I was 18, sitting in an ambulance being taken to the local hospital. At some point the EMT riding in the back with me said “You know, I suffered from depression when I was about your age. I can be like looking up from the bottom of a deep hole. But it can get better.”
About maybe an hour earlier I had taken a minor overdose of Paxil the medication I was on at the time. I then proceeded to sit in the common study room of my freshman dorm with a blanket over my head and attempted to meditate. A fellow dormmate freaked out and called 911.
I felt bad for causing a commotion. I knew how Paxil worked, so I was confident this wasn’t going to have much of an effect, but I was feeling particularly off and wanted to make a gesture, any kind, to channel the mixed sense of frustration, anxiety, and brokenness I was feeling. I didn’t intend to scare anyone, but then again, we never do.
I recall thinking around that time that I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up at 30 with my life all sorted and on track. Well, here I am, just past 32, and things are looking pretty good. My depression is largely under control, I’ve been off medication for years, I have a wonderful family, and work on things that I am passionate about. It wasn’t a quick or easy road by any means, and in many ways I had to swallow my pride and start over, but I made it.
While I spoke to the EMT with candor in the back of that ambulance, I did’t really believe him. How could I? Depression is deeply personal, so how could a random guy really understand my special situation? We arrived at the hospital, I talked to to the on-call psychiatrist, and I got discharged. When I left, I discovered that two car-loads of fellow students from my floor had followed me and had spent the time waiting having an arm-wrestling competition in the waiting room, generally irritating the receptionist. I had friends, yet even then I didn’t, couldn’t appreciate it.
Depression is a very difficulty, very personal illness. It is a self-sustaining, a positive feedback loop of anxiety and frustration. I was smart, I understood this, I was a pro, and I rationalized it away which made it even worse.
But it can get better.