Living With Mental Illness: Depression

depressionDepression 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.

Some Science…

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.

Hoplessness…

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.

Uselessness…

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.

Other Things…

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.

Final Thoughts…

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.

  31 comments for “Living With Mental Illness: Depression

  1. September 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Al,

    You’re written a raw, eloquent and brutally honest description of living with chronic depression. As another atheist the same age who also wrestles with the limited mobility catalyst in depression, I’d say you nailed it. Mental illness still carries a stigma and is as misunderstood (“stop feeling sorry for yourself!”) as the position of the 47% “victims” who supposedly have no higher ambition than government handouts. (And let me say that poverty and depression go hand in hand.)

    Thanks for a brilliant piece of writing.

  2. walterburton
    September 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Thumbs-up! Thanks for opening up.

  3. krgrace
    September 21, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Thanks for this, one of the best expressions on a difficult topic I have seen.

  4. maureenbrian
    September 21, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    This hasn’t negatively affected my impression of you. I expected what you wrote on depression to be good but this is better than good. Thank you.

    May I, without endangering your blood pressure, add one note on the interplay of religion – especially idiot- level religion – and depression? Some people who barely understand their own religion still feel that it gives them the leave or the power to sort other people out. For Jesus, of course.

    The two worst knock-backs I have ever had in my attempts to manage my depression have been from just such people. Both toddled off into the sunset believing they had done A Good Thing.

  5. quintus
    September 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    And if it had negatively affected my impression of you then my impression be damned.
    I’ve been on all the SSRI’s they had to try, now I’m on something else which works well, but if I didn’t have work to go to I wouldn’t get out of bed.
    You’ve come far closer to describing it than I ever managed.

  6. resident_alien
    September 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Thank you so much for this.
    I have suffered from depression since childhood and right now,I have zero hope of ever getting better,or even any motivation to try too.And I KNOW that this is not a rational assessment of my situation but rather depression talking and fucking with me.
    But I can no more rationalize myself out of depression than I could pray myself out of it back in the days when I would try too.
    When my mother was visiting me at the hospital where I was locked up after failing to kill myself (such is the law where I live),she was desperately trying to convince me that my misery was a “gift”.Apparently,she thought I was Sylvia fucking Plath or something.Whatever.

  7. gabby27
    September 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Thank you for this. This was one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read on this site, and I’ve read a hell of a lot of beautiful pieces on this site.

    I could not agree with you more on the insensitive jerks who insist on saying callous, oblivious things like “Cheer up” and “Quit feeling sorry for yourself”, and the especially infuriating “Someone out there has it worse!” I, too, suffer from depression, and I get those a lot. What those people don’t understand is that we’re an empathetic, social species; when we’re feeling down, what’s comforting isn’t a clueless cheer-monger shouting vapid cliches about hope, it’s someone *empathizing* with us—-seeing things from our perspective and saying, “Man, that really does suck.” This article here is the perfect example of that. You bravely and honestly told us all how much life sucks, and in doing so, you just cheered me up more than any empty words of sunshine and roses and Jesus ever could. So, thank you.

  8. bjartefoshaug
    September 22, 2012 at 4:45 am

    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.

    This! Words cannot describe how much I loathe the kind of “positive thinking” that sees depression as nothing but a moral shortcoming (because obviously you could chose to “just get over it” if only you had a better attitude…). The whole hype around “self-help” seems to consist almost entirely in finding new ways of packaging and marketing this basic message. Barbara Ehrenreich’s glorious demolition of positive thinking in Bright Sided is probably the most cathartic thing I have ever read in this respect.

    On a related note, while my own condition (depression and anxiety) is not entirely reducible to external factors, I do sometimes worry that diagnosing someone with a mental illness can become a distraction from the fact that he or she is in a genuinely difficult situation. I.e. in stead of asking “What’s wrong with the situation this person is in?” we ask “What is it about this person that makes him/her unable to cope with the situation?” (as if what Al has told us about his own situation should not be a problem to anyone unless something’s wrong with their heads…). I’d be interested to read what others think about this issue.

