A New Year awaited as past lives spiraled inexorably down the drain. As unmovable as gravity, depression moves for no man, nor stops with force of will alone. Not even a calendar’s turn holds sway. It was 2012, and I was in trouble.
January 1, 2012, happenstance found me on a crisp sunny afternoon wandering listlessly about the beaches of Holgate—along the narrow shores of Long Beach Island’s southernmost tip. With me was a camera, an old DSLR I purchased from a friend’s brother in 2008, a device I had no business using. The camera had lain dormant for years, finding predictable disuse under the disregarded ownership of a man who bounced from one hobby to the next, dropping each like a bad habit. I was that man, and yet the camera was somehow with me.
Lost, I drifted the shore break. With winter sun on my face tottered along shifting from fits of inconsolable sadness to long periods without emotion. Occasionally pressing the shutter. As far as photographs went I had no clue what I was doing; no concept of aperture, shutter speed, focal length, or exposure. Sure, from my painting and drawing days I had a sense of composition, but any and all training stopped there. Making photographs was foreign to me. So, too, was happiness.
Spinning in this dance of pain and silence I brooded over the past. Afraid for the future I dwelled on what was, what might have been, and what certainly never would be. Entering my 30th year I was no stranger to dark turns. I had already experienced three long bouts of depression over the years but my latest malevolent spell was different. This felt even less controlled, less certain, and far more insidious.
Depression is less. It is less of everything. Less joy. Less worth. Less excitement. Less hope. Passions that once burned hot turned to ashes in my mouth leaving behind a charred taste of disgust—if only I could still taste as I once had.
Yet for some reason I kept pressing that damn shutter. Click. Click. Click. Eventually I ambled upon a clamshell. It was a large sort plucked up in the sand, buried barely enough to support its weight upright. This looks, uh, interesting, I thought. Ignorant to golden hour at that point, it was the rich yellow light casting the “interesting” glow upon the shell. Belly down and elbows up on the sand I pressed the autofocus and clicked. Click. Click. Click.
Backing my index finger off the shutter I continued to lay, splayed out face down in the sand. Should I stay here? Maybe I’ll just cry here? What am I even doing here? To hell with this life I’m drawn through like a prisoner in chains. But what are my crimes? Is a malfunctioning brain all it takes to condemn a man? Covered in sand and self-loathing I rolled and I sat. It’s time for these manacles to drag me home.
Depression is less but it is also more. More loathing. More pain. More sadness. More discomfort. It’s a paradox impervious to logic. The firm ground of reason is but loose sand eroded by a surging tide of emotion. How long will the waters rage? Will the seas subside or has the sea itself risen to this new, turbulent normal? Will I even get my head back above water to know?
Hours later happenstance struck again. A friend reached out to let me know she and a few friends were planning a 365 photo project throughout 2012. She explained the rules—each day participants would upload a photograph to Google+ and tag it. We’d go around +1’ing each other and everyone would feel great, except me of course; “feeling” great wasn’t an option. But hey, I was out “taking” pictures that day. I would try this for what would inevitably be two weeks—max—before giving up and retreating to my dungeon of despair. Why not? I responded. Why not? I grew up scoffing at photography. Besides, I suck at taking pictures, and I loathe doing things I am not good at so this seemed an ideal irrational fit. This was the conversation lobbing salvos in my head. Illogically, I said yes.
Two weeks went by. Two weeks of terrible photos. Two weeks of terrible feelings. Somehow it wasn’t all bad, even if I couldn’t feel it at the time. I was interacting with new people online, and they offered supportive commentary on my photos such as they were. I was in no place to accept the feedback, but I at least understood the purpose of a compliment—if only in the abstract. And yet, I was still clicking. Click. Click. Click.
Depression is more but it is also unknown. Unknown future. Unknown depths. Unknown self. Where is this darkness taking me? Who will I be when I get there? Hell, what will I even be when I get there? Will I call out for help? Will I be too weak? Will I see what’s right in front of me?
Six months into 2012 and I was still clicking. Click. Click. Click. About 10,000 images into the photo project, into the unknown, and my photographs were… improving? Am I starting to enjoy this? Do I have a future here? The creative outlet I’ve long craved? Can this new habit continue? Can I make landscapes to show off the beauty I’ve always known but have somehow forgotten about? Can I visually communicate the underrated beauty of southeastern New Jersey? Can I show off its coastal ways, marshlands, and pine land forests for others to know and love? Can I feel again? Can I dream again? Can I hope again? Can I be a better me again?
Depression is unknown but it is also knows defeat. Click. Click. Click.
Author’s Note: Asked to write an article for the beta issue of Break Zine back in 2017, I am sharing my article here in honor of 2019 World Mental Health Day. I have made edits to grammar and style but the spirit remains the same. As it was when Dawn and Pete asked me to share in their creative endeavor, I felt it was important to share my own struggle with depression. I want to play at least a small part to break the stigma and help others step out from the dark. You do not have to suffer alone, and it is OK and brave and wonderful to reach out for help.