This is a hard post to write. This is the post where I write about depression and how it is and how I wish it wasn’t. Wasn’t in my life at all. And how angry I am about it – the way it comes and goes so wordlessly, and that those who don’t suffer it don’t understand, and how finding a way out is so fucking hard. Pardon my language, but you know, it makes me mad.
I have written here before about depression – three years ago when I came to terms with it – a diagnosis prior rejected in an attempt to avoid its impacts. As if that works. Like pretending you don’t have arthritis, or refusing to believe you have the flu. “Oh – this high temperature and sneezing? Nothing at all. I’m perfectly healthy!” Uh huh. Thing is, mental illnesses (or to be PC I should say – mood disorders) have a whole bunch of very real and debilitating side effects not unlike a bronchial infection that takes months to clear up. It’s just that they don’t produce snot so it’s harder to prove your illness to people. (And how I wish I could blow fragments of angst into a hanky so I could show y’all that it’s real. Not pretty.)
The first thing I want to clear up is that *nothing* is wrong. Really. In saying that, I mean there is nothing external in my life at the moment which is causing me physical or psychic distress. When I say that I’m depressed, it doesn’t mean that I’m down because of some event or rupture. It means that my neuro-chemistry isn’t lining up quite right, my nervous system is burned out, and it’s going to take more than some happy moments to get everything back into shape. This is *not* a spiritual crisis. This is *not* because Darren is in prison, or that people on the Internet hate us. This is *not* because I have PTSD. This is *not* because I am single and childless in my thirties.
Though at any given moment it feels like it is all of that and more.
What it is, however, is a confluence of genetics (depression runs in the family several generations) and a certain burning of the proverbial candle I have been doing for the last year. That is, I have a genetic propensity to depression through my mother’s side of the family and that has been compounded by the fact I’ve been giving large parts of myself away in order to help others for a long time now (which is compulsion not altruism – so don’t think I’m pulling the martyr card.) This endless tax on the nervous system blows out my adrenal glands (evidenced by recent sugar cravings) and also drains off the seratonin – a necessary component of brain functioning. (I just learned this which explained to me a lot about the brain-fogging symptoms I get).
It’s actually the brain-fogging that forced me to admit I was in a depression rather than sick with something else. Prior to that I had symptoms of the textbook depression variety but was reading them as something else (a mystery illness! how much more glamorous!) in an attempt to deny what was happening. Exhaustion, stomach problems, insomnia, body aches, inability to focus attention, loss of appetite, lethargy, irrational thinking, and emotional instability. The last two weeks saw an intensification of these symptoms as well as the brain-fogging which comes at my lowest point, and then feels as though a veil has been drawn between me and the rest of the world. That is – my vision gets unfocused, I don’t see colour as vividly, when I interact with others my brain has trouble keeping up, and I have a hard time making eye contact. (People at work have been asking why I’ve so completely withdrawn from all social interaction – it’s much worse with people I’m not close to as opposed to friends who I don’t have to perform for). This generally sends me into a tailspin which involves a total loss of confidence about myself and my place in the world and can make a simple trip to the corner store something I have to psyche myself up to do. Depression, more than anything, gives you a whole different reality that feels more “true” than the one you normally live in. So much so that you start to believe that the depression is the “truth” and the other you (the one you vaguely remember) isn’t real at all.
Yeah. I know. I seem so with it most of the time. More than with it. I’m one of those leader types who other people look up to. Go figure.
Reality is, depression isn’t most of the time for me. Depression is once every few years, the rest of the time is just run-of-the-mill stressed or “down” (or fine and up) like everyone else. The scary part for me is that when it comes on I don’t know how long it will last. Is this going to be the one-month version? Or the one-year version? I’ve come to suspect that just acknowledging the diagnosis means a shorter run, but I have no way of really knowing that yet.
And then the question becomes, when I do acknowledge this dis-ease, what do I do about it? How do I reverse it? Everyone says pretty much the same thing which is “just sit with it” and honestly, I want to scream every time I hear that (as does my mother, as do other people who suffer depression. no one tells you to just sit with cancer or pneumonia). While it is true that depression requires a certain amount of getting rest and being gentle with oneself, I’m afraid that “just sit with it” tends to stem from the idea that depression is just something we need to learn from and then we’re better. And if this was the case, there wouldn’t be an industry worth billions in anti-depressants out there.