    Finally, I can easily relate to what Al says about the online community. The latest upsurge of misogyny and hate in the atheist/skeptical movement has actually been a bit of a trigger for me in this respect (And I’m just watching the disaster unfold at a safe distance. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for someone like Jen McCreight). I don’t have much of a social life, so the online atheist/skeptical community used to be the one place where I almost felt like I had a home. And now even that last “place called home” is turning to shit. (Sigh…)

    Anyway, thanks for writing this, Al. You definitely are useful to very many.

  9. crocswsocks
    September 22, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Hey, I’m on Wellbutrin! I have no idea if it helps, though, because I’ve been on it consistently for a long time. I hope it works out for you, though! And I hope that they isolate the easily-depressed-predisposition genes before I have children, because they’re really the #1 scourge on humanity.

  10. Marcelo
    September 22, 2012 at 9:49 am

    If you met me, and some of you have, you would think I am the happiest person alive.

    I can’t tell how many times I heard “I would never guessed you’re a depressed” when I told someone.

    My usual response is that 1) I’m now medicated, 2) It’s not constant and 3) If you are depressed for more than half of your life you only have two choices, isolate yourself from the world, or learn to hide it.

    Thank you for writing this.

    ——

    Have someone else here justified to himself self-distructive behaviors thinking, “at least I’m not jumping out the window”?

    ——
    resident_alien @ 6: Where do you live? That’s a horrible law.

    • resident_alien
      September 22, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      I live in Germany.The idea behind that law is to “help” suicidal individuals,whether they want it or not.It’s horrid, but it’s better than other parts of the world where a person surviving a suicide attempt will actually be put in jail(this happened to Dave Gahan during his SmackJesus days in the 90s…in California,of all places!)

  11. September 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I cannot imagine what you must endure at an age when you should be physically fit and able to pursue whatever you desire. Though I sensed long ago that you might suffer from depression, I want to say thanks for sharing something so personal and thought-provoking that it melts my heart. I can only tell you that I love you and will settle for a cyper-hug {{{{{{ Al }}}}}} when I would prefer to hug you in person.

    Love,
    Susan

  12. No Light
    September 22, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I wish I could meet you, give you a hug and a solidarity wheelbump.

    I shared my physical situation a few posts back, but I also have OCD. (mostly counting related and a weird thing with needing to pop pills out in certain patterns) and have been depressed for as long as I can remember.

    I can remember being six, being burned up with self-hate, sure I didn’t deserve to live, clawing at my skin until I bled. I was consumed with anger toward other kids, they were laughing and playing and so happy

    I’ve always been surrounded by people who somehow believed that shouting and lecturing me about daring to be depressed would make me somehow snap out of it.

    I spent years mired in self-loathing, hurting myself, feeling bound, hated, undeserving of even the air that I breathed. It didn’t help that when I developed a potentially fatal Neuro disorder at age twenty, nobody believed me. I was subjected to horrifie emotional and physical abuse from my family. I was too despondent to even kill myself, I didn’t deserve. the escape of death, I deserved to suffer.

    I am always seen as confident, happy, silly and bubbly. It’s a well. manufactured front. I had to stay with a very dear friend and her partner for a while (at their suggestion). I couldn’t keep up the front 24/7. They were unbelievably cruel and hurtful about the real me. I was living on £3k a YEAR. Their combined income is close to £120k. They would berate me for buying a book to cheer myself up, at the same time as they spent ten grand on a new rug. I couldn’t win. If I spent time around them I was “bringing [them] down”. If I kept to myself, or went to my parents’ (for a weekend of abuse) to give them alone time, I was “antisocial, treating the place like a hotel”.

    It broke my heart. My grandmother became deathly ill so I went back to my childhood home. Back to my abusive family. But at least a dying grandparent took the heat off me to be peppy, to be a wind-up doll, ready to entertain at a second’s notice.

    Everything changed when I met my partner a few months after my nan died. She had experience of depression and self injury too, she understood me. She’d recently lost her mother, we clicked instantly, and have been inseparable ever since.

