Words strike like hammer blows
Logic says you don’t mean to hurt
Yet still it does
Like a knife
My brave face
Hides away behind
My bleeding heart
My esteem on the sidewalk
For all to see
Deeper I plunge
Into the well
There is so much I want to say about what I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis when it comes generally speaking, mental illness, and specifically in my case, depression. Especially as there are many associated stigmas. I took a considerable amount of time deciding whether to publish this or not as I know there will be some near me who don’t want to hear this. I’ll take that risk.
First off, I found a good definition of depression from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) website that states the following about depression: “Problems and misfortunes are a part of life. Everyone experiences unhappiness, and many people may become depressed temporarily when things don’t go as they would like. Experiences of failure commonly result in temporary feelings of worthlessness and self-blame, while personal losses cause feelings of sadness, disappointment and emptiness. Such feelings are normal, and they usually pass after a short time. This is not the case with depressive illness… Depression becomes an illness, or clinical depression, when the feelings described above are severe, last for several weeks, and begin to interfere with one’s work and social life. Depressive illness can change the way a person thinks and behaves, and how his/her body functions… ”
I was listening to CBC radio the other day and I heard an interview with Shelagh Rogers, a CBC radio personality who was recently awarded an Officer of the Order of Canada. She started to talk about her battle with depression (see an article on her depression).
Also, here is the CBC Radio’s The Current where Steven Page, formerly of the band The Bare Naked Ladies, spoke about his struggles with mental illness, specifically depression and mania***. Please listen here and I hope it helps you to understand that depression is very real and very difficult to deal with. You can also look at The Current’s archives as they have several episodes on mental illness.
You know, some would say why are you talking about this? Some would rather not know this about me, some would say that it is a sign of weakness, and many have said the following:
- it’s just a phase
- sleep on it, you’ll feel better tomorrow
- it’s okay, we all feel down sometimes
- Or the worst, from the most naive: “get over it!”
Wrong thing to say to someone who, at times, can’t get over it! Here is some “Tips for having a successful conversation” from the Depression Hurts website:
- Be an “active listener.” Before responding with your own thoughts, try repeating back what the person has just said.
- Don’t worry about having the right answer. Just being present and showing you care can go a long way.
- Don’t belittle the person’s feelings. Attempts to say something positive like “You don’t seem that bad to me” can actually make a depressed person feel worse.
- Don’t forget to say things like “I love you,” “I’m here for you,” and “You’re not alone in this.”
I am as open as possible with those around me. Always. I prefer truth and honesty about who I am and how I feel over putting on a false “smiling” front while falling apart inside. I don’t gamble thankfully as I would be crappy at poker. You can read my face like a large print book! When I’m down, you’ll know it. I tend to get quiet, introspective, find it hard to smile to laugh along. So often this is mistaken for sullenness, irritation, snobbishness, that I’m angry at them about something. I’m not a talkative in the first place, unless I feel safe, and then again I’m quite shy on top of it all. This is my built-in defence against being too easily hurt. So many times I’ve heard the phrase “don’t be so sensitive” or “don’t take it personally” and while I do strive to not take it personally, it still strikes my emotions like it was a personal attack. It hurts. I don’t want it to, but it does. I never blame the person unless they deserve it. I’ve come to understand that this “sensitivity” I have is easily shattered so I strive to understand beyond the surface to make sure it isn’t a personal attack. But I hurt the same. That part sucks!
I have to live with the fact that who I am tends to lead me away from people, rather than towards them. A good reason I have many “social network” friends and not a lot of “in person” friends. I remember in any school I’ve attended I was that guy that knew everyone but hung out with few. Yeah, I’m a loner. I’m okay with that.
I’m not great at small talk. I prefer being real. If you came up to me and started talking about the weather or that store you love to shop in, I’ll politely listen, but you’ll lose me fast. An exception to that is the Vancouver Canucks NHL team, but that’s a rare exception to the rule. Ha ha. However, if you came up to me and said that you were having a shitty day, that you felt down because you friend said something that upset you. I will perk up and listen and engage.
I prefer to hear about the heart on your sleeve than the watch on your wrist
I’d been feeling very low over the last month or so. I know a lot of it was from not having the consistency, safety, of a job and then just before Christmas, my brother nearly died from spinal meningitis really sent my emotions into a tailspin.
A more clinical look into my head when I feel depression. When the levels of serotonin** in my brain begin to fall I feel the following: a weight on my shoulders, an ache deep in my bones and accompanied by melancholy or gloomy frame of mind. The past month it’s been really dark. I felt like I’d fallen down a well and was still falling. That dot of light, while it’s still there, was shrinking yet. My poor wife had to see me quick to tears, in a dark mood, sad, I feel for her having to put up with my swings.
Let’s go back a bit.
It was a little over 12 years ago. Not long after I watched my sister die of cancer. This horrendous event changed something inside me. Maybe the depth of profound grief triggered a reduction in the serotonin levels in my brain or something. Not sure, but my depression became far too pronounced for me to deal with and I was drowning. So, I went to a therapist who diagnosed me and gave me tools to deal with my depression.
These tools are:
- Talking about how I feel. But only to those who have patience to listen. I say this because this is a dangerous thing. Especially as many people (as noted above) have good intentions of wanting to help, give advice, want to “fix” you, or want you to “get past” it. I have to say advice is not what I need. I simply need an ear, let me get it out, it’ll get that weight off my shoulders and I usually feel better sooner than later. And I’ll tell you a good therapist who specializes in depression and such mood disorders it is well worth the cost! I went through hundreds of hours of therapy that helped me in many ways. Also! There are support groups everywhere. There is a support group for anything! I was in several such groups and to listen to another’s stories, another’s battle will show that you are not alone, that you are okay to feel that way and again, talking it through is so healing. If you can find one moderated by a therapist is the best too! Here is some contact information about support groups in British Columbia, but Google “mental illness support groups” and I’m sure you will find one in your area.
