The Overlooked Symptoms

1. I reached for my phone and glanced at the time. It was 11:27am, long past when I had planned to wake up. In fact, I can’t tell you the last time I slept in that late. I have insomnia, so usually I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Depending on how late it was when I finally fall asleep, I generally get up between 7am and 9am. Usually this translates to 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Last night I had slept for over 10 hours. Who was I? A thirteen-year-old boy? I debated rolling over and going back to sleep, I had already slept thru the morning, what would a few more hours really harm?

My dog became aware of my awake state and decided to lay across my bladder, her clever trick to make me get up with urgency. Apparently she was not willing to wait another few hours for her day to begin. Unable to continue to rest with a dog putting all 45lbs on my very full bladder, I pushed the dog off and got up.

I sat down on my couch. I grabbed a blanket and fell asleep again. In my mind, it didn’t count as sleeping-in anymore because I had woken up, got out of bed and done at least three things 1) let the dog out 2) fed the dog 3) made myself coffee. When I woke up the second time it was 12:49pm. I debated sleeping later—what did it even matter at this point? Instead I got up and poured a cup of coffee.

By 3pm I was ready for another nap. I was simultaneously pissed at myself for sleeping the whole day away. A really nice day that I had totally wasted, sleeping. I put shoes on my feet and a smile on my face and headed out to a work related event. There, I smiled and shook hands and laughed and made others laugh. I took smiling pictures with various people, which would go on social media and prove how happy and productive of a citizen and community leader I was.

I went home and by 8pm I couldn’t find any reason to stay awake, so I went to bed, where I was kept awake by my thoughts for a few hours, before finally falling asleep.

2. I walked into my kitchen and came to a sudden halt. Why had I come to my kitchen? Was I hungry? No. Did I need water? Not particularly, though while I’m here I guess I could hydrate. Did I need to feed Hazel? No, I fed her already. Did I? Yes, I did. Did I need to do dishes? No they were all washed and in the drying rack. Did I come in here to put dishes away? No, that wasn’t it. When I couldn’t figure it out, I turned back and returned to the living room with an unsettling void in my mind. What had I gone into the kitchen for?

I was forgetting things a lot more frequently of late. Just yesterday I couldn’t remember my ATM pin code at the gas station. And Tuesday I couldn’t remember why I called my mom. And the week before that I was mid dial and couldn’t remember who I was calling or why. Sometimes I couldn’t remember a task I gave myself just hours ago.

3.  I sat on my couch staring out the window. I had no idea how long I had been sitting there. At least an hour. I had gotten home from work and was supposed to be getting ready to go to the indoor climbing gym, but instead I sat down on my couch and just stared out the window. I tried encouraging myself, “Come on Jay, you love climbing. And Jon will be there. It’d be good for you to see a friend. They probably have new routes to try. You always feel better after you go.” But I argued back, “I haven’t been in weeks, I bet I suck now. I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of the other guys. Plus, I’m tired, it was a long day. I should make dinner and go to bed. I’ll climb Thursday.” And with that I texted my friend that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the gym and stayed on my couch. This was becoming more routine and not just with rock climbing.

4.  I made the idiotic choice of going to Meijer on a Sunday. It was crowded and I immediately regretted it. I was in the milk and egg aisle when out of nowhere, my heart started racing a million beats a minute. My chest tightened and it was hard to breathe. It felt like I had just sprinted a mile and was trying to catch my breath. My cheeks got very warm but I felt cold. I had racing thoughts about everything that could go wrong. Not just at the grocery store, but in my life. I started thinking about all the other things I needed to do and why I didn’t have time to wait in line or deal with all these people. I gave an apologetic look to a young employee restocking the eggs as I abandoned my cart in the middle of the store.

I got to my car and sat down, taking in deep shaky breaths. The tears started streaming down my face. I know you aren’t supposed to cry over spilt milk, and technically I wasn’t. I was crying over forgotten milk, and eggs, bread, cheese, chicken, spinach, cereal, bananas, and almonds.

5.  People are the worst. If you’re my friend or have known me for more than five minutes, you’ve probably heard me say this. You’ve then laughed with me in agreement. Because, generally speaking, sometimes people are just the worst. They can be selfish, rude, mean, racist, homophobic, misogynistic…you get my point. People can be the worst.

