By Jay Kirell
It’s about 6:00 on a Tuesday. As I write this my home on Long Island is covered in white. Fitting that I chose the middle of a snow storm to start writing again, since for the past few months my mind has felt like its been snowed in.
You might wonder why I stopped updating this blog. It wasn’t because I was busy writing my book – I really haven’t made much headway on that. It wasn’t because I was busy with finals – those have been done with for weeks.
No, the reason this blog hasn’t been updated in a while – and the reason that those who follow me on twitter or facebook haven’t seen much of me the past few months (outside of my twitter account getting hacked by Russians, apparently) is because sometime back I fell into a staggeringly deep depression. Staggeringly deep.
To put it in perspective – I had already been diagnosed with depression and anxiety back in the summer, but I was still functioning. I was still writing. Still conversing with people. Still going out and living life.
Then I stopped writing.
Then I stopped all contact with those I loved and cared about.
Then I stopped going outside for all but the most basic necessities like food and gas.
Then I stopped showering regularly. Stopped changing clothes every day. Stopped watching the news. Stopped caring about anything.
It even felt like I had stopped thinking altogether for a while. It was absolutely terrifying. Imagine telling your brain to think of something – anything – and all you get back is a blank imagine in your head. I can imagine it was probably very close to what a person with dementia feels like.
In short, I just stopped living. I had moved on to mere existence. If there’s such a thing as being consciously comatose, I was it.
My poor wife, as many military spouses can attest, was virtually helpless as this slow spiral started.
“Go to the VA,” she would plead with me, day after day. “They can help you.”
“I will,” I’d reply – but with no real intention of doing so. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this, even if it was just a VA counselor whose probably seen people a hundred times worse than me. I figured I’d wait until I felt a little better before I went to go get help, which is just the type of ridiculous thinking you get from someone whose mind stopped working months ago.
If you’re curious how someone can sit in a state of despair – a state of almost total catatonic fog – for months, and not recognize how far gone they are – like when you watch a documentary on a celebrity when they go through their rock-bottom phase – well, it’s because real life doesn’t happen in a montage. You don’t get the benefit of stepping outside yourself, turning around and seeing what a crooked path you’re on.
By the time you finally realize it, you no longer care if you get better or not, which is a particularly cruel aspect of depression – it actually feeds upon its host like a parasite – to the point that the host’s own ability to want to seek help is compromised and the depression can continue to completely take hold.
It wasn’t until my wife said it was her or the VA that I actually drove myself down there to get help.
So two weeks ago I went. And even though I was all but dragged, I went. Met with some good people. Received some meds. Started taking them.
Since then my mind has been a little less cloudy. It doesn’t always stay that way, but the periods of clarity are becoming much more regular than the periods of darkness.
The fact that I’m able to write this now gives me comfort that I haven’t lost everything. That I’m still able to come back from whatever it was that gripped me. If it wasn’t for the support of my wife, and the folks at the Veterans Administration, this blog might never have been updated again.
And as much of a pity party/sob story this essay is, I still consider myself lucky, all things considered.
I got help. I’m not totally better, but I’m a little better than I was before I got help.
Some veterans aren’t so fortunate. An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
A few days after I sought help at the VA I read on Facebook that a friend of mine I served with in Afghanistan put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He became one of the 22 at the age of 26.
He never sought help. Too many vets don’t.
If you’re reading this, and you’re a veteran and you need someone to talk to, call the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255.
As for me, I’m not sure when I’ll write again. But I will write again. I owe that to all those who were patient enough to wait for me to come back to the land of the living.
It’s good to be back.