Keep Your Loved Ones Close

I was talking to a colleague at work the other day, and we were discussing how I never feel able to get enough exercise in a day (my Apple Watch is always telling me to take a ‘brisk 20-minute walk’ at ten o’clock at night). He suggested I go for a walk on my lunch breaks, and I confessed that I used to to that almost daily, some years ago, and that I used to go on these walks with a good friend who passed away a few years ago.

It reminded me that, despite having moved on in my life, past daily sadness and grief, there are still those things that bring back old memories – for better or for worse. In fairness, if I were to go for walks on my lunch again, I would probably feel both glad and sad; sad that he’s no longer with us, and glad because it reminds me of the good times we used to have. We would talk, share feelings, and laugh and joke each time, and it always felt satisfying to share that time with someone close.

In this instance, I’m glad I was able to have this time with a close friend before they died. I think I have very few regrets about him, because I didn’t lose contact, I didn’t forget, and I didn’t walk away, even unintentionally, from that relationship.

There are others I feel worse about.

A while ago, I tried reaching out to an old friend and mentor from my youth, and received a strange auto-reply implying they would be unlikely to respond. It worried me, and for a time afterwards I fretted, wondering what might have been going on.

More recently, I discovered that this friend had undergone brain surgery, and that during the course of the operation something had gone wrong, leaving them almost completely incapacitated. For over 18 months, they’ve been struggling with recovery, their only communication being via family members posting on Twitter on their behalf.

Just today, I received a response to a message I had left back in September, sharing that they were, astonishingly, on the mend – albeit slowly. I wrote them a lengthy email – perhaps overlong, but I have trouble with conciseness – sharing some of my life, and wishing them well.

I can’t overstate how glad I am for this person to still be alive, considering not only what they meant to me, but also what they’ve been through over the last few years. And in the same way I was glad of my contact with my friend who passed away, I know I would have deeply, deeply regretted not staying in touch with this person had things gone worse than they did.

I’m a very out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of person, and it’s to my detriment, because it means that the people who I care most about – the people I cherish above all others – tend to be forgotten about as soon as I’m not around them every day. I also don’t generally make friends easily, which leaves me wondering if, as I get older, I might not feel terribly alone.

So the lesson for myself, here, is to not lose that contact. Don’t forget about the people who matter to you. Don’t leave those emails unanswered, and if you don’t hear from someone for a few months, reach back out. I say this because I think regret is one of the most difficult things there is to live with, and although life will always carry on regardless, a life filled with regrets is hardly a life at all.

You’ll never regret keeping in contact. You’ll only regret the chances you missed, and only when it’s too late.

Loneliness and the Struggle for Validation

It’s a dark day outside today, and I’m well-settled into the gloom of my rapidly worsening depression. My psychiatrist recently increased the dosage of several of my medications, and today is my first day taking them, although it’ll be several weeks before I notice any difference according to her. I certainly don’t feel any better today.

The past few weeks have been a struggle like none I’ve known in at least five years (the last time I felt as bad as this was in 2016). I can barely function, have had to call out or leave work early on several occasions, and spend almost all day, every day, in a numb, mindless stupor, trying desperately not to think about or consider what’s coming next, because anything yet to come just seems completely unbearable. I sleep all day, snuggles with my cat my only comfort, and am conflicted between wretchedly wanting each day to end, and not wanting the next day to come. Some days I don’t even eat, which is terribly unusual for me, and deep sleep dreams are my only escape.

The point is, it’s bad.

And in this place of desperation, I realize I feel very, very alone. Not alone in the sense that I’m the only one suffering, but more so alone in the sense that I see everyone suffering, and no one has the time or inclination to care much about me. I see my wife struggling with depression, the people around me fed up with work, and even when I tell someone how I’m feeling (or try to; it’s hard to get the concept of crushing despair across), they might listen, offer some advice or sympathy, but then go back to their own life (which, of course, they’re very much allowed to).

The funny thing is, I think a lot of people feel similar. One of my greatest struggles as an author and creator is getting myself out there, marketing my craft, and getting people to notice me. For the most part, I don’t really want to be noticed. I don’t crave attention, I don’t really need others’ validation, and so I don’t tend to think about how I can get myself in front of others. But when I look at other people – particularly their social media presence – the more I wonder if those who prolifically post photos of themselves, their cats, their children or their thoughts, are really feeling just as alone as I am. Just as in need of validation.

Because right now, I really, really want people to validate my depression. I want to post to social media that I feel horrible, that I want to die, that I can’t face life day after day after day. It is, in a way, a cry for attention – but sometimes, I think people need attention. In the past, when I used to self-harm, or when I would daydream about suicide, it was always inward, about myself, my feelings, and how I would cope personally with the mental hell I was wading through.

