Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Depressing Topic

I've debated for a long time whether or not to write a blog entry on this topic. It is personal and I'm fairly emotional about it. But then I thought, if you can't be completely honest and intimate with strangers on the Internet, who CAN you be honest and intimate with?

Let's just be blunt about this - rip the band-aid off quickly. I'm suffering from depression. It took me a very long time to be able to say that sentence, for a variety of reasons. One is that the sentence itself irritates me. The word "depression" implies sadness, and depression is used all the time to discuss much less serious issues. If a person can be depressed because their team lost a ballgame, then what I have is not depression. But the next more generic word would be "mental illness" and that's a word I refuse to even consider. So I don't like the word depression.

The second reason is that I don't like the phrase "suffering from depression." It sounds like the phrase you always hear in depression medication commercials, as in: "Are you, or someone you love, suffering from depression?" I don't want to be "suffering from" but I can't come up with another word that fits. I want to say "dealing with depression," and that phrase is okay (except for the alliteration). I want to refer to this as an "episode" so that no one mistakes me for a chronically depressed person - if this is a mental illness, I've just got a cold, not a full-blown disease.

The third reason is that I don't like the word "I'm." Because that indicates me, myself, Emily, the person I am and always thought I was has turned out to be a different person altogether. I don't want to say *I'm* suffering from depression - *you* can suffer from it all you want, and I'll be totally supportive and understanding, but don't let it be me, please God don't make it be me. I want to lay down on the ground and kick my feet and scream until it goes away, which is basically what I spent all summer doing and trust me, it doesn't work. Depression doesn't go away because you deny its existence or come up with other theories as to what's wrong with you. I mean me. Because I'm the depressed person I'm referring to, no matter how much I want it not to be me.

To be perfectly honest, I feel like my mind betrayed me. Not my mind so much as my brain, the organ or whatever you call it, that gray mass up there has gone haywire, sending out too much of this chemical and not enough of another and whammo! I spend six months getting progressively more irritated, irrational, unable to think clearly, fatigued. What did I ever do to my brain to deserve this kind of treatment? Of all my various body parts, my brain is probably my favorite. I feed it well, try to exercise it regularly, show it off in front of its friends. I think I've taken pretty good care of my brain, and yet it turns on me. If this had been some other body part, it'd be different. A bad back wouldn't be nearly as personal a defect as a bad brain is. I've never been athletic; in fact, I would expect my body to let me down if ever put to the test. If I was on Survivor, I'd be the person doing the puzzle in the challenge, not the swimmer or the strong one or the runner. I feel like my brain stabbed me in the back.

The irony is that other than the depression, my life is good right now. We're doing fine financially, our marriage is strong, the kids are healthy and happy and have friends. I have good friends, school is easy, my schedule is about as relaxed as it can be. There's nothing concrete I can point to and say, "As soon as I fix this, I'll be fine." That doesn't stop me from trying, though. I have spent many an hour thinking, analyzing myself, to find that one character defect that is preventing me from being happy. Guess what: it's not there. Not that I'm defect-free, mind you. But I've got the same defects as, say, a year ago, when I felt if not perfectly happy then at least perfectly normal.

"Normal" is another word I take exception to. I keep hoping that someday I'll be "back to normal." But what is "normal?" According to the Internet, normal means: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. So I'm hoping I'll get back to the Standard Me, the Not-Abnormal Me, Regular Old Me. Unfortunately, I can't really remember much about Regular Old Me. I've spent the last six months thinking I was Regular Old Me but was feeling like Overly Emotional Me, Flies Off The Handle Me, Too Tired For Life Me. Over time, I've assimilated all of these new, depression-related attributes into Regular Me, and it's exceedingly hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I don't have a pithy ending for this blog entry, mostly because I'm still dealing with depression in the present tense. I've started taking a new medication and I'm starting to feel better - the constant fatigue is gone, thank goodness, but I still cry more than is warranted. I have a lot of hope that my depression is manageable and temporary, but I'd settle for manageable. I didn't write about my depression to garner sympathy or attention. I mostly wanted to expose depression for what it really is: a problem with chemicals in the brain. It's not a moral failing, a lack of motivation, laziness, or the latest fad disorder. If it was something I could overcome on my own, through exercise or diet or sheer willpower, you better believe I would have overcome this already. I feel weak for being depressed in the first place (as if it's something I could control), but at the same time I feel incredibly strong and so proud of myself for continuing to live and work and try despite how hard it was. There were days (and still might be) when getting out of bed or going grocery shopping or interacting with my children was an absolutely monumental task. But I did, and have learned to be grateful for the ability to do these things. Once the fog lifts for good, I'll be able to see life and myself more clearly. I will appreciate happiness. I will be creative. Above all, I will be empathetic. I think I'm going to like New And Improved Me if she ever gets here.


rachel said...

Emily, that was awesome! You put into words what I have been unable to articulate. Thankyou for being so open about this - it has been a huge help to me!

lauriebulson said...

Emily, what you wrote here is very well done. I had similar experiences when I was about 15 years old. I cried a lot spontaneously, but couldn't talk to anyone about it. I finally told my Doctor who reprimanded me for being ungratefu, and to think about all the people in the world who were suffering from hunger and war. Then I tried to tell my girlfriend, and she had the same reaction. I was ungrateful. That made me feel worse. Anyway eventually I went to counseling and found I had anxiety which can lead to depression. There is a huge difference between people's attitudes about depression from then 1971, and now, but still it is hard for people to accept it because it is something you can't see or touch. I think writings like this that are so eloquent will strike a chord of truth for many people and help them not feel so isolated. Well done.

Ranisa said...

I love how you put it into words. I have been there. Not easy...I didn't even tell anyone at the time. My husband begged me to see a doctor after I woke him up crying because my son had taken book of the bookcase and had them scattered on the floor. Who cries over books? Or at least who cries over few of them being on the floor?

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have a great way to find the right words to describe how I felt. Know that you are not alone in your feelings and that they are not wrong.

hdknowles said...

You write about this in a clear and very articulate way. Your insight into this process is remarkable. In a world that doesn't understand this illness, you have expressed yourself with such clarify. You do have a strong support system who will be there for you forever. I hope this new medication works for you.

Kim said...

Emily, thanks for the post. I hope your medication works. Depression is really common though and as such there are a lot of things that can be done for it. Trust me as one who has first hand experience since high school with this. It really makes you thankful for the days you wake up not depressed though? On those days, they days you can just wake up, there is no better feeling, when your dealing with depression.

Kelly said...

Emily - I am so grateful to you that you had the courage to voice this vey difficult topic. So many women suffer with this - or have at one point. When I was a Relief Society preident I found out myself that depression among LDS women is quite common (or among women in general), but we don't talk about it. Everyone's story is personal and should be treated as such, even if there is a ton of empathy to go around. We all have a story to share and I commend you for sharing yours.