CLEVELAND FRANCOEUR grew up in a small town in Southeast Michigan and remembered as a child looking through his father’s photographs, and being amazed at how they could capture a moment so well. As a young boy, he remembered how much his Father enjoyed taking photos. Mr. Francoeur has always had an interest in creating art of one form or another. His true story, featured here, appeared on CNN in 2012 and was nominated for an annual award in the Personal Story category. Cleveland is a consulting editor and website manager for The Writers’ Circle online magazine. His photography appeared for the first time in the Fall online 2013 issue. To purchase or see more of his work, go to his website at www.cfrancoeur.com.
On September 12th, 2012 my lifelong struggle with depression became overwhelming. I spoke with the therapist that I had only been working with for a few weeks and leveled with her about my state of mind and my overwhelming sense of hopelessness looking forward. The following night I met with her supervisor along with my wife and at his prompting, I agreed to go inpatient at a psychiatric hospital near Boston, MA. Though my struggle has been severe at times, I've never been hospitalized. This was both terrifying and a relief for me, as I had been fighting with the idea of giving up for some time. For my wife, this was extremely difficult as she hadn't realized how bad things had become for me. I had reached the point where after trying over 20 different antidepressants over the last few years, with little to no response from each of them, and years in and out of therapy without any relief, that I had become desperate.
Living with constant depression is a hell that unless one has been there isn't conceivable to them. With every passing day your willpower is chipped away at slowly. You become exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. You cease to have interest in anything that you once enjoyed. You don't return phone calls or emails. If you are one of the lucky ones, like myself, you are still able to get up and go to work every day, but you don't really engage in your work or your life anymore. You end up working and sleeping, occasionally getting sick since you seem more susceptible to illness. You don't live anymore, you exist. You unwillingly maintain a pulse in the shell of what used to be you. The emotional pain is overwhelming, so much so that you find it difficult to even cry, much less find some other way of expressing it. People that care about you will ask what it is specifically that's bothering you. You skim your thoughts and find no reason for it. If it had a reason - a source - you'd have something to fight. As you become more withdrawn your relationship with you spouse/significant other is strained, as well as your relationship with family members.
The constant questions from others becomes intolerable. Your lack of real explanation becomes irritating to both them and you. Eventually you learn to hide. You put on your fake smile, laugh at jokes and engage in conversations when necessary. You learn to hide in plain sight, even from yourself. If you are like me and the depression lasts for months, sometimes up to a couple of years at a time, people that you interact with every day may only know the act that you put on instead of ever really knowing you. It just further reinforces the isolation.
When I went into the hospital I had reached the point where this was no longer acceptable to me. If it weren't for those that would be hurt by my premature death, I would without a doubt, no longer be here. In my early 20's my best friend, whom I had also fallen in love with but never told her, had killed herself in a car accident. That loss was the single most painful and devastating moment in my life. I refuse to cause that pain for anyone else, but at the same time, I no longer wish to suffer. So, the struggle continues. I love my wife. I love my family. I also love myself enough to take into consideration my own quality of life.
Before jumping to the conclusion that I'm all doom and gloom, I'm not. I actually look at most things (politics aside) quite optimistically. I don't believe that I'm a bad person, or that bad things happen any more to me than they do the next person. I believe that life is truly random - fate isn't a logical concept to me. I don't feel or believe that I deserve to feel the way I do, but I don't hold anyone accountable for it either. It just.. is. I have a very good life right now. I just seem to lack the capacity to feel the joy that should accompany it. It's not a matter of just smiling more, or letting go of something, or anything like that. I wish it were.
I know my depression affects others as well. I know it has a significant impact on my wife and my closest friends. I feel terrible about that. I accept that they love and accept me as I am, but I'd be a fool to ignore that this impacts them in a negative way. I'm a reasonable and practical man. I've put forth a stellar effort in finding peace with this over the years. Though it's not rational, I feel like I've failed. I've failed myself and those that I love by not being able to overcome this somehow after all this time, money and effort. If it gets to the point where I'm no longer able to work I don't know that I'll be able to accept the amount of burden that will place on my loved ones.
If someone you know suffers from severe debilitating depression and can't give you an answer as to why they are depressed, please, have compassion for them. To struggle silently with this is hard enough, but to not even know of an underlying reason for it just feels like cruel punishment. They aren't necessarily avoiding talking about it, but might not know what to say. For me, in my darkest hours, hearing that I am loved, valued and cared for from those closest to me is crucial. It's not that I don't know it already, or that I lose sight of it, or anything like that... It's just a comfort to hear. Knowing someone is still there for you even after years of trying to help you through your suffering is more comforting than anything. Though a solution and a way out of this hell would be nice, just knowing you aren't on the journey alone might just be the only thing that someone like me has left to hold onto.