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My life as an undiagnosed depressive.

1 Jul

You may be suffering from depression, anxiety or other mood disorders and not even know it. I’m not trained in psychiatry, or indeed any other profession that deals with mental health. Nor am I even a diagnosed sufferer. All I know is that something is wrong with me, and I want to share with you. You may see some similarities between my experience and yours. You may feel some of the same things. I’ll just say up front that if you do, I urge you to tell your friends. Seek society and don’t hide yourself away. As soon as you feel the doubt and anxiety, go out and do something, and don’t be afraid to admit that something is wrong.

Certainly I did not follow my own advice, or else I wouldn’t be writing this now. Part of the problem is that I don’t think I have a problem. I felt that I could turn the situation around, if only something good happened. But you need to know that something good doesn’t just happen. You have to work towards it. It sounds so cliché, but it really must be true.

Before we get to that, I’ll talk bit about my life before I suspected that I had a problem.

Turning thirty was elating. I felt like my life was finally beginning. I had a wonderful relationship with a beautiful and smart woman who was interesting, I had a nascent career in design and I was working with smart and challenging people. Over the next year and half, however, all these things started to peel away. I could never overcome my anxieties and fears concerning my career. I could never do what I felt needed to be done to be successful. Being a designer in Toronto in this economy is not easy, but I knew, and I still know, that it is a service that is needed. For some reason, however, I was ground down a little bit with every project. Every time I was asked to do something, my confidence faded a bit. A big part of it was that I never could get paid enough for the work that I did. Mostly it was my own fault, of course. I would drag projects on for way too long, until any chance of making a profit vanished. The anxieties that came with each project became harder and harder to overcome. Overheads are one of the big sources of discipline when you are business owner, and it’s a problem that can never go away. Even if you don’t need any tools or space or inventory for a business, you will always have to pay to keep yourself alive. I found it impossible to focus on growing a business when keeping a roof over your head became my main priority. I lost sleep, I became unpleasant and bitter, and I would fret and complain constantly. This in itself was not the problem for my then girlfriend, soon to be fiancée. It was the fact that I seemed completely normal to outsiders that really gutted her. I would laugh, and joke, and tell acquaintances about my problems and worries; things that I wouldn’t share with her. To her I was surly, negative, stubborn, bitter, antagonistic…you get the idea. It’s a fine example of situational irony, because I didn’t tell her precisely so that I wouldn’t upset her. My reasoning was that, since we spent all our time together, it would be too much for me to share my thoughts and feelings with her. I thought that it would wear her down and the extra weight wouldn’t be fair for her. I wanted to bear it all alone and solve my own problems.

In a way, I’ve always had this problem. I’m an only child, so I was born alone. I grew up alone. Until I was 18 I learned most of what I knew alone. I suffered alone, and I always felt I needed to solve my problems on my own. Part of this was my parents’ efforts to make me more independent, I suppose, for their advice on most of my problems, from bullying, to not knowing math, was to figure it out for myself. I understand that they meant well, and also that I was a tough bastard to teach. But there it is, a trend I can see now that I’m older, that started almost from birth. I have always had trouble asking for help. And I always look like I don’t need help. Some people are obvious when they’re in trouble, or in pain. I, on the other hand, always look fine. I may seem a bit thin and underweight, but no one ever suspects that I’m emotionally distraught, or confused or lost. That’s why I didn’t learn arithmetic until I was 11, I suppose. I just didn’t seem to need help. Casey’s got it, they thought, he’s a bright boy. And they were right; I was a bright boy. I could remember almost everything the teacher said in class. I rarely ever had to study, and even when I did I never needed more than a glance at my notes. Math, however, was a different story.

I’m telling you all this at the risk of giving the impression that this story follows the usual climb, plateau, crash and slow climb arc that seems to characterize these kinds of stories. No such luck. The climb is far away yet, as far as I can tell.

When my business partner John left for a steady job, I was finished. Initially I felt free and enabled. I could finally explore each project the way I wanted to, meet the client’s needs in my own way, use the materials that I liked. That was very rewarding, and I’m glad I got to experience that. Owning and operating a business, however, is very much more complicated than designing a piece of furniture. It’s much more complicated than just making something. Eventually, my irrational fears ground my activity to a halt. I sat in the dark watching stand up comedy for days. I didn’t eat for three days at a time. All the while my cousin, who is one of my closest friends, lived a five-minute walk away.

More to come.

 

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