Nobody Wants to be a crappy person

A person wrote to me recently asking what depression looks like for me. He said things that have come out of my own mouth before. He was discouraged and needed guidance, but insisted that talk therapy and drugs were not for him. 

This was my reply:

I can much.  The mind fog, paranoia, very short temper, seeing all that happening and feeling guilty about it - those are my worst enemies.

I would be scared too if I had to make a major life decision like that. It's part of your identity. It's directly tied to your feelings of success as a parent and a husband. That's huge. It sounds like you have a really good sense of what's going on with you. You want to be whole and genuinely happy. 

So what are you willing to do for it?

As for the fear of diagnosis, therapy, and medication, that is probably something I need to write about publicly. After all these years of educating my loved ones about my bipolar disorder, especially the depression, two people close to me said recently they don't want to rely on drugs to be happy and they see it as a weakness. 

First, nobody wants to feel "broken." But what we WANT is irrelevant in this case. We must set aside our vision of ourselves to look at who we really are.

Second, meds and therapy aren't the only two options, and trying them doesn't make you less of a person. Therapy made me angry at first. It helped, but I couldn't have seen that at the time. I have "maintenance appointments" with my therapist now about once every 6 months and they are fabulous. 

Some drugs have been useless or counterproductive for me. The one I'm on now is keeping me alive. I was suicidal off and on for a few years and trying to hide it (because I thought it was a shameful weakness.) I will probably need to take it for the rest of my life. It raises me to a level where my head is above water.

I am still me, but the feeling of worthlessness, temper, confusion, etc. don't eat up 80% of my day anymore. In fact, it makes me stronger and more "me".

Finally, exercise is an essential part of my regimen, too.  Any kind of activity will do. It helps me almost as much as medication.*
It has been worth facing those fears, and every trial, and every bit of setting my pride aside to get where I am now.


For those who still consider mental illness a weakness rather than a disease, I ask:

Who is stronger?

A person who stares down her fears and tries something new anyway?

Or the person who remains still, takes no risks, and is trapped in a prison of self-loathing?

*  "We think exercise combats depression by enhancing endorphins: natural chemicals that act like morphine and other painkillers. There's also a theory that aerobic activity boost norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. And like antidepressants, exercise helps the brain grow new neurons."               -The Atlantic

Let's get happier faster

Since my ears are attuned to people talking about mood disorders, these are some of the things I've heard in the last couple weeks:

Depressed people are just acting lazy.

Talking about your depression is airing your dirty laundry/sulking.

Everyone blames their family for their depression.

We all get depressed. Why do people make such a big deal out of it?

Depressed people just aren't close enough to God, are ungrateful, etc.

Most of the time when I hear these myths propagated, I tune them out and think "Ain't Nobody got time for that!" because these things are said out of ignorance.

Sometimes I gently attempt to educate people without embarrassing them. 

Today, I am using my online platform to tell a short story.

I forgot to take my medication a few nights ago. Like clockwork, 2 1/2 days later I slipped off the edge off an emotional cliff. Since I didn't realize I had left the pill in the little slot the says "MON" I was bewildered. (Yes, the person who is writing a book called I Am Awesome at Depression couldn't figure this out.)

My medication is so essential to maintaining homeostasis that one irregularity - one missed dose - sent me into the space between the living and the dead. It's a special hell where you can see yourself wanting to be whole, but you have no way to fix it. It is the intersection of depression and mania. It is the most dangerous place for a person with bipolar disorder to be trapped.

When I finally went to take my meds that evening and noticed the offending pill mocking me from the Monday slot, I was so relieved. My appetite, libido, outlook on life, motivation, reason for living, and self-confidence would return to normal in a couple of days.

So, I'll tell you why people make such a big deal out of mood disorders. They can kill you. If they don't, they will kill your spirit so that you're not really living anyway.

I don't like to write about depression all the time. I don't want to romanticize it or overstate it's influence on my life, but it is always there waiting if I take my eyes of the road for just one second.

Here are the highlights of an article distinguishing between 9 different types of depression:

Major Depression is having theses symptoms for more than 2 weeks:  extreme sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, irritability, trouble concentrating, changes in sleep or eating habits, feelings of guilt, physical pain, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Dysthymia is a low mood for a longer period of time. You can function, but not optimally.

Postpartum depression occurs within a year of the baby's birth and can vary in intensity and duration.

Seasonal Affective Disorder causes anxiety, increased irritability, daytime fatigue and weight gain during the months with less sunlight.

Atypical Depression is characterized by oversleeping, overeating, and heaviness in the arms and legs (almost a feeling of paralysis).

Psychotic Depression means losing touch with reality, being catatonic, or having delusions.

Bipolar Disorder (aka manic depression) is swinging between extremely high and extremely low moods. 
Symptoms of mania include high energy, excitement, racing thoughts, and poor judgment. "Symptoms may cycle between depression and mania a few times per year or much more rapidly," Halaris said. "This disorder affects about 2 to 3 percent of the population and has one of the highest risks for suicide." 

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is the more severe version of PMS with depression, anxiety, and mood swings that affect a woman's ability to function normally during the second half of her menstrual cycle.

Situational Depression is triggered by a stressful life-changing event and is about 3 times more common than major depression.

And just to be clear:

I don't blame my parents for my depression, just like you don't blame your family for your sinus infections or chronic heart disease. They're just two separate things.

Nor is my writing about depression meant to embarrass my family. It's meant to light the path for others.

They nurture you, train you, do their best. But in the end it is you who are accountable. You cannot live in the parents' house all your life. You cannot hide in a closet. You don't belong to God - God belongs to you. But God will belong to you when you will belong to yourself.  
-Yogi Bhajan

The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there. 
-Yasutani Roshi 

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.
-Neil deGrasse Tyson