Winning My Ongoing Battle with Depression and Alcohol Abuse
by João Caldas
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I’ve always hated to open up, to this day I still hate it; I don’t like showing my softer side or letting people know about my problems. I want to improve the ways in which I communicate; I want to change and now I believe opening up can help me. I’m going to be honest, I’ve never done this but hey, maybe I’ll feel better when I open up and hopefully I can help some people along the way.
When I was a child, I didn’t engage with other kids very much. My mother was overly protective, so much so that my parents didn’t put me in a kindergarten fearing for my safety. As a kid, I didn’t notice this difference in socialization, I was too busy being happy and all, but the foundations of my socialization led to later problems. My parents, as much as I love them, had their problems, and to this day they still have problems.
My mother is a very negative person; she lives in fear and like I said, she was very overprotective of me. As a child, it affected me and I learned to move through the world with negativity and fear. It has continued to affect me through many stages of my life. I, for so long, was afraid to take risks and fight for what I believed was right for me. I shied away from necessary confrontations. I know she was trying to do the best thing for me and I love her, but her anxieties affected my development.
When my father was younger, he fought in a war he didn’t choose to fight and developed PTSD from his experience. He had no support from the Portuguese Republic and, through his experience, he developed a drinking problem. Regardless of this, he helped me develop my creativity as a child. I love them both and I have learned a lot from them, but it was a rough childhood at some points, I can’t ignore that.
In the sixth grade, a bully joined my class. At the time I had a lot of friends and was somewhat popular in my school, until he, for some reason, started picking on me. At first, he just called me stupid names, I didn’t like it, but it was nothing but a nuisance. Then things became physical. At this time, almost all my friends were buddies with the bully, perhaps they were just scared and didn’t want to get bullied as well. I was twelve at the time, most of my friends were as well, except the bully, who was fifteen.
It was hard for me to fit in. Because of the bully, I had to change classes; in my new class, I did not know anyone. Prior to this change, I had been with the same group since my elementary school years, I knew all of my classmates. We were all friends until the bully came; it shattered my class. When I changed classes at the end of that year, I developed social anxiety, which made them think I was a weirdo.
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It was the first time I had to start socializing without the comfort of people I had known for years and, because I never developed my social skills when I was a child, I became socially anxious. I simply was too afraid to interact with new people; I was traumatized. I assumed I would be bullied like before. My grades began to suffer and I didn’t feel motivated. I was in special studies but that didn’t help me. I wasn’t dumb, at the time I was just a sad and scared kid.
In high school, I started in a new class again, with the bully behind me I was able to make a handful of friends. I didn’t forget my past; I knew the bully was behind me but I knew it would also take time to heal. I was still afraid of interaction, but I was able to connect with some old classmates again and thanks to them met a few new friends; it wasn’t a lot of friends, but it beat not having any by a longshot.
During high school, unmotivated by my studies, I made a bubble for myself through video games. Honestly, I don’t know what led me to do it, maybe I was depressed and didn’t care about school anymore, maybe I was so bitter about what happened that the only thing that made me happy was that little world I made.
I sat in my comfort bubble, watching small, once easily fixable problems becoming enormous, namely my grades. I didn’t study. I believed I was stupid and worthless, but that was just the excuse I gave myself to avoid fighting for myself, instead of studying and working hard, I said screw it and stayed in the comfort of my bubble. Instead of picking up a book, I picked up the controller. I wasn’t giving my problems the attention they required. I gained a lot of weight; I was obese, there’s no sugar-coating it.
After high school, which I barely completed, I became depressed. I was insecure. Everyone laughed at me because of my awful grades. I never blamed them, they were right, not in a bully kind of way, I made all kinds of excuses for myself and refused to study. So the laughter and jokes came from a place of tough love from my friends. I needed to get a grip. I’ve been through a lot but now I realized that was no excuse, life keeps moving forward but I stopped moving forward.
At this point, my weight was the thing that made me most uncomfortable. I saw everyone in such good shape, they practiced sports and were happy, most of them had girlfriends– something I believed was impossible for me. During this time I was a pushover; I let people walk over me because I had lost my self-respect.