Of course, the problem with society in general is that there seems to be no time to “sit with” anything and so meds are used as a way of getting you back on track quicker so you don’t miss out on anything. If you have kids or a job you can’t miss days of, then you need to find a way back into functioning or risk losing everything. In my particular case, I am *way* behind at work as a result of my focusing problems and will spend the next couple of weeks trying to catch up before giving a presentation in Ottawa mid-September. It’s terrifying because no one takes it as seriously as some other kind of health crisis. Depression is still seen as some sort of personal, moral failing. A bipolar friend said to me once that she would rather have cancer than depression because then at least people would take her ongoing health struggles seriously instead of blaming her for them. I know exactly what she means.
So, okay, another way of saying “sit with it” (that doesn’t make me want to scream) expressed to me recently was “don’t fight it and do what comes natural”. Meaning, if you are tired, sleep. If you are hungry, eat. If you are lonely, find someone to come over who won’t try to “make you happy”. And find comfort in doing the things that the body is demanding of you right in that moment. Essentially, forcing yourself to go to a noisy party when you’d rather be home sleeping is a bad idea, you only feel more out of place thus compounding the distress. So, I’ve been working on that. Spending time at home and resting a lot and catching up with people over email or writing in my blog because that is what feels most natural to do at the moment.
Besides that I have been eating enough to stay afloat, taking homeopathics and lots of b-vitamins, praying, reading, talking on the phone with people, rearranging my schedules to destress myself, and talking to people about it. I know I need to give my body a chance to rest and recharge so the depleted chemicals have a chance to regenerate (which is part of why sleep and food are so integral as they provide the building blocks).
But I’m one of the lucky ones because despite the fact I have a demanding work schedule and life, I do not have children and I do have some flexibility in my work which allows me sick days and holidays when I need them. I even have extended DI if it gets really bad. Most people have none of that. Many people have little access to fresh food or nice places to walk and think. Poverty and depression go together because the simple things I can do to lever myself into a different place don’t exist for people without resources. Or without the time for self-care. And so we live in a world where mood disorder meds flourish because they are cheap and covered by most medicaid programs and because they get you back into the machine without too much fuss.
I admit that in the last two weeks to having thoughts about taking meds again, something I have not done since I was a teenager. While I do not have a moral or political problem with psychiatric medication…. and am well aware that for some people drugs are a lifeline they would not survive without…. I have not felt this is the right choice for me. Not yet, at least. Though I do wonder when I’m praying to be delivered from this affliction if it might not be easier to take something rather than revisit this place every few years. It’s been very difficult lately to know what the right thing is, partly because of the different “truth” depression has you working with. All I know is to take things one day at a time and when things are really dark I try to remember the other me I’m sure is still in there (You know, the smart one who makes people laugh?).
Things have started to get better in the last few days though the progress is not linear. A couple days good and then yesterday afternoon and last night were really a bit frightening. This morning though, I woke up and took pictures of the sun rising through the clouds which means first and foremost that I could *see* something beautiful. This is a good sign. And it surprised the hell out of me. Hell, the fact that I’m writing about this means a lot as well.
I’m also reigning in some of the obsessive compulsive behaviour by bringing my focus to that which agitates me the most and making small corrective steps. I still need lots more rest, my body is so unbelievably tired, but I think I also need to see people in a low-key way too. A lot of my fear around this is that I will end up alone with it entirely (and so I architect my own abandonment as a way of cauterizing old wounds. Yes, I am aware this is a self-limiting strategy.) It’s just one more small struggle in a world of heartbreak, and honestly, even talking about it feels ridiculously self-indulgent.
But also liberating. Strange that talking about something I find so shameful would make me more free. But there it is. It helps me to know there are people reading this who are aided in their own processes by the sharing of mine. And besides that, I really do want to explain that it’s not like that. It’s just like this.