"Depression is like only being able to see black and white"

The coffee grinder whirrs as I ask Trevor the most profound question of the morning, “before you were diagnosed, did you ever consider that you might be depressed?” He dodges the question as he carefully taps the coffee grounds into the pod, and as he slides the pod into the coffee maker.

In the case of chronic physical illness, we often hear that the patient knew something was wrong long before they were diagnosed. Patients with autoimmune diseases, for instance can spend months or years presenting to the doctor with physical complaints. They are so sure that there is something wrong, and it is that perseverance that leads to an eventual diagnosis. But, mental health concerns don’t always present in that way. Often, signs of depression are noticed by a friend, or a family member. Or, like Trevor, the diagnosis comes when the patient can no longer handle maintaining a job, or maintaining important relationships. With depression and anxiety, patients often fight the diagnosis.

At 40, Trevor found himself in the waiting room of a VA hospital, outside a clinic labeled “Beacon Services.” The clinic, which handles the hospital’s psychiatric urgent care, handed him several forms to fill out. The questionnaires asked if he had experienced difficulty sleeping, or whether he had outbursts of anger. He struggled to check the boxes appropriately before handing it back to a nurse, unaware that his frustration with forms and paperwork was just another sign of his anxiety.

Before that visit, Trevor had avoided seeing a doctor, even for a routine physical, for nearly a decade. As it would turn out, anxiety can prevent us from getting the help we most need. I asked Trevor if he thought seeing a regular provider may have resulted in a sooner diagnosis, but he shrugged and reassured me that the tough persona he had employed over those years would have likely deterred the doctor, too.

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Trevor was eighteen, a fresh high school graduate, when he enlisted in the Army. His ASVAB scores allowed him to pursue any military career. He chose Airborne Infantry and served in the 82nd Airborne, a division of the army that specializes in parachute entrances to denied areas. Like all new military recruits, his service began with basic training - in this case, in Fort Benning, Georgia, more than eight hundred miles from his home state of Pennsylvania. When Trevor recounts his Army experiences, it’s mostly stories of training missions in Panama, and jumping out of “perfectly good airplanes” in the dark.

Ephemera from his time in the service hang around the garage “man cave” where Trevor spends most of his time. There’s his Airborne flag, and the plaque he was awarded for being a “mortar maggot”. There are photos taken on 35mm film. And then there are the other remnants left behind from his time in the service - the military corners on the bed, and his passion for exercising.

After he was discharged from the Army, Trevor returned to his hometown where he spent years drinking, drunk driving, and totaling vehicles until he was 28 and moved to New Mexico for the first time. “I was moving away from my problems, or so I thought,” he reflected. Back to the first question, whether he ever considered that he was depressed? He thinks that, yes, he did know something was wrong when he got out of the military.

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Though Trevor now lives in Albuquerque, he spent years in Pennsylvania and Montana after living in New Mexico for the first time. Along that winding, sometimes chaotic, path, there were likely signs of both anxiety and depression in Trevor’s life, but he managed to balance his mental health with what looked like a “normal life.”

Now, Trevor’s life is more stable, but perhaps not what most would consider “normal.” Trevor’s anxiety and depression prevent him from working. Still, his days start early - with coffee and the first of his daily medications. His days also end with medication, designed to help him sleep despite his anxiety. When I asked Trevor how he felt about needing psychiatric medications, he quickly stated that they, both the medications and the VA, had saved his life.

Trevor explained that at first, the days passed slowly. Initially, there was hope that life would return to normal. Then, there were social security disability applications and the slow waiting periods for decisions. But now, with routine, the days pass by as you’d expect.

He credits his dogs as one of his daily motivations; knowing that they rely on him for food, for exercise, and for affection, helps him to spend his days out of bed. He passes his time by cleaning the car, dusting the house, and watching television, though he finds comfort in watching the same movies or shows again and again. Right now? It’s The Sopranos. Routine is comfortable when you have anxiety. Still, Trevor notes that sometimes his anxiety manifests itself when driving in traffic, other times it’s unloading the dishwasher. Even with regular therapy and medication, he wakes up and hopes that it will be a good day.
 
I asked Trevor about his mostly solitary lifestyle. I thought that maybe he found it hard to be away from a traditional support system made of friends and family but he noted that, really, he likes his space. And well, he’s always been somewhat on his own. Still, when he does miss his family, he becomes frustrated at his inability to travel. He laughs as he explains his hatred for flying, “I just hate having to wait in line.. I hate being classified for different seating areas, I just hate being told what to do every step of the way.”

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While he used to be able to keep track of friends and family online, Trevor recently quit social media. Though some find online support groups through venues like Facebook to be helpful, Trevor explained that social media wasn’t a good fit for him - “social media was awful for me, I don’t need to know what everyone else is thinking.”

When he was diagnosed with both Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder, he shared his diagnosis. Still, he didn’t seek out others who might understand his struggles and he turned down group therapy. Recently though, he participated in a group program through the VA ; “PTSD Coping Skills, I think it was called.” While he didn’t maintain relationships with other participants in the group, he noted that it was validating to be with people who understood, but “knowing or not knowing, depression is difficult.”

When I asked if having depression makes relationships more difficult, he explained that “maintaining relationships is always difficult because you’re so focused on yourself. It’s hard to pay attention to someone else like you should.”  He explained that he doesn’t resent those who can’t understand with a laugh, after all, “if you don’t know, you don’t know; it’s hard to explain things.”

I asked Trevor if his diagnoses changed his vision of the future. But he explained, “that’s part of anxiety and depression, you can’t think that far ahead. You can’t commit to something that far ahead because you’re always changing your mind.”

Trevor still isn’t sure what his future will look like but he is confident about the number of good days so far.

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Trevor Kondor worked in the restaurant industry for nearly twelve years, in both Santa Fe, New Mexico and in Central Pennsylvania. Before getting his culinary degree, Trevor was a blue collar worker in rural Pennsylvania after his time in the military. Now, Trevor lives in Albuquerque with his girlfriend and their three rescue dogs - Miesha, T-Bone, and Bumper. Trevor fills his time with lots of exercise and joined the Schwinn Ambassador team in 2017.

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