Now, I feel like I have the same sort of feelings, but I really want someone else out there to say, ”Hey – it’s okay. I know it sucks.” I don’t want sympathy, or solutions; I don’t want platitudes, or logical ”you know it’ll get better” catchphrases (I know it’ll get better, that’s not the point). I want … empathy, I guess. Validation. Someone to tell me I’ve got it rough, and that it’s okay to cope in whatever way I possibly can.

But the thing is, I also don’t want that. I don’t want to feel like I’ve got it worse than other people, because I know I haven’t. I don’t want to garner sympathy for a plight that isn’t all that bad. I don’t want to drag empathy out of people who are probably thinking to themselves, ”Who is this guy? Does he think the world revolves around him? Grow up!”

I feel stuck, I feel lonely, and I feel miserable and depressed. I want people to notice, and I also want people to pass me by.

I want to feel validated, and I don’t feel that I deserve it.

I really want to end this post with some upbeat note, a sense of, ”Hey … I know this will get better.” And the honest truth is, I do know that. I also don’t care. It doesn’t change how I feel right now. It doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know how I’m going to make it through tomorrow. It doesn’t change anything about the place I’m in, or how I feel totally unequipped to cope. All the logical answers in the world don’t change a thing about depression.

For now, I’m probably going to zone out for the rest of the night, drag my living corpse from room to room in the house until it seems like a reasonable time to go to bed, then sleep until tomorrow.

Then it all begins again.

The Isolationism of Depression

I’m sitting in a brightly lit, crowded and noisy room. People bustle around me, eating, drinking, talking and laughing, and here I am in the middle of it, ignoring it all. I have noise-canceling headphones in, and the most I hear is a faint whisper of spoken word, the slightest hint of movement out of the corner of my eye, and the distraction of someone jostling me as they try to get by. Otherwise, I’m in a world of my own, oblivious to the people around me, focused on the music in my ears and the screen in my eyes.

In many ways, this is a perfect analogy for depression. I know there are things going on in the world around me, but I can’t connect to them. I know there are people who might be watching me, trying to talk to me, but I can’t pay attention. I don’t hear anything but my own focus, don’t see anything but myself. In the same way that the sounds around me are muted and distant, so are the feelings of people around me, and even the brightness of the day is somehow more subdued than it used to be.

Depression is very isolationist. It really doesn’t want me to interact with people, or do my job, or pay attention to my family. All depression really wants is to escape into a lost, solitary world, a place where no one sees me, and I don’t have to see them. Where no one hears me, and I can’t hear them.

This is a place I’m intimately familiar with. I’ve often felt huddled in a corner, looking out on the world from a place of dark loneliness; I frequently lapse into periods of nonexistence, where I’m not certain if I’m dreaming or not, if I’m in bed or at work. When depression steals over me, it mutes the whole world in both color and sound, and it’s all I can do to stay cognizant enough to make it from place to place, from moment to moment, until I finally get to retreat into the soft warm covers of my bed once more.

I’ve been told I get very self-centered when I get depressed. I think this is probably accurate; it’s difficult to assess others’ problems or empathize with their troubles when nothing seems to matter. When the darkness creeps over me, I just stop caring about anyone else. Perhaps it’s a survival instinct; perhaps I’m just trying to stay sane enough to live the day out. The same is true of duties and responsibilities; I’m having a really hard time focusing at work, convincing myself that any of it matters at all. I want nothing more than to go home, go to sleep.

Sometimes depression is a deep, overriding despair. These are the times when I can’t even get out of bed, never mind take a shower, or brush my teeth, or make it to work on time. This is when the world is black, I can’t see past my own feet, and everything is spiraling out of control to a point where there seems no way out.

Other times, however, depression is a kind of blank limbo, neither feeling nor unfeeling. I do things as though nothing were wrong, going through the motions of an otherwise normal day, but there’s no connection internally; no meaning to any of it. Do I speak up at that meeting or not? It really doesn’t matter. Do I go shopping after work? Who cares? Should I watch a movie or fall asleep? Same difference.

That’s kind of where I am right now. I haven’t written more of The Redemption of Erâth in a good few weeks. I haven’t written more music. I haven’t done … well, anything, really. I just keep plodding on, step after step, day after day, getting up and going back to bed with nothing in between. Leaving the house, going to work, having dinner with friends … all of it, nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.

I hate losing touch with reality like this. I don’t want to just go through the motions. In fact, I think I’d rather be utterly incapacitated with despair than well enough to do things, but ill enough for it to all mean nothing. I’d rather feel something than nothing, even if that something is misery.

Mostly, though, I’d rather just sleep the day away. Then I wouldn’t have to sit in this brightly lit, crowded and noisy room. Then I could just be on my own, in my little isolationist bubble, and feel nothing.

The night isn’t far away.