Just snap out of it! Well you don’t just snap out of pain. Pain is real. Whether it’s from a broken leg, childbirth or from clinical depression. I’ve experienced them all and I can personally say that at least with socially acceptable pain, it has a finite beginning and end. You can hang onto this when it seems over whelming. Mental illness is frightening in the same way of any other chronic illness. You don’t know how long it’s going to last. You don’t know if it’s going to come back and maybe be even worse the next time. However, the catch is no one thinks you’re taking the easy way out by taking medication for a “physical” condition.
With depression, one is supposed to grit their teeth and get over it. Get on with life, get out more, think happy thoughts. Stop whining, get out of bed, take a shower. Brush your teeth. There were times when I made sure that I only had one toothbrush on the sink at a given time because making a decision about which one to use was beyond me. Getting dressed involves way too many decisions, which panties, which shirt, which pants. Oh God, not 1 but 2 socks and then…shoes. Deliver me, Jesus! I have way too many shoes. I now understand completely why some women wear their house shoes to the grocery store.
The catch 22 is that all these activities do sometimes help depression, but the pain involved is beyond description. Unfortunately many people, even those in the medical profession, expect you to grin and bear it. Just get over it, walk it off. Or label you a hypochondriac. Depression is a lonely illness. It doesn’t show the way a cast or a crutch would, or stitches on your forehead. It’s been my dirty little secret my entire life. Telling an employer was not even an option. Telling friends was risky and telling a potential spouse is really scary.
After I married the first time it came out that my first husband’s mother had been in and out of hospitals for manic depression her entire life. One night he announced that he did not believe that depression was a “real” illness. He thought she was just too lazy to be a mother and wife. My blood ran cold. I asked what her symptoms were. He said, “you know.” Uh, no I don’t know, please be more specific. “She just wasn’t nice and got really lazy.” Define not nice and lazy. “She didn’t want to cook dinner or clean the house.” When she got like that his dad would check her into a mental hospital. Holy crap. I was terrified at this point. Mental note, start saving money to the hell out of here before you end up in the hospital. And I did. It took 10 years to work up the nerve to get into a serious relationship again after that. It is sad that back when she was ill the only treatment for depression was electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is helpful in some cases, but it was her only option. None of the medications available today were created yet.
I spent the last week reading a book called the “Noonday Devil: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon. Tortured by depression himself, he wrote what I think is the most comprehensive book about what it’s like on the inside of any I ever read. His book addresses many aspects of this disorder. To medicate of not. The politics of depression. Suicidal ideation. Nature versus nurture theories. The battle for insurance coverage. Depression in poverty and homelessness. Gender aspects of how men and women exhibit different symptoms of the same disorder. Recent break throughs and ongoing research of the brain. Solomon traveled the world and interviewed people of many cultures. One over-riding impression comes through. Depression is grossly misunderstood and overall it sucks!
One thing that jumped off the pages at me was the research that points to the fact that our brain is ever-changing and making new pathways. The scary thing about depression is that, left untreated, the brain learns to be depressed all the time and it gets worse. The misfiring pathways eventually nudge out the happy circuits. It is a physical change that is now visible on brain scans. Where medication comes in is that it helps to prevent this negative pathway creation in the brain so a patient has time to repair and develop new pathways and circuits in the brain. I’m all for it.
If it turns out that I have to take medication for depression for the for the rest of my life so what? I don’t tell myself to “snap out of” diabetes. Sure diet and lifestyle management is important, but I’m not planning on stopping diabetes meds anytime soon.
I’m feeling pretty good these days. Thank God for that. Sometimes I think that maybe I’m a boring person because I’m not as zany on meds. I don’t tend to pontificate as often. Now I kinda like feeling boring. It’s a helluva lot better than running around chasing my tail. Hiding, apologizing, and mending fences. Building a new me takes time and effort. But, most days I’m up to the challenge. Even if I do it in my pajamas.