties that were made out to be life-and-death decisions in a “head in the clouds” political atmosphere. I was pitted to “play the game” or choose to side with my deeply rooted and unshakeable values.

  • I didn’t eat much. There was no time.
  • Exercise? I found myself sitting in my car’s driver seat for most hours and on most days. My hands and wrists were developing arthritic symptoms and carpel tunnel from gripping the steering wheel so hard for hours upon hours.
  • I became pretty brutally ill twice in three months. My immune system didn’t put up much of a fight.
  • I was down to my lowest body weight in years, and not in a healthy way.
  • I lost touch with my friends. I stopped laughing. I just wanted to sleep. I found no real joy in much of anything.

These symptoms, of course, are typically indicative of depression. But I really didn’t need to check WebMD to know I was depressed.

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Deciding to Take Charge

I decided, largely out of a feeling of sheer desperation, to turn to a doctor. Of course, I had the option to open up to my family and friends. But at this time, I was still operating under a “Work is supposed to suck + your misery is a just part of the ‘real world`” social paradigm.

Only a few weeks into working in that working environment, I called my doctor and scheduled an appointment to discuss options. Yeah, I believed in “mind over body.” I questioned the “disease” and “chemical imbalance” descriptions of depression. And all things considered, I frankly didn’t care.

I needed some sort of help; a boost, however minor.

And I figured that a prescription could help me regain some semblance of inner balance and peace of mind in some way. After talking with my doctor, I was diagnosed with mild depression and anxiety. He prescribed a well-known anti-depressant and an anxiety medication. I put in the prescription at my local CVS. Then, I picked it up.

Dramatic, huh? And so the big fear, the reluctance, the social stigma… it was a big to-do about nothing.

Many people hesitate seeking a doctor for the social stigma associated with depression. Others worry about the side-effects of prescriptions. Your experience might be similar or different, but the point is that the social stigma is no reason to continue to suffer in your head.

Talk to a doc. That’s what they’re there for. They want to help you, and they will.

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The Path of Life & A Toilet Flush

After my blurred experience with the anxiety pill, I decided to stop taking that medication immediately. I gave the anti-depressant a whirl for a couple weeks. I didn’t notice any improvement in my depressive symptoms, but I also didn’t experience any noticeable side-effects.

I admit that I didn’t stick to the prescription, so I probably never gave it enough time to even have an effect. After a few weeks, I stopped taking the prescription altogether. I can’t really say why. I just stopped.

If you know me at all, you know that I tend to push the envelope and try to take things to a new level — even if it’s only to make a point; if only to make the point to myself. Ultimately, the best medicine to remedy my depression was to decisively quit that job.

On my final day, I wrote a short piece on my work computer, printed it out, and taped it to the top of my computer monitor. Only one coworker knew I was quitting. The note (the first blog post on DaveUrsillo.com) intended to explain it to the rest:

I have puttered along in veiled darkness for long enough.  With as little proof as the visual sight of the dirt under my feet, I now realize that I must be so brazen as to push on, to blaze my trail through the thickening fog, toward whatever end that lies beyond.

While the burden began to be lifted, the symptoms of depression lingered for months. Throughout the summer of 2009, while I had left the world of politics behind, I still battled difficult and prolonged feelings of sadness and anxiety. The depression was still there.

One afternoon, I decided to take my battle with depression to a new level. I just wanted to overcome it myself without even the option of the anti-depressants or anxiety medication I had been prescribed to help me.

I took the prescriptions to the bathroom, dumped them in the toilet, flushed it, and there was no looking back.

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Darkness of the Mind

So, what was depression like for me?

I summed up the sentiment in a blog post (the second ever here at DaveUrsillo.com) called Darkness of the Mind — a fitting title representing the disorder we otherwise call depression:

That bastard Darkness grips with bruising strength.

A trampling horse, it runs through the mind in such a way that all other thoughts are forgotten. They become so distant that Goodness is rendered a figment, barely recalled by memory.

Darkness is a danger and Darkness is a threat, for its nature is viral and contagious. It spreads through the mind, weighing so heavily upon it.

When Darkness grips a soul, its effects are not only observed but truly felt by others. But that bastard Darkness has little defense, for darkness itself cannot be created.

Ever-defiant, depression’s effect on my daily life throughout my working experience was one that carried over through the summer months of 2009 and into the autumn.

At some point around October or November of 2009, the burden had been lifted. I remember asking myself, Am I still depressed? I guess not. And that was basically it. It wasn’t a sudden revelation or immediate outcome. It was indeed a slow and gradual elevation from that dark place into one of survival.

I just kept walking. I struggled to find direction and the early months of my writing on my blog reflect that. I just did what felt natural. I did what I felt I needed to do with my life to turn things around. I disregarded what naysayers told me, I defied those who were critical. I blew off the input of others that was blatantly unaligned with my vision — not because I “knew I was right” and “knew they were wrong,” but because I was hellbent and determined to carry on the path that I had seen before me a year before, one October night.

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Rethinking Suffering

How often do you rethink your past, your own personal history, and rethink your suffering?

With the story of depression and me, a few things are clear: my greatest, most difficult days and weeks and months of suffering within my own head provided me value. Depression gave me chances to change my life for the better.

And I’m thankful that I ultimately took a leap of faith, going on a hunch, and trusting some bigger force in play beyond my ability to understand it.

What once felt like a curse, today depression feels like my gift, my privilege; it persistently reappeared in my young life not as a burdening disease it had seemed, but a God-delivered opportunity for me to unlearn everything that I thought I knew — allowing me to realize truth of the things that I had neglected, rejected or misunderstood but desperately needed to learn.

What once felt like an enslaver, depression has been my quiet teacher: the one I’ve loved to hate, the one no one else has ever really known about.

It has taught me the incredible power that thoughts possess over our bodies; that perceptions can genuinely dictate physical realities; and most of all, who I truly am in this life (and, just as much, who I’m meant to be).

Depression was indeed a gift, given thrice over.

If you’re suffering with depression, you won’t feel the same. In fact, you’ll feel far from it. But one day, through all the fight that you can muster here and now, you can reach this point.

When I rethink my suffering, I switch the “victim” mindset to one of “victor.”

Each hyper-condensed, no-choice-but-to-face-this-demon bout of depression was not only temporary but necessary for me to become the person that God or Jesus or Buddha or Yaweh or Allah or the Universe or even Justin Beiber (!) intended me to be: a conduit of Spirit, through whom words and thoughts would flow from a place of shared consciousness — far beyond my capability of ever creating or even understanding — and reach the ears and eyes of those who, I trust, are intended to indulge them, embrace them or challenge them.

A dreadful recurrence; that putrid presence. I don’t expect you to understand the whole story between depression and me.

But perhaps in knowing that the story even exists, you might be inspired to rethink and reinterpret your own suffering; your history with depression; your reluctance to admit it to yourself or talk about it with family and friends; or overcome your hesitation to seek out a doctor.

Yeah, I’ve been depressed.

And if I’ve made it this far in spite of depression, just imagine how far you can go, too.

 

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