Chad Grayson

The Only Way Out is Through

photo credit Patrick Hendry

              April was kind of a traumatic month. Some great things happened, most notably the birth of my grandson, but we almost lost my daughter in the process. Some other family stuff happened that I really can’t go into publicly, but it was several degrees of bad.

              But I got through it. I managed to only lose my shit a couple of times. I maintained as much as I could of my self-care routine, and I endured.

              Then, a couple of weeks ago, it all caught up with me. I realized I’d gotten through the past month on caffeine and adrenaline, and now that I was no longer in active crisis, it was time to pay the bill.

              A lot of people don’t really realize what depression is actually like. It’s different for everyone, but for me it manifests as an absolute lack of energy. There’s sadness, yes, but it’s the lethargy that is the most crippling thing. That, and the absence of any emotion besides grumpiness. This is often accompanied by a low-level suicidal ideation, but this time I avoided that part of it, for which I was grateful.

              I couldn’t motivate myself to get anything done. I laid awake at night, torturing myself with negative thoughts, then sleepwalking through my days. I spent a great deal of time disassociating, which in me looks like daydreaming and rumination. In short, I felt all of the progress I had made over the past three years slipping away.

              I talked to my therapist about it, and she taught me a couple of techniques for grounding myself in my body and in the present moment, which helped.

              I knew I could call my psychiatrist, but I also know that as much as I like him, he has one tool and its more pills. I didn’t want to increase my medication. I’m on enough as it is. So, I kept going. I took a couple of days off writing, then made myself get back to work, realizing that accomplishing something might make me feel less hopeless. I also attacked my house, attempting to put it back in order now that my son had moved out. I exercised and took my dog for walks and tried to live as if I wasn’t struggling.

              And slowly, over the course of a couple of weeks, I felt the plane pull out of the nosedive. It was still low, but it had evened out, and was no longer pointed at the ground. I kept up my self-care routine. I kept doing my best to accomplish things. I reached out to some friends and talked to my therapist some more.

              And now, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I’m still not feeling fantastic, but my mood seems more manageable. I looked back on the writing I had done over the last couple of weeks, and thought, ‘this isn’t bad!’ Getting those words down was a struggle some days, so it was good to know I wasn’t going to need to throw them out.

              This is not a miraculous story. I don’t really have any advice to give for how to pull yourself out of a depressive episode. My therapist says the strategy I used was called ‘Behavioral Activation,’ and I’m not sure if it worked or if the episode just ran its course. But I feel the need to talk about it, because zi find that we don’t talk honestly about this type of thing enough. We’re all so busy sharing our highlight real. Men, especially, don’t talk about their mental health struggles, leaving many of us feeling like we’re freaks for having these kinds of feelings.

              All I did, really, was keep walking the path that I’d created for myself, and it led me out of the darkness. It helped that I don’t have a stressful day job I depend on to live, or small children to care for, so I could take time off without disappointing too many people.

              I’ve spent my share of years in the darkness. I’m not immune to it, even now that I’ve created a life and routine that I love and enjoy. My routines saved me, this time. I need to keep up with them, so they’ll still be in place the next time I need them.

              Sometimes, the only way out is through.

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