Suppressing Depression Reaching the Emotion Event Horizon
The ticking sound from my two mechanical heart valves drown out the sounds of activity around me as my will to live slips beyond my reach. Standing motionless, I stare into the nothing and reflect on the cruel moment that would extinguish my sole purpose for living.
I had been in mental shock ever since the reality my life would no longer be the same after learning everything I had planned for my life was now obsolete. Every day was a struggle to find my purpose, to live to see the sun welcome the world to a new day. That moment, the sun fell below the horizon of my mind. Everything I used to love and found joy in abandoned me. Abandoned in a cold world that hated my existence, I decided I did not want the sun to rise again.
Tick, tick… tick, tick…
My broken heart taunted me with every life sustaining tick. The never ending torturous ticking was a constant reminder of the failure I had become. How did I become this pathetic person in a matter of months? What did I do to get to this point? I hated everything about myself and everything I thought I would become.
Tick, tick… tick, tick…
To have a meaningful life, I knew I must first have a purpose. I knew my purpose in this world was to be a father and a husband. My purpose expanded to helping others understand and realize their full potential regardless of the circumstances they faced. Six months before the moment I evicted the sun from my internal prison and trapped myself on the edge of sanity, I was living my purpose.
People knew me as the Monster, the Beast, a walking example of what confidence, strength, and determination was. In the short span of six months, everything I knew about myself had become a memory. The essence of who I once was fled my soul, leaving me alone and scared.
The road to suicide is a complicated and terrifying road to travel. When I arrived at the crossroad to help and death, I chose death. It wasn’t a dramatic scene. It was nothing like the movies depicted the end to be. I simply gave up. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to be saved and I didn’t want anyone to pity me.
By mid-April, I spent my days sulking, feeling sorry for myself. When the world welcomed darkness so the sun could rest, I walked for hours at a time. I never cared where I walked. Escaping one hell only to enter another I reminded myself over and over how I deserved the circumstances that surrounded me.
Returning home from my last suspiciously long walk, my mother was waiting for me on the patio. Her eyes pierced my sole only like a mother can. She knew something was terribly wrong with me.
My emotional dam was overflowing, the destructive flood inevitable. I could no longer contain my tears.
“I’m done mom.” I said crying, tears cutting grooves of despair down my cheeks. “I wish I never came back. I wish I was dead.”
I lacked the courage to tell her I had stopped taking my heart medication that would keep my heart from over exerting itself to prevent heart failure. I not only wanted to die, I wanted to suffer. My heart failed me. It turned its back on me and now mocked every second of my existence. I would ensure my heart suffered.
My mother said nothing. She only stared. The tears rolling down her face conveyed a message far more powerful than words could have achieved. Depression and despair had an incredibly powerful hold on me. I felt only anger, hopelessness, and self-pity.
Every evening for the next six days, I made a point to avoid everyone I could. I wanted the pain to go away, but I never could find an escape. I slipped deeper and further into an internal abyss every time the taunting sounds of my heart valves flooded my head. I knew I needed to escape. I decided to read, as I lost all joy and happiness from writing. Even in the written word, one of my escapes from the cruel world around me, despair was close behind. It waited patiently in thick haze of my clouded and confused head, prepared to pounce.
Tick, tick… tick, tick…
Staring at my bookshelf for a book to choose me. As my eyes skim lazily over the rows of books tucked peacefully in the shelves, the drab grey leather bound copy of The Complete Tales of Edgar Allen Poe” reached out and demanded I absorb its words.
Edgar Allen Poe was always one of my favorite authors. In my opinion, he will always be the greatest short story writer to have ever lived, past, present, or future. I lose control of myself and my body seems to function robotically, as if my arms and hands were receiving commands to turn to my favorite short story, “The Tell Tale Heart.” Given my current state of mind, this was unquestionably the worst story for me to read. The last bit of sanity that managed to elude the constant hunt and deadly grip of its opposite, pleaded with me to release the book and come to my senses. The dark and cloudy “yin” finally secured the majority over the bright sun of the “yang” in my head. Darkness reigned supreme in my cold world.
The soft crisp pages that carried Poe’s words felt different to me. The spiced and musk fragrance of the pages was a smell I had no idea I longed for. My hands new I was simply opening a book. My mind did not wait for the appropriate page to appear. It experienced the wait and subsequent arrival of the truth, resembling the ancient Briton’s worship of the solstice in Stonehenge. I have read more books than I can remember, but I have never experienced a story more than I did with “The Tell Tale Heart.” I felt as if I was reading a story about me. I was the young care taker and the old man with the cursed heart. Every night I read. I immersed myself in the story. The hatred for bionic organ of life nestled inside my scarred chest growing to an obsession. I don’t read Poe’s words, his words speak to me.
