Community is the Cure to Depression

NOVEMBER 01, 2020 06:00 AM

I used to tell people I lived a perfect life. I grew up in a warm home with a loving family. I went to good schools and earned decent grades. I played a bunch of sports and had some talent at all of them. I never worried about a thing, but I wanted to die.

You’re probably thinking that doesn’t make any sense, and believe me, I thought the same thing. I didn’t know what was wrong with me because I didn’t know people with good lives could struggle with depression. Some things we learn the hard way.

In my junior year of high school, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know how to talk about it. My depression was ephemeral like a shadow in the fog. Anytime I tried to confront it – the emptiness, the war within myself, the unexplained crushing sadness – it disappeared. I chalked it up to a weird teenage phase, persuading myself that when I got to college, the feelings would go away. But when I started at Penn State in 2011, those feelings were still there, and they got worse and worse over the years.

By my senior year, I fought with thoughts of suicide daily and felt completely detached from my life as if I watched someone else live it. I trudged onward more out of instinct than desire, lying to myself and saying things would be better when I graduated. I knew it wasn’t true, but I didn’t want to give up, and I needed hope. What I really should’ve done is reached out, but I didn’t think there was any help for me. How do you fix something as unfathomable as the thoughts that make us who we are? We can heal physical maladies with medicine, but how do you heal a broken spirit? No, either whatever ailed me would simply vanish, or I was doomed.

I felt alone in a way that gave new meaning to the word. I’d walk across Penn State’s labyrinthine sidewalks, thousands of students swarming around me like pleasantly buzzing bees, yet no one saw me. I was a ghost. Maybe it’s better this way I thought. No one will miss me when I’m gone.

Toward the end of my time in college, I realized I was either going to die or ask for help.

I asked for help, because the truest part of who I am, the truest part of who we all are, wants to live. No one mocked me. No one told me it was in my head. No one accused me of wanting attention. My family took my plea for help seriously. They got me to a doctor where I was dumbfounded to learn I battled depression and anxiety. I was equally surprised to learn that both illnesses are treatable with medicine and therapy. For years I fought against the sickness thinking I was weak and defective. I believed the thoughts of suicide, the sadness and the guilt were my fault. Only when I reached out did I learn that my depression wasn’t a moral failing, I wasn’t alone, and there was hope.

You see, it’s the isolation of depression that’s the real killer. Once I got pulled back into my community like a drowning man clinging to a life raft, I began to believe I could find my way back to life. It’s like that scene at the end of “Guardians of the Galaxy” when Peter Quill grabs the Infinity Stone. No human can hold that stone alone because its power is too great. But as Peter is dying, one of his teammates grabs his hand. Then another, and another, and soon the power of the stone is coursing through all of them instead of just Peter alone. Together, they can bear it. Alone, the stone will crush them.

Depression’s the same way – we aren’t meant to fight it alone. That’s why I wrote my book, “My Perfect Life: How Depression Almost Ended It and How I Found Purpose Through Pain.” I don’t want people to make the mistakes I made in trying to fight this battle by themselves. Community is the cure. Connection to the people around us, to friends, family, loved ones, and even strangers, is what gives us meaning in life. And purpose is an unshakeable foundation that can withstand the hopeless lies of depression. So please, especially during this trying year of lockdowns and quarantines, know that you are not alone. Believe in the truth that there is another side to your pain, and on that other side is a rich, wonderful, beautiful, fulfilling life that you deserve.

Lucas Wolfe is an author and speaker with Minding Your Mind. This column is coordinated by, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

This was first printed in the Centre Daily Times on November 1, 2020.