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The Great Depression of 2014

The Great Depression of 2014

There I stood in the entryway of the Toronto east end hospital. The automatic sliding doors of the emergency room opening and closing rhythmically behind me: “whoosh…thwap…whoosh…thwap”. I was transfixed by the sound — and not a little stunned as to why I was there. My perplexed, vacant look must have registered quite clearly on my face, as I stood not moving except for my eyes as they scanned back and forth across the emergency room.

“Hello. Can I help you?” asked the woman at the admissions desk. I looked at her with the same expression on my face, but I could tell she could see something registering in my eyes. “Can I help you?” she asked again, this time getting up from the desk and slowly approaching me. I tried to answer her question but was unable to articulate what I was feeling. A simmering stew of emotions and thoughts were bubbling in my mind, however, I couldn’t identify which ingredient I should focus on.

“Are you injured?” she asked again, slowly approaching me. “No.” I said. “Are you sick?” she asked again, getting closer. “I don’t think so,” I replied, now starting to feel the simmer turn to a boil. “What’s wrong? Do you need help?” she finally asked as she moved in front of me. That’s when my emotional pot boiled over. I burst into tears. Not just gentle weeping, but full-body sobs. Tears rolled down my face as I stood there, helplessly crying, unable to speak. The admitting nurse took me by the shoulders, brought me to a chair at the desk and sat me down.

“I’m so sad.”

Sad_Man_by_KlechaW“Ok, take a breath. It’s Ok, you’re safe,” she said in an assuring voice. At this point, I’m sure, she had no idea if I was on drugs, had been in a domestic, or what was happening in front of her. This seemingly together, well-dressed, kempt, middle-aged man was dissolving in front of her. Finally, I got myself together enough to look at her and say three words that launched me in a new direction: “I’m so sad.”

Strangely, I had been out earlier that night socializing, singing at a club with a musician friend, laughing, tossing back cocktails and being a bon vivant. I was Cole Porter-esque; kibitzing from one destination to the next, chatting with people I knew, and complete strangers, giving the illusion that I was the life of the party. It was all an illusion. I was in full distraction mode. The Great Cover-up in full swing. At 3:00 on that frigid February night, the façade crumbled and I was finally able to articulate what had been gnawing at my psyche for months: a sadness that had been growing inside me, inhabiting every emotional and, even in some cases, physical, nook and cranny to be found. I was suffering from depression.

Depression is a sinister hobgoblin. It lurks inside and plays tricks on emotions, self-esteem, and self-actualization. It can be deceptive in the way it turns from feeling down to becoming a chronic thrumming drumbeat in the back of the mind. It stealthily extinguishes candles and creates a creeping darkness. It’s not always like the movie-of-the-week calamitous, earth-shaking exposition where the protagonist is hidden under bed covers in a dark room unable to function in life as their friends and family gather round, frantically searching for help. In many cases, depression can be so subtle, those who suffer are not even aware.

…the floor of my emotional ocean shook violently and devastating waves were imminent.

cracksThat was my experience until the fateful night I took myself to the hospital in a cab. I was on my way home from that great night when, mid-journey, something came over me, a horrible feeling that if I went home something bad would happen. Something inside me was lucid enough to recognize that the charade was coming to an end; the floor of my emotional ocean shook violently and devastating waves were imminent.

It’s safe to say that no one I knew had any idea of what was happening to me over the preceding months. I was behaving as usual, popping up in social situations, writing, singing a song here and there onstage, and never once giving any indication of the brewing storm. Even the occasional night of over-drinking was put down to excessive socializing with friends. Although I would get too many “cups” into the night sometimes and fall into a dark mood, it was a given that that was just part of my “creative personality” coming out to be edgy and provocative. As it turns out, it was emotional blood seeping out of growing fissures in my psyche.

After my night in the hospital, where I spent several hours talking with nurses and the attending physician, I was sent home. They asked me repeatedly if I wanted to injure myself and I repeatedly said I did not. I was there for help. If I’d wanted to injure myself, I would have ignored my emotional seismic activity and continued home. After much talk and questions about what was going on in my mind — and in my life — I landed on the assessment that my life had no meaning. I rationalized this by saying that I was 50, single, childless and under-employed (I had recently been screwed out of a lucrative contract and was struggling to find work). I had been creating a laundry list of my short-fallings and failings and wrapping it all up with the reverie that I was now too old to make a difference. That’s a hell of a weight to carry.

A few days later, I was in the office of a hospital psychiatrist for an assessment. He was very nice and assured me I was not alone in my situation, which was some comfort. He suggested a few anti-depressant options to help me along. I refused. I had been down that psychotropic alley about a decade earlier and found it a false panacea with many dark and dangerous corners. I wanted to go traditional. I opted for therapy. I knew I needed the tools to build defenses against the dark thoughts that brought me here. I needed to learn how to find meaning in my life that was not just external.

I chose to tell my cab driver to take a left and not a right that cold February night.

stock-footage-heavenly-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelAs I went into therapy, I began to tell a few people what I was going through. This was nerve-wracking as I believed that no one wanted to hear about someone’s troubles and that I’d just be gently moved aside as the sad guy. I was Auntie Maimed and my buffet was sparse now. Revealing my situation was a revelation in two ways: it’s not as hard as you may think, and you really find out your true friends. Responses ran the gamut of “oh, those are just first world problems (!!!!!!)”, to a couple of friends offering me not only emotional support, but tangible support as well. I was told that no matter what happened I’d always have a place to live. I was offered solid shoulders and compassion…by two people.

In the midst of the therapy and talking with friends, I was also doggedly out looking for work. Eventually, I found meaningful employment in my field of expertise. I also found more meaning in my life through my work, and also through volunteering and philanthropic endeavours. I got lucky. However, I also worked hard to get through those dark days to re-ignite those candles that were extinguished earlier in the year.

It’s often said that life is about choices. Some of those choices are made for us without our consent or knowledge. Some we can make ourselves. I chose to take the help that was offered when I needed it. I chose to follow my true friends who stood next to me when I was down. I chose to find meaning in my life in ways that were more external and not egocentric or contingent on my age or station in life. I chose to tell my cab driver to take a left and not a right that cold February night.

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Andy2 copy 3Andrew Vails writing career began in Halifax when he was a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.


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3 Comments

  1. Moving piece, Andrew. I’m glad you took that left. Xoxo

  2. Beautiful, unfolding story. Thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable and share that here. Thanks for choosing to pull this out into the open, to shed light on what so many struggle with and “keep turning right instead of turning left”. So often turmoil and havoc reign in the things that remain in the dark but are dissipated when light is shed on them. I was just saying to someone last week that “time really isn’t a good healer”. Thank you for this, my friend. Big hugs.

  3. Thanks for sharing such a personal moment. XOXO

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