It can get better

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.


This is awesome, Byron.

I second the sentiment. As I mentioned at the end of my talk at Mountain West Ruby, ten years ago I had nights when I laid in bed at night, praying that God wouldn’t wake me up. When I started at Table XI, I had one dollar in my pocket and 70 cents in my bank account. It was my fourth job in as many years, and felt as if I had failed at just about everything I had tried, including five years at university. I felt like a moral failure, a lazy bastard. Someone who had been given enormous talents, and was squandering the wealth entrusted to him.

In June I’ll celebrate my third wedding anniversary. Rachel and I spent six weeks in 2012 and 2013 traveling Europe. She’s currently not working so that she can take time to explore her creative interests - we’re able to do it because I’ve moved up enough at work to support both of us (August will be my six year anniversary here). The last couple years have been amazing for me, personally and professionally, and I finally feel that I’m realizing some of the potential that I always felt was there, but never materialized.

There’s a multitude of contributing factors, but it started with accepting that I couldn’t do it on my own, and that it wasn’t a character failure to believe that. It wasn’t lazy, or irresponsible, or passing the buck. The only way I was ever going to be useful to the people around me was if I sought outside help.

I set up an appointment with a psych, got on the right meds (Lamictal). Within a few weeks my mood had stabilized, and I started climbing out of my hole. The cost of a stabilized mood is taking a single pill in the morning, with has no noticeable side effects.

It hasn’t all been easy since then, but it’s unequivocally been better.