some background for those who don't know me... i'm clinically depressed. i'm medicated right now so i'm okay, but it was pretty rough until i was finally diagnosed. anyway, been thinking about depression a lot lately, and read too since someone on one of my regular blog reading list has just been diagnosed. i thought maybe it was time i revisited for a bit. i wrote this little thing about what depression was for me many years ago. i wrote it because i had a friend who was pretty sure her sister was depressed and didn't know how to approach the subject and she was wondering what it was like for me. so, here you go, read on fair friends...
I want to explore and explain what depression is for me. I feel like now I can speak from a bit of a distance. I might be totally fooling myself by saying that, but that’s how it feels right now. It has been several years since I have had a true depressive episode, and that is what gives me the distance.
I grew up with an undiagnosed chronic depressive mother and alcoholic father. It sounds horrible, but the truth is, she hid it from me well. She felt very strongly about not burdening me with her problems. She protected me from my father too. She took the brunt of his assholian behaviour, so I didn’t see it.
Everything changed when I was about 10 or so. My parents split up. My mum knew she had to leave, or she was going to literally die. For her, those were her choices.
It was a very hard decision for her. Her family didn’t support her at all. From the outside my father is a wonderful friendly, caring, funny, brilliant man. What more could you want? The problem was that was just from the outside. He makes a great friend, but a miserable family member. So no one could understand why she would leave. Everyone was convinced she must have been having an affair and that she was some evil horrible witch (these are her parents, not my father’s).
As her so-called support network crumbled so did she. She sunk further and further into depression. It swallowed her whole. She didn’t know what to do. For some god forsaken reason she moved to Sudbury. Far away from everyone and everything she knew. I suppose she thought getting away would make it better, but it didn’t. As I’m sure you can imagine Sudbury is not the most uplifting part of the world to be in. And being isolated and alone, well, that’s not the most uplifting feeling either. When I talk to my mother about these times now she says the only way she survived was day by day, telling herself “just don’t kill myself today”. Each day she worked desperately to not kill herself, and see what the next day would bring.
I don’t know many details of her big breakdown, but it somehow involved her being in the middle of nowhere and crying uncontrollably, and trying to kill herself. She phoned a friend who told her to stay where she was, don’t drive anywhere, he’d leave right away, he’d be there in a couple hours. He told her she was depressed and it was going to be okay, they’d get her help; she didn’t have to live like this.
She got treatment, moved to Toronto, and started living her life like a normal person. She wasn’t diluted anymore. I was of course 15, angry at the world, and pissed off that she had left me to go to Sudbury (I didn’t know the details at the time) so I was horrible to her. Not a time I look back on with pride, however, not a time I beat myself up over either, I was after all, just a kid. And 15, I mean, please, who wasn’t a jerk when they were 15…
After the standard run of treatment my mum went off her anti-depressants. It was the thing to do. The thought they had solved the imbalance, brought things back into whack, and all was right in the brain of my mum.
This worked for a bit. All was well for a while. But again my mum began to slump. Depression was descending once again. Again, something drastic (though not as drastic as before) had to happen before she would seek treatment. This is a very common problem. People refuse to believe that a natural chemical imbalance can cause depression, they must be doing something wrong, so they must be able to fix it, and if they can’t, well, then they are bad and don’t deserve to feel any different. And again, after a course of treatment, under doctor supervision she stopped her anti-depressants. The cycle repeated itself again and again. Throughout this whole time she saw therapists and dealt with a lot of personal issues, but none of them could solve her problem of chemical imbalance.
Finally she found out from her mother that when she was a child she was on anti-depressants. They would not tell her what they were, and didn’t until she was 45 years old. It was a dirty little family secret. Armed with this information she faced a difficult revelation. Her doctor told her she was chronically depressed. She would have to take anti-depressants for the rest of her life. It was a hard thing for her to accept, and her family, well, as has already been demonstrated; they are not the most supportive people in the world.
Wow, no wonder I have distance, I’m not talking about myself at all…
So what was happening with me this whole time?
Well, a great number of things were happening. I was coming to the realisation that my father was an alcoholic. I was running the household. I was fending off advances from my father’s friend, with no help from my father. I was starting high school. I was going through my parents divorce. I was suddenly living with my brother. I was going through puberty.
In short, I was going through one hell of a transition.
I didn’t know I was depressed. I didn’t know anything was wrong. It’s hard to describe, but it doesn’t occur to you that the way you feel is different, because it’s how you’ve always felt. You coast along, moving from day to day in almost a fog. You do things because you have to, or you feel you have to. I escaped as much as I could and however I could. For me my escape came from my friends. I couldn’t stand to be in the same house as my father, so I went out all the time. When I wasn’t out with friends, I was on the phone with them. When I wasn’t in contact with them (very very rare) I sat in front of the television and glared at my father whenever he came in the room so that he would not stay. I lived a life of avoidance. I never wanted to be alone. Being alone was a scary place.
