How I Knew I Was Depressed


Then, we were acquired. Business got soft, and we were heavily leveraged. Cuts had to be made, and I was one of the cuts. It’s a pretty common story, and at the time I felt like I was weathering it well. I had skills. I had experience. I did a year of consulting (with my former employer as my biggest client) and then an offer for a new job in a new city just appeared one day on my doorstep.

It felt a lot like fate.

Which may be why I couldn’t make sense of my own failure at my new job. I knew my stuff—knew how to make decisions and make things happen. Except, things weren’t happening. Not the right things, and not fast enough. Choices baffled me. All of a sudden I couldn’t read people—couldn’t manage staff and REALLY couldn’t manage my managers. Simple organizational tasks overwhelmed me: I, who had lived for years with a File-O-Fax in my hand before smoothly transitioning to a Palm Pilot, couldn’t keep an accurate calendar. I couldn’t face MAKING a to-do list, let alone trying to actually cross things off it. Taking usable notes in a meeting was impossible. I arrived at my office in the morning with no plan for what I’d do all day and left without really being sure what I’d done.

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.