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My almost last photo

Some years ago I stood on top of an almost abandoned five-story-building in Berlin and almost jumped. I am not a drama queen. I didn’t plan on doing it. I used to live in that house and actually only climbed up there in order to take some photos.

I finally did take a photo. But before I put up the tripod, I had to stop myself from committing suicide. For a minute or so I stood there, surprised by how close I had come to total despair.

I had been thinking about death as an option to end suffering for months and years by that time. But until I stood there, 25 years old, 20 metres above the ground, holding my camera and listening to my heart playing the endless drum roll to my frenzied thoughts, I hadn’t grasped the fact of being seriously suicidal.

Understanding and accepting the fact that you are suffering from a mental disorder is a painful, time- and energy-consuming process. Nobody wants to be a “psycho”, right? I certainly did not want to be one. But I was forced to consider being one.

Somebody who had lost the connection to his mind, his thoughts, his feelings, and his personality. My self-perception and who I really was had parted. I wanted to be me, I just neither knew where to look for me nor who I was supposed to be.

To me that was normal then, not psycho. It all just felt atrociously wrong.

Reconnecting to what I had lost on my way became one of my main occupations for almost a decade. It was worth it, I am still here. And I am doing quite well.

I still have my mental disorder, of course. We are not talking about a hobby you lose interest in after you became good at it. Depression is a lifelong partner for most of us. But it doesn’t possess me anymore. It became a part of me, but only: one part.

Knowing where I am coming from, what I have been through, gives me a lot of strength and self-assuredness. I’d say I have never ever felt more secure about who I am, what I need, what I want, what I like about myself, what I expect of others and what I’m capable of doing.

I almost turned into an optimist. Which seems very weird for someone who has been suffering from clinical depression for most of his life. Especially if it is himself he is talking about.

I think it would have helped me to find out earlier how many people have this horrible disease. How many of them maybe even suffered (and still suffer) more than I did – and still found a way to live with it productively, creatively, and sometimes even: happily thanks to a certain sense of humor that comes with such challenges.

Of course: depressions are not positive at all. They are ugly. They’re horrible. They are no fun to be with at all, they are frightening, they are sick, they hurt, they are ravaging, they are evil, finally they are like a parasite trying to kill its host.

I have been suffering from bipolar disorder type 2 for more than 20 years now. I am not talking about the kind of depression you go through after having had an argument with your best friend. Not the kind of depression you go through when your holiday is over. Not the kind of depression you go through when it has been raining for four days in a row. We are talking about clinical depression.

A mental illness that is capable of convincing you that being dead is less horrible than living with it. Even though all you want is to live. However: not like this.

During episodes of severe depression your life doesn’t feel like it was a life. Not your life. I am a nice guy, I can be fun to be with, I have a good sense of humor, I do a lot of interesting things like writing plays, producing theatre, and working for foundations.

I love to cook and to eat, I love photography, I love travelling, I love music, I jumped out of planes and cuddled lions. My life is interesting, I really like it!

But if depression strikes, all this doesn’t matter anymore. Depression is when your soul turns into a black hole, swallowing every single piece of fun, hope, love and energy.

It’s the worst enemy you can imagine: always knowing where you are or where you hide, foreseeing what you are up to do next, what you want, need and hope for. Depression is a perfect nightmare, just very, very real.

Not very funny so far, I know. I’m sorry. Of course I am not, because this is what it’s like when you have it. If you have it, you know it. If you don’t have it: good for you, be glad, you’re better off without it.

As I was lucky enough not only to survive depression but also able to reassemble my shattered personality and find my way out of the inner ‘valley of darkness’, I more and more understand which advantages my depression may have.

Don’t get mad at me, please. It was impossible to see any advantages while I was seriously depressed. I couldn’t even imagine how this hellride through a devastated psyche could be of any advantage to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that having depressions is in any way a good thing. Yet what I am saying is: if you have it, you have it. And although it may have chemical and hormonal reasons as well – it wants to tell you something. And in order to be able to cope with it, you better listen.

There are with no doubt severities of depression which are so crazily destructive that my theory must sound completely horrifying, esoteric and absurd. I fear that ten years ago I might have hated myself for what I am saying here right now.

“If you seriously think there is anything positive about depression, you obviously do not have the faintest idea what the f*** you are talking about”. That could have been a reply of my earlier self. to what I am talking about here on dearnormal.org.

Depression is an illness. A disease. Nothing you choose, nothing you are to blame for. But as it is a mental disorder, I am convinced that you can’t treat it like pneumonia or a bladder infection. You also have to treat it like it had a personality itself. Because it has one:

Yours.

There are so many people out there who live with it, successfull people, prominent people, beautiful people. Some of them speak out about it. Most of them keep their mouths shut because they fear being reduced to a mental illness.

And they fear that for a good reason. I myself experienced how talking openly about my depression made things more complicated. A lot of people think of depression as a weakness.

My personal experience is:If you manage to live through a depression, you are the contrary of weak.

To me it was extremely helpful to find out about all these creative, productive people who suffer from depression. It gave me hope. It reassured me that I could get my life back, even with depression which comes back from time to time and paralyzes me. and all my positive thinking.

I want these stories to be told. To be shared. To be provided for those who might not see the light at the end of their tunnel. Those who see it but still suspect it could also be the train approaching.

I want them to be told for those who know and love somebody who suffers from depression, because being in love with a depressed person must be a horrible experience.

Finally, I want them to be told because of me. Talking about my demons, my black dog, my depression, my fear and shame and guilt and horror made me reconnect to the outside world. I found people who share my experiences. I found people who don’t but still give me the feeling of being understood and in good hands.

dearnormal.org collects stories of people who are or were bipolar or depressed. It shall become a collection of their stories of success. Stories of overcoming, accepting and integrating mental illness into what you might want to call a “dear normal” life.

I want dearnormal.org to spread hope among those who know how it feels to have none. I want it to spread some understanding about this terrible disease among those who do not know how it is to have it. “We” are no wimpy, weak and selfpitying losers.

We are strong human beings who fight a war against an illness which hides behind our most valuable treasures: our pride, our courage, our hope, our gentleness, our self-esteem and our capability to love.

Trust us. Ask questions. Don’t fear to damage our souls. As long as you do not try to convince us from having “nothing but a bad day” your thoughts are welcome.

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