First Time Depression Began
The first time I noticed it was when I was 17 and reading Dostoyevsky as a high school senior. It was February and fucking cold, too. Just reading Crime and Punishment can put an annoyingly cheery person into a funk, and combine that with weeks of no sun and frigid temps can send a person near the edge.
But that summer I moved out of state and the depression followed me there. By the age of 19 it was more severe. Not too uncommon when you’re living away from friends and family, but still.
Memory Uncover Recovery
I eventually sought a therapist, but this was in the 1990s when nearly all therapists tried to convince you that you’d been molested by a relative as a child and simply needed to uncover the memory. I was living on the east coast and nearly everyone was in therapy and uncovering these “memories” left and right. Almost every friend of mine in college had some such “memory” uncovered, some claiming it happened as early as 6 months old. So the “cure” was supposed to be this, that I: 1. “uncover” a horrific childhood molestation, 2. grieve openly about it at the therapist’s office, 3. then wear a Victim badge around and 4. join a group (find one!) of other women who had likewise been “empowered” by similar memories. Oh, and 5. Continue therapy so I could whine about how my life was completely ruined by this uncovered memory.
Why this didn’t work: I was not molested as a child. But you must have been, everyone proclaimed. Otherwise you wouldn’t be depressed! It was only a matter of uncovering it. THEN I could move on. THEN I would be cured. I thought all this was bullshit (and still do). I’d worked for a woman who went through this (perhaps false) Memory Uncover Recovery, and she was a basket case. She was miserable, bitchy, and angry at the world. She kicked her husband out of the house.
So I sought out a minister or two. Clearly, they said, I was depressed due to a lack of faith. Yes, I went to church, but it wasn’t enough. A bible study, donating money, praying more, whatever it took, the answer lay in my lack of following dogma and lack of bible reading. How did they know this? Because I was depressed. True followers of The Lord are not depressed. You can be a thief or a pedophile, but not depressed.
And yet, I did pray about it. I went on a religious retreat. At one of the “sessions,” the minister said that because we were in that room and really prayed hard for something, (something within the guidelines of the 10 commandments, I assume), that it would come true. Natch, I prayed for the depression to end. Prayed hard. All to no avail.
When the Depression was finally “Real”
Before I ended up going the medical route for seeking help, I could sort of pretend that I didn’t have a problem. Pretend to myself, I mean, because who else would give a rat’s behind. And really, as one of the counselors later said in group therapy, I looked like I probably got by very well day to day hiding it—she said so in front of the group, which didn’t bother me, in fact I nodded because it’s true. Not so much now maybe, but back then it was not apparent that I had a problem because I functioned very well without any medication. Sure, I drank occasionally and smoked for a few years (horrifying to me now!), but I was young. I was otherwise very responsible. I had a “good” job and bought a house in my mid-20s with a downpayment, yadda yadda.
But, after sitting across from a real doctor on the other side of a long thick desk, it was no longer a secret—rather, no longer a secret to myself at all. Telling him I had episodes of depression felt like a murder confession or something.
What caused me to finally talk to this dude, you might ask? A number of small to medium situational negative factors that kept piling on, in addition to the anxiety that goes hand in hand with depression, and most importantly it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. In the old days it would be called a “nervous breakdown” but today maybe a panic attack or something. Oddly, I don’t qualify as being “depressed enough” where medication can help me. Taking an anti-anxiety pill would just put me to sleep.
Keeping The Secret
There’s a huge stigma attached to depression or mental illness. Actually I hate the term “mental illness” because actually it is a PHYSICAL illness that takes place in the brain. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. That is what causes depression or OCD or ADD or bipolar or anxiety, and all the rest. It’s like if you have a broken leg, you don’t fucking sit there and pray for your leg not to be broken. You have it repaired.
Seeing a doctor was the first time I got any help for this problem. He told me to stop doing stressful shit.
“Huh?!” I was aghast. “But my job and taking care of the house—“
Yeah. And that was before I had kids.
He said not to go on the (somewhat) stressful vacation I had planned for the next day, and to take some time off work, then get a different job.
“Huh?!!” I thought the dude was off his rocker. I protested vehemently. Plus, well, I didn’t really have a problem like all the other crazy shitheads out there. (Note: a sure sign of insanity is believing you are sane.) And I was supposed to be at work on Monday. He was unrelenting in his advice.
It was a damned expensive visit, too. Obviously, I had to call my traveling friend and cancel the trip. But it wasn’t like a lunch date where I could say I was coming down with a cold and had to cancel. We were flying and all. I did not want to make that call. But I did. I made up some excuse that I was ill, which wasn’t really a lie, but there again I said it was something other than the real thing. Followed by promises that we’d go in a couple weeks when I was feeling better, which we did.
To this day, I’m grateful for that doctor’s advice. Not all depression is situational, but a good deal of it can be solved when you change your situation a little. Or a lot.
After that, I was in remission for a couple of years. I tried an SSRI for a couple of months but it did nothing for me, and fortunately I was able to move forward without it. SSRIs don’t help everyone, and I’m one of those people. I met the man of my dreams a couple of months later and we planned to get married two years later. Naturally I shared none of the above with him.
Remission and Back
Seven years passed where I was more or less in remission of a flare up. I basically have a low-level chronic problem intermixed with normal happiness. Bipolar would require mania, which I don’t have. Some situational things happened, like the breakup with my fiancé and later another guy. I cried and grieved over things, but that is different from clinical depression.
Personally I feel that I just have low-level depression with occasional larger flare-ups usually tied in with situtional things. It’s usually for me several things piling up at once, maybe one big thing and other little things around the same time, or several little things and harsh weather, or one big thing that lasts for years. There’s no formula to it.
I had occasional PPD for two months after giving birth, but it was mostly constant crying and I chalked it up to hormones. Thankfully it passed.
Depression is Scary
If you do reach a low point, depression takes you over. It’s a lie that takes you over. And like a demon and when it does, you’re unable to get it out of you. During a time like that, you can’t think or work your way out of it. It isn’t a matter of willpower. Then if you make it through, and see how it was, you shudder with fear that it could take you over like that again. People say, you should’ve called. Which misses the point almost entirely—in that state, it’s not just sadness, it’s also feeling paralyzed and helpless.
Situational Triggers & Seeking Help
Looking back on the past, I would say there were some situational triggers that contributed to (but are not the cause per se) of bringing the low level depression to the higher flare ups.
Of course, we all will have pain in our lives and grieve. It’s completely different from depression. Grieving is normal and has its place and it would be unhealthy not to. Depression is where you feel hopelessness, apathy, sadness, and believe that there is nothing you can do. Only in those moments of clarity without the demon of depression in you is there hope to continue seeking a solution and stave it off.