The Dark Cloud Overhead

The Dark Cloud Overhead

by Jason Jepson

Trigger Warning 

When I was in my middle teenage years, my dad once remarked that I seemed to have a dark cloud hanging over my head. He did not say those words to be hurtful. They were just an observation that he made on a particular day. Although that comment was made over twenty-five years ago, I still remember his words because they describe my adolescence very well. 

I was growing up in a typical household during the 1980s. My parents were educators, and they were very much involved in my life. However, I look back on those days, and I conclude that I was functionally depressed. There may have been no outward signs that I was suffering mentally, but I was barely holding my head above water. 

In those days, the music my friends and I listened to was sung by entertainers whose lyrics reflected their own suicidal thoughts. They almost made it trendy or cool to be down on life. In my howling late teens, it almost seemed trendy to be down or even depressed. Getting help like therapy or medication was not popular.  

Nowadays, it is okay to ask for help or at least it is okay for celebrities or for people that seem to already have it all. In my late teens, it was difficult to form the words to ask for help.  

Now you can google most mental illnesses. I wanted help but did not know what help looked like. My sense of humor, and good friends helped me survive. I was at a church camp and finally felt like if I could ask, I could ask these friends of mine for help.  

It was the last night of the camp, and we were invited to ask for prayer or give praise for having such a wonderful time with our friends. I already stood out from some of the other campers because I had a mohawk haircut at the time, and I was finally brave enough to put my psyche into words, aloud…. 

“Sometimes I feel suicidal,” I said in a shaky voice, and close to tears. 

In my youth that was a hard moment for me. My eyes started to flood with tears, so I tried to cover them up with my hands. I did not receive an embrace, and no one reached to hold my hand. I had to dry my own tears. The only person who said anything was my brother.  

“Jason, mom, and dad love you. I love you. Things will be okay.” 

Standing in a crowd and speaking was not my brother’s personality either. We eventually hugged. No one else, not a counselor or a friend said anything to me. They did not know what to say. I am also fairly sure that none of the adults told my parents that their youngest son might need help.  

Looking back, I was stuck in the mud with a dark cloud hanging overhead. From that awful night around the campfire, I advanced to high school. If it had not been for my friends, I do not think I would have survived. My motivation was to only strive for an average grade, and find places where I could buy cigarettes and shoulder tap for cheap wine. My parents seemed like a perfect couple, and they did not deserve to have a son like me, so I did not confide in them that I was sinking. 

I gave enough effort to be able to take college-level classes my senior year. I have always loved literature and English classes, so I took English 101. I was drawn to my English professor because he treated us like adults. His lectures were enlightening. I also enjoyed his comments written in my writing journal.  

One journal entry was a free write. I wrote that life was suffering. He answered by saying that life gets better and better. I did not understand how this could be possible. I only saw life getting worse as I grew older. 

 I told my best friend that I had thoughts about ending my life because life was too tough. I know that he cared for me, but he did not have the answers I was looking for. Because he wanted to help me, he promised to get a tattoo to remember me. In an effort to help me, he talked to our English professor. Our professor confided that he had gone through something similar earlier in his life.  

Knowing that at least our professor knew about my feelings and was watching out for me made me feel less alone, and if I could get through something as ridiculous as high school, I could get through anything. I had depression for years and used alcohol and cigarettes for therapy.  I had some success and some failures in college before I joined the Army. It was at my first duty station that I was finally diagnosed with a severe mental illness—schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.

I now take an anti-depressant that has made all the difference. I am able to share my thoughts and how I feel with my parents and doctors at the veteran’s hospital. Life has been a roller coaster ride since that diagnosis, but I am happy to report that I am now living my best life. The dark cloud has cleared away, and I am now living a life of recovery. I learn more every day about managing my symptoms, and I use my experience to advocate for others who might be experiencing mental illness.  It is still hard for some people to ask for help and to get the help they need. For those who are able to get help, therapy is even available on the phone. I write first person accounts of living with mental illness so that others will not feel alone. Also, there are support groups on social networks. I personally have gotten help from these sources. I am on the right medication and have a perfect support group. I even enjoy sharing my story, and I hope this story will help someone to get help because help is out there. ADAA has awesome accounts of people with similar stories that I have. They help to feel less alone.  


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