Here’s the thing with depression–I never really know when I’m just having an off day and when I’m engaged in a full-blown debilitating episode, until I’m on the other side, that is. As I ran errands today I thought about this post by my friend Kirsty, and figured the least I could do is add one more voice about depression in case you ever encounter someone who battles this illness. It’s not the same for everyone, but it’s also important to understand that each person affected by depression handles it differently. Here’s how it tends to go for me.
In my case, because I am analytical by nature, I become my own worst enemy during a depressive episode. I identify what I am feeling, and my brain immediately splits in two. One half nurtures the depression, almost revels in it, rolls out a welcome mat and fixes it a nice cup of hot cocoa. One half tries to talk me out of it, draws all manner of coping weapons and tells me I’m being irrational. I’ve had enough therapy in my lifetime to know the signs and what I can do to offset the effects.
The problem with that is the depressed half refuses to listen, so what I should do becomes flat-out impossible to do. So this weekend, while one side of my brain was trotting out every demon I’ve ever dealt with, the other side was fighting like mad (and getting its ass kicked) for nearly three days. But since I managed to not only drag myself through three hours of church on Sunday and to choir practice that night, I knew times were not entirely desperate. Yet.
Other signs I was okay (this was the analytical side of my brain–looking around for proof that I was not yet in dire straits): I was still eating normally–not binging and not not-eating, I was still picking up after myself–though not as diligently, I was still showering and putting on makeup–though it took me longer, and I was still making my bed in the morning. (Trust me, making the bed is a big deal when you’re depressed.) But I didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t want to be around anyone, and the only reason I went to church and choir was out of a sheer sense of duty and not at all because I wanted to.
I’ll admit, the scary part is not knowing when or if the rebound will happen. Because if I wait too long to figure it out, there’s a good chance I’d get belligerent at any intervention attempts. But like Kirsty said, “That’s the worst part. When you desperately want to get out of the grip. You know you are hurting people, you are hurting the people you love best in the world and the internal struggle to stop doing that is immense. But you are paralyzed. You.just.can’t. snap.out.of.it.”
Luckily, by today I had “snapped out of it.” Most of it, anyway. I ran errands, interacted pleasantly with cashiers, sent emails, even sang along to songs on the radio once or twice. Last night before I went to bed I made a to-do list (one of the coping weapons) and so far have done all but one item on the list. I feel more “normal,” as much as I hate that word.
And then I read this article (lots of F-words, so be warned.) and I actually laughed and identified with it. So I’m pretty sure I’m on the mend. I mean, clearly I’m better, because I’m writing about it.
I’m also pretty sure that if it had gone on for a day or two longer, I would have needed professional help.
I’m not writing this post for pity or because it’s a “cry for help” and I’m not going to end it with some well-meaning phone numbers or resources for depression. I’m writing this because while we have no problem at all talking about any manner of disease or affliction, from cancer to diabetes to erectile dysfunction, we don’t want to talk or hear about depression.
I’m sure part of that is because it’s so inexplicable. Cancer = bad cells. Diabetes = bad pancreas. Erectile dysfunction = bad penis. Depression = bad brain? Bad seratonin levels? Any number of external factors? And what do we know about the brain anyway? Are you really depressed? Why is that question okay, but “are you really diabetic?” is insulting? So that’s why I wrote this. We don’t talk about it enough.
Once upon a time, cancer was a bad word. People didn’t want to talk about it, probably because the prognosis for most cancers was devastating. But then we learned more about it, and while the diagnosis of cancer is devastating, many times the prognosis is hopeful.
Maybe by the time I die, the same will happen with depression–that it will no longer be a disease that carries judgment, but simply a disease that can be managed and one day, maybe even cured.