Depression is probably one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. In scope, this is because its effects and the number of people who suffer from it. The reasons why it is misunderstood, though, surround the perception that many individuals have or make regarding human behavior. We make judgments on what we see people doing, hear people saying or what acts or actions they are engaged in.
Depression is not the same as anything else. Sometimes it is called “Major Depressive Disorder,” or “Clinical Depression.” It is unipolar, meaning it is not the same thing as Bipolar Disorder (another very much misunderstood illness, and very devastating, as well). There are no highs and lows. Just lows, and depending upon the level of illness, these lows can be constant, or the person can suffer with bouts of it at varying lengths of time, at varying intervals.
Overall, those of us who are suffering from depression have a distorted sense of the way we see ourselves, our lives and how we interpret those around us. Without a doubt, we see most of life with a decidedly raised level of negativity. We are easily agitated, can be irritable and are often restless. As a general rule, we prefer isolation, have difficulty concentrating and are fatigued.
Added to this are feelings of being worthless, and many of us have lost pleasure in activities that we once thoroughly enjoyed. Sleep is problematic, and sometimes depression manifests in us as discouragement and anger. On occasion, we can be psychotic – sometimes having hallucinations and even delusion. Thankfully, medical science has developed medications to combat this. I’ve been on and off several of them, with varying results. I was taking Paxil, but my doctors just changed that to a drug called Wellbutrin.
As I had done with my piece on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this piece is not going to be a clinical description, but a personal story. Depression presents differently in many people, for a variety of causes, of which I will cover with extreme brevity. So, without further ado, here’s my,
Song Sung Blue…
As I have stated, depression is often described as a feeling of unhappiness, misery, down or blue; and can also include feelings of anger, loss, intense frustration and a heavy sadness. These feelings interfere with everyday life for however long the duration. It doesn’t go away with a happy song, or a thoughtful letter. While there are many who do not understand how someone who is dealing with depression feels, I can tell you with great certainty that telling us to “cheer up,” is like telling someone with a broken leg they’d feel better if they just went out for a run. It doesn’t work that way.
As well, telling someone who is depressed that they are just “feeling sorry for themselves” is one of the most horrid thing you can say. If you think this doesn’t happen, just ask someone who suffers from depression to tell you how many times they’ve been told this, or that we shouldn’t complain (as if) and <insert story about those who have it worse> they will also tell you that this is likely the main reason they don’t talk about their depression.
There is research to support a genetic cause for depression, but there is also significant evidence that it is also caused by chemical changes in the brain, as well as being triggered by stressful events. More than likely, it is a combination of all three.
I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder more than a decade ago. My father suffered from it, as well as my grandfather. Back in their day, there was very little relief. My grandfather drank himself to death. My father ate himself to death. There are those who are convinced I am smoking and eating myself to death, too.
There is a strong possibility, given my genetics, that some of my depression is due to my heredity. There is no doubt, though, that my physical disabilities play a major role. I know that at this point, right now (given the status of scientific research), I have absolutely no hope of ever feeling physically better, and it doesn’t matter if you are reading this on the day I wrote it, or in a year from now, or in ten years.
Yeah, about that. This seems to be the one that plagues me the most. Hope is a volatile word, as it means different things to different people. Some people have committed suicide, attempted suicide or have at least seriously considered it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to the loss of material possessions or wealth. Other times it is when someone is facing a long or permanent prison sentence. Still, others have suicidal thoughts when facing a debilitating or terminal illness.
I am going to take a very short dive into religion, so forgive me the digression. Hope has a completely different meaning for people of faith. Obviously, I am not one of these people. While there are many of the faithful who understand their beliefs to be very personal in nature, there are those who feel it necessary to foist theirs upon me, and let me know that I shouldn’t “feel bad” or let the things in my life that cause me distress to “get me down” because Jesus loves me and while he may or may not choose to heal me “in this life“, when I get to heaven it’ll be all puppies and kittens and my body will be perfect and there’ll be no more sickness and disease, and I will be blissfully ignorant of those I have left behind to continue in their suffering or who will be spending an eternity suffering in some pit of doom somewhere won’t matter because Jesus will wipe tears from my eyes and you’ve got a friend in Jesus and happy happy joy joy and did I mention Jesus loves you.
As you can imagine, I have gotten into some very heated arguments with the religious crowd over this, and the fact that I am physically disabled has resulted in conversations that I have to walk away from because I get so angry that if my rhetoric escalated any higher, there’d be problems that would involve lawyers and very like the local constabulary. I can already feel my blood pressure rising, so I will get back on point and not further delve into the black hole that comprises the religious mindset.
Do I feel hopeless? Yes, actually, I do. I feel hopeless because there is no hope, at least not with regard to what physically ails me. I have so many degenerative and incurable diseases that are eating away at my nervous system, my ability for cognitive thought and my general musculature that I wake up every single day knowing that I am ever so much closer to a quality of life that I have no desire to be involved with.
Does that mean I have thoughts of killing myself? Yes, it does. Medication helps with this, and thus far has been working. Nowadays, my suicidal thoughts are put somewhere in the future, as I have a stipulation in my living will that involves a trip to the Netherlands, if by the time I am ready to call it quits, the ability to choose my time to die is not illegal here in these United States. Long live Jack Kevorkian.
What makes us who we are? Have you ever thought about that? I do, a lot. I struggle with feeling useless because there are so many things I cannot do anymore. This is another one of those times where those of us who suffer with depression have to endure the insensitivity of others who think we are just having a “pity party.” Yes, we get that often.