- I must say that in the groups I’ve been in I’ve witnessed so many, what Oprah would call “Ah Ha! Moments” or moments when sudden clarity or someone breaks through that wall of hurt and denial. A good example of this is near the end of the movie “Good Will Hunting” where Robin Williams’ character Sean and Matt Damon’s character Will are talking about being beaten as children and Sean keeps repeating to Will, “It’s not your fault” and Will doesn’t get it at first and keeps saying “Yeah, I know.” But Sean keeps on repeating it until the door opens a flood of tears in Will’s realization of how he had blamed himself for his pain. Such a moment of clarity as this is one of the most magnificent in the human condition. It’s a beautiful thing to witness! But I digress…
- Being creative. Usually writing is best for me. I’ll write a poem, work on some writing project or diarizing how I feel and why I feel down. This is my greatest tool that almost always gets me out of that black pit. It helps me better define how I feel and why. I’ll also pick up my guitar and just noodle around, this is another amazing release for me.
- Exercise. This is also a great way to deal with depression. That release of endorphins from exercise changes my mood not only my waistline.
- Meditation. This is a way to get me out of my head and it reduces stress by calming the mind and body.
Back to my story… in 2000 nothing seemed to wipe away my depression. No writing, no talking, no amount of exercise, nothing. It was then that my therapist suggested an antidepressant medication. At the time I’d heard of antidepressants, and had met many who were on or had been on medication in some form or other. Then I had to wade through a significant amount of information, not to say stigma when it came to not only depression, but antidepressant drugs. Many people had all kinds of opinions, some even called the antidepressants immoral!
I chose to go ahead with the antidepressants. At first I was rather over-medicated. It felt like I was in a fog and became a walking “zombie”. And it apparently wasn’t that high a dosage either. Some people said they were taking 200mg or more of the drug daily and I was on 125mg that was far too much. Eventually a reduction to 75mg gave me a better balance. The force of my depression backed off from a sledge-hammer to a nail-puller. I worried about how it would affect my creativity. If you go back in history, some of the best writers had depression. Poe, Kafka, there is some dark stuff in days before antidepressants. But there is also J.K. Rowling, Hugh Laurie, Jim Carrey, hell, David Letterman, there are a lot of people, famous or not, out there functioning so very well with depression and on antidepressants. As noted earlier, there are many out there who are yet to be diagnosed. So many still find the stigma of mental illness too much and they don’t reach out for help. Sadly enough an example of this is growing suicide statistics such as: “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), someone around the globe commits suicide every 40 seconds.”
SO IF YOU FEEL LIKE THIS AT ALL – IF YOU ARE FEELING SO DOWN AND YOU CAN’T GET UP? GET HELP! PLEASE!
Having been diagnosed with depression clarified in my mind that I’ve dealt with depression all my life. I remember so many moments of blackness in my life… that I felt life wasn’t worth it. But I, thankfully, never took that next step. Ever, thankfully. Though I must say that living on my own, in a hole of an apartment in North Vancouver in the mid-80’s, I came so very close to drinking myself to death. Man there were a few weekends, or weeks for that matter, that I’ll not get back…
But, but, but… all the times I felt like everything, every single inch of the world was black, there was always something, always some light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe this is what some could call the “hand of god” or “angels among us” if you are so religiously inclined. Maybe. I think it is also some part of that greater humanity that connects us all: synchronicity, the greater unconsciousness what have you. For me it was that benign thought, that good feeling, that kind hand, whether friend or stranger that reaches out, brings me out of the inky depths. Whether a notion inside me that says, “it’s okay, you’ll get through this” or someone who came out of nowhere, who reached out and said, “you okay?”, or “talk, I’m listening.” This taught me great lessens about gratitude. For each day, for each person who reached out.
Then in early 2005 I felt it was time to step away from the medication. I understood that it was a possibility being on medication for the rest of my life, and some people are. But I felt it was time to step away and test the uneasy waters that are my emotions. I felt my tools were strong enough to take into battle when needed. I’ll tell you it isn’t easy to quit. Like any other mood altering drugs (ie. cocaine, heroin and their ilk) you have to use a step process to make sure there are no withdrawal issues. So slowly over a month and a bit I decreased my dosage until I was off it and have been ever since. It was only recently that I’ve been having that “run over” feeling that I’ve not felt since before I started the medication.
So I am back at the point of whether I should go back to antidepressants or not. So far no, I am starting up a daily meditation, exercise and creativity regime to stave off the black days. So far so good.
Here is some great depression information and links from the Public Health Agency of Canada
Also, you can find great information on the Depression Hurts website.
** Serotonin: A hormone, also called 5-hydroxytryptamine, in the pineal gland, blood platelets, the digestive tract, and the brain. Serotonin acts both as a chemical messenger that transmits nerve signals between nerve cells and that causes blood vessels to narrow. Changes in the serotonin levels in the brain can alter the mood. For example, medications that affect the action of serotonin are used to treat depression. (from www.medterms.com)
*** Mania: An abnormally elevated mood state characterized by such symptoms as inappropriate elation, increased irritability, severe insomnia, grandiose notions, increased speed and/or volume of speech, disconnected and racing thoughts, increased sexual desire, markedly increased energy and activity level, poor judgment, and inappropriate social behavior. A mild form in mania that does not require hospitalization is termed hypomania. Mania that also features symptoms of depression (“agitated depression”) is called mixed mania. (from www.medterms.com)