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I feel music deep in my bones; I always have.
I would rather have a conversation with rabies-infected mutant geckos in Mandarin than talk to someone who says, “I don’t really like music.”
You don’t like music?! Are you a Google-controlled robot from the future sent here to destroy all that is good and beautiful in the world?
The first time I heard Linkin Park’s last single, “Heavy,” I pulled over and cried. When it ended, I pulled it up on Spotify and cried again. And sitting here listening to this acoustic version… well, you can guess.
So often my tears are the knowing nod of my soul. Someone else gets it and I’m not alone in this.
The chorus lyrics read:
“I’m holding on
Why is everything so heavy?
Holding on to so much more than I can carry
I keep dragging around what’s bringing me down
If I just let go, I’d be set free
Why is everything so heavy?”
Critics blasted the song, declaring it to be the group’s worst release in their 20+ year career.
Just a little over five months after the song was released, Chester Bennington — the lead singer of Linkin Park—lost his lifelong battle with depression and suicide, his last song becoming an SOS of a sinking ship. In an interview with Music Choice, Chester said,
“My whole life, I’ve just felt a bit off. I find myself getting into these patterns of behavior and thought — especially when I’m stuck up here [in my head]. I like to say that ‘this is like a bad neighborhood, and I should not go walking alone.’”
As someone who has battled depression and suicidal thoughts for over 15 years, I can safely say one of the hardest wars isn’t the beast itself, but feeling constantly misunderstood and alone in the fight.
Other than Chester’s incredible catalog of music, he also left behind an inspiring legacy of openness about his struggles with mental health and addiction. As someone who travels the country talking about these same battles, I’m not sure I can ever fully portray how impossible and vulnerable sharing those inner demons can be.
So in honor of Chester’s example as well as so many others, in hopes of continuing to shed light into the darkness of depression and suicidal thoughts, today I am sharing 10 things people without depression take for granted.
One of the worst parts of depression is the constant war with the “right” amount of sleep. Sometimes I’m so worked up emotionally I’ll toss and turn until the sun comes up. Other days, I can sleep 18 hours straight and never feel rested.
The truth is I get so tired of monitoring my sleep and analyzing whether or not my sleep patterns are where they should be. When sleep is the backbone of all health, especially mental health, this struggle can be the hardest of all.
Consistently getting seven to eight hours of sleep is important for everyone’s health, but especially those battling depression.
Set an alarm to start winding down to sleep for a consistent time each night, as well as one for the morning.
Spend the hour before sleep doing something non-screen related and keep screens out of your bedroom.
Track your sleep and how you feel and consider sharing that with your counselor or doctor.
2. Keeping Plans
This is the most agonizing part of my depression because I love people more than anything on the planet. I know we are here to build strong, close relationships and that is one of the greatest weapons against the loneliness and isolation of this fight.
And yet, when my depression is real bad, I don’t want to be around anyone. If I cancel, I feel guilty and often lose friends who are understandably sick of being abandoned. If I go, I’m typically withdrawn, unable to concentrate and not fun to be around.
The worst part is: I never know when it will hit.
Start an open dialogue with your friends and family about your battles with depression or mental illness so they can begin to understand what you’re going through.
Don’t be afraid to tell someone why you’re canceling plans and that you are truly sorry you can’t make it.
Consider powering through the isolation. Sometimes mustering up just enough strength to push myself out of bed and into a room of people I love will pull me out of the worst of it.
Accept that when you’re in the worst of it, some people aren’t going to get it and it’s OK to cut yourself some slack.
3. Having a Drink
Most of us know alcohol is a depressant and while it can be a mood booster in the short-term, there is a strong link between serious alcohol use and depression.
“Nearly one-third of people with major depression also have an alcohol problem. Often, the depression comes first. Research shows that depressed kids are more likely to have problems with alcohol a few years down the road. Also, teens who’ve had a bout of major depression are twice as likely to start drinking as those who haven’t.” – WebMD, “Alcohol & Depression.”
