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Down With the Thickness: Writing, Family Life, and Dealing with Depression

DWTT Final Cover

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and actually wrote something. My last blog post was in September. Before that I’d only done one other post for the entire year, which makes me incredibly ashamed of myself. I’ve toyed with edits on my new novel off and on, but I haven’t sat down and really tried to write since I got married. I’ve been telling myself it’s because I’ve been adjusting to my new life as a stay-at-home dad. It’s been an experience and my kid can be a handful. That’s true, but it’s not the real reason that I haven’t been writing. It’s taken me months to really nail down exactly what my problem has been, but for the past few days I’ve come to the realization that I haven’t been writing because I’ve been struggling with depression and thus have been actively avoiding writing, or really anything that requires motivation and a sense of self worth outside of the things that I HAVE to do.

That realization surprised me.

Struggling with depression is nothing new for me. I’ve battled it my entire life. For years I couldn’t go more than a month or two without depression rearing it’s ugly head, and a few times a year those funks would dip low enough where suicidal thoughts would come and go as well. The thing is I haven’t had a bout of depression that bad in over a year. I had honestly thought that I may have finally slayed the beast once and for all once I got married. For as long as I can remember the one thing that I’ve wanted more than anything was to get married and have a kid. I always felt like that achievement would be the crown jewel in my life. It’d be the key to my happiness and once it happened all the feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and all that other junk that depression likes to torment me with would all be rendered moot.

In a lot of ways I was right.

I’m happier now than I’ve ever really been in my life. I don’t feel lonely anymore. I don’t feel completely worthless or like I’m unlovable. My wife is the most loving, supportive, and understanding woman I could ever hope to find. My kid is an adorable, smart, hyperactive, spoiled pain in the arse and I love him more than I thought it was possible to love another human being. The fact that he isn’t my “blood” doesn’t factor into it at all for me. He is my son in every way that matters and both he and his mother are the answers to decades worth of prayers, wishes, and hopes. I couldn’t ask for a better family.

Which is why this current bout of depression has caught me by surprise. The depression has evolved. This time it didn’t attack me in the way it used to. Before, depression would come on hard and fast and put me on my ass for days. The world would go dark; I’d be a moody pain in the ass; and after a few days I’d emerge exhausted mentally and emotionally, but generally intact. But all of the old stuff that it used to use against me doesn’t work too well anymore, so it’s found new avenues to attack that are more subtle. In fact, I think it’s been something that I’ve been struggling with for months and I just didn’t fully recognize it for what it was until now.

Getting married hasn’t eradicated my insecurities or made the world a perfect place. My wife and I have had several very stressful things we’ve had to struggle with already. That’s just life. We’ve gotten through them together and we haven’t let those things affect our relationship. In fact, it’s only made our relationship stronger. That’s how marriage is supposed to work. That said, while the old insecurities may have been hammered down by the love of my new family, new ones have taken root and sprouted to take their place.

I have medical issues. They’re issues that are genetic and thus they are issues I’ll have to deal with for my entire life. They’ve caused a lot of physical problems, problems that have gotten progressively worse in the last couple of years.  As a result I’m unable to do much in the way of physical activity, I’m in constant pain, and I’m unable to work.  The dynamic in our house is my wife works full time and I stay home and take care of our little Tasmanian devil. I try to do things around the house: take care of the dishes, keep the house from being a complete disaster area, cook on the days my wife works, etc. I can’t do everything I want to do. I get tired and my body rebels on me after only short bouts of activity, so something that normally would take maybe ten minutes might take me half an hour or better. In a given day if I’m able to empty and load the dish washer, make dinner, and keep our kid from doing something that might hurt himself or others I call it a win. I’m not writing all this to throw myself a pity party or to garner sympathy. I’m just providing a bit of perspective.

I know that times have progressed. Gender roles aren’t what they used to be. I know that it is just as okay for me to be a househusband and stay at home dad as it was for wives to be housewives and stay at home moms. I know that having my wife bringing home the majority of our income doesn’t make me less of a man. I know that my wife understands my physical limitations and that she knows that I do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with, and that I work hard to provide for her in other areas to make up for what I lack in being able to help in the physical ones.

I KNOW all of this. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still bother me. That doesn’t mean that depression can’t use it as ammunition to assault me, and it has, because I was wrong.

The “war” with depression that I thought I won wasn’t the real war at all.  I’ve realized what anyone who has battled depression all their lives can tell you- it’s what Superman would describe as a “neverending battle”. Once you win one skirmish the enemy will find something new and attack again. It’s a war that you only win when you’re on your deathbed surrounded by your family and other people who love you and you realize that despite it you still lived a full and mostly happy life. It’s a war that you win by refusing to let IT win. Now I’m in a new battle with depression, but now that I’m aware of how it’s attacking, with the help of my loved ones, I’ll win this one too. Then it’ll be something else, but that’s okay. I have a family and friends that love me. I have a dream of becoming a published author.

I have things worth fighting for.

Maybe you’re reading this and you’re struggling in the neverending battle yourself. Maybe you’re in the thick of it and it’s hard to see around you. Maybe it’s hard to focus on what you have to fight for. Just know that you aren’t alone and that the only way you lose the battle is if you give up and let it win. Don’t give it the satisfaction.

Carry on.

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Rant Alert: Anonymity Does Not Equal Blameless

Jerks

I spend a lot of my day on the internet. As I write, I take frequent breaks to mull stuff over or just to get away from what I’m working on for a few minutes to come at it a little fresher later. (Read: I goof off.) Because I spend so much time online it’s hard to not let the crushing weight of negativity that permeates things start to get you down after a while.  I try to avoid comments sections on fan sites in particular because nothing of substance generally comes from them, and they generally only end up ticking me off. Still, like a sickness, I find myself drawn to looking at them anyway.

