In my first post I commented that when depression and anxiety took over my life it seemed very sudden. Like a car wreck where you never see the other car until you have smashed together I felt completely blindsided. After some time had passed and I had myself on a reasonably even keel again I was able to look into my past and see that in fact the depression had always been there lurking below the surface. The anxiety I am not so sure about, but the depression had always been there.
I was a very serious kid. I am an only child and people often told me that the maturity of my actions were a result of being raised in the company of adults. There may be something to that, but mature people smile. I didn’t. I know people noticed, but if anybody was worried they never said anything. To be fair I never thought anything of it either. It was just who I was. I never had a lot of friends, but I also had very strict parents that kept my ability to socialize outside of school or organized activities to a minimum. Even when it was happening I blamed their rules more than anything else for my social situation. The truth was I had little in common with most of my peers so I didn’t really care. It was in college when I realized that I was unapproachable. I had a small group of very good friends in college. By the time we were juniors they would tell me that other students would ask them about me. They all assumed because I was so serious all the time and never smiled that I was an asshole.
I was also a deep thinker. Not so much is terms of philosophy, but empathy. I could always put myself in the shoes of another. I was aware of how my actions impacted others. Like any other kid I didn’t always care, but I was aware, and I took things very much to heart. My father was a strict disciplinarian and I grew up in a world of black and whites. There was little room for gray. This belief system was deeply instilled and even today I have a very strong sense of right and wrong, but age and experience has taught me much, and I no longer look at the world in such a narrow way. Of course as a kid being unable to see any gray put every action, particularly my own, squarely in one category or the other, this can be dangerous in terms of developing a person’s self worth.
I remember being ten or eleven years old and being in a local book store with a friend. We stole a couple little plastic toys from a bin near the front of the store. This would have been the late eighties and these cheap little toys probably cost ten cents apiece. Maybe a quarter but I doubt it. Now you’re probably reading this thinking this guy just spent a whole paragraph talking about empathy, and right vs. wrong, and how he was different than most of his peers, then tells us he is a thief. Exactly. Three days passed. I couldn’t sleep. I was consumed by guilt and before bed one night I told my mother what I had done. I was terrified of my father, but the guilt was worse so I ratted on myself. My father was perceptive enough to see that I had punished myself more than he ever could so the punishment was simple. We would take the toys back. Simple… right. Except I was in Scouting and the night I took them back we had a meeting so I returned the items while wearing my scout uniform. That juxtaposition pretty much tells the story of my childhood.
By the time I hit college internal conflict was in full swing. I had set a goal very early, sixth grade I think, to attend the Naval Academy. Nothing else was more important than that, and nearly everything I did from that time was calculated towards achieving this goal. Long story short I didn’t get in. I was lost after and took a year off before going to college. During that year I fell in love with sailboats, and by the time I hit college I wasn’t sure that working in the traditional sense was what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be near the boats, but my family was used to my goal oriented approach. I was the first in my family to go to college and everybody expected big things. Or at least I felt they did. As if that pressure wasn’t enough I wanted to be a pilot, but aviation college is obscenely expensive, and even with loans I simply couldn’t afford it. My uncle worked for a very wealthy man who was made aware of my circumstances. I was invited to accompany him on his yacht one afternoon; my uncle was the captain, where after a short conversation I was told not to worry about the money. I had never been handed anything like this before. I wasn’t stupid and I took the money, but the sense of responsibility that came with it was suffocating. I was driven during those four years of school to prove I was worth the money he was investing in me. I finished at the top of my class. Gave a graduation day speech and everything, and I cried. The relief was enormous, but within a matter of hours my world, which I had been holding onto so tightly for so long, began to crumble around me.
The question that this has always left me with is what changed? On one hand the answer is obvious. graduating from college is the last big rite of passage leading towards adulthood, but can it really be that simple? Retrospection has shown me that the depression was there from an early age, but it was under control. It didn’t run my life. For years I wondered what it was that let the genie out of the bottle. I thought that if I could answer that question maybe I could find a way to stuff it back in. As the years have passed it has become clear that the genie is going nowhere, but I still wonder what the trigger was. Anybody who has suffered depression that comes on like this, that is depression that seems to have no particular source, knows that the forces that cause it are complex, but if I had chosen some other path would it have stayed put? Stayed manageable? Would it not become the force that has controlled the direction of my life all these years?