Living in the Dark

I'm going to be honest with you. Not many people in my life actually know this about me but I think being honest will go a long way toward understanding. Not just me but other people who are keeping this same secret because they're concerned what family, friends and co-workers might think. But with two suicides in my Facebook newsfeed this week, it's time to shine a light.

I suffer with depression. Typing those words isn't as hard for me as I thought it would be. Partly because I've known it was part of me for most of my life, and partly because it feels better to finally admit it to everyone who is part of my life. There have been plenty of times I've said no to getting together for drinks or hanging out or even answering a text because I was, as I call it, in the darkness. 

That's the best way I can describe it...darkness. When I feel it coming on, it's pretty much like thick, dark clouds rolling in. On those days, it's incredibly hard to enjoy even something as important to me as taking photos (and trust me, I've tried). More often than not, I can feel it coming on (except on those rare occasions when my family contacts me and sends me into it like the flick of a switch). There were times this summer where I felt the darkness coming on and tried to fight it off with a good walk around the city to spots I can almost always enjoy getting a good shot or two.  A beautiful sunset over the city I have grown to love? Nothing. Two or three hours walking around town (which may sound horrible to some of you but which is truly wonderful for me normally)? Nothing. There have been times where I came home and literally wanted to smash my camera because it couldn't help me. But that wouldn't solve the issue; that would only take away an outlet for trying to deal with it.

"But why don't you just pick up the phone and call me?" It's understandable that friends or family would say something along those lines when they find out someone struggles with depression. That desire to help someone "snap out of it" is a natural and wonderful thing. Unfortunately, it's rarely that simple, at least for me. When someone can't even bring themselves to get out of bed, how likely do you think they are to pick up the phone? Yes, there have been days over the last 30 years where I couldn't even bring myself to get out of bed, where I literally could not face the world because I didn't have the energy to fake-smile my way through the day and pretend that there was anything but darkness in my head at that moment.

I feel like I want to stop for a second and clear something up. When I talk about darkness and not wanting to face the world, that is not saying that I am suicidal. I am not. I have not considered that a serious option since my late teens/early 20's, when trying to hide (and then come to terms with) my sexuality filled me with guilt, shame, and uncertainty but that's a story for another day.

My depression became the newer, bigger secret to hide. It was something I was ashamed of and something I wanted to keep from people who matter to me, mainly because I didn't want to appear weak or not in control. But over the past few years, as I confronted my periods of depression head on, I came to understand that keeping that secret was giving it more strength. Feeling like I was the only person dealing with it gave it more strength. I had to realize the same thing a lot of people who suffer from depression need to: that I was not alone. I don't mean alone  in terms of not having anyone to turn to; I am blessed with a number of people who I can count on to be honest and not judge me. I mean alone in terms of being the only one struggling with depression.

One of the first moments I realized that I may not be alone in this actually came about, oddly enough, as I was organizing photographs on my computer. I kept coming across random photos from my travels of single people. A lone person walking through the fountains at Dilworth Park. A lone jogger in Central Park. A woman swimming alone. I ended up with more than 25 photos of people in everyday situations by themselves. When I looked at those photos as a whole, it hit me: just because someone is alone doesn't mean they're the only person who is alone. None of us who struggle with depression are the only ones dealing with it, but society has taught us to not talk about it, to suck it up and move on. But in not talking about it, we keep those feelings of being the only person going through it alive and weighing us down. I am not the only person who deals with depression. You are not the only person who deals with depression. According to the World Health Organization, there are 350 million of us around the world. That's a lot of people living in the dark. And none of us are alone.