Not to mention antidepressants and alcohol do not mix and can cause serious illness and side-effects. Yet for many, myself included, alcohol is a huge part of our social culture and stopping altogether could cause more isolation or unwanted attention at a time we’re already feeling vulnerable.
Have a real and honest discussion about your alcohol use with your counselor and doctor. When they ask you how many drinks you are having per week, tell the truth. They are there to help. If, after starting treatment, your alcohol use goes up or down, keep them updated on where you’re at.
Don’t mix alcohol and antidepressants. Just don’t.
If you’re struggling to cut back, lying about the number of drinks you have, hiding bottles or needing a drink in the morning to get started, it might be time to seek some extra help. AA and Celebrate Recovery are two incredible organizations that have helped millions of people take their lives back from addiction.
Asking for help is never a sign of weakness, but a massive sign of strength.
If your doctor feels you could really benefit from medication, write down ideas about how to navigate tough social situations around your drinking. Decide which people in your life you can tell the truth to so they can support you in your journey.
4. The Stigma
Multiple counselors in my life have advised me against having a depression diagnosis on my record as it can have big impacts on everything from serving in the military to life insurance.
When my first suicide video came out in November 2016, parents of students I teach were asking if I was “mentally stable” and if I should be in a classroom. That felt awesome.
And we wonder why people don’t seek help. We wonder why men especially try to tough it out and battle it alone.
I truly don’t know how to fight the stigma other than sharing stories and becoming more open.
Figure out who the safe people are in your life who you could let into the struggles you’re facing.
Get yourself into a community of people where you can be known, like a church small group.
Find a support group in your area. They are an incredible place to share what you’re going through and support others. NAMI is a great place to start.
Accept that, at some point, someone is going to throw your depression in your face and that is part of their own story, not yours.
5. Romantic Relationships
Aw, now things are getting spicy.
I only seriously pursued three women in my 20s. In a world obsessed with swiping for love, it’s just never happened for me that way.
At 28 I had an impossibly hard year. I lived through a relationship ending, losing my church home and community of six years, watching my closest guy friend move far away and getting mononucleosis for six months.
I found myself in the black hole again, going through intense counseling and barely hanging on day to day.
And since that year, I stopped pursuing a romantic relationship with anyone because I couldn’t ask her to walk through this with me when I can’t promise this all won’t come back, again and again and again.
There are certainly pockets of hope. But when you know how low life can be, long-term romantic relationships can feel downright impossible.
Sorry folks, don’t have any tips here… yet.
6. Trusting Your Hunger
Another warning sign of depression is eating too much or eating too little. Since I started Crossfit a year ago, I learned I was eating 1,000 less daily calories than my body needed.
When my depression shows up, I will go most of a day without eating and barely realize it. It’s super frustrating to not be able to trust my mind and body to decide I’m hungry and then it feels like force-feeding myself to get the food down.
Keep some frozen meals on hand when you have no energy to cook.
Track your what you’re eating using the MyFitnessPal app. I started this for my training but it has actually been a huge help with the depression side. This would really help if you were overeating too.
If you’re really struggling to eat, let yourself indulge in something that sounds good. Not every day, obviously, but if food sounds terrible but a cheeseburger seems tolerable, it’s OK to just go for it.
7. A Clean House
This is the first tell that my depression is coming on strong. Normally, my home is super clean — like borderline immaculate. Fridays after work I go into this Monica Gellar-looking cleaning frenzy for about two hours until the place is spotless and smells like lemon sunshine.
When the struggle bus is in town, I don’t have the energy to do much of anything and the place quickly gets overwhelmingly messy.
Hire a cleaning service — even if it’s just once a month. I am a pretty frugal person, all things considered, and this never dawned on me until right now… but that is such an awesome idea!
