13 October 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Depression

In an ideal situation, a person with depression will still often be incapable of expressing himself or herself in a way that connects with other people.  It can be even harder to discuss with one's inner circle because those are your peers.  For me, I felt inferior to my friends and family already; letting them know this only seemed like it would be the ultimate step in failure.  If you're around "Suck it up, that's life" people, it's impossible to open your mouth and say the words, "I'm depressed and I need help."  Literally impossible.  I may as well have wanted to say it in Mandarin, because my brain would not allow those words to escape my lips.

"You had a problem, you needed help, what's the big deal?" you might ask.  It's a common reaction I've received from supportive family and friends who seek to reassure me that they attach no stigma to my experience.  I have no doubt that if I had articulated my despair to them, they would have been just as reassuring, but at the time I was absolutely certain that I couldn't approach any of them about it.  I could tell them I was taking an anti-depressant, but I couldn't bring myself to elaborate.

I found myself trapped within my own body, my cries for help dying on my tongue and often, someone else's sourness escaping in their place.  Even I had no idea where some of my unpleasantness originated, and I wasn't able to do a damn thing about it except hope that the recipient (primarily my wife) understood that it wasn't really me saying those things.  I didn't really hate my whole life; Mr. Hyde hated Dr. Jekyll's life and I didn't have enough potion to contain him.  I feel I've reasserted myself, but now I have to make amends for what he said and did while I was powerless to stop him.
Notice that the guy around Mr. Hyde isn't happy.
Depression is an isolating disease.  It does not wish its victims to connect with other people.  In this regard, I think we can see that depression does not think of itself as a contagious disease capable of spreading to others, but rather it lives in fear that others may break its spell.  It is right to fear this, as I have learned.  It discourages one from reaching out to others, and it makes sure to strain the affections of those few who penetrate its barriers.  Depression tells you that you don't deserve their companionship, that they would be better off without you and after you keep your secret long enough, it becomes easier to live within that sinister bubble.

Once in treatment, I saw evidence of this still.  Several patients rarely left their own rooms, and they're the ones who worried me most.  Many of the ones who did venture into the social room were initially wallflowers, until engaged by the clique of which I was an active member.  I personally connected with at least three other patients, and I was only able to do this because I had been where they were emotionally.  I knew the same fears and doubts that plagued them, so I was able to say to them what they had longed to hear from someone else.

I can't tell you how many times in the last year that I felt like I was playing a game of Charades, unable to actually say what I wanted to say, but hoping someone around me would magically know the right thing to say to me that would allow Dr. Jekyll to shout through Mr. Hyde's mouth.  People aren't telepathic, though, and no matter how I might try, I just couldn't get anyone to say or ask the magic words that would have allowed me to finally say the things I had been keeping to myself.

I was only able to fight this long enough to speak to my wife about this; it was, and is, a testament to the nature of our love that I was able even to say to her what I was able to say.  I was like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, and she was my Short Round (which is weird, 'cause she's really my Marion Ravenwood, but now we're off topic).  It was impossible for me to reach out to anyone else, and I literally mean impossible.  Had I been involved with someone who was not my soul mate and best friend, I would never have been able to even utter the words, "I need to do something about this."  Time and again, what we tried failed and hearing my own doctor tell me I was running out of options only made it worse.  It felt like I was one of the outliers that medical science could not help.  Depression, of course, only needed to hear that to tell me it really was hopeless for me.  Now an actual doctor had said so.
Your Dr. Jekyll is still inside, even when he appears distant.
If there was one message I want to convey in this post, it is this: Depression keeps its victim trapped within a cocoon of misery.  Please, do not let yourself be swayed by Mr. Hyde--either as victim or as outsider.  It's Dr. Jekyll who is real.  If you're the victim of depression, that means that you're not really the person whose behavior you have exhibited.  If you're the outsider, know that your loved one really is still in there, but he or she is trapped and needs your help to become free.  It is not easy, but it can be done.  Depression will make it as difficult as it can, but with your understanding and patience, your loved one is still inside waiting to share the rest of your lives together without Mr. Hyde.