One morning, I woke up and literally could not get out of bed. It’s the most awkward and crazy thing I’ve ever felt. At the time I was 31. I was physically fit. But it was like a brick wall had been built on top of my body overnight. It was frightening.
But I had to go to the bathroom. The bathroom is exactly seven paces from the foot of our bed. I had to pump myself up just to walk those seven paces. I plopped back into bed and stayed there for 48 hours.
One afternoon two weeks after that, I was stopped at this traffic light and I just started to cry. I was not in pain. I was not in peril. Nothing had caused it. Again, completely atypical behavior for me. Seeing a therapist seemed like the logical next step. I remember telling her this story. I remember her words exactly: “That’s the depression.”
This is something a lot of people die from. Depression gets so bad that it’s too hard to go on. I got to a point where I understood why people kill themselves. It really is intolerable. But I had my kids and my wife, and I had reasons to fight. Survival is a legitimate term in this case.
I should say here that I would not have been successful in recovery if not for my wife. At the time I was no more than just a vessel. I wasn’t able to be a father or a husband or a breadwinner. It was that bad. I wasn’t contributing to anything, and she’s the one who kept our household running while I was away. That was the most important reason why I was able to survive it.
Therapy was the second-most important reason I survived. I was still alive enough to get help. It would have been easier for me not to do that. My job as a man was to ignore it. That’s what a lot of people do and end up getting into drugs or alcohol or gambling or adultery. They’re trying to distract themselves from the way they feel. For some people that’s easier than actually dealing with it.
Finally, after about a year of feeling depressed, I started to realize that part of the way you get better is to be around other people. If this were diabetes or cancer, I would want people to know, because I would want their support. But in my mind, and because mental illness is so poorly understood and viewed with so much ignorance in our country, I kept it to myself. But at some point I decided I needed to talk about it. To let people know.
So I talked to a few close friends about it, and found out that a couple of them had been suffering the same way. I got an unexpected amount of comfort from knowing I wasn’t alone. I tried to think outside of my own head for a while, and offered comfort to someone else. That was really healing to me.
I also had been writing this blog called “Dad Gone Mad,” chronicling my first foray into fatherhood. It had started to build an audience. All these people who had been following me deserved an explanation why I had been writing less frequently, so I wrote a post called “The Devil Inside” explaining that I was suffering from depression. I just put it up there, and I got so much support. About half of the people I heard from were dealing with depression in some way. It was completely unexpected and helpful to me.
Reaching out and talking about it took the mystery away from it. When it lives only in your head, it’s hard to manage. That’s why I wanted to write books that would explain what I was going through. I went to the bookstore looking for books like that. I found lots of books about postpartum depression, but nothing by a guy, for a guy, in a guy’s language. Writing the book was therapeutic for me, and hopefully for others who may be going through it.
Depression affects about 6 million men and 12 million women in the United States each year, but men are more likely to die by suicide than women.
—National Mental Health Institute
Photograph by Jason Wallis
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue.