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Friday, June 08 2018 14:10

Pills for Breakfast: Depression, Anxiety and Keeping the Darkness at Bay...

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This is the type of personal journal entry that I'm always hesitant to post - the kind that I wish that my family wouldn't read, if only because I fear that they will fault me for simply being who I am and being honest about it, despite that fact that the fear is probably something more perceived than reality, and that's part of the problem. I just don't want anyone to be hurt or upset because I am broken...

It's Friday morning. The second day of summer break (and really, there is no "break" when you have kids) and Finley is sitting on the couch behind me watching TV while her big sister, Addie, sleeps in for a change upstairs. Nothing on the schedule for the girls today, and that's a very rare thing. As for me, I'm sitting at the computer in my office, typing these words that you're reading while sipping my first Diet Mountain Dew of the day while holding back tears in my eyes. They're tears incited by the reports this morning of the death of a man who I didn't know... a man I was familiar with, one whose work wasn't particularly special to me in any way, but one with legions of fans around the globe: Chef Anthony Bourdain.

At a distance, Bourdain appeared to be a pretty cool guy - an adventurer with a rock and roll attitude, albeit someone I never paid much attention to. I'd caught a couple episodes of his No Reservations and Parts Unknown on television, but for me the biggest exposure I had to his work was via the fictionalized, short-lived television series "inspired-by" his book, Kitchen Confidential. The 2005 series aired on Fox, starring Bradley Cooper as Chef "Jack" Bourdain.

News of Bourdain's death, a suicide by hanging, was shocking to wake up to. The darkness caught up to him, and chances are that no one knew just how big a battle that man was fighting internally on a daily basis. This was a man who, on the surface, may have appeared to have the world on a string - an adventurer with fame and fortune, a father who perhaps lacked one very important thing: the ability to experience true happiness. I suspect he finally reached a point where he was just too tired and beaten down to continue the battle. 

I know the battle well, because I fight it every single day. The fear, not just for me, but for my family and others around me, is that one day I will lose. It's something we live with and I'm not ashamed to admit that. 

For those who do not live with depression, I believe it is impossible to fully understand the condition. In a lot of ways, it's like Venom - the Marvel Comics character - in that there's this... thing, a "symbiote" that's constantly living inside of you, attached to every cell. It wants to take over and become the public face, but you have to keep pushing it back and beating it down again and again and again and again and again. It's absolutely exhausting, and the depression brings with it other things like sadness, anger, anxiety and rage. Millions of people are fighting, and we're all at risk of losing.

venomcover

This cover to Marvel Comics' VENOM is a pretty accurate representation of what depression feels like to me. It's a symbiotic force - a creature that's always there, attached to me in constant need of being beaten down and suppressed. The only way to understand it is to live it, and if you haven't lived it you will never know the feeling.

According to the CDC, suicide rates are up 30% since 1999. I've personally known or been casually acquainted with so many people who've committed suicide that I've lost count. I know a couple whose families won't even admit it, choosing to cover the real cause of death with "natural causes" like a "heart attack." There's also incidents that have been labeled as "accidental" deaths that I don't believe were accidents. And then there's all of these celebrities - Bourdain just three days after Kate Spade. Soundgarden's Chris Cornell... Linkin Park's Chester Bennington... the list just continues to grow. Three years ago this month, some guy I never met killed himself in his garage right here in our neighborhood. No one talks about it, and it was just brushed aside and forgotten. 

In the online world, my friends lists are littered with "ghosts" - the accounts of those who've left, but I still can't decide whether I should delete them or leave them there as a reminder. The digital world is a strange thing, and even the world of blogging has seen its share of suicide. Back in 2013, a member of the Facebook Dad Bloggers group connected with many other fathers (myself included) just a short time before going missing and later being found. I'd written about it, as did many other members of the group, all in hopes of bringing awareness to the situation. A half-decade later, things seem even worse and the data tends to back that up. 

