My son’s question forced me to recognize all the things that had changed—not just that I couldn’t have fun, but that I couldn’t organize my work or express my ideas persuasively. Something HAD changed, something was wrong, and I had to fix it.
Which is how I discovered I was depressed.
It turns out, not everybody’s depression looks the same.
I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t sleep too much or too little. I was generally not that irritable, and I hadn’t lost interest in my family or other things I cared about.
For me, the most striking symptoms of depression were cognitive. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t keep track of details—not even the important ones. I couldn’t make decisions or draw conclusions. I’d always considered myself a pretty smart guy, and the scariest thing about the changes I’d gone through was that all of a sudden I felt like I was really, genuinely stupid.
But that question—“Dad, do you even know how to have fun anymore?”—gave me something to cling to. Because it suggested that I USED to know how to have fun, just like I USED to be smart. So maybe if all that could change, it could also change back. So I went to the doctor. And I got better.
By getting better, I don’t mean that all my troubles went away. I still don’t know if I failed at my job because I was depressed or if I was depressed because I failed at my job—it’s a chicken-and-egg thing. But I parted company from that employer on cordial (if not friendly) terms, and we’ve both moved on happily. I had some therapy and included an anti-depressant as part of my daily routine for a while. I’ve been managing without either for some time now, getting through the ups and downs of everyday life, making my lists and getting things done.
But the legacy of that evening swim and my little boy’s question is profound. I learned that life doesn’t always move in a straight line and that you have to listen for important clues. I learned to notice when things aren’t right, and that things that aren’t right can be fixed.
I discovered that the pain and confusion that was plaguing me at the time was taking something away from my son, and my wife and my other two kids.
And I learned that one of the most important things I could do for the people I care about is to take care of myself.