“Is it too much for me to just be happy with myself & my life?” It was a question I had asked
myself ever since my teen years, yet here I was at age 41, posting that question on Facebook at 9:43 AM, the morning of my son’s 8th birthday party. Despite the efforts I took to build up walls around myself in the coming years, this would be the first of many times I shared my struggles with depression with my family and friends. At the time, I was working out and running regularly with a friend, trying my best to suppress my feelings of hopelessness, sadness, pessimism, and self-doubt through the use of friendship, exercise, fresh air, and music. This was my most ardent attempt at doing what I thought was necessary to make me feel "normal."
That’s a subjective word to define, normal. “ Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you
just be happy like everyone else? ” I imagine living without depression feels like taking
whatever the world throws at you in stride, and knowing it’s not a big deal because you’ll get through it just fine since everything always works out for you. Normal means you look forward to doing things with others, going places, enjoying a moment IN the moment - not looking back afterward in order to find something to appreciate about the experience. When you’re normal and living without depression, you have love for yourself, you’re kind to yourself, you’re patient and forgiving with yourself, you have pride and confidence in who you are, the way you look, your style, your job, your income. Basically, you’re just happy with life, and what you’ve accomplished so far in it - you're neither critical of everything and everyone, nor are you living in a constant state of disappointment because you’re you.
I was a school bus driver at the time, a job I wasn’t especially proud of having. For the most part, it was easy; my coworkers were often more difficult to deal with than the children or parents. “Just clock in, get out, and don’t look at or talk to anyone.” I kept a pretty low profile there, and of all places, I think I exhibited an outwardly normal appearance there the easiest. The thing I struggled with most at work was probably something most people aren't even bothered by - I would observe people who I didn’t think acted normal. “That laugh sounds so fucking fake,” like they were trying too hard to be liked. The pretentious poseurs seeking recognition, the fakeness - fingernails, eyelashes, tans - dressing a certain way in blatant attempts to call attention to themselves, “These people are so fucking desperate for acceptance.” I didn’t want to engage in idle chit-chat, or deal with coworkers who I saw as so vain and conceited, that they obviously weren’t authentic. I had a few coworkers I talked with on occasion, but they all knew I kept to myself and rarely stood around to gossip. “Why would I want to interact with people who can’t even be themselves?” I felt that even if I didn’t have anything to offer someone, with me what you saw was what you got - good or bad, I was authentically me, and I could be happy with at least that much about myself. As a result, I found myself feeling more and more alone, mainly because I put myself there.
As the months went on I’d post more about my depression, “I really hate life some days” along with a meme stating: You smile, but you wanna cry. You talk, but you wanna be quiet. You pretend like you’re happy, but you aren’t. “What’s to be happy about? I don’t deserve happiness, I don’t deserve anything. I’m fucking worthless. It doesn’t matter if I’m here.” It didn’t matter who attempted to build me up by listing positive traits about me, I didn’t believe them. I was always putting myself down, always critical of something I said or did. I didn’t trust people, because I saw them all as fakes, “Why should I believe what anyone says about me? I don’t like myself, so why would anyone else? I’m not outgoing, I’m not good looking, I don’t have a personality, I don’t have hobbies or interests, I don’t do anything - I just am.”
I have every reason to love myself; I was raised by a loving family and always reminded that I’m loved and wanted. People in my life tell me I’m quiet, caring, intelligent, handsome, funny, talented. “Those I allow the chance to know the real me, who I let my walls down for, know the type of person I am.” They know I’m self-conscious, overly critical of myself, have low self-esteem, and don’t think highly of myself, not out of modesty, but because I fail to accept that I possess any positives. They know that I lack an ounce of self-love, and I live with regrets. An Instagram post describes further, “I run from my past every single day. I allow the me of today to be defined by the me of yesterday, of last week, of last year, of 20 years ago. I have a problem letting go of things that happened in the past that I no longer have control over. I have a problem forgiving myself for the decisions I made and for actions I took years ago. I know I have many faults, and some may not see them or tell me they aren’t there, but I know the truth.”
By the end of the year, I had reposted that original Facebook post on Instagram, this time
captioning, “I don’t know why I’m posting this. I’m still unhappy with myself. I’m still unhappy with my life. I don’t want sympathy, I don’t want reassurances that I’ll come out of this better than I went in. I don’t care. I just want to be happy. I just want what I feel I deserve. I wish I could go away for a while and not come back. I want to disappear and see if those who say they appreciate me, or love me, would even bat an eye.” Around this time, I really started shutting people out of my life. Barely talking to people at work, driving my empty bus and crying out of nowhere, going straight to my room, and basically hibernating in my bed when I didn’t have a commitment. My parents inquired daily, “Are you OK?” It became annoying, and I told them I was fine just so I’d be left alone. I was surprised how many people reached out to me checking in, but it came about every few weeks. I was fine with that. Despite people showing that they cared for and supported me, I wanted to be by myself. I felt alone, so I wanted to be left alone.
This behavior continued for months, summed up best with another Instagram meme: I feel like something inside of me is broken and I don’t know how to fix it. Posting on Instagram and Facebook became my coping mechanism. It allowed me to “get it out of my system” in a way that journaling failed. I got feedback and support from people that knew
me better than a therapist would. I could express that “I had a bad night last night. I had a bad morning...and then I had a bad early afternoon. I don’t want to give up on what I want out of life, or what I deserve. I just want the past to die already. To move on from it. To make the changes necessary to move forward. To start living again.” That second year, I had an emotional breakdown at work, ultimately requiring 5 months off. “I just want the past to die already” was something I said to myself A LOT. Part of the struggle was that every time I felt like I was getting better, getting closer to where I needed to be to function as I should on a daily level, something would cause a setback. I’d feel like I was making progress having great days, and then BANG, I’m kicked back weeks. Emotional breakdowns, crying uncontrollably for no reason, “ What the fuck is wrong with you? ” constantly running through my head.
Therapists tend to start you out by asking, What are your goals? My answer seemed obvious, “I’d like to get a better understanding of myself. I’d like to get a handle on my emotions. I’d like to work on a plan to find ways to make myself happy, to be able to show myself love and respect. I want to be in a good mental state, a good emotional state, happy at a job I enjoy and want to be at, living in my own home.” Almost 2 years later, I’m closer to achieving those goals. I have my own home, I left the job I was unhappy at, and I’m in better mental and emotional states. I’m working on loving and respecting myself, however, that’s going to be a lifelong responsibility. Finding ways to be happy, incorporating people who contribute to that happiness, and using the tools I’ve learned along my journey hopefully lead to building fewer walls around myself and finding my new "normal."