Starting in late April, 2023, I was forced to take a medical leave due to a severe depressive episode, the most severe and extended of my life. It was the most difficult challenge I have ever faced – and I have had multiple depressive episodes, a manic episode (I have bipolar 1 disorder), and open heart surgery. None of those obstacles brought the degree of pain I lived through this year.
I am writing this for those who are facing their own battle with depression. I hope that my recent recovery, and what I share below about the experience, can be helpful to you.
What does severe depression feel like?
For me, it feels like being a prisoner in my own mind and body. I feel hollow, a shell of my healthy self. Nearly zero energy, no ability to socialize or enjoy any aspect of life. No choice but to simply try to endure, hanging on by a thread. Fear and sadness. And for the first time in my life, suicidal ideation. I never attempted to hurt myself, but I did write a suicide note to my wife at one point and frequently fantasized about ending the pain. During this experience, all the love and support that I received from my wife, family and friends was like water poured over slate – no absorption, no feeling, no real help or relief. I was in pain every second of every day, for 7.5 months.
During this episode, I tried several medications that were designed to help me come out of the depression. The first 4 that I tried had little to no effect. The 5th one worked almost immediately and within 2 weeks I was back to life, back to my baseline, able to feel joy again. I can’t express how good it feels to be out of my prison, to live again, and to have the dark thoughts become a distant memory.
I have to thank my wife, Anna, for her endless empathy and support. I truly don’t know if I could have made it through this without her. I also have incredible family and friends who did all they could to support and encourage me every week. They helped me keep the flicker of hope alive (although many days even that was gone).
I hope my sharing this can provide some hope to anyone who is facing a depressive episode and is losing hope it will end. And to those with suicidal ideation. Please know that you can survive this and find joy in life again. You have the strength. Leverage your support system, ask for and accept help. You can do this.
Founder of StigmaZero, Author & Instructor of the Create Your StigmaZero Workplace Program
I founded StigmaZero to help employers address the complex and challenging reality of mental illness stigma. We offer companies an innovative solution: our Create Your StigmaZero Workplace online program, which is designed to eliminate the negative impacts that stigma can have on your culture as well as the cost of lost productivity. This program creates real, lasting impact on your company’s ability to manage mental illness and stigma.