Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m depressed.
I first used The D Word around Thanksgivings 2016. I’d once again been experiencing something of a crisis, silently, that came to a head during concentrated holiday time. I couldn’t hide it anymore, and it was time to let my wife and my mother into my experience. It was scary, speaking that words out loud for the first time,
“I think I’m depressed. And I think I’ve been this way for a long time.”
After the holidays- and a lot of talk with the family- I started therapy. Identifying unprocessed or incompletely processed trauma. Identifying personality traits, habits, and other behavioral patterns connected to feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or overwhelming circumstances. Disentangling my emotions and methodically breaking down my backstory in a search for clues. Then identifying how these emotions and sensations translate into destructive or self-destructive behaviors if not managed effectively.
Therapy, along with more open conversations with my wife, were helping. I could see how the work was benefitting me, and how the routine kept me more grounded.
But of course, life doesn’t conveniently rearrange itself to adapt to your health challenges, and 2017 was an enormous year for me. I spent more than half of it on the road, directed my first feature documentary, and got married. Believe Limited- my company- also continued to grow, adding new projects and new partnerships, and with them, more responsibilities.
It truly was an excellent year, but throughout it, I was plagued by voices in my head:
How does a depressed person get married?
How does a depressed person go after his dreams?
How does a depressed person act as the face of an organization?
How does a depressed person moderate panels on challenges and deliver keynote addresses?
How does a depressed person respond to parents who tell him he’s a role model for their children?
How does a depressed person respond when people in his community continually ask why we don’t talk more about depression?
What I’ve learned is that a depressed person, or at least this depressed person, is extraordinarily functional. I’m lucky in that way; I’ve always had an ability to rise to the occasion or meet the moment, regardless. No sleep? No problem. Physical pain? I can handle it! An unshakeable sense that I’m standing inside a house of cards which will inevitably collapse upon me sooner or later no matter what? Yeah, I can power through that too.
But now almost halfway into 2018, two things have become abundantly clear:
1. There’s no getting out of paying the piper. Being a highly-functional person with depression who rises to the occasion and doesn’t allow the depression to “win” is tiring and unsustainable. My sympathetic nervous system is worn out from this fight-or-flight approach to functioning. And while I’m not very good at this, when I do really slow myself down and zoom out, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in my life thus far:
Dude, you’ve worked professionally as an actor, director, producer, writer, and podcaster! You oversee the direction of a growing, influential, and inspiring organization! Whether it was through poker, acting, or production/agency work, you’ve travelled to more places than you can count! You met the woman of your dreams, became best friends, then married her on an estate in Portugal! And you’re only 32! Dude, life is great!
Yes, it is.
Also, I’m a person with depression. So while “on paper” there is a lot of good to look at, experientially, it’s far more complicated than that.
It’s not that the depression negates the good; it’s that both things are true.
2. This one is the truly scary one: mental health problems don’t get better by themselves. I’ve lived long enough now to know better. I have too many friends who struggle. Older friends who struggle even more. Some who’ve ruined themselves. Some who’ve killed themselves. And while I’m thankful that I haven’t truly come close to suicide, I understand how people get there. It’s very real. It happens, and it happens to people like me, who struggle quietly. And since mental health issues don’t get better by themselves, the only way to change things is to keep up the self-work, today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life.
Given the nature of much of what I do, I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few years thinking about how half the world doesn’t have a regular supply of medicine for hemophilia. How literally every problem in my life is a blessing because of where and when I was born.
Rationally, this context helps me not sweat the small stuff so much. Little things don’t rattle or frazzle me. Even medium things, like when I got food poisoning and hated life for two days while filming in India; I still remember thinking, I’m so lucky this almost never happens to me! What rationale for a 102° fever!
But that’s the problem with depression: rationale doesn’t necessarily work. I know, rationally, how blessed and fortunate I am. I know how much worse off my life could be, on so many levels. I truly understand that, but it’s as if sometimes depression plays bodyguard against understanding’s ability to influence thoughts and feelings. There’s a stubborn hopelessness that just rejects well-reasoned arguments for feeling positive, optimistic, or even just normal in some way; not even terribly aspirational, but just functional. There’s a stubborn rejection to even just function at times.
And that’s really scary.
Now, you can cut off from it. Escape and hide inside something else for an hourglass or two. Versions of numbness and diversion.
And though that doesn’t feel scary, objectively, it’s even scarier. It’s like taking pain medication to numb yourself from the most intimate and insidious forms of pain; not pain that aches in bones or muscles, but in your soul. In your sense of identity and self-worth. In your understanding of survival and will power. It’s the reason that some people turn to substances as severe as heroin to escape. It’s a sneakily powerful pain, and some real messed up behaviors can occur if you spend too much time in the numbness and diversion department of depression.
So while I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and what I’ve overcome and managed to get to where I am today, I know I need to keep evolving. It’s not about losing something that didn’t work or finally doing something that might. It’s about change. The very nature of change. It’s understanding the inevitability of and necessity for change and actively participating in my experience of it.
This year, I’ve started some healthy routines that have helped: fighting for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, rigorous daily exercise, eating more mindfully, eliminating alcohol, and leaving some time each day for meditative walks and/or journaling. I’d also like to continue with therapy, which I must admit has been an inconsistent practice in 2018 for a variety of reasons. And I’m looking for ways to further simplify and streamline my life.
If I had everything all figured out, this would be the part of the piece articulating that. Unfortunately I, like everyone else battling with some form of mental or emotional pain, don’t have all the answers. I’m still in the early days of figuring out what it is I need to continue evolving and growing, as a man, husband, artist, and advocate, and I’ve made a bet today that part of this latest evolution involves struggling more openly.
Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Forward, published an excellent piece in March titled “Everyone Is Going Through Something” in which he shared his mental health struggles. He wrote that he was inclined to share his story, in part, because sharing stories of struggle helps reduce the stigma of mental health issues and creates “a better environment for talking about mental health… [which is] where we need to get to.” I guess I wanna help contribute to that environment-building work too.
Just before wrapping up, I wanna tell you one more important thing: I’m okay. I am! Really, I am, but I wanna tell you I am so that you won’t ask me about this the next time you see me. Because to be honest, I don’t wanna talk about it.
But that’s part of the problem, right; nobody wants to talk about depression, least of all depressed people.
So I’m making the decision to struggle a little more openly. In part because I wanna contribute to that environment K Love wrote about, but also because the very process of struggling openly, and having to articulate my experiences and thoughts into words for other human beings, might actually help me. Much in the way expression, communication, and art have helped me understand the world throughout my life.
So I’m going to struggle with this a little more openly from now on, for the benefit of my health and the health of others.
Not that I really wanna talk about it.
Patrick James Lynch is the CEO of BelieveLTD, a digital content agency and production house. Depending on the day, he’s an actor, director, podcaster, producer, writer, facilitator, host, advocate, creative executive, business executive, and/or traveler. He used to blog more. This is the first in a while. He might write more soon. Twitter: @pjlynch.