It’s amazing sometimes, just what level of tragedy or heartbreak it takes to come to a realization that’s been right in front of your eyes for as long as you can remember. At least that’s what it has been for me the first week of March, 2015.
It’s become almost cliche to say, “the first step is admitting you have a problem,” but that is, indeed, the first step, it seems. Admitting it means you’ve come to that realization that probably took years to come to.
For as long as I can remember, at least going back to my early teens, I have struggled with depression. It would come, maybe for a couple of days or so, and then it would leave. I didn’t need to talk to anyone; I just “handled it,” which means I kept it to myself, put on a happy face, and walked out in public like it was a normal day.
From an early age, I began to emotionally isolate myself from others, not in the sense that I didn’t have fun or have friends or go to parties, but to the extent that no matter how close I was to someone, there was never anyone I felt comfortable telling everything to. No matter how good and trustworthy the person was, they couldn’t be as trustworthy as me keeping things to myself.
It was like I was building up these walls all around me and painting a happy “public” face on the outside. And then filling the inside of these walls with my problems, big and small. I slowly became an emotional hoarder.
A close friend of mine actually discussed this with me a few years ago. He said it was like I was always “Business Josh,” whether in public or private. His mother had used the term “guarded.” And it had come up at other times with other people. The thing is, I would hear what they said, I would listen to what they said, but it didn’t click. I understood the words, but I didn’t really understand that it was a problem. This past week, it finally clicked. I finally gained that understanding that yes, this is a problem.
Those walls that were meant to protect me from heartache and pain were really just keeping me isolated from any deeper connections with others. It was counter productive.
Over time, these things have affected how I saw the world. I wanted to be the guy that helped my friends with any problems. I love my friends and want to be there for them. I’ve always said they could call me any time they needed me – 24/7, and I really, genuinely mean it. They would even tell me the same thing, but I knew I would never take them up on that offer. I could handle it myself. Plus, what if I did take them up on it? What if it was 3 a.m. and I really needed to talk to someone? What if I called them and woke them up? How guilty would I feel? How much of a burden would I be to a friend?
So, as logical of a person as I am, I held myself to a different standard (while fully knowing how illogical that is.) I could be there for people, but I couldn’t allow them to be there for me. I could handle it.
Year after year after year of this made it habit. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. There was no active decision to be this way. It was just habit. It was just “me.” It was just how I dealt with things. No big deal. “Yeah, I’m depressed, but it’ll pass. I don’t need to talk. I don’t need to let anyone get close. It’ll be ok.”
Bottom line: I didn’t realize I was pushing people away.
I thought people would be more interested in getting to know the more public version of me – the one that seemed (or at least pretended) to have it all together. The parts of me that were sad or depressed, well, who would want that, right? When I’m that way, I don’t want to be around me, so why would anyone else?
When those times hit, I would get reclusive. I would withdraw. I didn’t want to be social. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I would love to hear from people, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually reach out. Yeah, I’d answer a text, email or message on social media, but I did not feel like initiating a conversation. I felt like I would just bring others down and then get angry with myself for doing it. And if I didn’t magically hear from anyone, I would just assume that everyone was beginning to hate me. Illogical? Yes. But the logical part of me didn’t change the way I felt emotionally.
What started out when I was younger as a couple of days of depression gradually increased over time. In fact, lately, it had increased to weeks. This meant weeks of being more withdrawn from the people who care about me, all while still trying to put on the public happy face.
What I thought was protecting my loved ones from having to deal with me and my issues was actually hurting them instead. I don’t know why it has been so hard to accept that people can genuinely love me, even with the faults, imperfections and – gasp – emotions.
This past week was a long-needed realization, a moment of clarity for me. I have to do something different. I have to admit I have a problem. I have to make changes. I have to reach out. And I did. And it has reinforced something I already knew: I have some great and wonderful friends in my life. I’m extremely lucky for that.
I’m working on being a better person and a better friend. I’m very thankful for the wonderful people in my life, and I want them to know it.