My silence

How would you feel if your spouse didn’t speak? What if it was a coworker or a friend? Would you impute something to their character or nature? Would you interpret it as arrogance, disdain, or indifference? Would you conclude something was wrong? Would you wonder if this person was burdened with a problem in their personal life? Would you ask this person if something was wrong? How would you feel if this person usually replied, “nothing,” though not convincingly?

I think about it quite a bit. When I’m depressed I spend a lot of time not talking, or saying as little as possible. It’s not because I’m angry, impatient, or think too highly of myself. Mostly, it’s because I don’t have anything to say, or the energy to say it if I do.

It’s possible some of you know exactly how I feel, if the statistics on depression are right. But I wonder if the popularity of a term has anything to do with real awareness. With all the ads for antidepressants flooding our lives, with actors pouting and wearing sad, puppy dog eyes, has depression become a throwaway word – something people use to describe any bout of blue? When folks ask me what’s wrong and I answer “nothing” it’s about as close to the truth I can get without borrowing a Vulcan. I could tell you I’m depressed but the word feels overused and under valued – like saying a blue whale is a mammal.

What’s wrong?

Depression isn’t enough and I don’t have the words in me to replace it. Maybe it’s fitting depression (the word) feels a bit empty. For me, depression is profound sorrow without cause.

What’s wrong?

I don’t know. There’s nothing I can point to. I can’t say the cat died or someone said something mean in study hall. It’s nothing, everything, and exhausting. I feel upset but nothing obvious is wrong. I feel preoccupied but I’m not doing anything (and I don’t have any plans or desire to do otherwise). Imagine how I might respond when someone comes to me with a question, asks for a favor, or invites me out for a little fun. I try to rise above the depression, to not let it define me, but it’s hard. Really hard. I try to be helpful, to be the person I want to be, but sometimes tone speaks louder than words.

I suffer in silence. I appear to be unwilling to tell you what is wrong, but I feel incapable. I appear reluctant to help, socialize, or join group activities, but I feel overwhelmed. I appear to be making excuses and I fear that I am.

Still, I’m determined not to let it be one.

In the mean time I want you to know one thing.

I’m sorry. It’s not you. It was never you (well almost never). It’s me.

People are capable of great strength, and sometimes I wonder how. Is it like asking a great writer how he/she writes so well, or a bird how it flies? Maybe some people just are, and the rest of us are not. Or, maybe I shouldn’t worry how others manage great strength and focus on the evidence it’s possible. Maybe I don’t have a gift for writing, but I could try to cut down on unneccessary punctuation. Maybe I can’t flap my wings to get off the ground, but I could work on my vertical leap.

Today is another day, another opportunity to step forward.


  1. I hope you are getting treatment. I know the pain of depression and I agree with you that I think it has become the new “chic disease of the week”. I have been diagnosed since 1988 and work hard at staying viable, but there was a lot of tweaking of meds and such to get to the point I am at today. I’m so glad I did get help, because those feelings really do hurt.

    I’m enjoying reading your blog. You’ve got a knack.

  2. This is written beautifully. I have to admit that I get these feelings sometimes… being sad with no particular cause. your post has opened my eyes to see some of these things in people I love and try to understand them.
    I am glad you choose to be a victor everyday, in spite the difficulty it may bring.

  3. Thanks guys. A lot of the stuff I write here is with my kids in mind. Not that I want them to feel guilty or sorry, but if they want to understand who I was (sometime when they’re older), I hope this helps.

    I grew up with my mother – a stay at home mom, and yet I wonder how she did it. I wonder what went through her mind. I wonder how she coped, those moments when it seemed like her emotions were fraying.

    I’m pleased (an understatement really) you all got something from this post, and I’m grateful for the comments.

  4. When I am depressed I withdraw, too. I don’t feel like talking or answering the phone because it just takes too much effort to speak and make conversation.

  5. Hi John:
    I have never been depressed . . . but I know people who have. And though I was close to them . . . it’s so far from my makeup that it was hard to understand. I thought this was a beautifully written post. It was illuminating for me.

    As a small aside, I am silent much of the time because I am in my head so much as a writer. I prefer being alone, though I keep an insane social calendar and throw a LOT of parties. Maybe I like silence to counter that . . . but I know it drives my family nuts . . . I’m not good at sharing, I guess, or don’t feel the need to, which then comes across as withholding in some way, but it’s not meant to be . . . Anyway, interesting.

Give the gift of words.