my experience

(Tony Christen, farragutpress Production manager, felt the need to share his personal struggles about an often misunderstood problem. By coming forward in the following “myexperience,” his goal is to encourage those going through the same struggles)

Have you ever thought, “Why do I feel so numb?” Or, “why don’t I want to be around people?” You may be happy in one moment, but an overwhelming sense of anxiety or sadness comes over you quickly.

You are not alone. Thousands of people deal with these feelings and thoughts. Depression is a very real issue.

At first you feel like you are going out of your mind. Sadness can turn to numbness; some people turn to rage that simmers beneath the surface, just waiting to explode — and at times they do.

You cannot put your finger on it. You think, “I have a pretty good life, so what is happening?”

Some people live with this for years. In some ways they live a double life: one the world sees and one that is hidden. Their work doesn’t miss a beat or their school GPA is strong; they maintain a good front.

You get tired of hearing, “Just be happy” or “Maybe if you were like other people. You’re not trying hard enough. You have everything going for you.” It feels like you are being patronized. That is why you develop a defense system that masks what is wrong. Appearing happy on the outside but imprisoned on the inside, you live like an onion. The layers beneath represent anxiety, sadness, self-doubt, regrets, trauma, loss and self-deprecation.

I tended to lash out verbally or resort to self-sabotage. The pain — emotional, mental pain — could become so great that I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt I could not tell anyone what I was going through [people tend to look down on or fear those who have admitted mental issues].

The worst part of the masking is that people get the wrong impression of you. You’re labeled as difficult to work with, temperamental or unhappy with your job. Many times this could not be further from the truth. But to admit that you have something mentally wrong with you is not easy and at times can be harmful, as well as even more painful.

I have been there, having made the decision to give up. Did I want to? No, but I felt as though I had no other way out. I didn’t want to burden my loved ones with what I considered “my problems.” When I decided to confide in someone, they seemed too busy. They could not focus, made me feel as though they were telling me, “It’s not that bad. You just need to get happy.”

Ending things was a last resort — and I did try. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say at the very last second I could not do it. At that moment, I decided to live and confide in my family, my wife and a close friend.

They were amazing and supportive [they are to this day]. Calmed me down, assured me things would be alright — that took some convincing. They spent time researching doctors, therapists and medicines. My wife [who is amazing; I don’t tell her enough] told me to focus on “the little things,” to take things minute-by-minute if necessary. Put my health first and take time each day to do something healthy for myself.

She convinced me to talk. Talk to her about my day, not bottle things up inside, but to let her hear the down-and-dirty things about the dark world in my head. I’m sure at times it was not easy to listen to.

She also made sure I went to therapy. We not only talked about the present, but the past [which was an eye-opener to the present]. We talked about the people, places and things that were triggers. This helped a lot, but it took time and therapy had to end.

When you have layers that have built up over the span of your life, it takes longer than just a limited number of professional sessions. So I talk with others I trust.

I’m on medication, and whether you believe in medication or not it works for me. But it is not a cure and is not meant to be.

My advice is this: take everything as it comes and manage it the best you can. Remember what has built up over time takes time to overcome. I have been dealing with my mental illness probably since childhood and I am still dealing with it. Believing deep down that the next minute, the next hour, the next day will be better is vital.

For me it’s even counting the seconds at times — because it strikes at random. The shadows can creep back in and the layer of the onion, that protective layer, comes back. But I have faith that the good times will always return.

I have spent roughly seven years rebuilding my life, trying to come out of my shell. It’s not easy — it’s been a very uncomfortable process. Some days are easier than others. I have to allow time to take care of myself.

I have been reminded that I do have value, I mean something to the lives I touch. You may not realize it, but your presence — wherever you are, however you feel — does matter. We all have purpose here.

If you can relate to my experiences, you have nothing to be ashamed of. There are those who understand and those who care enough to offer support. Have the courage to speak up. Keep pushing forward.

For those not going through this, I respectfully ask: take time to listen, take time to care and don’t judge or pity. Don’t try to solve the issue, just listen.

Sometimes we just need to know that we are not alone.