Trolling is nothing new. For longer than there has been an internet there’s always been “that guy” or “that girl” that just can’t wait to pee in someones Cheerios, or just generally be a total jackass to people because they get a kick out of getting a reaction. But now that the internet has become such a staple of everyone’s lives, trolls are no longer the little jerks you’d run into every once in a while, and silently (or sometimes not so silently) you wish someone would just come along and beat the stupid out of them. Now you can find entire swarms, like locusts, that invade message boards and comments sections and feed off of each other. Online bullying has become a real serious thing. Kids have committed suicide over it. It’s becoming ridiculous.

Why?

I think a large part of the problem is because of the anonymity that the internet brings. You can say anything you want and, outside of the online environment, you don’t have to pay any consequences for it or see the real world affect it may have on people. I think to a lot of these negative people it’s become an escape from their normal lives. They’re able to say and do things they just can’t in the “real world”. Additionally, because it’s online it feels less real. The other people commenting don’t feel like real people. They’re screen names. They’re digital voices in the internet ether. It’s all a game and it’s no big deal.

Until it is.

Those are real people behind those screen names, and many of these people have no separation between “reality” and “online”. For many of those who have grown up with the internet their online persona and their real life persona are one and the same. When people say nasty and hurtful things, it has a real world impact. it goes beyond just making some random person explode on the internet. It could have serious ramifications, depending on what was said and the subject matter. Ask any of the families who have suffered through the loss of a family member because of online bullying.

For any of you who are into gaming at all or are big on watching YouTube videos you’ll probably at least recognize Francis. He’s known for being “the fat guy that freaks out about stuff.” As an example, here is a video he posted today giving his reaction to Microsoft’s reveal of the new X-Box console. The ending made me laugh out loud.

What many people may not realize is that “Francis” is actually a character that the guy plays on his YouTube videos. He does this for his job. He gets paid to act like spaz for a few minutes at a time. Living the dream. But earlier this year Francis made a different kind of video in which he talks about his real life, the stuff he’s gone through, and where he is now. It’s a sad story, but it’s not played for sympathy. He tells us this story to let his audience know how much he appreciates them, so that people who watch his videos can see that just by watching him act silly for a few minutes at a time it’s completely changed, and in this case it’s helped to save, his life. He wanted to say thank you, and he wanted everyone to know just how serious he was and what it means when he says it. I don’t normally watch his videos too often, but I admit this hit me where I live a bit.

So I watch this video and come away from it feeling all the feels that I’m sure if you watched it you are feeling right now too. Against my better judgement I scroll down into the Kotaku comments section and this is what I find:

Yeah, it seemed more like “I am pretty good at html, but as times changed, I didn’t keep up. Now I can’t make any money!” Well, hate to be this much of an ass, but dude, get some literature on modern web design, stop being so lazy, and also, lose some weight killer, it is very bad for your health to be that heavy.

No I am one of those people who think that you should take good care of yourself and never end up at that weight. Which of course, would put me in the small minority of this overweight, obese, “it’s not my fault!!” country.

And I don’t see how this relates to starving children in Africa, their plights can be traced back to European colonization, not some lazy white guy sitting at his computer and taking down a whole case of Mountain Dew and Fritos.

That’s fine, but I just don’t feel bad for people who make their own problems and refuse to deal with them.

Depression is a hell of a thing, I know from first hand experience, mostly because I was one of those people who made my own problems, refused to deal with them, and sulked and whined that the world had it out for me, that is what this video screamed of to me. Sorry to be so blunt, but I am tired of the bleeding hearts when a little bit of “shut the fuck up and get on the damned exercise bike” would do the trick.

I win the “Not Obese Award” it comes with a lifetime free of diabetes.

Too Soon?

It gets progressively worse from there from this commenter and a couple of others. For those of you who did not watch the videos, the guy in question is a really big dude. He came from an abusive home and was constantly sick as a kid and ended up with a few medical conditions that only added to his not being able to exercise/eat right, including depression. As a result he ended up getting bigger, and then more depressed, and eventually became a shut-in for 7 years and almost committed suicide. This guy has opened up, stepped away from his online persona, and talked about what I’m sure are things that were extremely hard to speak about, not only as a thank you, but also as a means to help others. As a result he gets crap like the above back. While yes, it’s just a vocal minority, and some people are just know-it-all jackholes, crap like this can seriously do harm, especially to someone with a history of serious depression and suicidal tendencies. Sure, you could argue that when he put himself out there he knew that would happen, but that’s not the point. The point is these are real people, and anonymity does not mean you get to be blameless for the crap you say or do. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions. It isn’t harmless.

The commenter above is obviously a jackass that makes a lot of assumptions and knows nothing about what clinical depression, or this man’s life, is really like. He’s just one example, and it’s not just the internet. There are a lot of people like this jerk in the “real world” too. I’ve had to suffer them for 32 years, and assumptions are a large reason why I’m in the medical position I’m in right now.

I know there’s nothing I can really say that’ll make a difference to these hurtful people. I know I can’t change the internet. I guess the whole point of this is to hope that someone might read it and it might make them stop and think before they respond the next time, both online and in real life. Just remember that it is human beings (most of them) on the other end of these digital devices, and those people have feelings just like you do. And if you realize that and just don’t care, and continue to be hurtful to people just because it’s fun and you have nothing better to do with your time or your life…well, that just makes me feel really sorry for you.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Digital copies on sale for a limited time for $0.99. Check back each Sunday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!

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