I’ve waited two years to write this story.
I waited two years because I needed to cycle clients and employees through the shop. I needed to see that everyone who I was working with back then is ok now. I needed to know my clients were enjoying the fruits of the work we did for them, and I needed to know the employees who left are happy at their new jobs. I needed to know everyone had moved on.
I also waited until the people surrounding me now have a good sense of what a healthy me is like. And for myself, I needed to wait until I was sure I had both some distance and some victories under my belt. In the past two years I’ve done a bunch of work, written a bunch of articles and a book, traveled the world doing talks and workshops. I’m not listing this out to boast. I’m listing these out as proof of life.
But if we’re being really honest, and I hope we are, I waited because it’s a shit thing to write about. I don’t like reliving it. I’m still unsure whether it’s any of your business. And I don’t want people in my life affected by the stigma so many idiots put on it. But in the end, it’s the stigma that brings me back here.
Two years ago depression almost killed me. This is the story of how I got help. And the story of people who helped me.
Depression runs in my family. It was never acknowledged. Or spoken of. My father wasn’t a man to talk about his feelings. And the closest my mother ever came to happiness was denying it to others. Beyond them, the limbs on the family tree did some heavy lifting every few generations. They are part of a culture that doesn’t admit to depression. It’s a weakness. And immigrants don’t get depressed. It gets in the way of work. This is how I grew up. This is how a ton of people grow up.
Let me take a moment here to make sure you understand that I know absolutely jack shit about what I’m talking about. This is not meant to be a comprehensive article about depression. This is one person’s story. This is what it’s like for me. This is how I understand it. And this is how I deal with the defect in my own brain.
You are NOT your depression. Your depression is not you!
There are two parts to depression.
The first is a thing that happens in my brain. It’s chemical. It’s a thing my brain does. And it’s like having a really fucking shitty relative living in your own head. Telling you what you’re not capable of all the time. Let me tell you a story about the kind of shit it does.
Two years ago, we were having a particularly bad year. Business sucked. We were fighting to make every payroll, sometimes borrowing money from friends to do so. I wasn’t sleeping. As shitty a situation as this is, it happens. But when you throw depression into the mix it becomes a perfect storm of bad things. One particular morning I’m sitting in the office, trying to figure out where that week’s payroll is coming from. And an employee tells me there’s mold in the bathroom. Normally, that’s a slightly annoying thing to have to deal with. But in the midst of depression that problem was the exact same size as the payroll problem. I’d lost the ability to size things up. Every problem was exactly the same size and, having lost the ability to problem-solve, every problem was as insurmountable.
Eventually your brain believes that your problems are too insurmountable to get out of bed. And beyond that it starts looking for other escapes. This is not a mood. This not something you shake off. This your brain being broken. It’s lost the ability to process so it wants to shut itself off.
This is a problem that, luckily for me, science was able to solve. Let me reiterate the for me part. But hold on to this thread for a second, we need to deal with problem number two. Which may be worse.
Problem number two is the stigma that keeps you from getting help. Like I said, I didn’t grow up in an environment that dealt with mental issues very well. Turns out very few of us did. I was encouraged to shake it off, man up, get over myself, etc. And even when you grow up trying to distance yourself from how you were raised there is stuff that is so ingrained, so deep, soembedded in your soul that it becomes your own personal original sin. And you don’t even realize you’re still carrying it. Even after I admitted to myself that I suffered from depression I allowed it to define me. I convinced myself that if I seeked treatment I wouldn’t be me anymore. I wouldn’t be as creative as I wanted to be. I wouldn’t be able to write as me. It would take away my edge. My personality was tied to my depression.
This was stupid. And, as much as I cannot diagnose any of you or tell you how to deal with your own problems, I am absolutely confident in telling you this: You are NOT your depression. And your depression is not you! It is a thing that is killing you slowly. It is keeping you from being who you actually are. Which is a happier version of yourself.
So two years ago, I was sitting on a bench in the park. I had one decision left in me. You don’t need to know the details. Just know that I made the decision to get help. And I did. I did it with the help of a great therapist, and a little science. The pills allowed me the breathing room I needed to let the therapy work. And we worked our asses off, since I had to establish a baseline of happiness that I never received growing up. I’m not blaming anyone, by the way. My parents grew up surrounded by the stigma that didn’t allow them to seek help, even if they wanted it.
So here’s the lesson I promised you: I am still me. Better yet, I think I am finally me. I’m not living with some shit demon in my head all the time. I still have good days. And I have bad days. I get sad. I have a full range of emotions. Including happiness. I write more than ever. I’m just as creative as ever. I still get angry! Boy, do I get angry. But I tend to get angry at the things that deserve that anger. (That’s the therapy working.)
So if you’re out there living with this shit, know I love you. Know other people love you. Let them help you.
You don’t have to be your depression. Go be you.
Mike Monteiro is the co-founder of Mule, a design agency renowned for exploring those dark territories where content strategy, online identity, and cutting-edge web technology with classic, timeless design blend together.