Every life has its challenges, but few people are as aware of them as our SmashPages contributor Tim O’Shea. Tim was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, and he has been chronicling his treatment and recovery for friends and family on Facebook. Overlaid on that, however, is his struggle with depression–depression that often manifests itself as anger.
After Tim’s cancer diagnosis, he asked me to interview him. I was honored. We had several lengthy phone conversations, out of which came the interview we posted earlier. But there was one question I asked that unleashed a flood of reminiscence and reflection about Tim’s depression and the effect it has had on his life. Because Tim has been so brutally honest about this experience, I felt this was important to post on its own. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that answer.
What would you say were the big turning points in your life so far?
The first one happened before I was born, when my 14-year-old brother died 10 days before I was born. The next was when I started realizing in my teen years that my mom and my dad loved each other but it was not a happy love and I never got love from them. There were 7-10 surrogate families at my church who would support me and support me to this day, and my sister who is 10 years older than me
Realizing, in 2004, that anger management was a major problem for me and trying to get help for it to save my marriage, only to realize my marriage could not be saved for other reasons. I actually went to anger management counseling sessions that were court ordered by everyone who was in attendance except one person—me. I went voluntarily, and every other person in that class said “What the fuck are you doing here?” One guy was in anger management because he had thrown a bowl of Spaghetti-Os on his sister while she was driving. Another guy at Blockbuster been fired—someone said “How is it going buddy?” and he cold cocked them. They were probation violators who could not get a job. I had no reason to be there other than I loved my son and wanted to get better.
The first lesson I learned is you should catalog the moments when you realize you are about to get angry. Every time it was because I had unrealistic expectations. Say you are in traffic and you let the person in front of you go as a courtesy. Do you have an expectation that they might wave “Thank you” to you, or do you not care? I always expected them to wave, and when they did not wave I would get angry. So I set myself up for disappointment and I got angry.
Years ago I was working at my first job with a magazine called National Real Estate Investor. I was supposed to have a day off from work, as was another co-worker of mine. There wasn’t a problem. All of a sudden my boss said “M can get off but you can’t.” Rather than say “Can we work this out?” or somehow make it clear that I really needed to get off, I walked out of the cube and–I was in a cube farm with 3 other co-workers and there was a spare chair–I literally smashed the chair against the cube wall. Didn’t break it, just smashed it, walked out, came back 10 minutes later and my boss said “You can have the day off now.” And at that moment I was proud as hell that I was able to do that, never realizing the chilling effect I had on the entire floor and that woman, not realizing that woman from then on probably felt physically threatened by me, even though I had never physically threatened her. I had threatened the chair, but it was clear to everybody that the chair was intended to be her. It took me decades to realize that.
My son and my wife gave me a gift that I fully accepted two weeks ago when they finally got me to hear that yes, you are in incredibly angry person and without medication you cannot manage the depression that manifests itself as anger, but no matter what, every day and in every action that you overreact, there is never a doubt that you will come back to the center and you will be the father or the husband that you needed to be. And the fact that my son and my wife combined to let me hear that for the first time means that for the rest of my life I have a confidence that I had not had before two weeks ago.
Everybody in the world intellectually intimidated me. I felt inferior to every single person I meet. I no longer feel that, but I did then. I now feel I am an equal or at least somebody that you can have a conversation that will be of substance, and I have never had that before two weeks ago. That is a gift I will have for the rest of my life, and I hope it is a long life.