I have experienced depression for most of my life. This is as a result of the environment I grew up in. In my early years, I did not know any better; I assumed these feelings of hopelessness, desperation, and fear were the way life was. I did not confront these feelings until my early thirties and even then when on medication my life (and feelings) did not change all that much. As well, I fully bought into the stigma of weakness that surrounds depression, even though I led several successful companies and contributed to raising three wonderful children. 

Much later in life I did a deep dive into this disease and came to many epiphanies that changed my life – for the better. That is until March 16, 2020. On that day, the perfect storm arrived. I had driven up to Canada from my girlfriend, Roxie’s home in Alexandria, Virginia. (I split my time between the U.S. and Canada as I can only visit for 160 days per year.) I had applied for a US VISA for permanent residency with Roxie as my sponsor. After 6 months of waiting I had a VISA interview scheduled for April 1, 2020 – that’s right April Fool’s Day and I headed back early for pre-appointments. 

On that mid-March day, I also learned the border between Canada and the US was to be closed and I could not return. As well, the State Department was shutting down all consulates (my interview was scheduled at the consulate in Montreal), and the doctor that was to perform my US VISA physical rescheduled and later canceled my appointment. I felt like a heavyweight boxer that had taken several body blows that took my breath away.

I am writing this article almost 6 months later. I have been staying in an Airbnb – on my own. I have experienced an emotional spiral that only those that struggle with depression can appreciate. The intense feelings of hopelessness, desperation, and fear came back with a vengeance. It did not help that I self-quarantined for over two months. I did not want to inadvertently infect my family and since I am in an at-risk age group, I did not want to get infected. (the information on COVID spread was changing daily thus fueling my fear) On the outside, I appeared to be okay, while on the inside I was in a terrible state. I stopped the routine that I had developed which allowed me to manage the depression. I spent most of my time in bed and survived primarily because of the daily phone calls with Roxie. Roxie is an incredible human being. We discussed the depression early on in our relationship and she has accepted me as I am – warts and all. She does not judge and does not ignore or run away from the tough conversations we have. When I am at my worst she intuitively knows to call, and I always feel better after we have spoken. Most of all she is empathetic, not sympathetic to my disease. If this is not unconditional love, I do not what is.

Three months ago my oldest child, Michael, and his wife Faye asked me to babysit my grandchildren Mason, aged 4, and Gia 1½. I was elated. When I arrived at their house Mason came running up to me and jumped into my arms giving me a hug and kiss that melted my heart. We had an amazing visit that ended too soon. Luckily, Michael and Faye bought McDonalds takeout, and we had a wonderful dinner together. As I was leaving, Mason became quite upset as he wanted me to stay, I promised I’d be back. I was physically exhausted as we had played non-stop, made up stories, I read them their favorite books, we exchanged numerous hugs and kisses, as well as me blowing quite a few raspberries on their tummies – they love that. For those two hours, I did not feel any depressive feelings and I had a silly grin on my face driving back to the Airbnb. I have had the pleasure of babysitting these two many times since and that euphoric feeling is the same every time, a wonderful respite from the loneliness I have experienced.

My daughter Bianca, and husband Michael have twin boys, Liam, and Jack, they are just a month younger than Gia. When I am with them, I have the same feelings. Roxie, though not having any children has reminded me that to really enjoy the little ones, you must get down on the floor at their level. My last visit with Jack and Liam consisted of Jack running and Liam and I crawling all over their house, chasing each other, screaming, and laughing. Where do little ones get such energy? What a workout!!

The Best Anti-Depressant is love. It is not just because grandchildren are little and fun to be around. It is because they have a joy of life that has not yet been fettered by growing up. They literally cannot remember what happened yesterday and do not give any thought to tomorrow. They live in the present. As adults, especially those of us that struggle with depression, ruminating on the past and worrying about the future takes up an inordinate amount of time. 

As a result of being brought up in positive and loving environments, these four naturally exude love. As human beings giving and receiving love is one of our most important attributes – and needs. What these visits also do is provide me with memories that I cherish. I verbally express gratitude to myself every day, and these four take up a lot of that gratitude.

So what is the Best Anti-Depressant? 

As they say, “Love is the Drug”,

Catch that buzz

 Love is the drug I’m thinking of

 Can’t you see

 Love is the drug, got a hook in me

 Catch that buzz

 Love is the drug I’m thinking of

 Can’t you see

 Love is the drug for me – Andrew Mackay & Brian Ferry

For those of you that have family members, friends, or colleagues that struggle with depression please realize this time of pandemic is especially hard on them as disconnections are more apt to be prevalent. If they are alone it is even more difficult. We need human interaction even more than in the past. 

We need to know we are loved.

John Panigas provides workshops, coaching, and in-house mental health wellbeing programs to leaders and organizations that realize there is both a personal and economical cost of depression to the business and the team. His methodology highlights a tool called “The COD (Cost of Depression) Calculator©” which calculates the current cost of depression on the business.

John can be reached at [email protected] or at www.johnpanigas.com