I spent all of high school in that fog. I got sick a lot. I stayed home from school a lot. I stopped playing sports. I stopped doing much extra-curricular stuff. I pulled inside of myself. I hid in a shell of extroversion. I was exuberant, outgoing, happy-go-lucky, and miserable. Well, I didn’t know I was miserable, I just thought I was normal, and when people were describing how they felt, they must be exaggerating, or strange themselves.
When I was 18 I started dating John. I felt safe for the first time in my life. And then I broke. I broke down. It was a slow process. It built to a climax. It started with crying myself to sleep. Then it moved to wanting to be alone, but being terrified of being alone, and so John would sit quietly with me. Allowing me to be alone, but safe in his arms. Then it got to the point where I would come home from work and immediately go up to my room and wait for john to arrive (he worked in Mississauga, but essentially lived with me at my father’s place). When John arrived, he’d eat something, try to get me to eat something (I’d stopped eating too, I still do that when I get stressed, it’s a destructive little habit I’m trying to get rid of.), and then I would bring him up to my room, where I would turn off all the lights and curl up in his arms and cry. My mum told me time and time again to go to the doctor. She knew. She knew what it was to be depressed, and she knew I was depressed. I kept saying I’d go, but I knew I wouldn’t. When you’re depressed the last thing you want to do is help yourself.
Then the inevitable came. I had a breakdown. I was at work. I was in a meeting with my boss. I just started crying. I couldn’t stop. I was totally out of control. I said I needed to go for a walk. I walked out, walked to a nearby plaza, crying the whole time. I found a payphone and called my mother. I told her I was scared, that I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop crying and I felt so out of control.
My mum said enough was enough, she was going to call my doctor, make and appointment, and drive to Guelph, pick me up at work, and drive me there herself. So I went back to work, and that’s what she did. I worked for the afternoon, and at 4:00 my mum picked me up at the office and drove me to my doctor.
I started a course of anti-depressants. I started therapy a couple months into it. I was feeling a lot better. When the 6 month mark came, the time to go off anti-depressants, I was trepidations, but confident. I stopped taking my medication and I was fine… for a while.
As with my mother, the cycle repeated itself. This time I was able to seek treatment for myself, and earlier on in the process. I knew what was happening to me. Still it took far too long. It took friends and my mother telling me they thought I was depressed again, and it took time. My depression needed to get to a point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
This time I talked to my doctor about chronic depression. I expressed my concern that I might be chronic depressive. She in a most unreassuringly way (simply because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear) informed me that I likely was chronic depressive. Due to the fact that I had relapsed (only some fraction of people do) and my mother was chronic, and in light of a recently discovering that I too was depressed as a young child, just not diagnosed or treated, chances were pretty strong that I was/am chronic depressive.
I don’t know yet. That was 3 years ago, and I have been on anti-depressants ever since. They say that in the second round of anti-depressants you should stay on for at least 5 years. I guess I’ll find out in a couple years. A big part of me hopes I’m not chronic depressive, but I’m not sure why. I guess just because it’s such a big deal, and it would sure be nice to not have to take a pill every day.
So I guess that is a history of my depression, but doesn’t say at all what depression is for me. Depression is a time full of dread, self-doubt and self-deprecation. I know a friend who couldn’t decide which socks to wear one day, started crying and went back to bed and didn’t go to work. That’s what it’s like. The smallest things become huge. Everything feels insurmountable. I stop eating decent food. I stop sleeping at night. I start sleeping during the day. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t go out. I don’t talk to people. I cry all the time. I cry and have no idea what it is I’m crying about. I can’t think. That’s the worst part. I can’t think. Not just I can’t think straight, I just can’t think. It’s like my brain goes on hold. Everything is amplified. Someone has to cancel a date; I assume it must be because of me. Something bad happens and it must be my fault. I question why people love me, why John is with me, why anyone would ever want to be with me. I want to hurt myself. I do things to hurt myself that won’t leave marks or scars, I hit the wall, I close my eyes and imagine spikes being driven through my body, anything that people won’t notice or question when they see me the next time. I want to cut my hand, but I know that it will disappoint people even more than they must be, so instead I draw on it with a ballpoint pen. I press as hard as I can and cover my whole palm with black ink.
That is what it is like to be depressed for me. You’ll find that it varies from person to person, for instance I never had serious thoughts of suicide (such as how I would do it etc) but I did think the world would be a better place without me here, that I wished I had never been born, or maybe I could just die. They equal the same as thoughts of suicide, it’s still an ending of existence, it’s just not by your own hand. Not everyone is so fatalistic in their depression. But you will also notice remarkable similarities.
Thankfully I have not had a depressive episode in 3 years. I have my moments. I still get sad. But it’s different. I haven’t thought the world would be a better place without me in years. I know why people love me. I know why John loves me. I know I am a valuable person.