time you looked at a clock, and you may even be able to estimate time well enough to figure out
about how much time passed before you drifted off. But the exact moment that you fell asleep is
almost impossible to identify. It’s not until you woke up in the morning that you even fully
realized that it had happened at all. Whether you slept soundly, tossed and turned restlessly or
dreamed all night, odds are you didn’t realize the difference either way until morning.
For years while I was growing up, I spent each Summer living carefree and happy. I
spent each Autumn bummed that school was starting, but skating successfully through classes
and activities with little effort. However, each year around the start of the second semester in
January, life became much more difficult. Suddenly school seemed overwhelming. Homework
assignments and projects went undone and my attendance began to slip. I needed more sleep,
but couldn't fall asleep at night. As Spring came on and the end of the school year approached,
I would begin to revive, looking towards a new Summer full of endless possibilities. I looked
back at the Winter, safely behind me, and truly believed in my heart that there was an ugly truth
lurking in the shadows: deep down, I was lazy and somehow lacking in something that everyone
else around me seemed to have just fine.
It wasn’t until I was 21 years old that I finally talked to a doctor and got some medication
prescribed for depression—seasonal depression, a specific type that worsens as the days get
shorter. At last I discovered that I could be just as motivated and intelligent in the Winter as I felt
during the Summer. It was a relief, but then the episodes of depression began to happen at any
time of the year, and I was only able to recognize those moments after the fact, sometimes after
weeks or even months had passed. I found it very difficult to say when exactly I had begun
feeling that way, and only noticed the difference when it was over. I couldn't remember the
moment at which I had fallen asleep.
In the movie Inception, there is a scene in which two characters are together in a shared
dream. One of them is ignorant of this fact, and the other, fully aware, calls his attention to
certain details of the dream in order to help him see that his reality is not what he assumes. He
calls his attention to particular aspects of their dream—the strangeness of the weather, the
shifts in gravity, and most importantly, he asks the dreamer how he came to arrive at their
current location. As the dreamer realizes that he doesn’t have an answer to that question, he
acknowledges the abnormalities and begins to question his reality. The dream nearly collapses
around them. The first man calms the dreamer and tells him to be patient with himself because
it takes years of practice to remember details of normal life while in the dream, or vice versa.
I’m still being patient with myself, but today I am better able to identify the strangeness of
the dream of depression that sometimes takes the place of my normal world. If I notice that I’m
not enjoying playing my guitar, if I start to think about how overwhelming school or work seem to
be, if I feel hopeless about the future, or if I find myself struggling to get out of bed after 10
hours of sleep, I know what’s going on. I know that I’m actually asleep from real life, trapped in a
dream that I desperately need to collapse. For me, prescription medication and a strong
relationship with God help almost completely. Staying away from any kind of self-medication is a
must—replacing depression with an addiction to a substance or behavior only lengthens and
deepens the dream from which I must inevitably wake.
Different things work for different people, but whatever your particular ailment may be, I
encourage you to stay vigilant and pay attention to the strangeness of the dream. Remember
that real life is better than where you are right now. Don’t let the warped perceptions of the
dream become your reality, no matter how long you’ve been stuck there. Wake up and fight. Get
help. Call a friend. Skate, write, run, or work, but whatever you do, remember the truth:
depression is brutal, real, and debilitating—but it’s also a dream from which you can always
A note from James
Jackson is a very close friend of mine. We met while serving church missions in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We quickly became friends and he helped me through some of my lowest points of depression. He helped me to realize that it is okay to have depression and there is no shame in being open about it. I can safely say that had it not been for him, this website would not exist.