Monday, May 5, 2008

Depression and not-depression

This is about the most personal post I've ever made on a blog! Here it is. I suffer depression. Personally. Immediately. And after taking medication for it, it is clearer than every how crippling depression is.

I'm saying this because, well, I mean, honestly I know I'm not risking anything, as about five people will ever read this, but I am sorta daring people to take umbrage with the idea of depression. A lot of my life, a lot of people close to me have said that the problem has been a character failing. A form of weakness, and if I just applied myself more and better that's all it would take. Man up, cowboy! Stuff like that. This was told to me by some members of my family and some previous close friends. It's easy to believe when you're told it. And for years my mind has told me that depression and mental illness are real, and that people who claim mental illness are not weaklings or "faking it", that they are not to blame. They're not. But while I sincerely believed that, for my own part, I didn't take those words to heart. I persisted in believing that the troubles I have in my life - such as the crippling anxiety and depression about the process of getting published as a writer, and the various problems I've had with authority, employment, etc. - were not because of some stupid chemical in my brain working improperly. I bought into the myth that I could only be held responsible for my "failings".

But now, in light of what I am feeling here and now, it is clear to me the anxiety and depression I felt, the terrors in my head of both success and failure, were at least in part a disease. Something in my brain doesn't work right, the wiring is messed up a little bit, creating a powerful dread that spirals into a hard and dark depression without rhyme or reason. It is difficult for me to describe the change in my mood - the improvement. All the drugged experimentations of my youth are nothing compared to the profound change that has overcome me these past few days without any of the mental confusion of drugs. (Tho', to be honest, the way I feel now is very like the day after I've taken LSD. I feel cleared and focused and unafraid, intellectually energetic and curious. Which I think is very interesting.)

But I'm saying this because I will not feel any shame for this disease I am suffering under, so I'm gettin' it out there. Mental illness is real, it's more crippling than many physical illnesses or injuries (for instance, I find depression far more debilitating than any physical injury I've had; I'd much rather have a broken leg than depression!) and it can be treated.


CalumCarr said...


Well done - not for having "depression but for having the balls to be open about it.

I have seen, and continue to see, how depression affects one. So many think depression is a failing and that all one need do is just do" whatever it is. How wrong they are!

There is always sympathy and offers of help for a physical illness but for mental illness .... nothing.

Let's hope that this post can hep turn a few minds.

jmb said...

There is just so much misconception about depression by lay people. Sadly many medical people are not so good at dealing with it either.

There are drugs out there that can help and they are getting better with less side effects. They do take a little while to kick in, but when they do and its the right one for you it's truly amazing what a difference they make.

You don't say buck up to someone with a broken leg, why say it to someone who suffers from depression. No wonder no one is willing to admit to it when the response is often so useless.

There is absolutely no need to feel ashamed, it is just a different kind of illness which can be treated effectively. You have to do your little bit towards educating people.

Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

When you are depressed you will believe any bad thing people say about you. When people say you are just finding a long word to justify being weak or lazy, you will tend to agree, and feel even worse for being unable to fight it.

When I started taking meds for the depression, what most started me was how people suddenly were more interesting and friendly. Humanking changed from a source of fear to one of companionship and warmth.

I have had broken bones before and after starting the meds, and i would take physical pain over the chilling loneliness of depression any day.

Don't let anyone talk you out of the meds. Even if it is a doctor doing it, consult another before accepting it.

That's a long comment. Sorry. I just want to wish you luck.

Anonymous said...

This unfortunate experience is true for many people, myself included. All too often our culture wants to blame the person suffering from depression as if it is their fault. Even worse, sometimes after the unsaid-but-implicit accusations, some offer the pat answer of appealing to a “higher power” (e.g. Jesus) as a solution – just turn over your life to said higher power, your “failings” will be “cured”, thus leading to the removal of the depression. Just give up your selfish, unholy patterns and embrace true freedom! Ironically, this form of advice reminds me of Job’s “friends” who said that, since Job was suffering, it must have been job’s fault somehow in the first place.

While there is no doubt that negative or unhelpful actions and thinking patterns can lead to deeper and deeper depression, there is excellent evidence as well for biochemistry being an initial culprit or, at least, a co-conspirator contributing to a negative feedback loop. Also, one cannot ignore the impact of past or present harm done by others to the depression sufferer. My own experience with Lexapro (itself a very mild anti-depression medication) showed me how a minor brain chemistry “tune-up” made a night-and-day difference. Then and only then could I explore clearly how unhelpful thinking patterns were contributing to the problem, rather than things being “just the way they are.”

The mind-body connection is huge. For some people, they don’t get stuck in the loop or find it largely easy to avoid, with (or without) help from higher powers. Good for them. For there rest of us there are concrete steps to take, as appropriate for the individual.

Great job of bringing this up, and all the best on the journey.