Note: This was originally published on my personal Facebook account on 9/7/17, intended mainly for family and friends. I’ve decided to share it here so that others may read it, perhaps to either to gain a better perspective on depression and how it affects people, or to remind those who suffer from it that they’re not alone. Whatever your reason may be for reading this, I hope it helps.
Strap in kids; this is a long one. But give this a read if you can. It would mean a lot to me if you did.
This past month has been an especially difficult one for me for a few reasons, but reasons that have a common denominator: I am clinically depressed, and have been for quite some time. Recently, I almost let my depression get the better of me and lead me down a very dark, destructive path.
I first became aware of my depression shortly after moving back to Texas after college in 2012. For a while, I’d do my best to ignore it. I wouldn’t pay any heed to small but sudden shifts in my mood. I’d circumvent any internal self-hatred into playful, outward self-deprecation. At the time, it didn’t seem like much to worry about… it seemed perfectly normal for an actor to constantly overanalyze and hate himself to a certain degree. But, over time, it became harder to ignore. My depression grew slowly but steadily over the years. I’d find myself lying in my bed for hours on end because nihilistic feelings took over my better judgment. Constant self-scrutiny of everything I said and did in front of someone latched on to parts of my brain with an iron grip and wouldn’t let go until I came to some conclusion that I said or did something irreparably wrong. Shifts in mood demanded to be acknowledged, and when they weren’t, the inescapable feeling of anxiety would turn my heart into a fist, trying to punch its way out of my chest.
My depression was never a constant feeling. It would ebb and flow, depending on the situation, whom I was around and what I was doing. It would occasionally strike when I was around friends or at work, but most often it would wait until I was alone, usually in my room. It would seduce me into this odd, false sense of security, that if I just lay down and forgot about everything around me… all the deadlines, responsibilities and all the expectations of family and friends and anyone else I’d eventually let down and disappoint… that everything around me would be quiet and fine. The idea of ceasing to exist would come about in my head from time to time, either as just a passing thought, but never fully destructive. That, like everything else that went unchecked within me, slowly grew into something much more grotesque and undeniable. The thought of self-harm was never a constant one, but it was something I could sense, like some phantom presence just out of view or just outside the room, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Despite it all, I still did nothing to try and combat this. I accepted my mental state as who I was, and something that I thought I could just keep learning to cope with.
Now, obviously, this is flawed logic. To accept that some kind of inevitable event or force was coming for me and still believe that it was entirely within my power to avoid it forever was deeply, stupidly flawed logic. But that’s the thing about depression: it effortlessly decimates any shred of logical thought you have left in you and replaces it with its own off-brand, cheaply made version of logic and it knows you’ll buy it in bulk. The moment you realize that you’re wrong for believing that everything will be fine, it’s the moment that phantom force walks up from behind and places its cold hand on your shoulder. For me, that moment was when my most recent relationship ended. For the better part of two years, I received and tolerated a regular amount of emotional abuse from my then girlfriend (not surprisingly, clinical depression strips you of any self-worth, greatly hinders your ability to stand up for yourself and makes you believe that you’re being treated this way because of something you did). After I had finally worked up enough courage to come out to her as depressive and believing that I needed help, she responded by breaking up with me, and then telling me that I had a month to move out of our apartment.
I wasn’t given much of an explanation as to why she decided to end things, beyond some fairly nebulous reasons that her career was starting to take off, and that we don’t really hang out with the same friends, and no there wasn’t somebody else she was seeing, and yes I’ve been a perfectly good boyfriend... It didn’t really matter at that point. I was served a battering-ram sized emotional gut-punch. All I could think about was every moment in our relationship where she made me feel small, unaccomplished, unwanted, ugly and how I allowed that behavior to happen. I felt shame about who I was, allowing myself to be treated this way, yet also feeling like I still somehow deserved this. I don’t remember a whole lot after that, beyond having a complete emotional breakdown outside of our apartment, and eventually ending up in a park about a half-hour walk from where I lived. What I do mainly remember were incredibly distinct thoughts of feeling utterly defeated and lost. I remember trying to fight back against my own lungs, which seemed to have a mind of their own and decided it was as good a time as any to start hyperventilating. I remembered an old bad joke I’d tell myself now and then, about how if I were dead that at least I’d finally be able to stop worrying about deadlines, student loans and bills. Except this time, it returned as a demand, an ugly force that would not be denied. That phantom had finally caught up with me, put its cold hand on my shoulder. I was utterly lost with no direction, weak and defenseless, shaking and scared. The idea of a quick exit was near impossible to deny. Eventually, two of my friends found me in the park, huddled, shaking and crying by myself.