    So here I am, seven years on at 35. I haven’t left this bed for seven months. I’ve never been sicker, but ironically my mood is incredibly stable and light, because I actually feel like I finally have permission to be sad, to grieve, to express.

    Also the further away religion is in my rearview mirror, the better I feel. I am me, an individual, capable of love, generosity, hope. I can make change for the better, every day is important, I’m not just someone trying to win love from an angry parent. I already have two of those!

    I have a wonderful partner, we’re poor but happy. I can credit the internet for helping me to meet her, for realising I’m not alone, for giving me some independence through online shopping, and for connecting with amazing people all over the world.

    I will always be mentally ill. Anyone who refuses to accept that is not welcome in my life. I will never have toulj control over my mood, especially with physical issues that also cause significant mental impairment, but that doesn’t make me flawed, or bad, or broken. Don’t like that? Tough. Never experienced it? Don’t dare lecture me.

    Your disability/OCD/depression posts have touched me so much, because here’s this guy version of me (only more eloquent and less rambly!) who gets it. Here’s this man waaay across the world, who I’ve never met, but thanks to the internet I can “meet” him, and be sad and happy to know about his life. Sad because I’d rather nobody knew our pain, happy because you’re using your gift to open a window and shine light onto it.

    *hugs* Thanks for being amazing.

  13. September 22, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments, input and for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Blogging is a communicative endeavor. The top part of this page may belong to me, but the bottom belongs to you. I am glad to have you part of it, and I am glad to be part of it. You all rock.

  14. September 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    I live in your world, Al, and I share the same feelings as you’ve described here. I have schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type) so when I am up, I’m really up and when I’m down (like now), I’m really down.

    I can’t describe how difficult it is to go from a hard-working, responsible individual to a person who can’t eat, take meds, or even bathe on schedule without help. The helplessness and hopelessness is crippling. I wonder why I bother staying in the world yet I do.

    It’s extremely hard to be an atheist with mental illness. I have always felt like any time I open up about my weaknesses, people will point to my atheism as the cause or tell me I need to turn my life over to Jesus. I’ve kept silent too long trying to be a good poster girl for atheism. I can’t do that any more. I can only be what I am.

  15. September 23, 2012 at 4:29 am

    I just – well, last fall – finished a year’s course of weaning myself from Duloxetine after being on various things for nearly ten years. I was allergic to Fluoxetine and that took out like a year of my life I can barely remember now. I spent much of that year asleep.

    I’m pretty sure memory problems are a symptom of depression. Not that is always a help. There are things you can do to practice repairing memory… But they’re nearly impossible to focus on while actively depressed. But I’ve seen my spouse train herself from someone who would forget anything not in front of her to someone who can memorize whole books and songs.

    I wonder what to do about friends who are depressed that get caught in the self-focus often called ‘feeling sorry for ones self’. They’re really hard to talk to, caught in a vicious circle that there’s barely an edge anyone can grab to get into the shell around them. The hurt and damage feeds on itself, and the lack of social and government support for them…

    I wish there was more support for everyone.

  16. jj7212
    September 23, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Here’s a completely different point of view. My wife works as an ICU and ER nurse at a large University hospital here in Japan. She has to deal with failed suicide attempts. Often. She gets mad about having to take care of those people because she wanted to be a nurse to help people who really need it. Just last week, some guy lost his girl and his job, then jumped off of the 5th floor. Last month some girl overdosed 3 times trying to kill himself. One time there was a guy who set himself on fire. My wife has to clean up their messes and to her, it’s getting old.

    Also last week, some lady came in to the ER at 7:30, one hour before the clinic opens, and was so depressed she wanted a bed at the hospital. My wife told her that the ICU is not a hotel and that she should wait for the clinic to open. It was the third time this lady had come in the middle of the night.

    I agree with me wife. There is always help available, but finding it, or caring engough to try to find it, is the hardest part. It’s understandable why suicide is often considered selfish. As my old 1stSgt used to say, “If you’re going to kill yourself, go sit in a dumpster so the mess is easier to clean. And do it right the first time. And don’t forget to box your own shit up before you go.”