It’s bad enough that we are forced to sit through advertisements while waiting for videos to play on the Interwebz, but I have long since stopped watching live television. I record everything, because I find myself getting extremely unsettled and angry with commercial advertising. This is one of the reasons why I have such disdain for labels, or what societies perceive as what makes the measure of an individual.
Yes, the logical part of me knows that advertising is a tool used to get people to buy products. Advertisers have to appeal to the larger audience, and most people are not physically disabled. But there’s only so many times I can watch someone running on a beach, climbing a mountain, playing some sport or another with their kids, or enjoying a venue that requires physical abilities that are way beyond those I possess before I want to crawl into a cave. There are so many places that I cannot go because they are not accessible, or things I cannot do because I lack the physical ability to participate. As a result, I spend most of my life sitting on the sidelines, as an observer.
I consider myself a person of reason, and place a great deal of importance on logic. However, logic has little to do with feeling, and in spite of the fact that I have been and continue to be blessed (yes, I used the B-word) by so many of my readers over the years with your comments about how something I wrote touched you in some way or another (even when what I write pisses you off), I still spend time in this particular pit in the valley of depression.
The reality is that I require assistance in many areas of my life. I require the use of a mobility device, which is problematic because either I am stuck sitting down (wheelchair) or I have only one hand with which to use for anything. I get lost a lot, thus driving – even in my own neighborhood – usually requires someone to navigate for me. GPS? Yeah, I have two. They constantly screw me because of concentration issues, I’ve almost wrecked many times while trying to use one. I am frankly amazed I made it to Alabama a couple of months ago without winding up in Ogden, Utah.
My memory has gotten so bad that I don’t remember things like TV shows or movies I’ve seen, sometimes multiple times. I cannot recall dates, appointments, medication schedules, verbal instructions, people’s names, important dates, where I might be at any given moment (we call that “spacing out“), to eat a scheduled meal, if I’ve taken my pills (that has almost landed me in the hospital a time or two), where I put something (sometimes stuff that isn’t mine – and good luck finding it) and a plethora of other things that require my family to take time out of their day to help me exist.
While I have come to terms with this, it doesn’t change the way I feel about requiring a caregiver for things that I had always attributed to the inevitable result of aging. However, when I was young, I figured this wouldn’t happen until I was in my eighties. I am forty-nine years old. I am not even old enough to join AARP. So, yeah, I feel kinda useless, and there’s no way around the fact that it sucks. The irony here is that humanity has evolved as a reasoning, bi-pedal species through mutation by natural selection, and I have been naturally selected by mutation to be bi-pedally impaired with a corroding brain.
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, depression causes me to look at things from a negative point of view. I am a pessimist, and because I am aware of this, I make a special effort to try to remain positive about things, and to make every effort to treat my fellow human beings with empathy. If you met me, and some of you have, you would think I am the happiest person alive.
Yes, I am happy about a lot of things and I there are aspects of my life that bring be great joy. I love entertaining people and I love being around those who share my points of view and understand life and the real world the way I do. I take great pleasure at the victories won in the various causes I advocate for, and when there is forward movement in civil rights.
But that’s not how depression works. Many of us who suffer from depression can be happy at times, and positive about things, etc. This doesn’t change how I perceive myself, or the fact that there is a large part of me that believes our species is doomed to extinction due to our nature to destroy ourselves.
Thus, I am very easily agitated, even though I have learned to hide it well. I get irritable more often than I care to be, and am very restless. While I love to interact with people on my social networks, and enjoy meeting new people and seeing old friends when I am invited to speak at an event, I prefer isolation. I would rather stay behind in the hotel while everyone else is out partying. I would rather stay home and online, than go out to a club or a sporting event.
These are things I used to do, and used to enjoy immensely. I no longer take pleasure in these things, as well as some other things I used to be involved with. It is what it is, which I am fond of saying. I am tired almost all the time, which makes being restless a pain in the ass, as I cannot sleep without medication. Go figure that one out. I have not had any hallucinations (that I am aware of), and fortunately, delusion has not taken over my mind. But I’ve a feeling it’s coming.
This was a difficult piece for me to write. While I am an intensely private person in meatspace, I have a very public life online – particularly within my social networks and on this blog. I believe that if it hadn’t been for the advent of these digital venues of communication that I would have sunk so deep into depression, I would likely have already taken my own life. It is a sobering realization.
I find it easy, even therapeutic, to be so transparent with total strangers. I am sure any psychiatrists out there will have a field day with this one. Bring it on. There is a silver lining to this, though. Many of you have become close friends, even though we’ve never met face to face. I have relationships with some of you via the Internet, telephone and video that are as strong as any relationship that one can have with a neighbor or someone they know from work, or whatnot. You are all real to me, and some of you are dear to me – and some of you I love, honestly.
This is perfect for me, because one of the other aspects of my depression has resulted in me becoming very withdrawn from interacting in the world outside of cyberspace. Sometimes I don’t leave my house for days. Usually it’s because of my physical disabilities, but sometimes it’s because I’d rather be here, on the other side of your screen. The one love I have that has endured and has kept me relatively sane is writing. I’ve written millions of words, and for as long as I am able to do so, I will continue.
So, if what you have read has somehow negatively altered your perception of me, then so be it. I am who I am. I am trying to improve my mental health, but because my body (which includes my brain) is failing me, it is making it more and more difficult to do so.
Do you live in my world? Comments are open and unmoderated.