"Pills for Breakfast" isn't just the name of a 1985 instrumental song from my favorite band, Faith No More, but a description for how I start my day, every single morning. It's a "cocktail" that for the most part works, but one that took years to hit on. Trial-and-error to get the medications and doses right, because even that can skew things in a bad direction. My struggles have effected relationships, no doubt. My wife has put up with some real shit over the past two decades, and for that I am truly sorry and will never be able to make up for or make right some of the meltdowns that I've had. They're rare, but even once every year or two is too much, and a lesser woman would've probably thrown up their hands by now.  She will tell you that I made her second pregnancy "Hell," and I'm sure she's right... but there's some time in that space between 2011 and 2012 that I don't remember. It's blank space where time and memories are missing, and that troubles me deeply because I tend to remember even the most minute details of seemingly unremarkable days. What happened was that I was in a good place with my medication, and suddenly our health insurance decided not to cover it anymore, making it unaffordable. Removing that was a shock to my system - I verbally eviscerated a woman from the insurance company who essentially told me to fuck myself when I called to inquire as to why they would pull the plug on something that was working. It took months to find a new combination that not only worked, but was covered by our insurance, and sadly, this happened in overlap with the birth of our second daughter, which should've been a joyous time.

What I've often seen, heard and read about is a pattern in which those who aren't depressed make the situation about them, and as a person struggling, it can push the depression toward anger. If you're dealing with a person who suffers, it's not about you... it's about them. All the bullshit phrasing such as "cheer up," "let it go," etc. only stands to make things worse. And in the unfortunate event that someone does commit suicide, there are those who will call it "selfish," "a cowardly act" or "a permanent solution to a temporary problem." Those statements are incredibly wrong and insulting to those like myself, like Bourdain, and anyone else that's fighting the fight. Depression is not a temporary problem - it's a permanent one that doesn't go away. It's a treatable, but incurable disease. Perhaps a cure will one day be discovered, but there's also much to be said about the fact that there's a very profitable industry that operates based on treating depression. Keeping customers outweighs curing patients. In the meantime, the medication for depression and anxiety is a likely contributor to my own weight gain and the difficulty in taking it off, and being overweight then contributes to the depression and anxiety - a vicious circle.

If I said that I didn't still have occasional thoughts of killing myself (and believe me, it's hard to even type the phrase "killing myself"), I would be a flat-out liar. Those thoughts have come and gone since my youth as a kid being bullied and shit on growing up in the dump known as Park Forest, Illinois. When my parents got divorced it became a more frequent occurrence, but I kept fighting back. 30-some years later, there's good days (and truthfully, most of them are) and bad days... but that darkness is always there. In the rare instance that I forget to take my meds, I can usually tell by mid-day as certain situations become amplified like an echo chamber. One bad day can negate or destroy all the good that's come before. Where a healthy person might have a roadbump, a minor conflict or irritation, a depressed person may go completely off the rails. 

Like many things in my life, I'm writing this entry not because I want to, but because I need to. Words are my therapy, and if they help others in any way, that's the reward.  If you're struggling, know that there are others who struggle with you. That might not make things better, but just know that the fight against the darkness is bigger than one person. I don't fight for me, but for my wife and children, for whom I hope to be around for a very long time. The two greatest conflicting forces in my life just might be my love for my family, and my lack of love for myself.

I certainly didn't wake up this morning with the intention of leading all of you into a bummer of a story, but the news of Anthony Bourdain is inescapable. It's had an unusually profound effect on me, to the point where I couldn't simply jump into writing about pop culture and toys today. While it will be some time before the world knows just what factored into and ultimately pushed him into his sudden death, internally I feel great sorrow for the familiar pain he must've been experiencing. Many people will write about this today, but unless they've experienced it, they will never have any idea just how badly depression hurts. It's something that I hope my daughters will never have to experience.

 

Pier 57. Photo by @voguemagazine: http://vogue.cm/AcLVEjQ

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James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, has contributed to The Toy Book and regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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