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I've been sick since the day I entered this world. So sick, in fact, that the doctors told my parents not to expect me to live past the age of five. I'll turn 40 in less than three weeks and I've had my good times and more than one person's share of bad times.
I've been through the highs of kidney transplants and the deepest of lows in my sixth, seventh, and eighth years of dialysis. How did I manage to get through any of that with my sanity intact? I'm not sure I did. But I am sure that I got through it without being committed or doing harm to myself because I had friends. Great friends. And I had my family.
Under no circumstances get the idea that I persevered through any of my health struggles like a ray of positivity sunshine. I spent a lot of it as a sullen dick, especially five years into being on dialysis for the second time and every doctor's visit having the same result: You're just so hard to match. With that refrain in your head combined with the physical effects of thrice weekly dialysis treatments and the fact that you haven't had a job or romantic relationship in years, you have a recipe for serious, dangerous depression. And that's exactly what I had.
I have suffered for years with depression and just because I sit here today writing this in the best physical health I've been in since I was in my 20s doesn't mean I don't still slip into it from time to time. Granted, I don't feel the utter hopelessness and downright suicidal tendencies that often plagued me due to experiencing much of my 30s from a dialysis chair, but I still can get low and sad and wall myself off from everything to just wallow. But today, as I have my entire life, when I need to bring myself back, it has always been my friends and family that have been my Green Lantern's Light, to use a reference I feel most comfortable with. And when I couldn't turn to any of them, I had the people at my dialysis clinic. Anyone who knows me knows I am not one to suffer strangers let alone seek any out for a conversation. But some of the best talks I had with anyone during those years on dialysis were with other patients, particularly those close to my age or younger. It made me feel like a veteran who those coming up behind me could use as either a cautionary tale or a roadmap. Or both. Other times, however, it made me feel even more helpless because it shone a light on the relentless nature of kidney disease. Those were the times that my friends were most helpful.
That sounds schmalzy and cheesy and I honestly wish I had something more profound to attribute it to but that's it. When I was feeling that particular weight on my chest it was always family and friends that kept me one step back from the edge. It was my mom's voice reminding me "There are a lot of people way worse off than you are." It was my friends and their goofy asses distracting me when I found out another patient at my clinic had passed away or my doctor was particularly foreboding that day or I just simply woke up with that "Why go on?" mentality.
None of this is me saying I conquered and cured depression through the power of love. No. That just sounds stupid. I felt stupid typing that. I also needed to see a professional which, thanks to our health care system, I wasn't always able to have access to. I had all the anti-depressants I needed at my disposal but one on one therapy with a professional was rarely something I had at my disposal. So, if you're in a similar position I am not suggesting you go make friends and feel the good mental health strike you like a bolt of lightning. Mental health care in the United States needs a major overhaul and because of that many don't have the moderately happy ending I was blessed with. This needs to be fixed yesterday.
I honestly can't imagine being alive today without the people in my life. It didn't make any of my experiences with kidney disease/failure easy to deal with. It is something hundreds of thousands in the US deal with every day and with the number of organ donors so low, only a tiny fraction get to experience the joy of getting the phone call telling them a transplant is in their future. But what having my friends and family did for me was still every bit as important as the doctor's and nurses who monitored me and checked up on me. They were every bit as important as the hospital staff who worked for close to a decade to find me a match. I can never properly thank all the people who put up with me for all those years. All the times they made me laugh when I wanted to cry. All the times they came to the hospital because I was so self-destructive that I ignored all common sense and did things I knew were dangerous to someone in renal failure. They were the anchor that kept me from jumping off the edge and now that I have my health back, I hope I eventually make them glad they were a part of my journey, because I am grateful beyond mere words.
Those of you out there dealing with a chronic illness and the depression that so often comes with it are going through battles most will never know and could never understand. I implore you all to seek help in any manner available. Tell a doctor, tell a nurse, tell your family and friends. Tell a stranger. Whatever you do, don't hold it inside and let it do just as much damage as the disease ravaging your body already. There's help and there are people who care whether you believe it or not. I often felt alone in a group of my friends but when I left my own head and lived in that moment surrounded by people who I knew cared about me I felt that much more healthy. If even for a moment.