Last week something occurred that represented a milestone of sorts for me. You might even say it was a sign. Of what, you ask? Well it was a sign that maybe I was starting to turn a corner. Just maybe, I was starting to make headway in this never ending journey called depression. Maybe, just maybe, this milestone was only the beginning, a good omen of better things to come. What was this milestone?
I read a book.
Hold on, don’t leave! I know reading a book doesn’t sound like much, but hear me out. You see, for me reading a book, and in particular finishing a book, has been basically impossible for the past three years. This lovely (and constant) disease of mine, has sapped me of any semblance of concentration or focus.
I haven’t read so much as a comic strip for so long simply because I couldn’t focus long enough to do so. I found it exhausting enough to keep focused on things that needed to get done: driving the child around, paying the bills, cleaning up, cooking dinner, and the like. In really bad times, it took every ounce of focus just to get out of bed or finish getting dressed.
Sure, you’ve probably heard about that struggle, right? The depressed person who never gets out of bed, just stays in their room all day, the lights off, the shades pulled tight. The reasons for that are many: utter exhaustion, complete lack of will, hopelessness, unbearable pain. I’ve had all of those too.
But for me there was also this lack of focus and concentration. I could get distracted by the most trivial things. The first thing I’d do when I awoke was turn on the TV. Foop! That’s the sound of my concentration being sucked into the endless drone of morning news, sit-com reruns, or Star Trek marathons. Once down that rabbit hole I’d be lost for hours.
To make things worse, the second thing I would do after waking up was to grab my smartphone. Thwok! Yup, another sucking sound as the modicum of focus I had remaining got sucked up by social media and stupid game apps.
Did you know Candy Crush has literally thousands of levels? I had to delete the app after level 2700. But don’t worry, other stupid games took its place.
So even when I wasn’t consumed by the darkness, the pain, the hopelessness of deep depression, I still couldn’t seem to get anything meaningful done. Before I knew it my lack of concentration sucked up an entire morning. Still wearing my pajamas at noon, I would begin berating myself:
Leonard, you dolt. Get off your phone and get dressed!
You just checked your Facebook page literally less than a minute ago. What do you expect to have changed??
Dude, you’ve seen this episode at least 10 times. Picard lives an entire lifetime as a member of an extinct race. YOU KNOW HOW IT ENDS!
...and so on. But these were just the mild admonishments. This is what my brain would yell on my good days. In my dark times, the self hatred would absolutely destroy me for every game I played or show that I watched. It never really needed an excuse to berate me, but this was only pouring gasoline on an already angry fire.
So reading a book from start to finish after so many years of doing... so very little… is kind of a big deal. It might be the start of something good, right? I’m already over halfway through a second book. Focus is returning; I’m ready to be a productive member of society!
Whoa, pump the brakes there, laddie. Remember that dude inside me who likes to play those games and watch TV? (I call him ‘dude’ because it feels very accurate). Well he’s gotten pretty comfortable inside my brain. Basically moved in uninvited and made the couch his permanent abode. And in a weird twist, he’s somehow in cahoots with my self-hatred demon.
Wait isn’t that the same self-hatred demon that despises when I waste time? Yup, the very same. He not only created that deadbeat gamer as a way to sap concentration from my brain, but also uses him as an excuse to make me feel bad about myself. After finishing a book and feeling good about myself, my inner demon told my gamer dude to watch more TV, play more games, and get even less done.
Meanwhile it tried to downplay my accomplishment: “It’s just a book, big deal. Wasn’t even a very significant book, just some sci-fi fantasy fluff piece.” And when I did return to wasting time, it would say “See? You’re still the same, book or no book.”
Well now I’m reclaiming my time. I’m telling my inner demon to sit down and listen. I’m announcing to the world that I am a highly trained surgeon with two Ivy League degrees, and yes, I’m proud to have just finished a novel. Excited, even.
I said how I’d keep blogging about what it’s like to live with depression; it’s damned exhausting listening to this inner monster twist everything in my world into something negative. It’s annoying as hell listening to this constant litany of faults and shortcomings. But I’m still standing, and I’ve got more in me I’m sure, despite what my inner brain tells me.
Reading a book didn’t just let me know I could… you know… read a book. It told me I could work, even with all of the different personalities in my head: the self-hate gorilla, the gamer dude, the surgeon without a scalpel, the speaker who just wants to save the world. It gave me just enough working room to write this blog post. Granted, it took me over a week to write it... but I’m not going to criticize myself for that!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish another book. Or watch Star Trek, who knows?