My eyes snapped open. I groaned and rolled over to check the time. 5:34am. Shit. I turned on my side and tried to fall back asleep, but my mind had started moving in accelerated fashion, flooded with thoughts of failure and anxiety. I forced myself to stay in bed and drifted off. I woke up again a while later and tried to check the time on my cell phone. I had difficulty picking it up. My hand wouldn’t stop shaking.
I grimaced. I knew what was coming, and with my shaking hands, it took me a while to punch in a short message to work. Sick again. I didn’t get paid when I didn’t work, and this had been happening far too often lately. I took a deep breath. Though I’d messaged work I was going to be absent, I tried to get up. Tried to fight it.
My body did not cooperate. I lay there, overwhelmed, as tears filled my eyes. There was nothing for me to do but wait. After about an hour I drifted into semi-consciousness. I dreamed I’d run over a family with my car. It didn’t make sense, but my dreams rarely did on days like this. There was nothing to do but stare at the ceiling.
I’d battled depression and anxiety most of my adult life, but I hadn’t talked about it very much until recently. The past two years had been the most difficult time of my life. My sickness – and my inability and unwillingness to deal with it – had cost me my job two years ago, and more importantly, my marriage. While I’d been able to rebuild my career and find some relief in my work with kids, a pervasive loneliness had crept over my life. In the past, my depression had come in waves, and I’d been able to ride them out.
The waves now pounded me on a regular basis, like a fallen surfer on a windy day. And if I wasn’t careful, it would cost me my job again.
I rubbed my eyes. As open I’d become about my sickness, and for as much as I appreciated the support from my friends and family, it was exhausting, and with the added stress from a particularly difficult contract at work, I often wondered if I was going to make it.
For as much as society had learned about mental health illnesses over the past twenty years, there were still a great many unknowns, enough that dealing with it felt more like I was trying to survive than actually live. Mostly, I wanted to be free. I wanted to be free again, like I was when I was younger, when life looked to be full of promise. I’d asked God many times why this had happened to me. It was a selfish question – many people faced much greater struggles than I – but my emotional exhaustion often left me in such a fragile state that I found myself crying at virtually every movie I watched.
The devastation of losing my marriage provided more “material” for my depression, and the notion that I was nothing but a failure. That I didn’t deserve to be with someone. That I was a loser. Depression was a great liar, and it was worse when it had something tangible – like the rejection of a loved one – to work with, and it was the reason I hadn’t even considered dating in a long time.
Not that depression required anything tangible.
This past week, Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays’ gifted young closer, had been unable to play due to anxiety. He described the feeling as “being lost” when he wasn’t playing. On the field, he felt great. The trouble started when he wasn’t playing. My own depression had manifested itself when I was Osuna’s age, and it was as mystifying to me as it must have been to him.
On Friday night, the Blue Jays blew a three run last night in the ninth inning, a spot where the reliable Osuna would have normally have been called upon to finish the game. As the Blue Jays slowly filed into the clubhouse after the devastating loss, the last one to go inside was Osuna, as he watched the Royals celebrate their unlikely win. If the young closer – who had been razor sharp the past two months – had been able to pitch, the Jays likely would have won. Knowing that, and knowing what his absence had cost the team, was the kind of thing that depression and anxiety fed upon.
I looked at that photo of him watching the celebration for a long time. I got it. I knew what it meant to wonder what would have happened if I was there. What it meant to feel like I’d let my “team” down. Wondered why I was feeling this way when there was no reason for it.
I was proud of Osuna for talking about it the next morning. Trying to explain this new thing that he was struggling with. Being honest about what was going on. There was a time when he would have been vilified for it, and truthfully, there were a number of comments on twitter that reflected the lack of evolution and humanity in our species. For the most part, however, the calls were for him to be healthy and get well.
As sad as I was to hear Osuna’s story, his response made me smile, if only because revealed so much. It revealed his character, and showed how far we’d come as a society, so much so that most fans were able to understand that the young relief pitcher was not alone in his struggles.
That I was not alone.
And that was the heart of the issue. Depression and mental health struggles isolated you. They cast you into a lonely corner and dared you to get out.
And they did it every day.
At about eleven, I was finally able to get out of bed. My hands continued to shake. I poured myself a coffee and headed onto the balcony. Missing work would create more anxiety for me, but there was nothing I could do. Over the past three months, there were days when I could not open a bandaid for my kids. My five year olds teased me about it. I laughed with them and let them apply it, though it always scared me a little.
Two hours after getting out of bed I forced myself to go to the gym. I worked with smaller weights, because my hands had yet to stop shaking. I lifted for thirty minutes and headed out for a run. Twenty minutes later, my hands finally became still. I paused at the Starbucks down the street, watching the people walk by. Some days I wondered what it would be like to be one of them. To see the world as they saw it, without the filter of mental health issues. Without the daily struggle to simply get out of bed. To ignore the constant nagging that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d never been good enough, that I’d failed the people around me.
What I didn’t know was that a few days later, one of the best young relief pitchers in history would manifest the same things I had at his age. That he would suddenly be unable to perform his job. That within a few days, the world would look different. And that his response would affect me in a profound manner.
For as much as I had ignored my sickness in the past and for as much as I had dismissed it, it had become clear that the path to a healthier life – and one that could possibly help others – lay in full disclosure.
I didn’t know if I’d ever get another chance at a relationship. Everyone told me it was inevitable, but I was no longer sure about that. I was no longer sure that I’d be free again, like I had when I was younger. There were no quick fixes with depression. And I was no longer sure that I’d be the man I’d once hoped I would be. The world seemed – more often than not – a very strange place, and I, a stranger in a strange land.
But so long as I had a voice, and a pen, I would keep writing. Keep working. Keep marveling at the courage of popular young athletes to be honest about their struggles. And in my own way, do everything I could to encourage that honesty. My sickness had cost me a lot. But I was still here, and I was still fighting.
And that, well, that was something.