I wrote an article for Everyday Health a couple weeks ago about melancholy and being sexually abused as a youngster. It went viral, with many people reaching out identifying with my tragedy. There was the Marine who at the age of 7 made the error of having in a stranger’s car. There was the elderly man recalling his maltreatment as a young child by the family’s trusted church pastor. There were daughters and brothers mistreated by brothers. They were grateful I shared my story, and even now the e mails continue to roll in.
But then there were the other e-mails, from people who confronted me on how I handled things. One person said, “You’re a large boy now. Why don’t you face your godfather?” Another man even suggested that my long silence made me culpable in the molestation of all casualties after me. The guilt weighed on me. I began having flashbacks to my maltreatment, replaying youth moments I had not allowed myself to experience since they prompted me to put pen to paper years past. It stirred up some memories that are difficult — just as I was working on a follow-up post on how folks who’ve been abused can cope with depression.
I needed to escape your house. I made the decision to get a run, to clear my head. The heat index was well into the 90s, the hottest day of the month so far. But I did not care. I am a guy that is reasonably healthy; I had spent the last couple years retooling my body. At age 42, I weigh 30 pounds less than I did at age 24 and can run a mile two minutes faster than my 16-year-old self. What could a jog along with a little summer sunlight harm?
Across the second mile I started thinking about my godfather again. A specific memory came back to me:
I was 5 years old. “The Hustle” by Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony was playing on the radio. It was the 4th of July, 1976, which I recall because Father had reddish-white-and-blue bicentennial shades propped up on top of his head. He and my godfather, “Uncle Ron,” were out on our back porch laughing about a Saturday Night Live skit while Father grilled burgers and hot dogs.
Mother, Dad, and Uncle Ron were playing cards at the kitchen table. For fighting with my sister, mother had merely sent me. I heard Uncle Ron tell Mother to take it easy on me. Mother said to Uncle Ron that he was a big softie. Everyone laughed. A chair scraped the floor. Footsteps were heard by me. He was coming to my room.
I had been lying on my bed, crying. I was embarrassed, which was after I was yelled at by Mother, how I always got. His head popped around the corner of my bedroom door. His face was formed just like a jelly bean. He had dark black hair that framed an even darker, pitted complexion. He looked like the guy typecast as the hired muscle in gangster films.
“You okay, little buddy?” he said, laughing. His laugh started in his throat and came out of his mouth and nose in once, such as a pig.
My godfather’s laugh would finally give me nightmares, but that night I grinned a little as he slid on the bed behind me. He tickled me until I laughed out loud also. He nuzzled his scratchy, five o’clock shadow to the back of my neck, which began to sweat beneath the heat of his three-packs-a-day breath. He always forgot to get his pack of cigarettes from his front pocket. As he rubbed himself I heard the plastic wrap again and again. Uncle Ron reached his right arm. His hands slid within the waistband of my underwear. His fingers were constantly clammy…
Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel once said, “A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s not possible to ever see the ending. The fog is similar to a cage without a key.”
Perhaps It Is Not About Fixing Yourself
I guess I attempted to outrun the memory. But it was shocking to consider that there I was, a 42-year old happily married husband and father to three beautiful children, who could revert easily to that shamed, self destructive kid. I’d just written articles about depression and how I had it all figured out. So many individuals in turn revealed incredible candor and boundless courage in telling me their own narratives. Was I lying to them? Was I lying to myself?
When it came to me, and that’s: Fighting depression is not necessarily about fixing yourself; it’s about learning to live a little broken. Admitting this fact was so freeing. Below are some things that helped me get back on track:
Talking about it.??One reader e mailed me that she’d resolved not to out her abuser to her family as it’d do more harm than her “healing in silence.” A part of me wanted to shout at her, but how could I with a clear conscience? My godfather sexually abused me for the first 10 years of my life, and it took me another 14 years after that to tell anyone about it. We all bear our crosses a little otherwise.
I think as casualties — although I hate that word — the worst thing we might do is let nervousness rule our lives or not talk about our torment. Anxiety and silence don’t cultivate healing; they’re the allies of our abusers. The reader who emailed me might never openly face her abuser, but the fact she was at least telling me was an important first step for her.
Seeking support.??Yes, all of US bear our crosses a little differently, but we all need anyone to lighten the load. Once I summoned the nerve to discuss my depression, I learned to contact others for support. Isolation is fed on by depression. Self-absorption leads to self-loathing. Lean on your loved ones and friends. Slim on your faith-based community. Thin on your professional caregiver or find a support group. I was lucky to find family, friendship and also a support group all in the guise of just one individual: my wife.
I am not suggesting that everyone who’s depressed should go racing down the aisle. If figures are to be believed, union is one of the primary reasons for depression. But at least learn to trust others. You’ll be able to share a drink called loneliness, to paraphrase Billy Joel, but it is better than drinking alone.
Thinking modest.??I view combating depression and composing a novel in the same light. With reference to the latter, writer E.L. Doctorow once said, “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Of the three novels I’ve written — one unpublished, one published, and one soon-to-be printed — I Have maintained the same approach. I do not think about sitting down to compose a novel. I just aim to write one page a day, and by the end of a year I expect to have 365 pages. Just how lots of people you know “have this great idea to get a novel” for their whole lives without writing so much as one syllable? Believing little creates consequences, although dreaming big sounds nice.
Depression has an identical dynamic. It’s difficult. I’ve to force myself to inquire, “What can I do to be a happier man, a much better individual, right now?” I can listen more attentively to my lovely wife and kids, although I’m not going to slay all my dragons today. I can put away that three-foot mound of clean laundry in the corner of my room. I will educate my 8-year-old just how to ride a bike. I will skip that second glass of red wine. I can call it quits after three miles. And I can just draw a bead on to write one page a day.
Finding finish lines.??The day after my eight-mile run, I ran again. Just this time, ate a banana before my run and I drank a gallon of water. Where I’d cease running now, I establish a realistic target. Fighting melancholy for me personally isn’t worrying about an end game. Instead, derive fulfillment from every ribbon I cross and I look to seek out finish lines that are realistic. As an example, I liked to meet with Gene Simmons when I was younger, and when I did I got him to autograph my KISS lunch box. Alice Walker is the best writer, and there came a minute a few years ago in which I got to spend a whole day together with her. I ran a marathon, crossing a literal finish line. And yes, I wrote a few publications.
Without aim or finish lines, depression is an endless fog. It’s a cage without a key, as Wurtzel said. There have to be moments in your life, whether shared or in private admitted, where you can give yourself permission to stop and smell the roses, although the metaphor overload here. Forget the mental attitude award; for winning the race, you deserve a medal. Much like the alcoholic who is never healed but just stops drinking, the miserable man discovers ways to live favorably that this really is absolutely regular — and while being mindful that 100 percent happiness might not be in the cards.
Quite simply, let life happen and constantly try to move forward, but do not believe your life is decreased when you take a step even when you find yourself vomiting on the side of the road, or back sometimes.
resides near Indianapolis with his wife of 18 years as well as their three kids. His debut novel,
Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer
, was released by The Writers Coffee Shop Publishing House in May 2013. His second novel is due out in 2014. Follow Brian on Twitter @briansweany.