The ringing became more severe. I talked more freely to do away with the feeling. But it continued until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.
I talked more and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound like a watch makes when inside a piece of cotton. I had trouble breathing — and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly — more loudly; but the noise increased. I stood up and argued about silly things, in a high voice and with violent hand movements. But the noise kept increasing.
Why would they not be gone? I walked across the floor with heavy steps, as if excited to anger by the observations of the men — but the noise increased. What could I do? I swung my chair and moved it upon the floor, but the noise continually increased. It grew louder — louder — louder! And still the men talked pleasantly, and smiled.” (Poe, 1843)
On the seventh day, after six straight nights of preparing myself for the event I never thought possible, I awoke in tears from a struggled slumber. Convinced there was no other option, and any hope of happiness in the future was hopeless, I set out with the intent of not returning. When people hear of others who attempt suicide, only one of three methods of completion come to mind. Gun, pills, or hanging. Granted the possibilities are endless, but those are the three primary methods known to the sane public.
I wanted more than just to die. I wanted my heart to suffer for the pain it caused me. I wanted it to explode. On a warm Saturday morning, I drove to a trail I biked many times the previous summer while on leave before I left for Greenland. Mile after mile, I passed landmarks that reminded me of a life I would never have again. I tried to experience the happiness I felt at one time at each landmark, only to insult myself, intentionally tear myself apart for wrecking a wonderful life.
I rode as hard as I could, for as long as I could. My heart strained, but I wanted it to hurt. I wanted it to explode. Over the course of the entire day, I managed to bike over 80 miles, wrecking a total of five times from blackouts caused by over exertion. Pulling up to a stop next to my truck, my body torn and bloodied, I was in a state of disbelief that after all I had been through, I was unable to finish death’s work. Disgust flowed through my veins.
In a moment of defeat, I picked up my phone and called Chief Master Sergeant Embry, the first person I could think of. He made sure I was no longer in any danger and notified my family and therapist.
I spent the next two weeks as a prisoner in my own mental prison. Everywhere I went, everything I did, I continued to torture myself. I reminded myself I was worth nothing, I had no purpose, and believed I was an inconvenience to the world and those around me.
Telling my therapist was difficult. I was ashamed to have acted out in an incredibly selfish way. He told me I would be put on the mental health’s high risk list at the medical clinic and be required to attend biweekly counseling sessions.
I was brought up in the military with the mindset that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression is a topic no one talks about. The only people who do venture into the land of the taboo are those people who are actively trying to be taken off a deployment, seek attention, hypochondriacs, or have nothing better to do with their lives than to bother others.
Still isolating myself from others, I became obsessed with the past. Memories of when I was a Military Training Instructor continuously played in my head. I tried to relive the moments. There were plenty of bad times, and times where the intent was to build communication or speed, but I focused my attention on remembering the defining times when the trainee was convinced they could go no further. They had given up and were ready to go back home to the world they dreamed of leaving a defeated person.
Remembering what I always said to these particular trainees started off as a simple feel good moment. Yelling for the trainee to come to my office, the timid and cautious expected a verbal assault to reinforce what they already perceived to know about themselves. To their surprise, it was the opposite. I gave them a pep talk, told them I believed in them. I lectured the tired sole in front of me about the raw power of one’s attitude and perception and the real meaning of resiliency. I shared stories of my trials and set-backs, and how overcoming them helped make me the person I was. Every trainee who ever received one of those talks left my office with a completely new and optimistic outlook on life, ready to navigate any obstacle in front of them and find a way to turn it into an opportunity.
Day after day, I relived the same memories. During one of my day dreaming sessions, I found I had replaced the defeated and broken trainee with the man I had become. Oddly enough, I was also still the instructor. I was just yelling at myself. I didn’t stop the motivational talks. I continued to deliver my message to myself. I came to realize that I was a fighter. I was still a victim of circumstance, but the fighter inside of me, the Monster, was still very much alive and was
resurrected to break me free from my own prison. The Monster would not stand for anyone or anything to convince me I was anything but a warrior.
I began a long and arduous uphill journey to redefine myself by redefining the concepts of resiliency I taught thousands of trainees. Every day that passed, I forced myself to apply what I had learned and taught over the course of my lifetime to prove to myself I was stronger than ever before and I deserved happiness. I wanted to be happy.
