Depression is a Loaded Gun
I’ve had depression so long, I don’t know what parts of my personality are it and what parts are me. When I was a teenager, I adopted it as part of my identity. I let it define me. I was just a dark, broody kid. But eventually I realized that was a lie. That was putting me in the back seat of my own car and I hate being a passenger.
In my twenties, depression became a thing I fought. It was a battle. I would show depression who was boss. Wrestle it to the ground. Prove I was stronger. This, of course, doesn’t work. Fighting it is just another way of letting it control you. It was still driving from the back seat.
In my thirties, depression became my secret. If I could present as okay, I could pretend I was fixed. I accomplished things. I was a professional. I had jobs, started companies, worked as a consultant. When you sell confidence, you can’t admit that you’re broken.
The depression was always there, a snake wrapped around me, but inside.
I have known a lot of addicts. I like hanging out with people in recovery because they understand something very important about the human condition. They know, if they continue to do the things they’ve always done, the things that feel the most natural, they will continue to fuck up their lives in all the ways they always have. So they choose a new reaction. They decide to do something else, something that is not their first instinct, and they have to keep choosing every day to make it stick.
I cannot keep doing the things I always have done. I can’t let depression define me, I can’t fight it, I can’t pretend it away. I have choose to do something else.
Now I’m in my mid-forties and I’m trying a new thing with my depression. I have no idea if it’ll work any better than all the others, but here it goes.
Step one is to admit it’s there. I kept it a secret for so long. I said it was because it could hurt me professionally if I admitted it, but that excuse is over now. The plants and animals here on the farm don’t care if I have dark thoughts – they care if the coop is clean and the barn roof doesn’t leak and the food is plentiful. They’re nice and selfish like that.
So hey. I have clinical depression. I always have. It sucks.
Having depression isn’t the same as being sad. I’m sad sometimes, too. But depression is different. Depression is being empty. Being nothing. Sometimes it’s loud and sometimes it’s quiet but it’s never completely gone. It’s part of me but it isn’t me.
And yeah, I’m on meds. I have been for a long time. I tried to go off of them, in a stunning bit of badly timed overconfidence, in November 2016. That was not a good idea. I’m back on them now. They help, but they’re not a cure. Probably they’ve helped me get to the point I’m at now, being able to type these words.
Admitting this is terrifying. It’s also, I hope, liberating. A secret can control you so long as it stays a secret. Telling a secret takes away its power.
Now that my depression exists as a fact, I need a new way to think about it. It’s not me, not part of my identity, even though it lives inside me. I used to visualize it as a dark shadow, or a powerful snake, wrapping around me.
But that’s giving it too much power. My depression isn’t a character. It doesn’t have desires. It feels like it does sometimes, but that’s not helpful. It plays into the fight narrative, which is self-defeating.
So lately I’ve been thinking about it in a new way. And it’s scary, but don’t let it scare you.
Depression is a loaded gun. It’s a dangerous weapon, sitting on a table, unattended.
If you hang out with gun people, you learn quickly that they have an intense understanding of how dangerous the things are. They have rituals around the guns – cleaning them, locking them up when not in use, where your fingers go when you touch them, where you point the gun and when – there are rules and they’re life and death important.
My depression is like that gun. You can’t leave it on the table unattended. If you do, someone will get hurt. Probably me, but maybe somebody else.
The gun must be cared for. Taken apart, pieces examined, cleaned, and put back together. If I ignore it, it will become unstable. More dangerous.
You never, ever point a gun at someone else unless you intend to use it. This is a reminder that the people around me aren’t responsible for my depression. They’re not the cause of it, or the solution to it. Never point it at them.
There are times when a gun is a tool you need to use for a job. My depression can be like that. I visualize pointing my depression at things. Things I need to do. Using that dark energy to accomplish something light.
But most importantly, I must consciously choose to point the gun at something. Every day. If I don’t, it’ll wind up pointed at me.
The other day I pointed my depression at the blackberry brambles. Blackberries grow really well here in the Pacific Northwest. We have three rows of them, maybe 100 feet long in total, and they became a mountain of thorns this year. I ignored them too long and they became a hazard. I can’t imagine a more perfect metaphor for so much of this terrible year.
The goats helped defoliate them, and then it was my turn. I wrapped myself in the toughest clothing I had, with the thickest gloves (not nearly thick enough), and waded into the brambles with a lopper and my trusty pruners. I worked my way from one end to the other over the course of a week, chopping down the canes and dragging them to the burn pile.
There was no quick fix for this. They were too tough for the riding mower. This was something I had to just knuckle down and do. It was cold out, but I worked up a sweat. I listened to podcasts until they ran out, then I listened to music. My body ached and my back hurt, but slowly the brambles grew shorter and the pile grew taller.
By the end, the blackberries were cut down to the ground, the burn pile was ten feet tall and ten feet around, I was bleeding in several places, and I could feel the depression ebb.
It wasn’t gone – it’s never gone – but it felt farther away. And when I lit the burn pile and watched the canes disappear in screams and smoke, I felt good for the first time in a long time.
Now I walk the property with my loaded depression gun and look for other things to point it at. That pile of boxes is next. Some dead trees that need to come down. Anyplace I can point the gun that’s not a loved one or my own head. If it needs to get done, if it’s going to make me sweat to do it, and nobody’s gonna get hurt, that’s a good place to point my gun.
If I can accept my depression, treat it with the respect of a loaded gun, and use it to get the farm work done, and if that farm work in the end makes me happy, maybe my depression and I can coexist in peace.