22 March 2011

On Depression

I suppose it's high time I addressed depression in this blog.  I mean, if I can devote time to reviewing Darby O'Gill and the Little People, share a checklist of Star Trek toys from Burger King and even create a label tag for John Boehner, I may as well discuss something that actually matters once in a while, right?

Depression is at least as important as those toys, right?
I can't say now when I first became depressed.  In eighth grade I once ignored a class lesson to instead compose a suicide note.  It was fittingly accusatory and morose, and a classmate--nay, a friend--interceded and reported it once I permitted him a preview of my handiwork.  I had a rather bothersome discussion with the guidance counselor and my mom, and shelved the whole thing as an anomalous writing.

My mood, however, never stabilized.  In 2000 it came to a head when I fell down the stairs while again contemplating suicide.  Again, I composed a note--this one was far more bittersweet than the angst-ridden diatribe I'd previously constructed.  I agreed this time to consult a physician and try an anti-depressant.

I don't recall all of what I sampled, but I distinctly recall that Zoloft had an adverse effect on me as a guy.  Not that it really mattered; I was single at the time and had no one to disappoint.  Still, when you're already self-conscious and consumed by an inferiority complex, impotence isn't a welcome addition to your psychological woes.  For a while, Prozac seemed to help.  At the very least, it was a lot easier for me to stave off the nagging interior voices.

Photo taken from Wikipedia commons.
Those who have never dealt with an emotional disorder assume that anti-depressants are "happy pills" for people who whine too much about the real world that everyone else deals with like a grown-up.  You can't approximate an understanding of what it's like to be depressed, no matter how many doctor's office pamphlets you've read or how many Cymbalta commercials you've seen on TV.  The best analogy I've found is one of my own, and that's to think of driving in the rain.  You can't control the rain.  It's there regardless of what you want.  Maybe it lets up, maybe it comes down harder; you can only react to it.  It's hard enough, depending on the terrain, but it's almost impossible without wipers.  Having an emotional disorder is like being deprived of those wipers.

Most people have no idea what it's like to actually resent being alive, and it's such a foreign idea to them that if you introduce it in conversation they often become defensive.  Sometimes they want to insist that you don't really feel that way.  Some of them think of your immediate circumstances and believe that you don't have sufficient cause to be depressed, as though there's some kind of criteria to be met.  Trust me, people of all walks deal with depression regardless of anything else in their lives.
Depression is an internal problem, and it doesn't give a damn about your circumstances.
When you're depressed, there is no right job to have, no right lover to share a bed with, no right car to drive, no right home to live in, no right clothes to wear.  Whatever it is that it's in your life, it's insufficient to make a difference in how you feel about yourself or your life.  People who are happy assume that you just need to make some kind of exterior change, and happiness will follow.  It doesn't work that way.  You can change jobs, seek a new lover, trade in your car, move and change your entire wardrobe and still be just as depressed as you were before you altered a thing.  Plenty of rich people have talked about depression; money didn't help, and we're talking about people with the kind of money to change everything else about their lives on a whim.

Recently, I went to the doctor and discussed my depression.  She prescribed Cymbalta, but confessed that she honestly didn't think at this point that there was anything on the market that would make a difference with me.  I've taken two pills.  Both times induced severe nausea, vomiting and left me so fatigued and out of it that I honestly had no recollection of the entire next day either time.  I won't take a third Cymbalta pill.  I don't know where that leaves me, honestly.  It's a hell of a feeling, knowing that a physician has outright said that medical science is apparently unable to help you.

If you've read this and have dealt with depression, I hope that you got something out of this.  Sometimes it's helpful to hear someone else describe our own experiences, and maybe something I've written will be of some value to you on that level.  Maybe it's just nice to know you're not alone.  Maybe you'll show this to someone, and hope that it helps them understand your situation.  Whatever you get out of it (if anything), more power to ya.  And don't be scared by my experience; there's a very good chance that one of the anti-depressants on the market can help you.  At the very least, you owe it to yourself to find out for sure.

If you haven't dealt with depression, I know exactly what I want you to get out of this.  Humility.  Know that your imagination isn't up to the task of approximating what it's like to actually be depressed.  Understand that you aren't qualified to determine who around you is entitled to be depressed.  And if someone you know indicates that he or she may be depressed, take the "that's life" speech and shove it.  No one who is depressed has ever been helped by someone who isn't depressed telling them they need to get over it. The best you can do is tell them that you will support them if they address the situation and seek help.  You'd be surprised how hard it is to seek help when you're already self-conscious about the problem.  The best you can ever do for someone who is depressed is help alleviate that singular instance of embarrassment on their part.