I had become the student and the teacher. I wanted to be happy again, but I didn’t want it to be a temporary solution to a long term problem. I wanted to be a better person. Setting my mind right and humbling myself, the Monster began teaching me about the two core attitudes: The people with a generally positive attitude and those with a generally negative attitude. Attitudes can change throughout the day, but people let outside and uncontrollable forces dictate their attitude; playing a game of attitudinal roulette and dealing with whatever attitude the ball lands in for every situation.
Phrases like keeping a positive attitude and resiliency are taught to be reserved for extreme challenges in life. I needed to redefine resiliency to work best for me. Resiliency needed to be able to combat my moods, small and large setbacks, and keep me focused on the overall goal. Therefore, I analyze the situation. I must ensure the foundation I want to build on is stable and steady before I can continue. One event must happen in a logical sequence in order for the following events to perform properly. I didn’t want to simply be happy, I wanted to understand the process that I needed to perform to make my goal a reality. To transform my thoughts into reality, I had to break down the resiliency process into the five definitive steps.
I needed to set my stage. When the voice of doubt or negativity reared its ugly headed into my consciousness, I immediately imagined myself in the tar pit of pity and self-hatred. I had to see myself in this place to internally understand where I am mentally. Seeing myself hopelessly trapped allows me to make the conscious decision to not like where I am at. Resiliency is a process. It is more than just a thing. Everyone has their own process to escape from their internal tar pit, yet when at some point, if everyone tries hard enough, we all manage to find ways to escape.
- Want it – Acknowledge my emotions and desire change.
I must acknowledge my negative emotions and tell them I will deal with them later. Now is not the time. I don’t hate myself and I chose not to feel this way.
- Think it – Develop a plan to transform the thought into reality.
Making the conscious decision to change allows me to enable the first step of the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting process while keeping my resiliency and S.M.A.R.T. process in line with the K.I.S.S. theory. “Keep It Simple Stupid.” One of the best lessons in strategy planning was taught to me by
my squad leader during a two week training deployment before my team shipped off to Iraq. He said, “The simplest plans always produce the best results.”
S – Specific: I want to stop being so negative and get in a happier mood.
M – Measurable: When I stop feeling depressed and am genuinely happy
A – Attainable: Absolutely! I’m just changing my mood. I have the choice to feel any way I desire.
R – Relevant: I am currently in a bad mood. If I stay this way, my negativity will infect my entire family and those around me, ruining our entire day because of my inability to make the decision to be happy. My goal is relevant because peace and harmony in my home and workplace is important to me. Change involving me starts with me.
T – Time orientated – This pity party is ridiculous and I have had enough of it. I’ve got five minutes to knock this crap off.
- Decide – The entire resiliency process is just mindless babbling until you put substance behind it. My Military Training Instructor Trainer told me countless times, “Blah, blah, blah, Zien! I don’t care what kind of worthless garbage comes out of your mouth! I don’t care what you say you’re going to do, words don’t mean crap (she, however, used a much more colorful word)… SHOW ME! Actions, not words!”
- Action – The hardest part of any change process is putting it all into action before change has the ability to gain momentum. It takes a lot of energy and power to create motion from a dead stop. The change process tells us change is first met with resistance before it is accepted. It’s easier for me to keep feeling sorry for myself because I’m in the depressed state of mind. It is not until I put the first three steps to action does change really start to happen.
- Action – My mood has changed from depressed to happy again. The second “action” in the resiliency process represents momentum. I don’t want to be happy for only a few minutes, I want to be able to maintain my positive mood. Knowing I have the ability to choose my mood, the only thing I have to do now is simply keep the momentum going.
Once my mood has been internally corrected, I am then able to objectively analyze what caused me to become depressed or let down. I almost always feel incredibly ridiculous at this point because I realize what the trigger was and how it could have easily been transformed into an opportunity.
I have faced many obstacles in my journey of redefining resilience. The best way I have found to be as prepared as possible to be prepared to transform them into opportunities is to decide what
kind of day I am going to have before my day even starts. I do this every day by verbalizing a challenge to myself before I get out of bed. One statement and two simple questions have the power to influence my day. It is proven that attitudes are incredibly magnetic and contagious, statistically speaking, the kind of day I have will inevitably influence the outcome of someone else’s day.
I accept myself for who I am. I accept myself for what I have gone through, II take pride in what I have overcome, and I find encouragement and empowerment in knowing I have the tools and drive to overcome the obstacles I will face in the future.