Home > Uncategorized > You Never Really Know

You Never Really Know

When I couldn’t reach my wife by phone, I texted her a message, “You’ll never believe what someone just told me.”  My mind was spinning and I needed to talk to someone, to tell someone what I’d just heard, as if talking about it might help me understand, and I figured the guy making my sandwich at Jersey Mike’s probably wasn’t interested.

I was stunned by what I’d been told.

I’d just left a bike shop (I know, big surprise, I was in a bike shop).  The owner happened to be the person assisting me and when I was done with my purchase, we stood at the front door talking.  He thanked me for being a good customer.  “Your bike purchases are helping fund my retirement.”

“Thanks, I think.”  Since I had the attention of the owner, I figured this would be a good opportunity to let him know how helpful one of his employees had been.  I told him how much I’d appreciated Bill’s assistance.  (Note:  Bill is not the employee’s real name.)

As soon as Bill’s name came out of my mouth, I noticed a sadness come across the owner’s face.  “He passed,” he said.

I was shocked.  Bill?  He was a few years younger than me.  How could he have died?  Was it the result of an accident of some sort?  A car crash?  A biking accident?  A sudden illness?  It couldn’t be.  I realize death happens every minute of every day, but when it happens to people you know it’s still a shock.

Before I could form the question “What happened?” and get it out of my mouth, the owner, anticipating my words, said, “Bill suffered from a severe form of depression.  In the seven or eight years he worked for me, he was in and out of hospitals.  I tried…”

My mind went from shocked to reeling.  Bill suffered from depression?  Depression didn’t fit with the image I had of Bill.  We’d talked on the phone two or three times and exchanged nine or ten emails.  We’d spent a total of four hours together, maybe, over five or six occasions in the store.  Granted, over the course of a lifetime that wasn’t enough time to get to know another person, but in those exchanges I came away with the impression of Bill as a person who was happy, friendly, considerate, and eager to help.  I never once picked up on a single hint of depression.  I’m not a professional counselor or anywhere near to it, but I’ve worked with enough people, have had them confide in me as a pastor about their struggles with depression that I thought- I thought- I could pick up on the clues of depression in a person.  I was wrong.

I drove away, shocked, reeling, and stunned.

You never know.

***

Unless someone tells you, you never really know what’s going on inside of them.  You never know what’s hiding behind their smiles or frowns, what drives their ambitions or fears, if they’re different at home and at work, or what makes them happy or afraid or joyful or even depressed.

I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone magazine about David Foster Wallace’s lifelong struggle with depression.  Aside from his family and close friends, few people knew about it.  The public knew him as one of his generation’s greatest writers (and one of my favorites).  The world wouldn’t know about his battle with depression until this article came out.  The article was written to lift the veil on Wallace’s depression, to help explain why David Foster Wallace had hung himself in his garage a few months before.

For a period of time last fall, it seemed as though every time I clicked on a blog post, another writer was opening up about their fight with depression.  Two of the best were “Jesus or Zoloft?”  by Jamie The Very Worst Missionary and “Jesus or Zoloft? Yes, Please” by Robin O’Bryant.  And then of course, there was “Depression Lies” by Will Wheaton.

***

Depression is likened to a mysterious, dark cloud that settles over you with an almost unbearable, suffocating weight.  It cripples and crushes your spirit, confusing the mind, lying to you as it tries to convince you that nothing is possible and there is no hope.  At least for you.  When you’re under that dark cloud, everything depression says feels like the truth.

Some people fall prey to this illness because of their genetics.  To use an oft-worn phrase, they’re just born that way.  Some get the DNA for asthma, others get it for depression.  The chemicals in the brain are altered for whatever reason and for some, medicine can rebalance those chemicals.

For others, the depression comes as a result of circumstances and environment and life in general.  Even though the human spirit is undeniably strong and resilient, everyone’s emotional bucket has their limits.  Some have learned how to periodically empty the toxic and difficult emotions from the bucket while others hold it in and hold it in and hold it in until they can’t hold it in anymore and they find themselves fighting depression.

Some are hit early in life, while others struggle later.  For others its a lifelong struggle, whereas others get respites from time to time, and a few lucky souls only deal with depression for a period in their life.

You never really know.

In a world where we talk about everything, some people still don’t want to talk about depression.  They’re afraid of what people might think.  Of course, that’s part of the lie depression feeds you, “If people knew…”  But as more people open up and talk about how they manage and cope, whether it’s through a pill or therapy or both, perhaps fewer people will feel stigmatized.  Perhaps more people will find help.

I wish I’d known about Bill, but you never really know unless someone lets you in.  I don’t know that I could’ve done anything more than what the owner and his friends were already doing.  From what the owner told me, Bill was surrounded by people who were doing everything they could.  I don’t think I could’ve done anything different or better than be another person to encourage him to get the help he needed, to offer a listening and understanding ear.  But you never know what someone is facing or struggling or dealing with unless the other person feels free to tell you.

You never really know.

Depression is hell.  And until you’ve been through it, you can’t imagine what a beast it is to fight, a beast that doesn’t fight fair because it seeks control of your mind and emotions.  It’s like fighting yourself.  If that dark beast of depression is lurking in your corner, talk to somebody.  Get some help.  Remember, whatever the beast of depression tells you, it’s always lying.

***

Note:  If you read my book, The Accident, then you read about Bill.  He’s in the book under a different name, but he was the guy who helped me select my first bike after the accident.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. twohyperdogs
    April 6, 2013 at 9:21 am

    I am so sorry. You are so right: we never know what someone else is going through. All the more reason to treat everyone we meet with respect.
    We have had the cloud of depression settle in our home. After 2 years of working with docs to find the “right” meds, we found a doctor who practices both psychiatry and allergy. It is amazing how the wrong foods and a reaction to them can present as depression (it’s all in the brain chemicals). We found out my daughter does not have a deep depression (although she may have at one time) but instead cannot tolerate the casein protein, found in dairy, soy, and legumes. I urge anyone on this journey to be tested for casein sensitivity, as the amino acids break down to form chemicals in your brain. This in NO way is meant to say depression is not real. But for my daughter, discovering this allergy (which I had never heard of before) meant finding a huge piece of the puzzle. It may require searching for an allergist who can test the right way (maybe look for one in the Pan Am Allergy group) because her two previous allergists had not tested for this protein.

  2. Karen Dikes
    April 6, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Extremely interesting about your daughter and I am so glad you found relief in any form for her. My entire family suffers from depression and has for generations. Mine is controlled pretty well with medications, but my siblings refuse to seek help. It can be the most infuriating disease, zapping your strength you faith and your relationships. Thank God the world is starting to understand it. I can’t imagine what my ancestors must have suffered with no treatment and immense stigma. Even in my father’s time there was no treatment beyond tranquilizers (which are not helpful with depression). If I have to have it, I am grateful that science is catching up with the disease. I’m so glad you found another piece of the puzzle.

    • twohyperdogs
      April 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      Karen, I, too, am grateful that science is catching up. Also, the stigma seems to be lessening with my daughter’s generation (I cannot say the same for my parents’ generation in general – it’s still very hush-hush). Perhaps some genetic clues will be found. But as I heard from one parent in a support group, the process of finding medications that work on an individual seems like a form of torture (as is the disease itself). SO much is being discovered about the brain, mental illness, and brain damage with the advent of new technology. And I never knew neurotransmitter levels could be tested through urine tests. I applaud those working fervently on answers, and I pray for those suffering under the cloud while those answers and cures are being sought.

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