Ask for help. I am terrible at this, but sometimes the greatest way anyone can help in the lowest of the lows is to come over and hang out with me while I get things picked up. This takes extreme vulnerability… letting someone see your mess and you in the dark place? Not for the faint of heart.
I cannot tell you how frustrating depression is when it comes to productivity (something my counselor and I talk about… a lot.) There was a season of my life where I was teaching full-time, going to grad school online, DJing weddings most weekends to pay for grad school, fixing up a house, doing youth ministry, writing a blog and training for a marathon.
Now, I am certainly not saying that was healthy, but that is what I am capable of accomplishing when I am at my highest-functioning. So imagine when I am stuck in bed for days, weeks, months. It’s hell.
Focus on doing one thing every day that makes your life better or makes the world a better place. It can be as simple as organizing your closet, trying a new fitness class, getting coffee with someone when you don’t feel like it, or serving at a local food shelf.
During the recovery from my last attempt, I took a picture of my one thing every day and would look at it during my lowest times to retrain my brain to see the good things in my life.
Break tasks down to make overwhelming projects seem more manageable.
Be kind to yourself when you just need to sleep for a day. Take care of yourself.
9. Lifelong Friendships
I used to think I’d run with the same group of friends my entire life. God blessed me with the greatest high school friends a guy could ever ask for. I worked tirelessly to keep this group together and then I woke up one day and they were gone. I think a lot of that is normal; we grow and change, we procreate or don’t and lose each other in the haze of sleep deprivation and blowout diapers.
Yet, I recently finally had to admit I am terrible at relationships sometimes. When I am fighting suicidal thoughts, I don’t call people back because I don’t want to talk about how hard things are and I can’t lie. I cancel plans last minute. I am flaky and people stop putting up with it.
And I don’t blame them. I don’t blame them one bit.
I had a close friend once say, “I love how God orchestrated life so we never knew you during the season of your suicide attempt. We met you right after and only know this version of you.” At the time I thought that was sweet until I was in that low place again a few years later and those people were the first to run.
Be vulnerable. Put yourself out there and discover new relationships. Good friendships take time and energy. You are worthy of love and belonging.
Find your safe people. Keep them close.
Apologize as you are able for the times you just can’t be there.
Accept that some people are only interested in friendships that are always 50/50 and will leave if they ever have to give more. Know this isn’t how lifelong friendships work. Focus on people who can love the real you.
10. Good Days
Call me crazy, but there are actually great things about having faced depression and suicide. It teaches you strength and compassion you never knew you had. It teaches you to relate to almost anyone because you’ve felt the lowest of lows.
It also makes the good days so much more enjoyable. When you go a long period of time without feeling much joy or hope, only to have a breakthrough moment for a day, a week, a month or years, the brightest of days get even brighter.
Appreciate the good days when they come. Smile, laugh and live life to the fullest.
One of my favorite people said to me at a really low moment, “It’s OK to be broken; it’s not OK to stay there.”
Friends, if you’re trapped in your own stupid dark room of depression, fight for the healing you deserve. Be brave and talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing. Find a good counselor who can help you set goals and work through patterns in your life you may not even see.
I don’t have all the answers to this depression thing. I just have a story with a lot of sleepless nights. I just have a bottle of pills that give me a lift of energy and whiteheads on my arms. I just have a great counselor who keeps walking through life with me when the hardest seasons come.
Promise yourself you’ll never give up this fight. Life is worth fighting for even when it’s impossibly heavy, even when it’s so much more than you can carry.
And I pray we can all be a little more like our brother Chester in the way he spoke openly about how impossible life was at times for him.
If you’re not fighting this depression battle with the rest of us 16 million Americans, consider yourself blessed beyond measure. Educate yourself on the warning signs and the struggles so you can love and serve those around you.
And, if you are in the trenches with me, know you can overcome this and you will. You’re never alone in any of it. You are loved.
Follow this journey on the author’s blog.