But not all people. Truth be told, for as much as I joke about hating people, I like quite a few people. And I even enjoy their company from time to time. Lately though, I’ve been coming up with excuses as to why I can’t make various social invitations, even from the people I like. I’ll tell them I have a work project or my dog needs a bath or I’m feeling under the weather. Or worse? I just won’t show up or reply to their texts/calls. Instead, I sit at home with my dog, justifying to myself that I am not alone because she’s sitting right next to me, on the couch she’s not supposed to be on.

6.  For quite some time now, I’ve felt heavy and down. Not about anything in particular, just sad the majority of the time. I feel stuck and like I’m not contributing to my friends, my community, or our world. I don’t think about suicide or harming myself. I just imagine that the world might be better when I am no longer in it. Like, if something were to happen to me, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. And I can’t see or imagine it getting better. Is this how I will feel for the rest of my life? Fighting to find happiness?

At first glance, many would have no idea that I have been struggling with depression. I keep up an exhausting persona of funny man or put-together-executive-director. The truth is, I have struggled with depression since I was 15. When I came out as transgender and began the journey of becoming my authentic self, the anxiety and depression got better. When much (not all) of my body dysphoria went away, I returned to the gym and began taking care of myself. A lot of people think that’s all depressed people need; to get off the couch, get outside, start exercising, and *poof* depression cured. The fact is that yes, exercise and eating healthy and sleeping enough can all improve someone’s mood and contribute to the health and well-being of a person. But sometimes, that’s not enough. And sometimes the very act of getting out of bed in the morning to do the bare minimum that life requires of you is exhausting enough and there just isn’t energy to go to the gym or even smile one more fake grin at someone.

For me, the depression snuck back in slowly, like a clock at 4:50pm on a Friday. First, I was too tired to go climbing after work and excused myself occasionally. Then, I would justify not going for a run. I was feeling more tired, despite how much sleep I got. I began watching more TV, and journaling less, reading less, making plans less. I was forgetting things more often and struggling to focus. Soon, I couldn’t find the motivation to leave my house when work didn’t require me to. I spent hours each day contemplating a life without me, fantasizing about disappearing or getting into a car accident. I felt guilty about sleeping in and missing opportunities to spend time with friends, but didn’t have the energy to change it. It was a cycle. The longer I isolated, the worse the depression got and the worse the depression got the more I wanted to hide from the world and myself.

I chose to go back on meds, which was a difficult decision to make. I didn’t want to need meds, but I also didn’t want to feel so hopeless and helpless any longer. Meds aren’t the complete solution. But they can be an important piece of the puzzle. And for me, it’s working.

We don’t talk about depression and we stigmatize it. We equate it with someone having a bad day or someone needing to dust themselves off and get over it. That’s feeling sad or upset, depression is a chronic illness that can’t be shaken off. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that has a wide variety of symptoms that can all vary in severity.

Having depression doesn’t have to define me, but it is part of me. It’s part of lots of people. And most people who are battling depression are trying to do so quietly as to not disturb those around them because of the stigma we’ve built around it. The stigma is even built into our health insurance companies—but that could be its own blog post.

I chose to write about my personal experience with depression this week because we don’t talk about it, we don’t talk about mental illness. And it’s important we increase our awareness and our acceptance and understanding of mental illness and folks that live with it.


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7 thoughts on “The Overlooked Symptoms

  1. Thanks for sharing this! There is so much stigma attached, even amongst healthcare professionals. People struggle to name it because they think it will then define them. Sharing this is brave, and will help others struggling with depression feel less lonely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for being so brave. I struggle withncanxiety/depression too. As trans men we often try so hard to blend in or fit in. We don’t want to show how vulnerable we are, particularly if it relates to mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally. I think transfolks try to hide any mental illness because there are people who already think that us just being trans is an illness. The fact is that transgender and cisgender folks can both be depressed. And no one should have to suffer in silence because they feel like they can’t talk about it.

      Like

  3. Great post–your honesty and candor will fight stigma. So many of us will see ourselves in you and there’s comfort in that.

    Like

  4. Jay

    Thank you so much for this post, it really hit home with me and I really needed to hear what you wrote. Also thank you for your amazing writing.

    Like

  5. Thank you for sharing! I’m zapping you with mental hugs. I’m also laughing at the facial expression I can see you making if I walked up to you, arms outstretched, to give you an actual hug. LOL

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  6. I completely hear you. I on all kids of things and depression makes an appearance every now and then in my posts. It’s one of the reasons I sometimes don’t tell people about my blog. Even though it is so common, I still have a fear if being judged and misunderstood. Of being shunned and cut out. That’s the honest truth. This inspires me to write about this very fear. Thank you for being brave and actually writing it. Beautiful post.

    Like

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