Unmasking Depression: Wrestling and Alcohol

Content warning: I discuss depression and suicide in this post.

Creative Commons photo.

My mentality about my mental health journey has been to be as transparent and raw as possible. That is, to dive as deep as I can into what experiencing depression and suicidal ideation is like, so people unfamiliar with that world hopefully better understand it. That isn’t easy, of course. To be so naked about something that the brain once adamantly felt it had to hide and mask. In fact, as I write such a sentence, I hadn’t ever thought about it in that way. I went years without telling a single soul the depths of my depression and suicidal ideation — my ex-girlfriend and my sister-in-law are perhaps the only ones who I told some of it to, mostly a SparkNotes version — and then, once I came on the other side of such despair, I gave a speech about it and wrote openly about it in my newspaper at the time. A turn like that is rather surreal. Seeing again, truly seeing rather than through the eye-hole slits in the mask I used to wear, is empowering, and through seeing anew, it enabled me to reach back into those depths for (hopefully) educational and stigma awareness purposes.

I always think if someone hearing or reading my words can relate to my experience and feel less alone, then it is worth it. And if someone hearing or reading my words can better understand what depression and suicidal ideation is like, despite not having experienced either, then it is worth it. And selfishly, writing about it is also cathartic.

A writer on Twitter Tweeted out the other day asking if other writers who write about their mental health have written the worst parts of it. That made me ponder if I have. As I said, I’ve written transparently and raw, detailing how I Googled methods of suicide, and how even doing that for the first time scared the hell out of me (but didn’t dissuade me), and my most likely method of choice to kill myself (suffocation via a plastic bag). I have a forthcoming creative non-fiction piece in X-R-A-Y literary magazine that details my depression while having a girlfriend, and doesn’t shy away from the sexual issues manifest by my depression. I also talked in a different creative non-fiction piece at Anti-Heroin Chic magazine about my guilt after donating a kidney because I did it while in the throes of depression, something I hid from the psychologist and the social worker. The guilt stemmed more from feeling selfish for doing it through that lens and the concealment. [To be clear, you shouldn’t do that, if you’re thinking about giving the gift of life through living kidney donation, but I also want to be clear that donating a kidney was always worth doing; I regret nothing on that front.]

But I still ponder: Am I holding anything back about those days under the boot heel of depression and suicidal ideation? Am I holding anything back about the journey to come out of it? Am I holding anything back in the nonlinear aspect of getting past it, and then past that point? As I rack my brain, I suppose I haven’t yet written about the turning point of how I went from someone on this seemingly inevitable track toward death and instead was rerouted back to life. It is actually rather embarrassing!

In January 2021, I started on antidepressants. Even though my family knew I had taken this step, I don’t think anyone really understood what that meant yet. That is, just how deeply affected by depression and suicidal ideation I was. So, six months in, the depression and suicidal ideation weren’t abating. It was dropping a pill in a bottle like a ship and hoping it swam ashore to my brain. I still wasn’t engaging in therapy, either — still too scary, too daunting — and I hadn’t yet started my regimen of eating right, exercising, and doing meditation. I was ripe for my family and friends to see me unmasked, despite my best efforts to conceal it all these years, and that moment came in June 2021.

Something you might not expect about me judging me based on appearance, I suppose, is that I’m a diehard professional wrestling fan and have been for most of my life. When a local, independent wrestling promotion that tours around southern Ohio was literally doing a show down the street from my house at a local brewery I knew my brother and sister-in-law liked, I invited them to go with me. They were reluctant at first, but given what would end up happening, I’m glad they decided to go.

The night started off fine: Wrestling! With family who normally wouldn’t go to such a thing, including friends of my brother and sister-in-law. Even the local, independent variety of wrestling is a blast to see, particularly because you can get so up close and personal with it compared to the big shows the professionals do.

I was anxious ahead of the outing, and pre-gamed at home two strong beers to “take the edge off,” as they say. Maybe I was anxious because I was bringing people who didn’t like wrestling to a wrestling event and I desperately wanted them to like it. I also have general social anxiety. Whatever the case, again, the event was at a brewery, so once at the brewery, I continued drinking. I was trying beers with 9 percent ABV. That is strong alcohol content for a beer! I usually know my limits, and can cut myself off before I reach a certain point, but I don’t know what went wrong that night. When looking back, I also wonder if being on antidepressants — given how you are not supposed to drink alcohol while on antidepressants — played a role and interfered with my own ability to self-monitor. Anxiety, antidepressants, suicidal ideation spurring on a, “Nothing matters,” attitude coalesced around me not remembering anything about the second half of the evening. Only the next day did I learn I was chasing the wrestlers asking to be body slammed, and acting a fool. Only the next day did I learn via a video my brother took that I was stumbling around and even fell down at the event. Only the next day did I learn that I had to be physically carried by my brother and his friend to my brother’s truck because I started throwing up. I never throw up from alcohol, which is why I’ve wondered about the antidepressants factor. Doing that in front of my brother and sister-in-law is embarrassing enough, much less their friends, and much less in public!

What I do remember from that night is later back at my house where I was still throwing up, but on the couch, and my mother and father came — did I mention how embarrassing this was? — because my brother and sister-in-law were getting grossed out by the puke, and I kept telling everyone, “You’ll be fine without me,” alluding to killing myself, and telling them how tired I was. That it was time. These were true sentiments reflective of where my brain was at the time. Saying such things is what led to my parents and family taking my mental health more seriously, to where my dad was texting me his support and links to resources, and my mom was telling me I needed to get a therapist set-up. My dad is one of those archetypical fathers who doesn’t exactly show his emotions on his sleeves; it’s usually more by his actions, so, seeing a text from your dad along the lines of, “We’re here for you, and we love you no matter what,” is heartening and a good kick-in-the-ass, as it were, to seek therapy finally.

If I could impart a few things to people about mental health, one of them would be to smash your ego: It does not matter how intellectually cognizant you are about mental health and mental health stigma; you can still be captured by stigma, as I was. I’m fortunate my parents were a safety net rather than a black hole contributing to further despair, but stigma told me that they would be the latter. Thus, concealment and obfuscation was the modus operani until I could no longer conceal or obfuscate due to alcohol.

That’s right; one terribly drunken night where I was unable to conceal my mask due to my inebriated, messy and embarrassing state-of-mind was what it would took for me to finally get the help I needed and begin my mental health journey. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t a moment of epiphany. I’ve analogized depression and getting treatment to drug addiction, and I think it works here, too: It took hitting a rock bottom of a kind to begin the upward climb to mental wellness.

There you have it. One story I haven’t yet told. I will continue to mine my mind for more.

The proverbial seconds before disaster picture with my brother and sister-in-law. I look at that face now, and maybe it is with the benefit of hindsight, and I know I’m not mentally well here.

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