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At eighteen years of age, I developed a drinking problem. The first time I got drunk, my shyness disappeared, I could talk with anyone for hours. I could do everything I couldn’t when I was sober, but it would be the start of one of my biggest battles. It started with only drinking at parties. I put on a front; it was as though I was wearing a mask, pretending to be what I was in hopes that people would notice me for someone fun instead of the shy and depressed guy I was. If I could fit in where I didn’t belong I wouldn’t be alone anymore. Spending this time with others was just an excuse to run away from my problems by having “fun” with other people.
I started my first job; which was horrible. The conditions were awful and, the cherry on top? An abusive working partner. He was basically another bully and feelings from my past resurfaced. The scared and anxious kid in school reemerged. I felt miserable and I wanted to run away from the job. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore and I never showed up to work again, I took the easy way out instead of fighting my fights.
With time I changed a bit; I started a new job, began socializing a bit more and started going to the gym. I was happy, but I still didn’t do anything meaningful with my life. I was letting life pass me by without much thought. Soon, the job became shitty, the gym grew tiresome and I was thrust back into misery.
These feelings of hopelessness led to major drinking. I drank every day at dinner time; two bottles of wine, a couple of beers and a whiskey bottle a week, sometimes two. This habit was no longer one that occurred just at parties anymore. It felt like life had no meaning but I now know I was just being lazy and finding comfort in the liquor.
I was fired from my job, I blamed everyone except the real culprit; myself. But after a while, I realized that I was making a huge mistake, I had to fight for myself, and I did so. I got another job reasonably quickly, cut down my drinking significantly, started hitting the gym seriously and for the first time in my life started getting comfortable around girls, I even started a new relationship.
I started feeling like I was doing something instead of winging it and waiting for life to unravel itself around me. With all my effort at the gym and the courage to finally ask a girl out, I started thinking that I wasn’t a failure at all, I just needed the courage to go forward.
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And then, it all came crashing down, I suffered a ruptured ACL and Meniscus. After all the work I put in, I felt defeated- all that effort and all that I’d been through felt lost. And now, I’ve been sitting at home, recovering from surgery for almost a year, with no income. My government deemed that I was good to go back to work in a factory, even though my doctor said not to engage in any physical activity.
I am now twenty-five years old, living with my parents with a busted knee, trying to take a country’s government to court. It sounds like bullshit, right? When I started my writing, I thought, “Nobody is gonna believe this”, but, hey; I might as well write it down, let it all off my chest, something I have never done. It’s time to be open, it’s time to turn back, to stop running and fight my demons.
Honestly, after a life of hardships, mostly made by myself, I am starting to solve my problems and to figure out who I am. I began reading philosophy and psychology books and I’ve watched a crap ton of YouTube videos about self-improvement; I realized I am an awesome son-of-a-gun, even if I never noticed it.
Ok now you may be thinking, “He’s full of crap,” aren’t you? But give it a try; find yourself, hell, write this on a paper and answer it:
– What is your comfort zone?
– What is your biggest fear?
– What do you think is responsible for your actual situation?
– What can you do to improve your life today, even if just for a bit?
– What do you consider to be your worst personality trait, and what do you consider to be your best?
– What was the best situation you’ve lived in your life? What did you do to achieve it, even if you just made a minimal effort?
Answer these questions, BE HONEST, and after it, well, start doing it, start stepping out of your comfort zone, start conquering your fears, even if it takes you a long time. As long as you make progress and take responsibility for yourself, you will feel the difference. This is what I’ve done. It’s been a slow process, but gradually I am becoming comfortable with who I am.
Through this year, I’ve meditated on my life a lot. In the first months, I was very depressed, but ironically, the same Universe that I blamed for all of my problems put a YouTube video about self-improvement in my recommended playlist. That simple 10-minute video was a little spark that lit up a bonfire of change. Nowadays I feel like a phoenix reborn from the ashes. I realized that nobody and nothing, much less the Universe is responsible for my situation, I had to take responsibility, I had to do what was hard, I finally made the decision to fight for myself.