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.

Friends

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.”

Dalai Lama

It’s been somewhat of a rough start to the new year. I am sure many can relate because life continues and things happen, regardless of the pages of a calendar turning. As I have written in previous posts, you can’t experience true joy unless you know true sorrow.

I have been trying to think over the past several days on how I was going to write this. I’ve laid awake in bed, wishing I could fall into a deep sleep, but continuously reminded of past memories; many of them 20+ years old. I lost a friend last week. Sure, I’ve lost many people in my life over the years, but this one just feels so much different. Taken too soon for many of us here left behind, God must have considered his work here complete and called him home. The death of my friend is a harsh but valuable reminder that life is so short and we only have one shot to get it right.

I want to talk about Matt a little bit and share some memories. When I have been laying in bed unable to fall asleep, scrolling through social media and seeing a photo of him and his wife, or just thinking about his untimely death, I am reminded of so many funny memories. I’m reminded of how we used to bike ride around the area we grew up, he would stop and show me all the local “haunted” houses. We would stand there on the side of the road hoping that something creepy would happen. It never did and on we went. I’m reminded of the trails we use to cut in the woods, and how he once pointed out an American Indian burial ground. I remember watching professional wrestling with him and we would pretend we were the wrestlers. I recall his love for CB radios, how he introduced me to them, and how he took me to meet people I only knew from the airwaves. One of the funniest memories I have is when he went camping with my Dad and I in Indian Lake, NY. In the middle of the night my Dad woke us up and said there was a black bear outside the tent. Matt woke up startled and shouted, “Ooooh! Ooooh! Ooooh!” I don’t know if he thought there was a bear in the tent.

Matt was always a bit crazy. He was fun to hang out with. Matt was also one of the only friends I’ve ever had growing up that would give you the shirt of his back. Yeah, we all know nice people. Generous people. Matt went beyond that. He was genuinely a nice person.

A couple of years ago when I retired from the Air Force, I moved back to my hometown, and Matt and I connected a few times. Busy schedules and families of our own didn’t allow us the time to see each other often, but when we did, it was like I had never left the area. We had grown up but there was always the silly jokes and phrases we used to say as teenagers. One night when my wife and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, Matt walked in to pick up dinner for his family. He saw my wife and I sitting there and paid for our entire meal. That’s just who Matt was.

I had the opportunity to take family photos for him within the past couple of years. As you can imagine, from what I’ve already written, the shenanigans continued for two and half hours while taking his family’s pictures. It was a great time and good for the soul. That’s who Matt was.

Matt passed away unexpectedly at the age of forty-two.

Fly high Matt. Thank you for your friendship, the laughs, and great memories you left so many with. You will be missed and I look forward to seeing you again.