So… I think it might be a good time for a serious post, because I’m in a serious mood and I need to get something off my chest. If you’re looking for humor, you might want to look elsewhere because I’m going to talk about depression, and depression isn’t very funny.
I got my diagnosis in ’86 and it’s been a battle all the way. For the record, I am well aware that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. I knew that when my doctor was explaining my diagnosis. He warned me that people would ask questions like, “What have you got to be depressed about?” or say things like “Cheer up! Smile, you’ll feel better.”
He and I had a long talk about it. He had scheduled me for a 30 minute appointment that ended up lasting 45 minutes (my apologies to everyone stuck in the waiting room, but I’m sure some of you understood). One of the first things he told me was, “Anti-depressants do not cure depression they only help you live with it. Therapy takes longer, but in the long run, is a lot better for you and your body than chemicals.”
We discussed my constant malaise, fatigue, pain in every inch of my body and headaches that would make me want to put my head under the wheels of my car. He said it was part of the depression. I asked for something that would help and he hesitated.
“I’ll give you something for the headaches, but if I give you something for the other pain you’re feeling now, it will only get worse. Therapy will help with that as well.”
I didn’t sign up for therapy because my health insurance didn’t cover it, after all, back then depression wasn’t considered a real medical issue by the insurance companies. Good times. I tried a couple of the anti-depressants, but one of them made me suicidal, and the other…well, to be honest I’m not sure what the hell happened because I went kind of blank. After each med trial, I’d go back to the doc and he would evaluate me. He got me off the first one, and when I went in on the second, he says I almost scared him. I looked kind of dead inside. I have a feeling I felt that way too, only I don’t remember it. Deciding it was too much trouble, I stopped trying to find medication to fix my problem and just lived with it, after all, I’d been living with it for ten years prior to that, so nothing was going to change.
But it did. It got worse when my life seemed to get better. Even though I was married to a great guy and we had a growing family, I found myself falling into the abyss so I went back to the doctor. My previous physician had moved so I found a new one. We discussed my diagnosis and we decided to begin with new meds. He also suggested therapy, but my husband frowned upon that.
The new meds tried to kill me. Hallucinations of varying types including olfactory (phantom smells), visual (whoa! What the hell are THOSE things?), and audio (voices. In my head. I hated those the most). When we finally found something that didn’t make me crazier than I already was they began shutting down important organs, starting with my kidneys and moving toward my liver. Even my heart took a beating (ha ha ha, bad medical humor). Not only did they try to kill me, they did not help lift my depression. Finally, the doctor said it was time to try therapy and he would prescribe it so the insurance would pay more. I had ten visits to get my shit in order.
The first visit was easy. Dr. R and I talked and got to know each other. We discovered many commonalities and we really clicked. I looked forward to our next session, even though she gave me homework to do in the meantime. I was supposed to think about things and write them down. Specifically, I was supposed to write down things that made me feel bad, things that made me feel good, and things that made me angry. Then I was supposed to write down what I did.
The list was long and it took her five minutes to peruse it, asking questions and making notes. She asked me how I was feeling and I remember shrugging. “Fine, I guess.”
“That’s not an answer. How does your body feel?”
“It hurts, but that’s normal.”
“No it’s not.”
All this time, I figured my pain was the same thing everyone else felt. I remember being in high school and wondering what it would feel like to not have pain. We talked about triggers and reactions. She made me dig deep into my emotions; she made me poke at the things that scared me so bad I couldn’t think about them without fearing I’d lose my mind. She helped me drag those things into the light so we could see them and she helped me turn them into something different. They were still there, but they were rendered inert. Not all of them, and not all at once, but here’s the thing: she taught me how to do it for, and by, myself.
She gave me the power to look at what hurt me and examine it until I knew it well enough to say, “whoa” and then make a choice to keep fearing it, or remove its power over me.
She did not cure my depression. I’m still in constant pain and I cannot take anything but over the counter meds. My body will not tolerate prescription drugs, at least not the ones you can take outside the hospital. Codeine, Percocet, etc, give me migraines worse than any pain they can take away. Others make me so ill I cannot keep them in my body long enough for them to do any good. Plus, throwing up that hard can cause some lovely problems as well.
So I take my OTC “cocktail” of extra strength migraine aspirin/acetaminophen/caffeine, quick release acetaminophen, and extended release acetaminophen. Two of each actually gets me through most of a morning. My kidneys will probably take out a contract on me, but the rest of my body seems to appreciate the relief, however minor, however short. When it stops working, I switch to ibuprofen and stay on that until it stops working, then I switch back. It helps.
I’m also taking as much vitamin D as I can tolerate, omega 3’s, and nightly doses of magnesium. It helps me. The pain is still there, but it’s always been there. I would like to think that some day it will be gone, but until then, I’ll deal.
When the dark horse rides and I’m dragged deeper into the abyss, I eventually remember she gave me keys and tools to use to get myself turned back toward the light. But there is always the danger of being sucked under, as I’m never completely out of depression. It is part of me. But now what is also part of me is the knowledge that I can pull myself into a better place. I can make choices, tough choices, and I can move forward. I can set foot into the light and feel the warmth.
Depression will always be there, and I’m never fooled into thinking I’m cured. But I’m getting stronger. I’m saying “whoa” more times than I’m saying “woe.” I’m rendering my fears less harmful, and eventually they become harmless. I’m letting go of them and some of the chains are dropping away.
One of the most significant (and recent) realizations came to me on a drive back from the beach. It’s a three hour session with myself (and goddammit bird) so I get a lot of thinking done. I was bemoaning that I’ve never been first in anyone’s life (except my children when they were infants, but that’s only because I was food). I’ve always taken second place, even when I put others in first place in my life. It was then that I realized there was one person who could, and SHOULD put me first and that is me!
It goes against everything I learned when I was a Christian, and even now I feel uneasy thinking it, but it’s true. I will always have me, and by golly, I should be first in my life. Tam is the next first, and my children. It’s a little crowded, but I know the order. We all stand together, and there might be some shifting around on occasion, but I’m always first for me. I know that no matter what happens to any other relationship in my life, I will always have me, and I’d better start treating me well so I don’t stop talking to myself and giving myself chocolate when the need arises.
Sad things happen, and when you’re a person with depression, those sad things can be devastating. People who do not share the diagnosis also feel sad, but it may not be the same level of pain, and they may not suffer as long. For the depressed, pain and misery can be exaggerated (literally and figuratively) making it harder than hell to come around.
But if you’re lucky, you’ll find a therapist who can give you some keys and tools and help you gain the skills to make that stay in the abyss a little less devastating, and a lot shorter. Use the tools. Allow yourself to become important to YOU. Buy yourself something nice, or take yourself to the library if you’re broke (like me). Treat yourself the way you want to be treated, because if you’re waiting for someone else to do it, you’d better pack a lunch and bring a sleeping bag, because you’re going to have a long wait.
Allow yourself to become strong; the only one who can inflict the most damage to you is yourself.