Let's Talk About Depression / by Josh Guess

Before I dive in, I want to dedicate this post to Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. I've been reading her blog for a few years. People have called her one of the funniest women in the world, but for me the qualifier isn't necessary. Jenny Lawson is one of the funniest human beings alive, period.

But it isn't her humor, or rather, not just her humor, that I've grown to appreciate and almost depend on. Jenny is also bitingly honest about her anxiety and depression, and always manages to convey her experience in ways that make me truly feel like someone else is as weird as I am. And that it's completely okay.

A lot of my regular readers are also my friends on social media. You know to one degree or another about my struggle with anxiety and depression. My mom, who like all mothers worries that writing something like this will affect my ability to get a job should this whole novelist thing stop working, probably won't like me writing about this. But I feel at this point that I'm doing a disservice to other people out there who suffer from the same problems.

In short, Jenny Lawson helped me through some of my worst times, and it's time to pay that forward.

I'm not sure how depression is for most people. I say that because the only actual experience I have to go on is my own and seeing it in one or two people close to me. My own variety is, thankfully, not as severe as what many people have to live through. People who don't suffer from it have a hard time understanding, and the people who are suffering from it get frustrated and down trying to explain.

So, here's my depression, which I've thankfully avoided for the last two months or so:

Think about a time when you were sadder than you've ever been in your life. You had a reason, right? It may have been a funeral or some larger and more distant tragedy. Think for just a moment about that feeling. Got it?

Multiply it. Imagine that feeling wrapping around you, trying to crush you, and smothering the light from the world. Now imagine it hitting you for no reason whatsoever, at a time that makes no sense. It has happened to me in the middle of a trip to the grocery store.

Keep that vague sense of helplessness and frustration in mind the next time someone you know says they're sad or depressed. The most common thing depressives hear is that they should cheer up, or fight through it, and there isn't any reason to feel this way.

That's the rub. We know there isn't any reason most of the time. We know it's a bunch of chemicals in our brain clamoring for attention. Being told this fact by someone who expects you to just throw it off is maddening.

The same can be said about anxiety, which is honestly a bigger problem for me than being depressed. I'm very lucky in that when I'm down, it's rarely as deep as many go, and that I've been able to work through most of my problems over time. At this point in my life, I think the depression aspect of my issues is smaller than it has ever been.

Keep in mind, I'm one of the very lucky few. Don't use these words on someone who is still struggling by using me as an example.

Anxiety is a weird thing. I talked about it while I was getting tattooed the other day. I described it in much the same way I did above about being sad, but used the example of nervousness instead. Ever had your heart race and your muscles burn in anticipation for something? Felt like your chest was going to explode? That's anxiety, and for us, it can be a nightmare.

It's not about crisis. I can handle crisis. My degree is in Fire/Rescue, which involved a lot of crisis management training. I've practiced martial arts, which rules out fear of violence as a cause. I worked in a nursing home for several years, and never lost my head when some emergency or another came up. Anxiety isn't about the big stuff. It's about many small things adding up.

Jenny Lawson started out as a blogger and became a novelist, not dissimilar to my own trajectory. I own three different versions of her book, which I've read or listened to no less than six times. The whole memoir is a sort of ode to being strange (though I think she's perfectly normal, but then I also have random conversations with strangers about the best way to survive the apocalypse) and threaded through the book are many references and examples of her own struggle with anxiety. Jenny is less fortunate because her triggers are things like social gatherings or meeting new people.

Mine are different. I can go to an amusement park with no problem. Put me in a crowded bar with no one to talk to, and my heart starts beating against my sternum like a cracked-out heavy metal drummer. I don't stress much over having to make my living through writing, or at least no more than the average person would. Yet knowing I have to go to an appointment with a doctor or insurance agent sends my nerves jangling.

Which in terms of the whole anxiety spectrum isn't that bad. My point isn't to make you feel pity for me. You absolutely shouldn't. I'm a full-time writer, for the moment at least, and I'm living my dream. My problems are manageable and I'm making decent progress against them.

I'm only talking about my own issues because they're what I can write about with honesty. What I hope to accomplish here is to open a dialog. I used to be one of those people who couldn't understand depression or anxiety at all. I had never been there, and my honest outlook was that it seemed like people were being overly dramatic, maybe even using them as an excuse.

If you know someone who suffers from either problem, consider this disjointed and rambling post in the future. Every person is different. No one handles their problems the same way. Lots of people who have never been depressed or on the edge of a panic attack lose their shit when confronted with even the regular stuff people deal with every day. That being the case, it makes sense to take a moment and try to understand when someone you know or love is hit with a metric ton of surprise depression for no reason at all.

I'm not accusing people of having cold hearts or a lack of empathy. I don't make friends easily, but every one of mine are very understanding about this stuff even if they've never experienced it firsthand. I'm talking to people like me, first and foremost, in the hope that these words will help. It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to look for help. It doesn't make you weak or a bad person--both thoughts I've directed at myself time and again--to admit these feelings. The way to begin shifting that burden is by breaking down the walls containing it. As trite as it sounds, talking about it is the first step to getting healthier.

Healthier, not healed, because false hope is rarely a good thing. Chances are, if you're like me, this will be something you'll live with to some degree for your entire life. But it does get better, if you want it to. Living with it isn't nearly as bad if you don't have to do it alone. There are medications and other treatments able to change lives, but it all begins with opening up and telling someone. I promise you, you'll be amazed at how much just talking can help. On this subject, my door is always open.

To the other group, the small number of people who may not be (or have been) as understanding as they could have been: I hope you take my ramble here seriously. I don't think badly of you. I was one of you. I grasp perfectly how hard it can be to put yourself in those shoes. All I hope is that you listen if someone wants to talk, and keep in mind that while you may not be able to feel the way they do, they certainly feel it. And they've trusted in you enough to share it.

This post didn't come out the way it sounded in my head. That's one of the advantages in writing fiction. It's much easier to seed kernels of truth in all the constructed lies. Writing about zombies and superhumans is cake compared to honest discussion of serious topics. I'm not sure if I did what I set out to do, but as I reread this post I find myself oddly satisfied. Maybe there isn't a crescendo of enlightenment to be found here, but I believe I've said the things I needed to say. It's not a pretty subject, mainly for its lack of easy answers, but if even one person starts addressing those powerful feelings because of this post, and one person listens who wouldn't have before, then it's a win.