    Again, just a different perspective on suicide that I’m also aware of. I’ve had to box up people’s stuff myself. Twice.

    • jj7212
      September 23, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      My personal philosophy is that being sad or depressed, on any scale, is OK and normal, so to speak. It’s how we deal with it that can really define who we are. Someone gave me that advice when I was 18 and always angry. Since then, I’ve always felt OK about being depressed. Knowing that bad spells are normal has taken away any thoughts of suicide since then. It’s still hard, but sometimes knowledge really can help even when one’s own feelings are completely not alligned.

    • No Light
      September 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      And how does your wife feel about diabetics in hypoglycaemic comas, or people having asthma attacks? Should they just go away and get over it too?

      Clinical depression isn’t about being a bit down, and frankly, coming in here, reading what people have shared about their pain and saying what amounts to “Stupid whiners, pull yourself together or go and kill yourself quietly” is disgusting.

      It’s not about feeling sad about a bad situation, or being mopey to get attention, it’s an illness that kills. It’s not a choice or something you can think your way out of, it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

      Do you believe someone in bronchospasm can motivate their way out of it? Should someone having a heart attack be told to pull themself together? Perhaps anorexics could be told to eat a sandwich, and people with renal failure should be encouraged to pull up their bootstraps and stop focussing on their damaged kidneys so much.

      I can no more work my way out of a severe depressive episode than I can fix my spinal nerves and walk again, through sheer force of will.

      Maybe instead of dishing out your “wisdom” to people who are ill, you should be thankful that you’re not mentally ill, that the neurons in your brain are working correctly, and that you don’t have to spend your life being judged by people who equate depression with how you feel when you spill your beer.

    • lochaber
      September 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm

      So, I take it you’ve been in the military, from the story about your 1st Sgt.

      Did you not notice the ‘help’ that the military provides to depressed people, and the stigma that goes with it?

      And as to suicide being selfish, I think it is far more selfish to demand that other people continue living in quiet misery so as to avoid inconveniencing you.

    • quintus
      September 24, 2012 at 2:20 am

      Perhaps your wife might consider a change to a career where empathy isn’t so important. Insect exterminator, international assassin, something like that.

    • jj7212
      September 24, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Well, I re-read my post and I think what I was trying to say came out really wrong. I apologize if I offended anyone as it was not my intent. I understand what depression is and can do to people.

      About my wife as a nurse, she’s a very caring nurse. She saves lives quite often and with the highest of empathy. My point was that there is time when depression becomes selfish, and that is suicide. And I’m talking about suicide specifically. It sounds mean, but suicide is selfish. It might not be to that person, but it is. And sure, it’s unpopular to say.

      Now, just because a person is suicidal or has attempted it doesn’t mean they are bad. We should give them the love,help, and support that they need once we find out. It’s called intervention and, no, it’s not too much trouble.

      I just want to throw the selfishness aspect out there because it affects so many others in so many negative ways. Not only does my wife have to deal with it often, I’ve had my fair share of Marines who have been on suicide watch, have called me in the middle of the night, and I’ve had surprise calls from doctors who have said they had my Marines in the hopital after checking themselves in without me knowing about it. One Marine brought a pistol to work threatening suicide in the parking lot. And, yes, we have a very good program in the Marines for dealing with suicide/depression. It’s taken very seriously. I understand the difficult nature of it.

      I may not be right, but I’m not wrong to mention selfishness. It’s a legitimate feeling a lot of us have who have to deal with suicide, especially at work. I’ll take the unpopular position on this one. I hope that any reader would at least consider this one aspect of it. That’s all. Again, it’s just my opinion, not a hard fact.

      And again, I apologize for my last poorly written post.

      • lochaber
        September 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm

        I still differ with you about suicide being selfish. I also disagree with that being an unpopular view. I think it’s the most common thing I hear when I hear people talking about suicide.

