I had a cousin growing up, well, most of us have cousins, but this one was unique amongst my allotment of cousins. He rode a motorcycle, had a cool leather jacket, travelled all over the world, and smoked. He was a badass with a quick temper whose kind heart would always make him feel terrible if he lost that temper. I looked up to him. Of all my cousins he was the one I was fortunate enough to see most often. He’d visit our house growing up, stay for a few days, then depart, always leaving gifts or at the very least memories.
By far the most profound memory he has given me, he wasn’t there to give.
‘Twas the 9th grade and my hormones had me smitten with a lady and we were talking on the phone in the back room of my parent’s home, a room we’d converted to my bedroom. I didn’t yet have a cell phone, something I wouldn’t get until I was in my early twenties, so we were talking on the landline. The phone was light grey, more white than grey but not completely white. I was leaning back on my chair, feet up, not a care in the world, probably thinking I was on top of the world, when in walks my mom, eyes bursting with tears, a phone in her right hand, a bundle of tissue in her left.
I’d seen my mom cry before, too many times before, but when she walked into my room through the makeshift French doors, up a little step, veering to the left so she could see her son face to face, I knew immediately that this was different. Yet no matter my instincts and intuition, I was not prepared for what she said.
I lost it. Unable to get a word out I muttered a sound then hung up the phone. The tears couldn’t stop. It’s like someone cut the muscle that prevents tears from spewing out uncontrollably through the little holes next to the eyeballs, I had no control. My cousin, the guy I’d looked up to for so long, now a father of two with one on the way, was dead, and by his own hand.
I’m sure many of us have stories of how suicide has effected us. How it’s ripped someone we love from this earth, and in light of Robin Williams‘ apparent suicide, we all have such a story of how someone we were in some way connected to were taken from this earth by a disease of the mind that all too often finds its end at the hands of the person it’s infected.
I am the furthest thing from an expert on mental illness and depression and suicide. I have, however, been around all three. They’ve taken loved one’s either from this earth completely, or from my life, from the enjoyment of life for an extended time.
Some have ended their lives to end the pain, others have somehow found a way through the pain, and though it may never leave them, they’ve found a way to deal with it, to make sense of it and improve upon it. The purpose of this article is to help at least one person do the latter and avoid the former, and like most things in life, and on this site, it begins with a fight.
The Battle at the Gates
Depression is a tough one. It’s something I haven’t experienced. I’ve never had a grey tint dimming the brightness of my life or my future. I’ve always chosen to see things at least as they are or as I know they will be. Depression isn’t sadness. It’s not feeling down or in the dumps, we have control over sadness, actually, absolute control over sadness, but depression isn’t something we fully control, and yet it’s something we do have some control over.
Thus begins the battle.
It’s easy for a guy like me to point out the hope in a situation, to show you the light in a dark room, that glimmer to hold on to, but what if that glimmer isn’t enough? What if you need more or you can’t accept the likelihood of that glimmer growing, morphing the room from one devoid of light to one devoured by it?
Psychoanalysts look for reasons, explanations, and use these explanations to hopefully solve the problem of depression. Freud, for example, looked at dreams to determine the root of a feeling or a desire and that desire or feeling may be depression. Then came Viktor Frankl, the man who wrote, Man’s Search for Meaning, delving into a theory that began to take root before the Second World War in his practice, but was given real life in of all places the Concentration Camps of said war where Frankl was imprisoned for no other reason that being a Jew.
Frankl, having all of his rights taken away from him along with the others confined to this hell on earth, began to discover something in his observations of the men he was with. Some, many, even most, lost all hope in a place where hope seemingly couldn’t reside.
It was this loss of hope that would lead to the body deteriorating at a pace bested only by the deterioration of the mind. Men would go mad when they realized that their death would likely come in days and for no other reason than their race. Other men, however – and I say men because the men and women were separated in these camps – were able to find meaning amidst this great suffering.
It’s this battle for meaning, not necessarily hope or light, that will lead you out of depression, and it starts by stopping this chase you’re embarked, aiming to hunt down happiness, a thing that can’t be hunted and must simply be.
