When you live with depression, on a certain level, it becomes another article of clothing. That’s just how it is. But there have been times when I’ve had an eerie awareness of how much the juxtaposition between what is going on in life versus what is going on within me shows how pronounced depression can be. A perfect illustration of what I’m talking about came to mind again today. I’ve obviously thought about it a lot in the five years since, but I figured it’s time to write about it.
In the summer of 2015, I did a newspaper internship in Colorado. Specifically, the oasis-like small town of Glenwood Springs, which is about 50 or so minutes from the famed ski resort town of Aspen, and two and a half hours further west from Denver. At that time, it was the furthest West I’d ever been of Ohio; it took me two days of 10 hour drives each to make it. Looking back on it, it was also insane. It wasn’t a paid internship, and I was a busyboy at a pancake restaurant earning minimum wage, plus cash tips. Going across the country for two months for no pay was insanity. Which is why it ended up being only a month because I couldn’t afford to last longer out there.
If I was smarter about it and more willing to be a social creature, I’m sure I could have bunked at someone’s house and saved the money, but instead, I stayed at the (I believe) Comfort Inn and Suites in Rifle, Colorado for four weeks. Rifle is about 27 minutes further west of Glenwood Springs, and now is most known for that gun-toting firebrand Lauren Boebert, who owns Shooters Grill (where all the waiters open carry) in the town.
Honestly, it wasn’t a bad setup. I got to explore the hiking around both Rifle and Glenwood Springs, and I had my own space. Also, the coffee was accessible for free almost daily. I had mountains of coffee cups in my room. But also, I had the most gorgeous commute you could imagine driving the one-shot highway stretch from Rifle to Colorado, with stunning mountain views. I miss Colorado.
But there was also the beauty you saw at the top of the post to be in awe of every day, Mount Sopris, which is part of the range of the Rocky Mountains.
I asked every local I could, “Do you ever get sick of the mountains? Do they just become background eventually?” Nobody said they did. And I think I’d have that same mindset: How can you get tired of this view or take it for granted? The mountains are gorgeous.
So, I’ve set up the location. I’m in a basically the most gorgeous area I’ve ever been in, with stunning mountains I’ve certainty never seen in the Buckeye state, and for the first time in my life, I’m on my own, doing my own thing.
On top of that, even though I had no prior journalism experience per se — I had taken a course or two in college on Journalism 101, but most of my experience at the college newspaper was opinion writing — I adapted rather quickly to the small town coverage of the newspaper I was interning with. It helped to have a brilliant editor, and eccentric, knowledgeable, warm and welcoming reporters to work with. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect meshing with Randy, Will, Ryan, and Jessica. They were awesome.
I’d also gotten lucky to write a story about a pizza boy who saved a guy’s life on his last delivery of the night; it went viral on reddit, People magazine, and a bunch of other places. It remains the most viewed article with 300,000-some views on the newspaper’s website. But beyond that, I was genuinely enjoying the small-town vibe, which would parlay nicely into what I do now (also working for a small newspaper).
Now that I’ve set up the first half of the juxtaposition (what is going on in life), let’s get to what was going on in me. I couldn’t have asked for it all to go better. And yet. As the days mounted, I found myself reverting more and more to my hotel room surrounded by my mountain of coffee cups, with the curtains drawn. Here I was in the most beautiful place, with the most friendly and kind people, professionally kicking butt, and … something was off.
I think about that image a lot in my mind. Me, sitting at that hotel desk, with only the desk light on, but the rest of the room dark, a stack of empty coffee cups in the corner, and writing my stories and finding reasons to stay in my hotel room. To avoid coming into the office. To avoid seeing anyone. To avoid even seeing the mountains. Alone.
I’ve known depression was with me prior to that Colorado internship, like that article of clothing in my forever carry-on luggage, but I had never felt it so pronounced before in that way with that sort of juxtaposition. Which, I think, goes to show what a lot of people who understand mental health already know: It doesn’t actually matter in a true sense what is going on with the first half (what is going on in life), if the latter is also present (mental illness). Family, friends, success both personally and professionally, all of that is wonderful, and we all strive to have obtain those intangibles and tangibles. But when depression (or whatever else) has you, it has you. Those things can help for a time, but an illness is an illness.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.
People who don’t understand mental health will be aghast at cases like Anthony Bourdain or Robin Williams; how could they commit the act of suicide? They had all this success and all these people, both personally and as fans, who loved them. How? But again, those who understand the issue, see how that juxtaposition is just the common reality of those suffering silently.
Depression is a heck of a thing, and I think that’s when I realized it really was that carry-on luggage idea. Before then, I sometimes thought if I only got a fresh start somewhere else, literally geographically, I could be better. But that was always naive. Depression is like me: It doesn’t understand geography.
Alas. As I said, I still miss that Colorado experience, and would go back as soon as I could, if I could. Even so, as many great experiences occurred during my time there, I also think about that image of me in the hotel room, subsumed by depression despite the beauty and love and success around me. Like I was an Edward Hopper painting come to life, and I merely brought that dang diner to Colorado with me.
Do you understand what I’m describing here, this pesky juxtaposition?