        I knew quite a few people in the Corps who ended up getting put on suicide watch. usually this was used as a form of extra-judicial punishment under the guise of ‘safety’. I don’t know if any of them actually got any real counseling, but a fair number ended up getting discharged or sent to the brig, and this was usually after anywhere from days to weeks of them being stripped of access to personal possessions and privacy, while being constantly derided and mocked. I don’t think the married marines were even allowed to have their spouses visit them, but I can’t remember for certain.
        Plus, while they were sitting in the duty hut 24/7, that marine’s favorite nco would usually stop by and give them hell.

        During this time period, we’d frequently get little lectures in formation from our gunny, 1st sgt, CO, and whoever else about how selfish it is, and how if we are feeling like that, we should just ‘suck it up’ and ‘quit acting like a pussy’.

        This is how I witnessed the Marine Corps’ handling of depression and suicide. That’s why I don’t think many people would be willing to ‘seek help’

        Maybe things have changed more recently, or your unit handles things differently. I hope that is the case, but I’m doubtful that my experiences are the anomaly.

        • jj7212
          September 25, 2012 at 11:07 pm

          Thanks for responding lochaber. You could be right about why I said its selfish. It might be from my time in the Marine Corps. I served from 94′-07′. From my experience, I think that the MC’s policies, education, and resources about suicide are excellent. I’ve always had a reasonable and responsible command staff at most of my duty stations who talked about it often and took it very seriously.

          But there’s gray area where it gets difficult. Even though we take all signs of suicide seriously, there are quite a few Marines who use it as a threat to get what they want or to purposefully get discharged. In other words, they fake it. A lot. It mostly comes from Marines who have been in under two years. Some Marines purposefully go to counsiling or to the chaplin because they know they are going to get in trouble for whatever soon and they use it as an excuse or an aliby to get out of trouble. These types of Marines are typically sneaky, lazy, and have no integrity or desire to better themselves and in many cases, spouse abusers who know that they will eventually get caught. That’s a harsh statement, but there really are a lot people like that who do this and it makes it extremely hard for us NCO’s and Staff NCO’s to see realisticly who is in serious need of attention. That’s why they get fucked with in the duty hut. That kind of selfishness pisses the rest of us off. So yeah, that’s probably why I think it’s selfish.

          You comment, lochaber, did get me thinking about it more. So thanks again for responding!

          And again, I think that the mental health programs in the Marine Corps are excellent and always improving. That’s my experience. I have no idea about the other branches.

      • silomowbray
        September 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

        jj7212, please stop for a moment and consider this.

        If someone is seriously contemplating suicide, terminating their own life, think about how much pain they must be in to even consider that as an option. This isn’t about simple selfishness and disregarding what other people might feel about it. This is about being at a point where you are in so much emotional agony and inner turmoil that all you want to do is shut it off, even if it means no longer existing.

        To label a suicide as “selfish” smacks of thoughtlessness at best and a complete disregard for human suffering at worst. Until you’re in the shoes of someone who has a gun in their mouth, moments from squeezing the trigger*, you might want to reserve the labelling and judgmental attitude.

        *Or some other horrid way of committing suicide.

  17. leni
    September 24, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    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.

    A friend who was staying with me while his life fell apart committed suicide because he was facing a long prison sentence. His wife left him, he lost his job. His problems were not small and not likely resolvable.

    I don’t really want to get into that, or his rather understandable depression, but your post reminded me of something that happened when the coroner came here that forever changed my outlook on depression.

    After checking my friend’s body and verifying that it was indeed a suicide (I suppose I don’t really know what they do), he came down to talk to me and my friend’s wife. He told us that he’d been a coroner for 30 years and typically sees about one suicide a week. Sometimes 2 or 3 and always more around the holidays. The town I live in is not terribly large, and I didn’t crunch the numbers to check his story, but that actually shocked me. The population here is about 250K so one person a week is still fairly rare but not as rare as I would have guessed.

    Anyway, to paraphrase him: Imagine if that many people were dying of E.coli or brain cancer. We’d call that an epidemic, but suicide is virtually invisible. People don’t talk about it, it’s not mentioned in obituaries. It’s just invisible. But at rates like this we all know someone who’s committed suicide. Probably more than one. I know several (2 uncles and 2 friends), and I’m guessing I’m not so rare.

