This is going to be a bummer of a post, and I don’t blame you if you decide to move on down the road. I wish I could say I had some kind of deep insight or a way to make this issue funny.
I am choosing to write this — and show you a side of myself I’d rather nobody see — because in general I think the taboo nature of mental issues only serves to make them a bigger problem than they need to be. Also, specifically for me and my family, I just want to lay bare what depression looks like for me so that it’s recorded in case any of my kids or grandkids might go through something that looks similar. And maybe this can serve as a reminder or a marker to my future self, to compare whatever I’m going through then to where I was at in 2019.
Three important things. First, I have never at any point felt suicidal. This isn’t some kind of final manifesto. Second, my father did commit suicide in 2004, when I was 25 years old and he was 56. I was very close to dad and did not see it coming, although in hindsight there were warning signs. Third, I have never taken any kind of medication for this. I am scared of the side effects, I partially blame them for what happened with dad, and I don’t feel like my episodes are severe or frequent enough to warrant it at this point.
The first time I ever experienced anything I would describe as depression was in 2006, on my wedding night. The bachelor party the night before the wedding was great, the wedding itself was awesome, and I had no idea what the heck was going on.
I have still never experienced anything nearly as severe as that first depression. I didn’t want to get out of bed and I couldn’t stop crying. I knew I wanted to be married to Missy and there was no regret with that decision whatsoever, which was comforting because other than that I had no idea what was going on. This lasted for about five days, partially ruining the first half of our Costa Rican honeymoon. I can’t begin to thank Missy enough for being totally understanding and not freaking out like I would have if the roles were reversed. Thankfully I felt better as the trip went on and by the second half of it I was able to do everything we had planned and feel more or less normal.
In hindsight I would pin the episode on two factors. First, exhaustion from the bachelor party/wedding prep/wedding. Over the years I’ve realized that lack of sleep is far and away the #1 trigger for me with depression.
Second, there were two things about the wedding that I had not prepared for. One was the overwhelming feeling of love from all of my friends and family who were at our ceremony. It was really awesome but I felt unworthy of such love and attention. The other was a feeling that I was now my dad. Now that I was married I was the man of a household just like he was. I never got any counseling after he died and did a poor job of processing all of my emotions about it. It all came flooding back after the wedding, probably exacerbated by the fact that he was one of the few people I loved who wasn’t at the wedding.
I would place the honeymoon blues incident in a whole separate category from anything I’ve dealt with since then. Here’s what a depression episode since then looks like.
Two factors are present 100% of the time. I’m very tired and it’s night. The honeymoon deal was the one and only time I’ve been depressed during the day. Most of the time it’s after a poker session, where my mind is exhausted from thinking all day. I can’t remember a single depression episode where I was not very tired.
Two other factors are present almost all of the time. Alcohol and losing at poker. It’s very rare that I’m completely sober when this happens. Some would say that it’s stupid not to just quit drinking entirely and eliminate this as a factor. They’re probably right, and that may happen. So far I don’t feel like it’s a frequent enough occurrence to warrant that action.
The poker thing was more of a factor a few years ago. Over the years I’ve gotten better and better at emotionally handling even longer-term downswings. Still, my episodes almost always occur after a losing poker session.
So here’s how it always happens. I’m laying in bed. About half the time I am trying to get to sleep and the other half of the time I wake up in the middle of the night after about 3 hours of sleep. I can’t shut my mind off. I am reliving my personal failures (usually not related to poker, but rather being impatient with the kids, not supportive enough of Missy, drinking too much that night, etc.). Then the poker thing kicks in on top of that, and I’m thinking about how I’m a piece of crap human AND I wasted 10 hours or whatever that day and can’t even support my family financially. I understand there is no logic to this whatsoever. My most recent episode came after the one losing session I’ve had during the best hot streak of my entire 10 year tenure in this job. And everyone falls short of their own personal standards at times.
Even when it’s happening, I understand mentally that it is illogical. I just can’t turn it off. I start crying and I can’t stop. Then Missy wakes up and it only makes it worse for me because now I feel guilty that I woke her up. A couple of times it’s turned into a full on panic attack where my heart rate gets super high and I can’t breathe. I start thinking about the things I need to do the next day but I won’t be able to do them because I’m exhausted and will have been up all night. How I’m going to be even less patient with the kids or lose even more at poker because of the lack of sleep. It really is a vicious cycle. Eventually by 7 or 8 in the morning I’ve usually passed out again, and when I wake up the kids make me happy and I’m fine if somewhat tired the rest of that day. But it’s over.
Episodes like this don’t happen very often, but they sure do suck when they come around. I can’t really put a number on them because I have gone months or maybe even close to a year in between them, but also had two in the same month. Except for the honeymoon incident, I’ve never had one that lasted more than one night. Frequently I’m a little down the next day or maybe two but nothing near the level of the all-nighter. And I’d say that is just from being tired.
Again, I want to emphasize the illogical nature of these events. I completely understand how blessed I am to have everything I need to survive, plus an amazing wife, four awesome kids and scores of friends and family who would and do support me in every way. It’s never a matter of wanting something more or wishing I was in a different place in life.
Anyway, I think that’s a pretty apt description of what depression actually means in my personal case in the year 2019. This weekend I’m going to watch some baseball and play some poker with Chad Anderson, so next week’s blog should be much lighter fare 🙂