I get asked these question in it's various forms from time to time by well meaning people and honestly, it irritates me.
Asking any depressed person the WHY or WHAT question is like asking a person with cancer why they have cancer. Or a cold or the flu. There may be things in life--genetics, circumstances, stress--that may help to contribute to these diseases, but really, it's not something we have a whole lot of control over.
That's right. Depression is not a 'mood' I can control. Yes, there are moments in a persons life, when life isn't going quite right and they say they feel depressed-- have the blues. But the kind of depression that puts a person in the painful, fragile place, such as where I am currently, is not just a 'shake it off and put on a happy face, fake it till you make it' type situation. It's not something that will blow over in a little while, on its own. We're talking chemical changes in the brain. Misfiring if you will, and creating all kinds of havoc that can range from low energy to loss of interest in things that normally bring pleasure, from feeling irritable to sad and weepy, from insomnia to sleeping all the time. It can bring physical pain, like backaches. Oodles and oodles of fun stuff like that.
I was first diagnosed with clinical depression in 1997 but honestly, I think I developed severe depression as a teenager, perhaps even younger than that....
Deep breath here. I'm going to share something I have never shared before on my blog.
When I was 9 years old, I was molested. That traumatic experience shaped me dramatically and has had a profound effect on my entire life. From out of that sexual abuse, came a young girl who lacked greatly in self esteem, had a warped view of herself and this combined with some other dysfunctional circumstances, came a rebellious teenager with an invisible "L" on her forehead. (L for loser) It's little wonder that at 16 I ran away from home to be with my boyfriend, leaving home for good at 17 to marry him and then spent the next 15 years of my life being mistreated, manipulated, abused and controlled in every way possible. Looking back I can see how the abuse as a child really set me up for the abuse as an adult. I had no real concept of boundaries and was in no position of power to stop the abuse.
I'd say that was plenty to get depressed about, wouldn't you?
But I was never diagnosed with depression back then. After I finally escaped that first marriage, and was in counseling, I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and it was a long road of healing for me. Long road. (but a ton of really great stuff happened as a result which makes me very happy)
So. Back to 1997 and that first official diagnosis. I was prescribed some anti depressants for short term use. I eventually began to feel better and life went on. Along the way I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, which is story we'll save for a another day.
In 2005, I hit the bottom again. Big time. Back to the doctor I went and this time she said a new word. Dysthymia. It's a chronic type of depression in which a person's moods are regularly low, however the symptoms are not as severe as a person with major depression.(There is some research that suggests both the serotonin and the dopamine levels are affected in Dysthymia but that is probably more clinical information than most of us want to know) My doctor figured I developed this as a teen and have been ebbing and flowing with it ever since. Huh, go figure. Expose a person to repeated stresses, and I mean, some major ones. and the chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) in the brain change. They don't change back. So thank God, and I mean, really, Thank GOD, modern science has figured out a way to treat this through the use of medicine. Hey, I may not like having to take a pill every day but my mom doesn't like to shoot up with insulin either. We do it because it is what is needed to restore us to better health. I make it a practise to say a prayer of thanksgiving every morning as I swallow my "happy pill".
Another question I get asked is "Are you feeling better?"
I appreciate the care and concern with which this is asked because I know people mean well but its a hard question to answer, probably because it's difficult to put 'feeling better' into something quantitative. Is the medicine working? Yes. Is it curing me? No. It's leveling me out so I can function but it's not going to take the disorder away. Until I get to Heaven and get my new body, I'm gonna be rolling with this.
About 3 months after I started my antidepressants (back in 2005) I went in for a checkup. The doctor asked me how I was doing. I remember making a movement with my hand to indicate a flat line. No ups. No downs. Just a flat level line. And to that I verbally added "Everything feels... beige." My doctor tilted her head slightly as she processed my answer and smiled. Apparently she thought this was progress.
The medication has a tendency to kind of muffle things. I don't know how else to describe it. I do feel that I am leveling out, no more roller coaster action, but there is a barrier there... like I am rolled in bubble wrap.
Flatlined? Beige? Muffled? Bubble wrapped?
In some ways, I am relieved to know that, in time, this becomes the new normal.