Stop Chasing Happiness, Success.
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.” ~ Frankl
Depression can take root because of biological and chemical reasons that are completely out of our control, and yet our constant comparison to others and the lives others are leading has taken its fair share from us as well. While chemical imbalances are incredibly difficult to right as more and more medications for depression are then found to increase suicidal thoughts, let’s control what we can control.
Stop the chase.
Your definition of success and happiness has to be internal, it can’t be in comparison to another’s or definition. Not only is it destructive but it’s utterly illogical to compare your life, where you are, who you are, to that of another, a person who’s grown up under different circumstances, who has a completely different genetic make-up than you, and who may be portraying one thing but living something entirely different.
It’s in our chase of a eschewed definition of success that we find emptiness and a life devoid of meaning. To bring meaning, this thing that will help us stay alive even at our lowest, we must stop this chase, this hunting of the proverbial unicorn and understand that happiness has to be, it cannot be chased.
So as Dr. Frankl observed men dying, their minds breaking under the weight of the terror around them while others were able to laugh and find meaning even if that meaning was their own sacrifice, he also observed the need for men to, well, cry.
Wear Your Suffering Like a Badge of Honor.
“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” ~ Frankl
Depression is surrounded by a stigma that you’re weak in the mind if you can’t seem to dig yourself out of the despair you’ve been trudging through for who knows how long. But depression isn’t that, it’s far from that. Depression is suffering, and any man who lives through suffering, be it in the physical form or the mental, should wear said suffering openly. This isn’t an open-door to complain, but a kick in the arse to talk.
Don’t ever be afraid to talk about the thoughts that haunt you. Don’t ever fear reprimand or the stigma that can come in being labelled one of the depressed. I can talk about the fact that your life hangs in the balance, both in quality and in length, but that’s what everyone says when they scream at the death of a friend or loved one who was taken by this disease of the mind, that they wished they’d said something.
It isn’t weak to talk, to show your tears, your fears, your sorrow. It takes courage to suffer. It takes courage to push on. It takes courage and self-awareness to not give a fuck about who will tease you, that’s how a man must think.
He can’t worry more about what others may think that he cares about his survival. And a man who’s experiencing depression has one enemy that he must root out and destroy, others become of little consequence in this battle. A man must wear his suffering with pride. He must partake in it with courage. He must speak of it openly, seeking this meaning that will pull him from his depths time and time again.
Actions speak louder than words.
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
As a man walks into his shrink’s office he’s asked to sit or maybe lie down and start talking. He’s asked to start talking about his problems, his dreams, and those things that depress him. Talking is incredibly important, as we’ve already mentioned. It takes courage to bring this struggle to light, yet it isn’t talking that will bring the cure, but action.
Ask a man who’s on a mission in life about his feelings and he’ll tell you he’s too busy to think about his feelings. His feelings are wrapped up in what he’s doing. Action is what will bring you out of the darkness. Routine that brings you to the point of exhaustion will be the rope you need to climb out.
As an unqualified man writing about a topic that has hit home far too often, the answers aren’t simple, the cure may never come, but there is meaning in the suffering consuming your life. What that meaning is, I don’t know. But with every day you wake up and face this battle you automatically become tougher. With every day that you find meaning, you develop grit. With purpose, you will find strength that you thought you weren’t capable of having.
People do rise from depression, it’s not something that is all-consuming. In the end it becomes a choice, one that is in your hands, and a choice you may have to make 50 times a day for the remainder of your life, to find this meaning that helps you walk on when you’d rather just lie down. So, talk. Act. Fight this battle forever for it’s a battle that everyone who’s ever come in contact with you wants you to win.
Come to the realization that life is good. Turn off the news, stop the comparisons to the lives that others lead. Read Man’s Search for Meaning and other books that breathe life into your lungs rather than feeding your cynicism. Write down 3 things you’re thankful for each day, and fight this battle with the added ammunition of reality that life is fucking awesome.