Old Letters

I came across a letter the other day. It was a letter I had written 20 years ago to a friend, but never sent it. Apparently my friend and I had shared sharp words. It's not unusual for me to write letters and then not send them. It is unusual for me to keep them, however. I found the letter in an old notebook I had kept from high school. And it's been bugging for a few days now.

I don't remember having a tiff with Susan in '89, but the tone of my words have really stirred something up. She had taken me to task, apparently, for not being happy. My reply was to say "what if I'm just a sad person?" This would have been 2 years before I ever knew from depression, three before I was diagnosed with depression myself.

And still the question remains, "what if I'm just a sad person?"

Granted, I'm no longer a 19 year old young man with more ideas about life than experience. Granted I have a better understanding about the causes and effects of this particular mental illness. It still a struggle, though, trying to work my way through emotions brought on by the brain chemistry and those brought on by situation.

Twenty years, or more, have gone by since I first began to ask those questions. Intellectually I know I am closer to being whole than I feel a large part of the time. I have learned to trust that the sadness I feel is not real, if only to keep it from taking me further down. Still, the struggle remains.

Depression is hard to explain to those who don't know, don't understand. Picking yourself up by your bootstraps can take you far while dealing with a depressive cycle. Sometimes, however, the straps break. Sometimes the cognitive practices you learn to get you through the cycle don't do the job. Sometimes you are simply at the mercy of overwhelming emotions.

I have nearly always experienced depression as an intense and singular sadness. Others describe angst, low energy, anger. For me, I always feel like I've just spent the last hour having a good cry...except that I haven't. And realizing now that my 19 year old self had already identified that actually gives me some hope. It's easy to feel, when I'm depressed, that nothing happened before the cycle and I can't imagine a future after the cycle is played out. Knowing that a young man was already figuring these things out 20 years ago actually gives me some encouragement to stay in the fight.

As for my friend, I'm sure we made up after that incident. We did have a spectacular fall out in college, though I seem to be the only one that remembers it. And, having taken pains to make amends, am enjoying a renewed friendship with her.

I just wonder what her answer would be, now, to the question I wanted to pose 20 years ago.


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