Depression – The Silent War

I have really debated the past couple of days on whether to write this or not. It’s personal and deep, and involves taking a journey down a road that although familiar, isn’t a pleasant one to travel. But I am a traveling man, and not all roads are easy to travel down.

Depression. Depending on who you speak to, you will get different responses regarding this word. Even within the last decade, my own personal thoughts and opinions regarding depression have changed.

Why am I writing this? Don’t I usually choose topics that are a little easier and pleasant to absorb? Yes, but I also dedicate this blog site to impacting those near and far and trying to positively influence those who read it.

This particular topic and blog entry has been on my mind constantly for the past two days. For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2016, which led to my early retirement from the United States Air Force after sixteen years active duty. Part of having MS is trouble falling asleep. Because I have trouble sleeping, I was prescribed a sleeping medication recently. This particular medication has caused me to have extremely vivid dreams, none of which have been great dreams.

I will skip the details of the dream I had two mornings ago, but immediately upon waking, I took the contents and overall theme of the dream, as a prompt to write this and hopefully inspire others to share their own stories.

I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional. I have zero textbook experience on the subject of depression. What I do have however, is years of hands-on practical knowledge, experience, and coping mechanisms used to deal with this silent killer.

I call depression a silent killer for many reasons. Almost more times than not, those who deal with depression will keep silent about it. For different reasons, they’re ashamed, and don’t want it to become evident to those around them, let alone themselves. These silent victims walk through their daily routines, wearing masks and hiding the pain they feel inside.

I am no stranger to wearing masks. For years, I became an expert at changing them often, and creating different ones for various occasions in life. I have never been one that is talented in the area of hiding facial expressions. Those around me could usually tell how I felt inside by the way I looked on the outside. So I created masks. I portrayed a smile on the outside while my heart and soul screamed on the inside.

Many times over the past years, I’ve talked about silent warriors fighting silent battles, and the battlefield being hidden within the four walls of their home or within their minds. They’re fighting these silent battles in a silent war, and if they make it through the night and into the next day, they’re winning. I’ve talked about this often and it’s so true.

When I was in the military, depression wasn’t something people talked about very much. The perception was there, especially in my career field and carrying a weapon, that any sort of mental or emotional health problem was a career killer. So you ended up having so many kill themselves on the inside to save their careers. With a rise in mental health awareness programs to combat Post Traumatic Stress and Suicide, the stigma has started to be shunned out of most units. Those who were in positions that did nothing but support the stigma mentioned above, have found themselves either getting with the program and following suit with other leaders, or being hidden in places where they will have minimal influence and impact on others. Good!

It’s a hard place to be when you’re standing in a room full of people, only to feel completely and utterly alone. For those who have never been surrounded but feel an intense loneliness and emptiness, it’s hard to fathom. To be surrounded by happiness and light, but feel as though you’re standing in a dark corner, is excruciating. To want nothing more than to break and scream at the top of your lungs, but thinking you can’t because they’re depending on you to be the happy person you always present yourself to be, is nothing short of painful. It’s like being stung over and over by the same bee.

Many think that someone who is depressed is suicidal. Not true at all. Someone could be in such a state of loneliness, sadness, and emotional despair, they don’t want to continue. They lay down at night praying they won’t wake up, unable to fathom another day in pain. But they’re not suicidal. They just want their pain to go away. Imagine the most excruciating toothache. Everything you tried to do to make the pain go away, failed and you’re left walking around with this pain that no one can see but only you can feel. Wouldn’t you do anything, including the removal of the tooth, to make the pain subside?

If you’re reading this and can relate, I’m here to tell you there is hope. I can also tell you that you can think all the happy and positive thoughts in the world, and it isn’t going to work. Why? Because that’s not you and that’s not how you were wired. And you know what else? That is okay!

I started this post by telling you I am not a doctor and have zero professional experience in the case of mental and emotional health. But I have experience, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here writing this for you today. I’m going to talk about things I’ve done to help in my next entry. It might just save you hundreds of dollars or another long period of pain and darkness. Maybe you won’t have to wear that mask so much. If none of the above, at least you will know that there’s another person fighting alongside you and cheering for your victory.

Who Am I? Part 2

Wow! What a week in world news it has been. Once again, as I have written in other blog entries, we are a nation divided and one doesn’t have to look very far to see it. Open up your Facebook newsfeed, and if you have a diverse mixture of friends, you’ll see the debating back and forth over the bombing and killing of an Iranian general.

I’m not here to talk about that however. I want to continue and conclude on a top I started at the very end of 2019. I want to answer the question that I and so many are faced with at different times in our lives. Who are we? Who am I? How do I want to start this new year? Who do I want to be in 2020?

Like I wrote in the first part of this discussion, I am not big into New Year’s resolutions. I think they tend to fizzle out after a couple of weeks when we realize they just aren’t fun anymore. The beginning of a new year is good though because it sometimes forces us to recognize areas within ourselves that need improvement. Some people create goals for health reasons, while others create goals to try and better themselves in another way. Some just use January 1st as a benchmark for something. For example, I shaved what facial hair I had left on December 31st, and started growing my beard fresh the following morning. It’s a benchmark for me to look back on and see growth over time. There are other things I am using January 1st as a benchmark for however, to see growth over time.

While I don’t have a resolution for 2020, I do have a goal in mind. Overall, I want to be a better me than I was in 2019. I want to look back at the end of this year, and besides having a glorious beard to gaze upon in the mirror, I want to see personal growth. I want to take more time this year to reflect on life, to spend time with family and friends, grow as a person, and take the time be by myself and rejuvenate personally. As a photographer, and it’s probably weird to read this, but I want to hold the camera less. I want to see less through the lens and more through my eyes at the moment. I want to embrace each moment of 2020, whatever it brings, and use those moments as stepping stones to a better me.

For all of you reading this, and myself as well, 2020 will bring many things. There will be victories and defeat, life and death, happiness and sadness, as well as laughter and sorrow. It’s inevitable these things will exist, just as it is inevitable that we will look back on the last day of this year and reflect once again. So who am I? I am not the version of myself I would like to tomorrow, but I am grateful I am not the same person I was yesterday. I am who I am today, striving each day to be a better version.

Happy New Year to all those who read this, and may this year bring many lessons and blessings to each of you!