There was a time, say back in say March or April at the start of the pandemic, when I almost looked forward to this year. I saw it as full of possibility for growth and personal development. My work suffered almost immediately, and I found myself with a lot more time on my hands. My kids were home from school, so I was around my family more than I had ever been. I had big, bold plans for this last year to be a transformative one for me. I planned to enter into my chrysalis, melt down the old me to constituent parts and emerge a butterfly on the other end. Or maybe something more badass than a butterfly, but you get the point.
While I worried about getting sick and mourned for other’s suffering, part of me welcomed this crucible. In times of upheaval lie the greatest opportunities. I had so much time, and I could devote myself to my quest to be a better man, to become a true brodhisattva! I really thought this might be the best goddamn year of my life! I would exercise and eat right. I would get more serious about my mindfulness practice. I would spend more time writing. Hell, maybe I’d start an online business–a side hustle.
Those days are long gone.
I really started out strong. I changed my diet, exploring both plant based options and intermittent fasting. I lost a good bit of weight and was suddenly cinching my belt to previously unseen holes. (If anyone’s interested, I’d be happy to do another blog just on those topics.)
I was exercising. I was meditating. My family was safe and healthy. We stayed put and limited social contact. We always wore masks when out and about.
I joined a men’s group–Evryman— to work on connection and emotional maturity, and it was awesome. I’ve met an amazing group of men who are also all trying to be better men. (I also plan on going more in depth with them on later posts.) My depression seemed an afterthought. I even took a break from my therapist, concentrating on the emotional development from Evryman.
Then, you know, life fucking happened. As it tends to do.
Work picked back up and got stressful. Like, really stressful. I took a beating emotionally for awhile. Meanwhile, my online business, which I’m a little embarrassed to admit I had placed high hopes in, failed in spectacular fashion. I mean, I learned a lot but also lost a lot of money. And, you know, it failed. (I’d be happy to dive into that whole experience in a future blog post as well if anyone is interested.)
The pandemic raged on with no relief, and America showed its exceptionalism in the least enviable way. I found myself having arguments with people that amounted to, “I can’t teach how to give a shit about other people, asshole!”
Then, my dad got sick with COVID. He’s self-employed, and it was a month before his 65th birthday. So he had been trying to coast without insurance until Medicare kicked in. So when he got REALLY SICK he refused to go the hospital. I thought he was going to die for a few days despite my attempts to help him. In the end he lost 35 pounds and now looks like an old man for the first time. He survived, but his best friend did not. He sobbed on my shoulder when I finally got to see him. I’ve never seen him cry like that, not even when his folks died.
Then my mom broke her arm. A nasty, complicated fracture that required surgery. Right around that time my sister and nephew came down with COVID too. Work continued to be stressful…
At some point I just gave up.
Honestly, I should have seen it coming.
I have probably been dealing with depression most of my adult life, but most of that time I was unaware of it. I suffered from what Terry Real would call covert depression. In fact it was his book, “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” which blew the doors off my hidden problems and threw me into my first bout of true, major depression.
That was about two years ago. It SUCKED! But it was also necessary.
Since that time, I have been under treatment for my depression. I’m on medication. I’ve done therapy, including some trauma work. Life has gotten markedly better, but I’ve been dealing with it long enough to know that depression is cyclical. It waxes and wanes, but it’s not like a cold that you can cure and move on from. It’s more like a chronic disease, like hypertension or diabetes.
So I should have realized where I was headed.
I told myself that the world was shit, and I needed to take it easy on myself. I went into survival mode.
But I didn’t exactly do it in the healthiest way.
I almost immediately stopped doing all of the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and stable. I stopped meditating. My writing habit became sporadic. I slept more and poorly. I quit exercising. I even stopped therapy and distanced myself from my Evryman group. In short, it was a recipe for disaster.