It’s not my intention to demonize my ex. I still think the things she said and did to me during and immediately after our relationship were wrong, and I’m not sure if I can ever forgive her for that. The reason why I bring the ordeal up is to illustrate how it really can take just one bad day to push someone who thinks they can forever avoid their depression into a complete tailspin. It’s the emotional and mental equivalent of never saving any money, and then finding yourself financially screwed when your car suddenly breaks down and you’re told that the transmission is utterly shot. And yet, it’s not an entirely uncommon thing for people to do.
Despite all of this, I will say that I’m doing much better now. I’m currently on an antidepressant that has helped immensely. I’ve gone to a support group in Manhattan regularly, and I’m currently working with the UCB’s director of student affairs to organize a regular support group within the school for students, teachers and performers to meet and discuss their depression. I’m in the middle of narrowing down a therapist whom I can see on a regular basis.
Outside of that, I’ve thrown myself into my work (I’m currently in the final stages of editing a sketch that I co-directed and produced with my friends at the UCB. I’m really excited to show it to all of you when it’s done), and I’ve started going to the gym on a far more regular basis. None of this, of course, would be possible if it weren’t for the insane amounts of support that my friends and family have given me in the last several weeks. I’ve only come out to a handful of people about everything that’s been happening to me, because while I know in my heart that they won’t think any less of me, it’s still immensely difficult for me to articulate without fearing that I’ll be viewed as damaged or less than. But every time I do, I’m reminded that the people in my life genuinely believe in me, love me and want what’s best for me. The greatest irony in all of this is that, despite everything, for the first time in my life I’ve cried from being overwhelmingly happy and relieved when my friends tell me that I do have self-worth, and that they’re proud to have me as a friend. I really don’t know where I’d be right now if it weren’t for everyone’s support. It goes to prove the old quote from Joe Strummer to be true, that “without people, you’re nothing.”
I know all too well of the stigma that mental illness has attached to it, and yes, I was rejected in one of the worst ways imaginable when I first talked to someone about it.
To wrap this overlong post up: I’m sharing this with all of you for a few reasons. First, to gain a sense of being okay with myself again. I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding something about myself anymore. For the first time in my life, I’m truly going to take an initiative to be okay with who I am. This depression is something that I inherited, and it isn’t my fault. I’ll still be the same old Sam that you all know, but one that is taking every step he can to better himself. Secondly, to reach out to anyone who’s reading this who might be going through the same things I’ve been experiencing. There is absolutely no shame in having depression. I know it’s far easier said than done, but being able to talk about it candidly with those you trust will do you worlds of good. They will do what they can to help you, even if all they can do is listen. They will give you the strength and courage you need to take the first few steps to make yourself feel better. I know all too well of the stigma that mental illness has attached to it, and yes, I was rejected in one of the worst ways imaginable when I first talked to someone about it. But the chances of that happening to you are near microscopic. For every person in your life who might act like they owe you nothing, there are many, many others who will absolutely dwarf them… and you can count me in that camp, because I believe in you.
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you. Again, it means a lot to me that you read this. I hope to see you in person soon. I’m sure talking about all this heavy subject matter might be a bit much to process, so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite jokes to lighten things up:
A father approaches his son and says, “Son, I just don’t think you’re cut out to be a mime.”
“Was it something I said?” Asks the son.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.