Does the introduction come before the foreword or vice versa? Anyway…
Let’s get naked! I mean, nobody else is going to write about this crap. I have read articles and clinical pieces and short essays on depression, but nothing that really gets naked about it, reveals all of the tiny and large blotches and insecurities, the inner workings and outward manifestations of the functional depressive. I’m here now, deep in the depression, so why not?
Everything went to hell a while ago. The quick lightning strikes of depression would come and go but, a few years back, the deep depression started to settle back in and it really pissed me off. I thought I was over it. I thought I had moved beyond it. I thought it was a part of my past. I was wrong.
I was happy and successful. I was a business owner and married to a wonderful woman. Vacations, nice car, some weekends off. There were issues with the marriage and with the business, but nothing that I couldn’t handle, work around, and it had to be me, right? I worked my ass off for 15 years to position myself exactly where I wanted to be.
But then I realized it was not where I wanted to be. It was nowhere even close. I thought about it for a long, long time. A year? Maybe two? I reflected and even prayed. I dove down deep into myself and pushed at my boundaries and expectations. I peered through the muddied waters of depression.
I found answers I did not like.
So, I waited some more. Reflected some more. With the depression getting worse, I had to know: was it the depression influencing my decisions or was the place I was in causing the depression? I thought about everything for an even longer time. Analyzed it from every angle, wanting it not to be true but finally accepting it.
I did what I had to do. In February, I asked both my wife and my business partner for a divorce. My wife took it better. Six months later, my business partner is still ignoring the fact that I am leaving him.
Everybody thinks I am nuts. I think the phrase “bat shit crazy” was used. Everybody is worried about my safety and sanity. A few people keep asking if I am off my meds. Hell, I agree with them. You really have to wonder. What the fuck am I doing? I am set. For life. But the cost is too high. I am really not nuts or bat shit crazy. I am, and always have been, a functional–or closet–depressive. I’m bursting out of the closet for everybody to see. Finally.
The Cattle Chute
I don’t know what they are actually called but I call them cattle chutes. They are the stone barriers they put up along the highway when they are doing construction. One time I did about a 22 mile stretch on a major highway with these stone barriers on each side, in the rain, at night. It was the worst 22 mile drive of my life. You ain’t going anywhere, except where they lead you. Cattle chutes.
The depression became my cattle chutes in life a long time ago. Home and safety were my destination, a place I could not be thrown out of or forced to leave. Isn’t that what everybody wants and desires? Isn’t that close to the bottom, a building block, of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs? The need for safety and shelter is just above the need for food and water.
So I followed the cattle chute, away from who I was, and into another world. I worked my ass off. From an apartment and a solid job I moved into a home, business ownership and marriage. And I settled comfortably into that other world, the world most know as home and the world that I never felt comfortable in. I placed myself into a box and convinced myself it was where I wanted to be.
But I am a functional depressive, a highly functional depressive. Working within those cattle chutes, I sped along. From business owner and a house, I moved forward into business leader and bought my dream house, the kind I always passed as a kid and thought I would never have. The tires were already brushing the sides of those cattle chutes, but I sped on my way.
I adopted Pretty when she was one and I was 30. It was during one of the darkest times of my life. Pretty saved my life and she became my friend. The suicidal thoughts were constant, the environment I was in unbearable, but I would come home at night and there she was, needing to be fed and wanting affection. She would curl into my lap and everything would be a little bit better.
Throughout the years, throughout the moves, throughout the episodes, she was there, my friend. When I felt alone and detached from my wife and family at home, “It’s you and me, Pretty. You and me.” She was like a tether to this world. She was my friend and gave me unconditional love and affection, without judgment or guilt. Okay, maybe she was a bit pissed off at being moved into a house with two dogs, but she got over it fairly quickly and would still find me to nap with me on the sofa.
At the beginning of this year, I had to put her down. She was still finding me for naps, still giving me that unconditional love and affection, but her hair was matting, she had lost half of her weight which was never much to begin with, and the vet said even though she would never show any signs because that is the way of cats, she was in pain and it would be a kindness.
She laid in my arms, alone in the room, napping, until they came to give her the shots. She was gone and a tether snapped. I cried like I haven’t cried in a long, long time. Just a tiny little animal that has been such a huge part of my life, increasingly important as things got more uncomfortable at home. “You and me, Pretty. You and me.” And then it was only me.
“She was my friend,” was all I could cry. Over and over again. My eyes swelled shut and through the freely running snot and tears, unlike even at my dearest friend’s funeral, “she was my friend” became my litany through my labored breathing and constricting throat, trying to sum up in four words 18 years.
I had asked my wife for a divorce and she had agreed. I felt free to make my way back into a wholly unhealthy escape: strip clubs—there will be a chapter on it. Just as Tom Hanks said there is no crying in baseball, there is no kissing in strip clubs. It’s an escape into an illusion. People have their heroin or booze and I have my strip clubs. The lights, the music, the drinking and smoking, the bumping and grinding, the naked ladies and perhaps a little more in the champagne court. No, not that much more. But a little more. A deeper escape.