    I think about what he said a lot. How people suffer with depression and suicidal thoughts in silence and then how they seem to sort of die in silence too. Sometimes it seems like you aren’t allowed to speak of it, which I understand in part. Suicide is absolutely brutal on those affected by it. Nobody blames themselves for their loved one’s Alzheimer’s or cancer. Well not usually anyway. Suicide is particularly difficult though, it seems like so many of deal with it by being silent about it. And blaming ourselves, or being angry at the person who took their life.

    Well it’s not exactly fun to dwell on it, so I suppose that’s what therapists are for, but even that feels a bit like keeping it in the closet, maybe.

    Anyway, I’m glad you are talking about it. I wish more of could.

  18. silomowbray
    September 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Al,
    I’ve been a reader for a year or so now and this has to be one of your best, most heart felt pieces, and that’s saying something. I live in your space. I feel somewhat embarrassed though, because I don’t think I suffer nearly as much as you or some of your other readers do. No OCD or bipolar for me, just plain old clinical depression.

    And I guess I’m a “lucky” one. My depression wasn’t classed as “severe,” although it was bad enough to cause me to ideate suicide. I was also one of those people who was ignorant enough to tell a friend of mine who was chronically depressed to “just snap out of it.” When depression finally landed on my own doorstep, the revelation was life-changing. I called my friend one day after I had recovered and spent nearly an hour apologizing, crying and commiserating. She never held it against me, and we are even closer friends than ever before.

    Just wanted to share that. And also thank you again for the work you do, sir.

    Silo

  19. rickschauer
    September 25, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Sheesh, Al,…it’s like you’re a mind reader. Like you and others here I have similar behavior. Mine started in 2006 when I wacked my head for the umteenth time and did it again the following year doing the same thing, alpine skiing.

    It has devastated me and my ex-wife, family. I’m trying to get a new evaluation and start over again – so things are pretty unsettled right now.

    Marijuana helps me sometimes at least with sleeping and if I can get some sleep I feel much better. When I don’t get sleep, I wind-up and get way anxious, depressed, hopeless, angry and I lose all energy to do anything. Sux. But that’s the way it is at the moment.

    It’s nice to know others can understand what you’re going through, however…thanks for stripping naked and writing on this subject, Al.

  20. Blahland
    September 26, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Welcome to the club, brother, where ever day is gray and gloomy. Even if the sun is shining you cannot enjoy it because you are pretty sure it will just increase your chances of skin cancer.

    You dare not enjoy anything for when the tide of depression comes rolling back in like a howling ghoul shrieking and cracking whips and chains over your head, the contrast with the previous day’s joy compared to the current misery makes the contrast that much more evident and you become even more miserable than you were before. You dread having a happy moment as much as you dread the oncoming depression because you know it won’t last. You know, very soon, the inevitable roundhouse face kick will drop you to the ground and you don’t know if you can try and get up one more time.

    It is best to enjoy nothing and maintain a median level of misery so that the sine wave of HELL does not contain peaks too high nor valleys too low.

    Smiling may not break your face but sure breaks your guts. Smiling means you are painting a painting of great flourishing strokes of immense effort over a canvas of dogshit.

  21. mooglar
    September 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    To echo what was said above, it is very difficult to be an atheist with mental health problems. I was inpatient in a hospital in Massachusetts once for suicidal ideation, and one of the group therapy leaders decided that my problem was that I didn’t believe in God and so it became the topic every time I had that group.

    But what I kept pointing out to her was that, in a group of fifteen or so people, EVERY SINGLE OTHER ONE was a believer, primarily Christian. Since they were in the hospital too, for similar reasons, why wasn’t their faith being questioned as a cause of their problems like my lack of faith was? And if faith is so healing, then why were all the other patients believers except me? Why would it magically cure my ills when it clearly hadn’t magically cured theirs?

    That was extremely frustrating, especially as it ate up time on an issue wholly unrelated to why I was in the hospital, and created additional anger and depression that I didn’t need.

Leave a Reply