I am sitting on the sofa, answering emails tonight. I get a lot of emails. There’s no way I could answer them all, but I still try to read every word.
This past year most of these emails have centered on one topic. I’ll let you guess which topic. Hint: it rhymes with MOVID-19.
A lot of these messages come from children, which surprises me. The idea that a child would voluntarily write a guy like me, who doesn’t floss regularly and still watches “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” just shows you how upside down the world is.
I also receive a lot of physical stuff in my postal mailbox from kids. Right now, there are several handmade pictures stuck to my refrigerator, all from children who I’ve never met.
One of my favorite pictures reads: “Mister Sean! Luv U!” The drawing shows a bearded guy (me) riding an elephant, carrying what appears to either be a bazooka or a telephone pole. I’m not sure what that’s about.
But amazingly, the overwhelming majority of emails come from people who suffer from depression. In fact, that’s why I’m writing this. Because depression is something few people talk about. In fact, you probably don’t even want to be reading about it right now. I don’t blame you.
When I was a kid, nobody ever talked about depression. I don’t even think it was in the dictionary. It certainly wasn’t said out loud.
But depression is a real disease, just like colon cancer, or Parkinson’s. And looking back, I realize that I indeed had it. I won’t go into my life story, but depression is what killed my father, and it sort of hangs around.
So I was a gloomy kid after he passed, and I spent most of my teenagehood beneath a cloud.
One time I remember standing in the corner of a crowded party, watching other teenagres mingle, laugh, and dance like spastic armadillos, and I realized that I wasn’t like them. That same night, my date had such a good time at the punchbowl she ended up ruining my truck upholstery with the contents of her stomach.
Before I dropped her at home she said to me, in a moment of pure gin-induced honesty, “You know, you’re the saddest boy I ever met.”
It crushed me. I went home and looked in the mirror to find that she was absolutely right. You could see it in my face. I looked like a bloodhound, minus the AKC registration papers. It was a wake up call.
But by my mid-twenties, a miracle happened. I somehow kicked the black snake of depression. For the first time since forever I felt sunlight again. My life became moderately hopeful. I even started playing the Florida Powerball.
It was during this period of newfound happiness that something else remarkable happened. I naturally gravitated toward people who were depressed. I don’t truly know why. You’d think I would have avoided them, now that I‘d found relief, but I didn’t. My heart went out to them.
I had a friend, for instance, who was suicidal. I never let him out of my sight. For two whole years I stuck to him like gout. He couldn’t get rid of me. I had no idea how to help him, but I knew that as long as we were together he would know he wasn’t alone.
“You can talk to me,” I’d always tell him. And he would. Every word he shared with me was a gift. He eventually got on meds, and today he’s a father of three. Don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t because of anything I did. All I’m saying is that I was fortunate enough to see his liberation. I know he will read this. God bless you, Justin.
And there have been more like that. I remember once walking into work when I was about 25 and my coworker, Anna, was in the restaurant kitchen bawling. It was Christmastime. The worst time of year for depression.
At the time, the restaurant was hosting a big party. There was a live band playing music and people were dancing the Mashed Potato. But Anna didn’t look like herself.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Anna looked at me with a face that seemed 500 years old. “My mom hung herself in the shower.”
Her words were a kick to the chest. I sat beside her and she cried so hard that our manager made her leave. I’ll never forget that day as long as I breathe.
Today, after a very hard life, Anna is a nurse, and has a nice family. She will also be reading this. Hey, Anna.
And then this COVID mess happened.
Depression-wise, America fell into the proverbial pit. That’s when my inbox got out of control. For some reason I was getting messages from people all over. People who held the weight of the world on their backs. I would cry at my computer screen reading their words.
I don’t have to tell you that since the pandemic, clinical depressive disorders have skyrocketed. One out of every three Americans is affected right now.
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t know how to respond to these emails. Even this column feels like a pathetic attempt.
Still, I firmly believe that words are not dead things. They can be powerful if you let them. And they can change things.
So I hope these words will travel across the right wires and land in front of the desperate person who needs to know that someone cares. And, believe me, someone does care. As long as I’ve got a beating heart behind these ribs, I will always care.
So whoever you are, wherever you are tonight, don’t keep your mouth shut. Find someone to talk to about what you’re going through. And if you can’t find anyone…
Drop me a line.