She was really not my type but she was interesting as hell. We sat and talked. I bought her drinks and we talked some more. We made a connection? Just the illusion, just the drinks, just the sale. But it felt warm, relaxed…and real? I was so vulnerable at the time, anything could have been real. I was in so much pain, it didn’t have to be real. It just had to be an escape.
After about a couple weeks, a couple lap dances, we made our way back into the champagne court. Within the illusion, within the grinding and the sexuality, amid the sensuality, she kissed me. Spontaneously, passionately, fervently.
There’s no kissing in strip clubs!
It blew my mind and wrecked my world. That box I put myself in and was growing increasingly uncomfortable with? It was like a class five tornado howling through it, crushing walls, blowing off roofs, and tearing apart windows. The last couple years, I had been stumbling awake, a tiny spark of the wanderer and romantic, the writer and the lover, the traveler and explorer making fitful gasps at life. The kiss was like pouring gasoline on it. An inferno swept through the halls of twilight and I was awake again.
Wondering what was truly real. Wondering if anything was real. And not really giving a rat’s ass anymore. I awoke. And, for the moment, that was enough.
A few months later, I was on a rooftop bar in downtown Chicago with an old friend, someone who had known me long ago. Regina had been a friend of mine at the University of Miami, an RA in the dorms I lived in. I was in Chicago to get away for a couple days, see the X Ambassadors in concert and just relax and try to get out of my head.
I cradled a beer in my hand on a very uncomfortable but chic sofa, leaning against the Plexiglas wall with Chicago spread out and looking at Regina across the table of appetizers we ordered as the sun set.
“So why do you refer to yourself,” she asked, “as a PWS (person who stutters) but as a depressive. Why not as a person who has depression?”
Regina asks really good questions. She always has. She has this ability to slice through the bullshit and fluff of a conversation and get to the quick of it. She knew, and I knew, it was not just semantics.
We had been talking about my time in Chicago. I stutter. I talk funny. I don’t give a rat’s ass what people think. Chicago was like any other place I have been. It is actually a joke in my family. I make friends everywhere I go. Some random guy from South Africa I ran into at a bar was meeting me at the concert. It is just my way. Men, women, children and animals: I’ll strike up conversations no matter where I am.
And that is the difference, Regina, the thought that I could not articulate on a rooftop bar overlooking the river and the train. I am a person who stutters because the stutter has not and does not define me. It neither limits nor impedes my life. I am a depressive because the opposite is true. It does define me. It has limited. It does impede my life. Depression, and seeking to get out from underneath it, was really why I was at the Virgin Hotel rooftop bar in Chicago. I needed a better view.
Music is a huge part of my life. From classic rock and blues to jazz and pop, a little bit of punk, a lot more of alternative these days, some hip hop, and I’ll be damned but Eminem got me to like some rap and Trisha Yearwood drug me kicking and screaming into country. The music is always playing. Every story has a soundtrack. This book has a soundtrack—though I guess the millennials would call it a playlist these days.
“New York Minute” by Don Henley is a favorite song of mine. The song has also always scared the living shit out of me.
It is a good song with a haunting melody.
Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went Down to the station
And he never came back
They found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track
And he won’t be down on Wall Street
In the morning
He had a home
The love of a girl
But men get lost sometimes
As years unfold
One day he crossed some line
And he was too much in this world
But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore…
No, nobody is going to find my clothes scattered somewhere down the tracks. You might find them scattered somewhere along a tropical beach as I flop naked into the surf. I did, however, do what I was always afraid of, ever since the romantic emerged a long, long time ago: I crossed some line and was too much in this world.
I don’t know when it happened, when the cattle chutes were built. When I surrendered. When I buried the romantic as a school boy’s dream and justified it, when I accepted the tethers of this world to be my life. But, then, that is why I am writing this book, why I am not just shifting out of a partnership and marriage that is not working into a different apartment and different job—that would be easy—but exploring what it means to be a depressive and how I can, might, hope that it does not guide me anymore.
There are many more conversations to have. There are many more songs to be played. It is time to get naked, now, and see that the depression was never really gone. What I thought of as health was a patch. Depression, to me, is like a tiny black hole inside of my soul that sucks everything into it and there is no way to fill a void, a loneliness. I patched it for a while, covered it, was free from its constant pull, but the patch eventually tattered and frayed and was gone.
So, from my oldest writings, the oldest songs, from when the writer and the romantic first emerged, the oldest question: will you dance with me to the tune that plays? It is a somber tune, a haunting one, here in the halls of midnight. Take my hand:there is no need for you to worry. I know this maze, and the demons and imps that inhabit it are old friends of mine.
Let’s see if we can discover some things about myself. You will not like some of what you read. TMI (too much information) is not only on the menu, it is the menu. Let’s see if we can discover some things about you. Let’s see if we can discover some things about people you know and love. Let’s see if we can explore the life of the functional depressive.