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.
Continue reading “Depression and mental health: let’s discuss it.”