Depression Was a Prison

by: Sean Sands


I was angry all the time. Anger was my constant companion, this indiscriminate, stomach-grinding, head-pounding fury that bubbled like lava under tectonic shifts in my mood and disposition. Worst of all, I didn’t know what the anger was, why it was there or even if it would ever go away, so I lived with it. I lived with it for years.

It turns out, depression isn’t a thing you can just point at and say, “There, that’s what depression always looks like.” But, if you were to have asked me about the illness, I would have conjured images of sadness, lethargy, detachment. I’d have drawn you a word picture of someone curled in bed, unable to drag themselves out into the world, waiting hopelessly for another day to just pass on by and leave them be. I’d have drawn this picture for you, because that’s how I had seen my own family, my parents, manifest the illness.

This wasn’t that at all. Every morning I would rise, get ready for work, do my job, come home, eat dinner, read to the kids, maybe play a game if my responsibilities permitted me the time, and then climb into bed again to do it all again the next day. The difference for me, though, was that I was doing all those things with a simmering rage inexplicably clamping my chest, knotting my intestines and demanding my attention so that I kept it under control. And, because I kept such a reservoir of attention on controlling this shifting, furious monster version of myself internalized, I didn’t have any attention left over to enjoy the rest of my life.

Looking back, I still struggle with reconciling what it must have been like for my wife and children to live with me. Don’t misunderstand, I never raised a hand against them or even threatened otherwise, but living with someone who always seems on the edge of outrage, who is clearly holding on white-knuckled at the limits of their control, can’t exactly have been a day at the park.

It was around the time when my oldest son, now nine, asked my wife, “Why is Dad always angry with me?” that I decided to address the fact that this person inhabiting my skin was not me. Something had changed, something real and measurable.

I prize my sense of self-control, believe unrealistically that anything occurring within my brain should be a thing that I have complete and unimpeachable dominion over. I had known for some time that I was probably struggling with some kind of depression, but had rejected it as a reality, because like so many people I believed it was something you could or should just “get over.” That’s such a dangerous thing to think. It’s bad enough, I know, for someone to see you struggling and tell you to just get over it, but I think it’s possibly even more dangerous to tell yourself that, and I had been doing it for a year. Maybe even longer.

It was hard to talk with my doctor about it, because I had a misplaced and unnecessary shame about dealing with an illness that is all about chemistry and not at all about willpower. Feeling like I had somehow failed by finally conceding that I needed a doctor’s help in dealing with this was like feeling bad that I had to resort to moving objects with my hands because my efforts at telekinesis had failed. What I hadn’t expected was how talking with a doctor, finding out that what I was experiencing was the same thing that other people were dealing with as well, was unexpectedly empowering. I had lived for so long with fingernails dug into the cliff just to keep myself from falling into the dark, rocky shoals below, that I almost didn’t know how to deal with someone finally offering me a ladder.

That was a year ago. And, don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t perfect now with Disney birds flitting through my window every morning to perch upon my shoulder and gaily sing me the songs of their people. But that knot, that constant companion of tightness and quaking fury is if not always gone, at least contained and sleepy back in the deep dark of my mind from whence it came. The medication I take doesn’t make me irrationally happy or dull my personality – a ridiculous assumption I still think some people make about anti-depressants.

What my medication has done is allow me to look in the mirror in the morning and see a face I recognize again.

For me, depression was a prison. A prison where I was trapped in my cell, holding the key the entire but determined to get out by squeezing painfully and hopelessly in between the bars themselves. Now that I’m on the other side, looking back into that cell with its open door and considering the time spent, I wonder why I didn’t allow myself out sooner. The answer is probably locked into the unfortunate fact that the part of me that needed treatment and attention was the part I would have to rely on to make good decisions about how to beat depression. It was a tragic and debilitating Catch-22, and it’s one millions of people live with and unfortunately struggle with every day.

Everyone’s prison is a little different, just different enough to fool you into thinking you’re alone, you’re different, you’re isolated or you’re lost. It’s not true, of course. You’re not, and like everyone else on this site, writing these posts, I am here to tell you one thing: There is a way out. There is a key in your hand. There is a whole other kind of world, the one you may remember, on the other side of your cell. And, we are here to help you get out.


– Sean Sands

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