This is a thing I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but I never quite know how I’m going to go about it. However, in light of the recent loss of an SL friend to depression (see previous post), and the fact that it’s “that time of year”, I think it’s time I just stopped making excuses and went forward.
If you live with, if you suffer from, if you have or are had by depression, you are not alone, and here’s my tiny bit of evidence:
I, Laura, whom most of you know as Mistletoe Ethaniel and/or Clover Windlow, live with depression. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder officially about 12 years ago, but depression is something that I’ve known since at least the age of 4 (I have a vivid memory, for example, of crying and telling my mom that it was for no reason, that I just felt like crying). I’m no stranger to the frustration and the pain and the isolation; if anything I get more frustrated with it now because god damn it by now I should have it all together.
And I don’t. I know that nobody has it all together. I’m sure that outwardly I appear to have it more together than most. That has taken decades of self-discipline to master, and sometimes I feel like a real fraud for it when what I’d like to do is stay in bed and just cry for no reason.
I want to talk about the things that help, the things that have gotten me through the unfathomably dark places, because maybe it will help someone else too. No one thing will make the depression go away entirely, but they can (I hope) help you break free from its grip. And I hope this can offer some insight to people who love someone with depression as well.
Depression is not a character flaw or some kind of “weakness”. It’s a disease, and a potentially fatal one at that. You wouldn’t stay home from a doctor’s office and try to “ride out” diabetes, or mask it from your friends and loved ones, or beat yourself up for not being able to make it go away with your own strength of will.
By way of medical doctors and pharmaceutical treatment, I can live my life. It doesn’t make the depression go away and it certainly hasn’t made my personality go away (a fear many have regarding medication) or my creativity go away (a fear I myself harbored). But it has made it manageable; it’s like reins and a saddle for a wild horse. It’s hard to remember to take it sometimes, but if/when I go off it, the effect can really be a mess. That’s where I come to the next thing:
I know exactly what happens if I miss a dose. I know exactly what happens if I miss two. I know exactly what happens if I take too much. I know exactly when my body is not acting like it should, because something has interacted with what I’m taking (by the way, Seroquel + Dextromethorphan = NO). One of the– I hesitate to say advantages, but it’s the best word I can come up with at the moment– of depression is that it kind of removes you from your self in a way that you can be a dispassionate observer. I am easily able to distinguish what’s “me” and what’s “not me”.
And while I’m discussing self-awareness, I want to stress the importance of not making one’s illness one’s identity. It’s why I tend to stay away from like-diseased groups. I am not bipolar; I have bipolar. I’m still me. In fact most of the time I’m more me than I’ve been in a while, if that makes any amount of sense at all.
And no I don’t mean the whips and chains “yes Mistress” stuff. I mean something far more difficult: self-discipline. The discipline to take the medicine every day at roughly the same time (an alarm clock setting on my phone helps). The discipline to get out of bed when I really really don’t want to (the hardest thing for me to accomplish, when I’m depressed, is this one task. I don’t know if it’s the same for others but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Holy hell). The discipline to go to work and put on my game face when I really don’t want to. The discipline to call the doctor or counselor when I’m just not able to hold myself together on my own. The discipline to make myself something to eat (another sure sign I’m depressed is an anti-compulsion to preparing food for myself).
The hardest part, though, is not beating myself up if I’m not able to do any or all of these things. That creates one hell of a vicious cycle. I try to remember– to have the discipline– to not talk to myself in a way that I wouldn’t allow anyone else to talk to me. Or, on hard days, like I would talk to a child.
At its worst, depression can cause all the emotions to just kind of lock up, and one can get numb to feeling anything at all.
A full moon, a sunrise, a rainbow piercing a summer stormy sky, a spider building its web (an image still with me from an episode 11 years ago). A work of art like Beethoven’s 9th. Something like that can kick me in the chest and cause me to just bawl my fucking eyes out. And that’s a good thing, because feeling bittersweet sad beauty that makes me cry is feeling something.
Sometimes the thing that will stop the harmful cycle of self-defeat is a complete and jarring distraction.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
I want to try to explain to those who haven’t experienced it, how depression distorts one’s perception. One of the things that it convinces its sufferers of, is that it would be wrong to “burden” friends and loved ones, or “bring them down” with our troubles. It convinces us that removing ourselves from their lives is a kinder thing to do for them.
I’m going to say something starkly honest right now: I almost dumped the man who’s now my husband, ten years ago. I wrote the letter and everything. I wanted to protect him from me, because I cared that much about him. But I never sent it, instead figuring I’d let him (he is an adult after all) decide what he can or can’t handle. And he told me then, as he tells me now, “I’m not going anywhere.”
If you have someone you love and they’re fighting with depression, you may not know how to help, or what to say. But I’ll tell you what, reassurance that you’re not going to be driven away is one hell of a start. And stick by it. Really don’t go away, and let them know that you are there and you love them and you’re going to try to get them the help they need.
Or whatever comfort food you like best. We have this thing in Maine called a “whoopie pie” and you’d be hard pressed to feel miserable while eating one of those.
Something to look forward to.
It may be a series of novels you haven’t finished reading, a movie that you’re anticipating, or just a DJ gig in Second Life next week. I find the works get far less gummed up if there’s something, however trivial, to look forward to.
This one’s really radical and for the record I’m not advocating that you just pack up and leave the wife and kids with no notice.
What I am saying is, if you’re in that horrible dark place and you’re seriously considering ending your life, then ask yourself what you have to lose by completely changing your life. A “do-over”, as it’s called in City Slickers: “You remember when we were kids, and we were playing ball, and we hit the ball over the fence out of bounds, and we yelled, DO OVER? Your life is a do over. You’ve got a clean slate.”
Go to that place you always wanted to go, see that sight you always wanted to see in person. What have you got to lose?
And if it’s gotten so desperate that your choices are either leave the wife and kids, or leave this world… go with the first one. You can take it back later on. The second one, you can’t.
Help other people.
There’s nothing like volunteering for a fundraiser, or donating blood, or serving food at a soup kitchen, or mentoring kids, to remind you that your life does have purpose and it is a good one.
Easier said than done when gummed up, I know; but if you can, give it a try. Maybe bake yourself some chocolate chip cookies. Or violently fling some paint at a canvas. Or write bad poetry that nobody else will read. Anything. Something.
Finally, talk to somebody.
If for whatever reason there’s no real flesh-and-blood human being nearby you can talk to, there’s 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK. There’s this page to read while the call is going through.
All right. None of these 1500+ words is an adequate substitute for real medical help, but, I hope it can point someone in the right direction if they’re in need; and I hope it can help those who love someone with depression to be there and support them.
Share your story here, if you want, to remind readers that no you are not alone.