author Charles McCain after completing the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC in October of 1999. The portrait behind me is of my Grandfather, W.A. Livingston, whose sterling qualities and unimpeachable honesty had an immense impact on my life.
I wrote the article below for Street Sense, a newspaper sold by homeless people in Washington, DC. While a large portion of this bi-monthly paper is written by homeless people themselves, one-quarter of it is written by volunteer freelance writers, I being one. I mentioned to the editor my struggles with depression and bi-polar illness and since a large number of homeless people suffer from depression, he was very keen on me writing this. Sharing the story of my own depression is one of my spiritual missions in life.
Depression Is A Medical Illness Which Can Kill You. I know. It almost killed me.
by Charles McCain
I face a brick wall. It is two inches from my nose. I cannot see around it. I cannot see over it. My life has stopped. While I have scaled many obstacles in my life— that confidence and strength has deserted me. Thinking is difficult. And I am so weary. Sleeping twelve hours a day does nothing to alleviate this. As a younger man, I had always been able to fight off these feelings yet in my late 40s my emotional strength to do this had vanished.
I desperately try to recapture that sense of optimism which I had in the past to break through similar walls. But I cannot. Why? Because I am depressed. Clinically depressed. This isn’t the “blues.” Or feeling “down.” This is medical depression — a disease of the body. Not an illness of the spirit. It saps my strength. I resign my position as a big shot corporate consultant. All I have the strength to do is stay in my apartment and struggle with the storm waves of unrelenting despair pounding me.
Often I think: if life hurts this much, why not end it permanently? Suicide begins to seem a rational option. Looking back, I can remember the very worst day, the absolute bottom. I have gone into the kitchen to try and do something productive. In this case, I attempt to organize a dozen bottles of wine on a high shelf.
One bottle slips from my hand and shatters on the floor. Red wine. It creates a large, dark pool which stains the white tile of the kitchen floor. This is a calamity. What to do? The solution is beyond my grasp.
Me. A man who has had a successful life, now living in a beautiful apartment I had bought in North West. Me. A senior vice president of a huge bank by the time I was thirty-eight. Me, a consultant who had sat in board rooms of New York banks and given them advice.
I sink to the floor and weep for what seems an hour. This can’t go on. If it does, I will kill myself. I consult a psychologist. After a few months he insists I consult a psycho-pharmacologist. This is a psychiatrist who is medical doctor and only treats depression with medication. Finding the right “drug cocktail” is both an art and a science. He is good at this. I begin taking the pills.
Over the next months I start to feel better. Better than I can remember feeling since I was a kid before anxiety and depression periodically descended on me. The pharmaceuticals save my life because constant depression is a medical illness which must be treated by a physician. No longer do I have the terrifying mood swings which had disrupted my life. Despair is now held in check. My mood and my life become stable. This gives me the energy to finish the re-write of a novel I had first written as a younger man.
I achieve my life’s dream: my novel is published in hardback by a major New York publisher. On the title page of my novel I give to my psycho-pharmacologist, I write: “to the genius who created the drug cocktail which got me off the floor and allowed me to rediscover the poet within which I thought was gone forever.”
Originally published in Street Sense, 6.15.15 Washington DC