Sunday, August 3, 2008
Depression: The In and the Out
This is for Tim - with whom I share the passion for diving.
I wanted to write about the topic of depression for a long time - since this blog is not only about my art, but finding my creativity and passion again after depression.
Quickly some disclaimers to the things written below:
* I have let quite a few things out to either protect my or another person's privacy
* This was written late at night and are purely my personal views - so keep that in mind.
Anyway - here we go:
It's quite interesting that people who have not gone through it, don't know anything about it.
But on the other hand, it's such a personal thing and a sickness of the psyche - one does not go run around and talk about one's depression like one is telling a story about how they broke their leg during last winter's ski trip.
People are also dismissive when it comes to depression: "Yeah, we all feel down every once in a while. You should just lighten up!", etc. I'm not free of guilt either. Years ago, a person I very much respected, needed a job and asked if I could help him out. That person also told me that he was depressed and needed the job. He was honest and in a bad spot.
Unfortunately I was such an arrogant bastard back then, I dismissed the plea for help but also dismissed the person's depression. I just had no idea what it meant.
Whenever people dismissed my state later, I was hurt, but then always reminded myself of my own ignorance. Even though it can be hard to take.
Before I can talk about how I got out of my depression, I have to talk a little bit about how I slipped into it. The above photo was taken in March 2002 - about six months after I had broken up with my partner back then. It was a quite painful and traumatic breakup for both parties.
The b/w pictures were taken by myself in the half empty apartment that I still stayed in after she had left. I think this was pretty much the point in time when it all started.
I had never really learned to talk honestly about my feelings and that was a partially what lead to the failure of the relationship. This lack of being able to talk about what's going on inside, also prevented me from finding closure after the whole thing was over. I just tried to "move on" - like I did after the relationships before that one.
Three months later I moved to New Zealand for six months to work on a project. As one often does, I thought the change of location would help. The work was exciting, the people were great and New Zealand was beautiful.
When being at my apartment at night though - dark things crept in. Feelings of tremendous guilt, what if's, conversations with the person I had broken up with - the whole spinning wheel of dread. I said to myself "Oh well - no wonder you're sad. You just need a little bit of time to get over it." I had no idea that it would take me a good six years to get over it.
I remember listening to a radio program, where people spoke about their divorce. They described their feelings and problems - I thought "Hmmm. Weird - that's how I feel. Strange. But I'm not divorced, so whatever ..."
Now I wish I hadn't dismissed my feelings back then and had recognized the sign. Those people were mostly talking about depression. But I had no idea what kind of dark monster I had set free and which was beginning to embrace me in it's all-encircling black tentacles over the next few years.
Fast forward from December 2002 to April 2006.
[In November 2004 I moved to New Zealand again.]
I had gone though several unsuccessful relationships in those years.
Moving from LA to New Zealand really kicked my depression into high gear. Leaving my social circle and my friends kickstarted the whole thing. A few months after arriving I really began to fall into a deep pit.
I had started to drink on a daily basis - something I had never ever done: I got drunk by myself.
I was still, after FIVE years, living in the past. Still having imaginary conversations with the person from back then.
But it also had become crowded in my head - I felt guilty about all the other broken relationships in between.
I had conversations with fantasies and mental abstracts of people I hadn't seen in years. Talking, saying sorry to persons that had moved on long ago. I played through scenarios from the past. Possible other outcomes to ease the regret. A kind of mental "Groundhog Day" of emotional horrors.
After a while, nothing made sense to me anymore. I was completely emotionally confused, I had lost any self confidence. I thought I would get fired from my job any day. I had stopped doing my own paintings. I hid away at home. I basically was afraid to go out into public - afraid people would point at me and say "Loooook, there he is! He's a loooooooser! He's the bad person we heard about!"
I was living in my own head so much that I felt dizzy. I bumped into things constantly and had trouble driving my car. I thought it was from drinking so much.
I thought I had to move back to LA because I'd lose my job in NZ. I just had broken up with my girlfriend of 1.5 years, because she wanted to come with me and I couldn't see that at all happening.
Important point: with all this craziness happening, I still had NO IDEA that I suffered from DEPRESSION!!! I thought I just had hit a bad streak. You know, life goes in waves. Up and down.
The turning point:
Well - after I had broken up with that girlfriend, I had to raise the white flag. I couldn't go any further. Not one step. My life was headed in a direction that was becoming destructive, even dangerous. The only thing I knew was, that things were getting out of hand and that I needed help. Maybe even professional help.
My ex-gf, bless her, was really supportive and got me the number of a therapist here in town. A year before I would have said "Therapist? Why would I need one? I'm not crazy!".
But now I gladly made an appointment and dragged myself there.
This was the beginning of getting out of depression. The realization that:
* things were not "normal"
* I had a problem
* I couldn't 'fix' it myself - no, I needed help.
I think this is one of the biggest problems with depression: first, realizing that one suffers from it and, second - accepting it. Not dismissing it.
The first therapy session was already a big relief for me. I was in such distress that I just basically talked for an hour straight, and would do so for a very long time on a weekly basis.
Lucky for me, my therapist is an ace in her profession. She immediately recognized my troubles and guided me for the next two years. I visited her once a week.
Parallel to therapy, I went to my GP (doctor) and, now, that I knew what I suffered from, asked her for help too. She prescribed a mild dose of an SSRI, to basically keep me from bottoming out.
This April was my last session. It was a rocky ride. Getting better is not a linear process - it's a lot of ups and downs too. I hit some potholes during these two years, but with the guidance of my therapist and the knowledge that I had no other choice than getting better I went through it.
Bit by bit I began to understand how certain parts of myself worked, what caused my depression, what behavioural habits I had and needed to change.
Usually with realizing certain mistakes I made and the reasons for making them, they disappeared.
With that understanding, I also managed to break my relationship patterns.
I think this is not a standard recipe, but this is how it worked for me.
Now, seven years after the breakup, more than two years after starting therapy I have basically re-entered life. I'm still hurting inside here and there, but I realized that I have to learn to live with it.
I have started making my own art again, as you can see below. Currently I'm on a music making spree.
I have found a wonderful partner and am in an equally wonderful relationship.
I'm not drinking anymore by myself and have stopped other destructive habits.
I look at life differently and like to think that I have changed to the better.
I am not thinking anymore that I am a loser or bad person.
Heck, I think I'm starting to kick ass again these days! ;)
Tim, I hope this gave you some insight. Please send me a personal message if you have any questions or if I can be of any help. Cheers.
Hey - and the gray hair kinda suits me:
If you think that someone might want to read this, please pass it along. Thank you.