Everyone who has Depression experiences it in a different way, but I think it’s safe to say that all of us have days when it sits more heavily on us than others. I realized yesterday morning that I’ve been struggling under more depression and anxiety than usual for the last week or so without even being aware of it. Without realizing it, I’d gotten withdrawn and anxious, and because I didn’t really feel irritable, I wasn’t aware of how irritable I was.
I’ve described the metaphysical weight of depression as being similar to that lead apron the dentist puts on you when you get x-rays of your teeth, only it’s draped over your head and shoulders, and sometimes it even covers your face so you can’t see clearly. Without even knowing it’s happening, all you can see is whatever the depression wants to show you, and depression is a lying jerk.
So yesterday, with the kind and loving help of my wife, I realized how heavy my depression has been weighing on me lately. I don’t know exactly how or why it works, but yesterday, like all the other times I’ve realized that depression was doing its best to smother me, becoming aware of it made the weight of it just a little bit better. I still had a pretty rough day, but I also knew that I’d get better. It was like remembering where the light switch was, so I could turn a light on in a dark room, and see the way out of it.
A big part of realizing that I felt so much anxiety and its accompanying depression was figuring out why I felt that way, and I don’t think I could have done it without Anne’s support and patience.
We were sitting on the couch in the living room. The back doors were open, and birds chirped and sang in the back yard. I told her basically what I wrote above, and she said, “You were really angry about the paparazzi when you were in New York, and if your show is successful, that’s probably going to happen again and again.”
“That sounds awful,” I said.
“Yeah, but you can deal with it in a more constructive way that doesn’t make you so angry,” she said.
“I just hate that feeling of being trapped in a hotel, or not in control of my own …” I trailed off, because I had realized exactly why I got so angry, and why I’d been feeling so anxious and depressed for the last few weeks.
“I just realized that the feeling of being trapped, of not being in control of my own life, of feeling like I can’t just do my own thing is a massive emotional trigger for me, because it reminds me of how I felt so often when I was a kid.
“I hated all the press and attention and demands to be some kind of teen superstar, when all I wanted to do was be an actor.”
I described this picture to her, which I think was taken when I was 15. “I look at that, and I feel so sad for that kid. He’s scared, he’s uncomfortable, and he’s doing his best to just get through that moment so he can go back to whatever he was trying to do before a photographer shoved a camera in his face.
“I think I get so angry now because I’m not just upset that my current life was disrupted by these shitbags, but I’m also retroactively angry at how much they disrupted my life when I was a kid.” I looked at the floor for a long time. Our dog, Riley, walked over to me and shoved her face into my hands. I pet her and continued. “And then I get angry at the people who should have been looking out for me, who should have cared about how I was feeling and protected me, but who just told me to suck it up and deal with it because I had to.”
“That makes sense,” she said. “You’ve talked a lot about how you always felt like nobody listened to you when you were a kid, and how you felt like your feelings weren’t as important to the people around you as what they could get out of you.”
“Exactly. I’ve been working basically for myself for the last ten years, with occasional breaks to go work on shows where I feel like I’m working with people, and for the last month or so, I’ve felt like I’m working for people.”
I stopped scratching Riley’s chin, and she put her paw in my lap.
“Well … you kind of are.”
I looked at her.
“…and that’s okay,” she said. “I know you’re feeling overwhelmed, but this is a good thing, isn’t it?”
I lifted Riley’s paw off of me, and pointed to the floor. She lay down at my feet and sighed.
“…it is. I love the people I work with, and the network goons have all been really supportive and awesome. I guess I just … I don’t know how to feel. It’s really great, and it’s really scary, and there’s a lot at stake, and it’s fun, and I’m …”
I took a deep breath and frowned. “I’m afraid to enjoy it, because it probably won’t last.”
It felt good to say it out loud. It felt freeing. I’m supposed to pretend that we’re going to be some kind of massive success and we’re all gonna get laid, but I have done this long enough to know that nothing is certain, nothing is guaranteed, and Firefly was canceled because the network was stupid.
“And on the one hand, if it doesn’t last, all this press and attention that I don’t like goes away. But if it does last–”
“If it does last, you can let the work speak for itself like you want to, and you don’t have to do press, or go places you don’t want to go. But promoting it now is super important because you have to let people know your show exists so they can watch it.”
Riley rolled over on her back. Marlowe walked into the room and stretched out on the floor next to her.
“I know, and I feel like a jerk for having conflicting feelings about it. I guess I haven’t completely dealt with some unresolved childhood issues, and they’re getting stirred up in my stupid brain.”
My cat, Watson, jumped up into my lap and began to purr. He rubbed his face against my hand, then against my chin, and then began to groom my beard.
“I’m really grateful for everything we have, and I don’t mean to imply otherwise,” I said, around Watson’s catfood breath. “I just remember how I felt so unhappy so often when I was a kid, and I don’t want to feel that way again.”
I lifted Watson off of my chest and put him on the couch next to me. He rolled on his back and pushed his head into my thigh. I scratched his chin and his belly.
“I also know that I’ve been letting Depression make me feel like shit for the last month or so, and I know that Depression lies, so I’m probably just fixated on all the worst case stuff, and not paying enough attention to the awesome stuff.”
And the second those words came out of my mouth, it was like someone cast Dispel Depression. I felt the weight of it lift off of me. I saw the light switch in the room, and though I knew it would take a little bit of time before I could walk out, I at least saw the doorway.
I’m going to talk with a therapist about the unresolved emotional issues from when I was a kid, and I’m going to work even harder so that Depression can’t trick me into thinking all this incredibly awesome stuff that I get to do is something I can’t enjoy. It’s going to be a challenge — it always is — but I can do it, because I’ve done it before.
And you know what? It is going to be fun to make The Wil Wheaton Project. I know it will be fun, because it has already been fun, and I think I need to consider the two likely scenarios: if we only do 12, I get to go back to my normal life at the end of the summer after working with some really great people and doing something we’re proud of. If we end up doing more than that, I can let the work speak for itself, and I’ll learn to adjust to a new normal in my life, because the really valuable and important bits of my life — my wife, my kids, our home, burritos and beer — are going to be here no matter what I do for my job, and nobody can take them away from me, not even Depression.
“I feel a lot better,” I said. “Thanks for listening to me.”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too.”