When The Shadows Come

I looked down at the busy street below. I was sitting in my usual spot on the balcony, twenty floors up. Sunlight glinted off the tall buildings around my condo, and the sound of a jack hammer echoed along the street. It was another bad day. There’d been too many lately, so many I couldn’t remember the last time the clouds had lifted. I’d dealt with depression since my early twenties, but this was probably as bad as it had ever been.

I was still functional, and things were going well at work, but on days like today, the shadows followed me home. There was no logical reason for one day to be worse than another, that wasn’t how depression worked, but today I’d felt the pressure at school during a quick washroom break between classes. I was only alone for a few minutes, but I could hear the voices pushing me towards solitude. Pushing me away from people. Pushing me towards self-harm. (Self-harm is not just cutting, it’s any kind of pain inflicted upon ourselves because we want to feel or because we don’t feel worthy or both.)

I leaned down to pet Nelson, my over-sized cat. He purred as I rubbed him behind the ears.

“When does it get better, buddy?” I muttered.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t been trying. I was going to counseling. I’d kept in touch with my friends. I was going to the gym. But nothing seemed to be working. The shadows refused to go away.

I knew that loneliness was a part of it. The weather hadn’t helped either, as it had been cold and miserable for months. But lately I’d felt like a raft adrift in the sea, buffeted by waves and winds. I was self-medicating too much, and down to one meal a day again. Every day felt like my last day, not in terms of suicide, but in that I could not see tomorrow. Like the shadows had decided it was going to be Groundhog Day for the foreseeable future.

Nelson got up and moved to the door. I opened the door to let him in and leaned on the railing. From here, people walking along the sidewalk seemed insignificant. Like me, I thought. I shook my head and sat down.

I’d always hated self-pity, and if you didn’t understand depression, the language of depressives often sounded like self-pity. I was conscious of it, but then, like most people who struggled with mental health issues, I was conscious of everything. Had I done things the right way at work? Was I being a good friend? Was I being a good son? What should I be doing?

And with the questions came the inevitable self-flagellation. Why couldn’t I be a better person? Why was I so damn selfish? Didn’t the people around me deserve better? Some days I could cut those voices off, ignore them, but they’d been getting louder the last few months, and the shroud of failure had become tighter, obscuring my vision so it was all I could do to get to work and try to exist. Living, really living, stood in the distance on an unattainable mountain top. A wistful dream of once was and what might never be again.

I opened my laptop. The stigma attached to my tribe remained, but that hadn’t been the reason I’d gone silent on this blog. Part of it was the task of writing a thousand words a day for my latest novel. (First drafts are exhausting.) But a bigger part of it was that I felt like I had no hope to give. That there wasn’t a happy ending to anything I’d post. And if that was the case, why post anything at all?

Even as I leaned over and began to write, I could feel the pressure of the shadows to retreat into Youtube or a book or a movie and stop writing.

Telling people you’re struggling won’t help anyone. You’re just looking for attention. Maybe you should think of something helpful to say instead of burdening people with your problems. People have enough problems already.

I leaned back in my chair. For the sixty four thousandth time in my life I wondered why I’d been afflicted with this sickness. And for the sixty four thousandth time I told myself that I was very lucky and to stop being so damn self-centered.

I remembered when I was younger. When days hadn’t seemed like hills to climb and when tomorrow promised something better. I remembered when life was exciting and linear because that’s how it worked. When crushing disappointments did not dig their claws into you for months and years at a time. Was I being selfish in wishing for that again? Was there something more I could be doing? I didn’t know.

What I did know was that one of the ways I tried to overcome the shadows was to DO. Do the laundry. Clean the kitchen. Write a blog. Accomplishing even basic tasks lessened the pressure, even if it didn’t remove it. Depression was not something I could ever overcome completely. It was a lifelong sickness. I knew that.

And even if it wasn’t something I could ever overcome, what I could do was to remain in the act of overcoming. I could still be kind to people and help my kids at work. I could still write and workout and pay my bills. I could still be vulnerable about my life so others would know they weren’t alone. And so I would know that, too.

I’d always tried to be someone who helped others find hope and life in whatever they were doing. But sometimes hope wasn’t found in Disney or a happy ending. Sometimes it was found in the honest words of someone struggling to overcome. Someone struggling to stay in a place of overcoming. Sometimes it was found in a place like this.









4 thoughts on “When The Shadows Come”

  1. Stephen, thank you for your raw honesty regarding your struggle with depression. The world needs more people who are courageous enough to be vulnerable with others, to be transparent about their struggles. We all have them, they just come in different shapes and colours.

  2. Your writing is poignant and real. I have been rereading “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron to get myself up and out. Also, Pena Chandron, “When things fall apart”, she gives a Buddhist take on depression “it’s a natural part of life”.

    It is painful and uncomfortable and I suffer from it many days. I lie on the couch and wonder “what?” What is happening? And on and on. It’s ok. I will comfort you says the quiet voice. The spirit is quiet. Everything else that’s loud and destructive is not the spirit. Tell it to “shut up”. Take care my friend. Debz

  3. Thanks, Debz. And thanks for everything, including this incredible site you designed. We are one, those of us who suffer. A journey indeed.

  4. Thanks Rebekka. And you’re right. It isn’t just mental health struggles. We all have different issues, and so often we feel alone. We feel like no one could possibly understand. If we knew that these difficulties were normal, that we could bond on issues that break us rather than those that divide us, what more could we accomplish?

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