on stigma and staying afloat

I spent a handful of years as a touring musician. The extent to which I toured was minimal compared to the real ones that have committed to the lifestyle, but nonetheless I made a brief go at it. About halfway through my first tour of any real substance I realized that I hated almost everything about it aside from the 30 minutes a night that we spent on stage. The common colloquialism for this is “the other 23 hours”, referring to all of the time that you spend doing tedious shit that you hate like driving and sleeping on people’s floors and eating taco bell every single day in order to experience the brief ecstasy of performing to 17 people in a Lubbock, Texas Lion’s Club on a Tuesday night. Shoutout to Lubbock, TX though- that was actually a pretty fun show.

Playing music was, to that point, all I had ever wanted to do. I thought that I could eventually get through my disdain for the day-to-day tedium of touring and grow to love it the way a lot of the people I encountered on the road seemed to. Instead I ended up growing more reclusive as our tours rolled on and basically moved into the van so I didn’t have to interact with the people that were nice enough to put us up for the night or treat us to Steak N Shake after the show. I became extremely depressed and isolated and I didn’t know why. I actually didn’t even know that I was depressed.

I remember being somewhere in South Carolina or North Carolina or Georgia maybe and having a few unexpected days off. One of the bands we had played with the night before let us stay at their place for a few days while we figured out what to do with our newfound free time. I remember only a little because I spent almost that entire three days sitting in the back of our 15 passenger van staring at nothing. Just… lost I guess? It’s a feeling that I would become more familiar with as I got older, but this first very distinct memory of being isolated in a group is one that I can always seem to revisit if I try hard enough.

At a certain point one of the other guys volunteered to come out and see if I was alright. I didn’t have an answer really. I wasn’t bad, I also wasn’t good. I was just there, existing without any reason to feel good or bad. It only took me another 8 or 9 years to understand that I was just very depressed and that I could maybe actually do something about it. A handful of years later I was taking up my position in that isolation again as a result of my life falling apart. The setting was different, but the feeling was the same as it was sitting in that van almost a decade before.

I read a really phenomenal article a while back about about passive suicidal ideation and not always being super attached to being alive. You can and should read it because it makes a lot of sense and is a refreshing window into something that a lot of people are afraid to talk about. Even if you’ve never experienced clinical sadness of any kind you should still read it to better understand how someone that you care about could be feeling. The odds are about 100% that someone in your life is dealing with some heavy shit, so it would do you good to learn how to be there for them. I’m not going to write about suicide but I am going to talk about a certain part of the article that stood out to me as it relates to depression:

But for me… it is like living in the ocean. Not as sea creatures do, native and equipped with feathery gills to dissolve oxygen for my bloodstream, but alone, with an expanse of water at all sides. Some days are unremarkable, floating under clear skies and smooth waters; other days are tumultuous storms you don’t know you’ll survive, but you’re always, always in the ocean.

Anna Borges, theoutline.com

The days that I couldn’t function were the days that I was sinking. I didn’t know I was sinking, but I was. Unable to help myself, staring off into the distance with no understanding of how or why to snap out of it. When you are an adult that deals with depression you are always, always in the ocean. I spent well over a decade in this fight without making any attempt to get through it mostly due to the fact that I didn’t understand that there was a fight to be had. I was afraid of the stigma of medication and therapy, or of telling my friends that I was extremely fucking sad about everything and also nothing in particular. I was worried about how people would look at me as a parent who couldn’t rise above my own sadness or if someday it would show up on a background check that I needed medication to help control the chemicals in my brain. I was afraid of a lot and it was costing me a lot. Add to this a partner who was unable to understand or empathize with what I was going through, I had pretty much accepted that that was how my life was and I was just going to need to learn to live with it.

I am admittedly pitifully bad at self care. I am pitifully bad at asking for help. The few times in my life that I truly thought I was at the end of my rope the very last thing I felt capable of doing was picking up the phone and calling one of the dozen or so people that I know for a fact would have dropped everything to be there for me. I just settled in to my own nothing, I was resigned to the sea wondering when I would no longer be able to tread water. This is no way to live, but for many of us, this is a reality we live with.

I started writing this maybe two months ago. It has gone through several different iterations and conclusions, but I think it’s actually kind of best to leave it open ended. We deserve the best version of ourselves, so do our kids, our friends, coworkers, partners, parents, etc and so on. One of those is bound to be enough reason to at least try for the help that you need. It’s alright to not be strong enough on your own. There is help available, though it’s sometimes hard to find or to will yourself to accept. Figure out how to stay afloat and know how to get there when you need it.