11.09.2008

Battling Depression

Somewhere in the mid to late 90s, having a mental illness suddenly became trendy. It seemed everyone was on some sort of antidepressive drug. The cool kids were on Prozac. The annoying ones turned out to have "ADD" and were on Ritalin.

I was in my early 20s before I joined the mental illness cool train. Although they have yet to prove a genetic predilection to mental illness, doctors don't deny that it runs in the family. It runs in mine, lucky me. When I first starting presenting symptoms, my doctor at the time gave me medication to help the symptoms without officially diagnosing me with depression. After all, I was a low energy insomniac with occasional feelings of worthlessness and longer periods of being blue, but no major depressive episodes. No crying for hours uncontrollably. No thoughts of suicide.

At the time, my eldest cousin lived not too far away. We didn't grow up close (geographically) and living in the same metro area (Houston) was giving us a chance to get to know each other as adults. He is also a depressive, and one evening we had a long talk about depression. Until you have been a depressive, it is difficult to understand what those errant brain chemicals can do to you. We came up with this analogy, which has served me well in the years since:

Depression is like a gray storm cloud. Sometimes you can see the storm brewing on the horizon, other times you wake up and the sky is cloudy and gray. You don't know exactly when it will hit. You don't know how long it will last. Sometimes it is just gray. Other times, those storm clouds bring heavy rain, thunder, and lightning. Like the weather, you don't know how long it will be before you see the sun again. It may be a couple of days. It may be a month. And like the weather, there ain't diddly you can do about it, except grab an umbrella or a coat and tough it out. The weather doesn't care about your plans. It doesn't care if you're going to have a good day or a bad day. It's just weather, and you just have to deal with it.

People who aren't depressives have a hard time understanding depression, and I can't blame them. I've heard everything from, "your life is going great, why are you depressed?" to "well, can't you just tell yourself to feel better?" I recognize the symptoms when an episode is coming. Logical thought leaves me. I only have illogical and highly emotional reactions. The glass is definitely half empty, and minor things suddenly become the worst things ever. You literally cannot see the forest for the burrs and rotting limbs on the trees.

An insurance change meant a doctor change, and a different doctor in Houston finally addressed the elephant in the room and diagnosed me as a depressive. We tried changing my medications because one side effect of the medication I was taking was an uncontrollable craving for sweets, and I was putting on weight. We discovered together that I am a member of the very small percentage of people who cannot tolerate Prozac. When I moved to Miami to work on my doctorate, a friend's partner was a psychiatric nurse practitioner. As doctoral studies chipped away at my already fragile emotional state, he agreed to see me "off the books" as a patient.

Chronic Major Depressive Disorder is something I will fight all my life. I have learned many things about dealing with it, though. I am not opposed to medication, although I do tend to wait until I'm really bad. Exercise and meditation/yoga helps, once I can motivate myself enough to get active. A good circle of supportive, understanding friends and family is worth more than I can express. And therapy. Having an external ear to listen to you and really make you dig into the problems works wonders. Lastly comes my faith in God. Through Him, all things are possible.

Even when it is gray and raining outside.

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