When I started letting myself bathe in all those bad thoughts and feelings, it wasn’t in the mindful, attentive way that I have been developing for the last couple of years. I became disconnected from my body, from myself. I became trapped in my own mind. Eventually I began to feel overwhelmed and helpless.
Then I just wanted to turn it all off. So I went to the old standby–alcohol. Specifically whiskey. Man, I love a good whiskey. The smokey flavor, the bite on the tongue, the warmth in the belly. But I wasn’t drinking to enjoy the moment, savor the taste, celebrate, or connect with old friends.
I was drinking to numb the fuck out. I wanted to turn off the chatter in my head and avoid all the bad feelings. I put down all the fine instruments that I’d been sharpening and tuning that can help me deal with shit. And I picked up a bottle shaped like a sledgehammer and just wailed away.
I wasn’t drinking every day, mind you. My work didn’t suffer or anything. But I was definitely drinking more than I should. More than was healthy. Enough to consistently quiet the static in my head, to turn down the volume and let me coast. Enough that I pretty consistently felt pretty lousy.
That sort of things works until it doesn’t. And pretty quickly it doesn’t. It didn’t take but a few weeks before I felt myself swimming in the soup of an organic depressive episode.
And I’ll say one thing of which I’m really proud. It didn’t take me very long to recognize all of this and change course. All of this mindfulness, and space in my head, and paying attention has paid off. In the course of a few weeks, I realized that I was sliding rapidly in a bad direction.
So I changed course. I reached out to my psychiatrist who suggested a medication change. I reached out to my therapist who beat me up for self-medicating with alcohol. I reached back out to my men’s group who have been so supportive and kind. I’ve started my meditation practice back up.
And I already feel a LOT better. I can definitely tell I’m heading in the right direction. I’m sure I will continue that trend for now if I just continue to put in the work I need to do so. In fact, last week I was on vacation with my family and feeling really fucking great!
A goddam insurrectionist mob attacked the US Capitol building and forced their way in, looking for blood, in an attempt to overthrow the 2020 Presidential election!
And I have to admit, I just fucking lost it. I sunk into myself and sulked for a good 48 hours. I spent the following two evenings drinking heavily, doom scrolling, and getting in arguments online. It wasn’t pretty. And it wasn’t productive.
But again, a moment to be proud of. After those two days, I woke up, dusted myself off, and changed course. Again, the work I’ve put in allowed me to see the dangerous path I was on and correct course.
So here I am. It’s been over a week since the attempted coup (I refuse to tone down that language.).
I’m still in survival mode, but I refuse to do so in a nonproductive manner. While I may not be shooting for the stars (or enlightenment) at the moment, I absolutely must keep on the path. I have to keep trying to be a better man every goddamn day.
Also, while I am frustrated, sad, and frightened about the unfolding reality around me, I remain okay about myself. I am not awash in those old bad feelings of self-doubt and shame. I’ll count that as a win!
So what lessons have I learned?
1.) I can’t let my self-care fall by the wayside. I have to keep doing those things that keep me sane and healthy even when I don’t feel like. Sometimes you have to treat these things like medicine.
2.) Once again, I am reminded that depression is cyclical and doesn’t just go away. I will rear its ugly head again.
3.) When I am in this frame of mind, alcohol is not my friend. I know that I have a tendency to self-medicate when the old black dog of depression slinks around, and I can’t give myself permission to do so. I know where that path leads.
4). I have to treat myself with grace and kindness. This is a good rule of thumb ALL of the time, but it is especially important when the world around us is fucked. It’s okay that I’m not as productive as I’d like. It’s okay not to jump out of bed feeling fantastic everyday. But it’s not okay to give up on taking care of myself.
5.) I have to reach out when I need help. When I started feeling like shit, I isolated. And that in turn made things worse. My Evryman group in particular let me know that they are there for me if I need it. I just have to admit that I need it!
So what do you think, Bros? Anyone else having trouble maintaining their edge or even their grip? Anything I’ve missed up above?
Please comment down below and share with anyone you think needs to hear it!