15 August 2014

On Depression

I was thinking this morning about depression again. In the wake of Robin Williams' death and the spotlight it's cast on the issue of mental health, it seems appropriate to share some of my own experiences and thoughts.

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when I was 12, if I remember correctly. Over the next three years I worked with my psychiatrist trying out countless combinations of medications to find one that got me on a more or less even keel, and I also started seeing a counselor. We played chess a lot.

I sort of coasted along for a while, until freshman year of high school, when my parents got divorced and I had a much more severe depressive episode. For a little while I was on a tranquilizer - so strong that I was like a zombie all day. Thankfully that didn't last long.

Sophomore year I was more or less unable to leave the house for an entire month, because I was so depressed. I missed four weeks of school. Not good.

Junior and senior years weren't that bad. Same with my first two years of college.

All through this, I was medicated. I didn't know it at the time, but I was also sort of insensate. If I could go back I would have tried to adjust my meds more to make me feel like a more normal human. As it was, I was just kind of deadened inside. I didn't realize how bad it was until I quit taking them.

Here is the embarrassing part. I quit my antidepressants cold-turkey my sophomore year of college, more or less on accident. I was going to school out of state and I was stressed out and didn't realize I had run out until they were gone. By the time my refills arrived it was two weeks later and I'd made it through the worst and I felt alive like I hadn't in a long time. Not only that, I'd grown up and learned how to cope with things a lot better, and so I didn't feel the need to return to the meds at the time.

Now, 8 years later, there are definitely times - days, weeks, sometimes even months - when I feel that old depression coming back. I fight it hard, because I don't want to go back to being a medicated zombie. But I know that if it gets too bad, I do have to go back.

Not only have I suffered from depression, I've lived with it all my life. I have several family members who suffer from it, sometimes in the form of bipolar disorder and sometimes coupled with anxiety disorder as well.

Even though I've lived through it myself, there are times when I have a hard time understanding what they're going through. If you're not in that mindset - if you're not depressed at the time - it can be very hard to empathize. At least, I have found it so. Maybe it's just because of how badly I don't want to go back there that I push it away so strongly.

I'm not sure there was much point to writing all this out. I guess I just hope that, if someone ever does stumble upon this, they'll maybe feel a little less alone. Though I know when I was depressed, even in a crowded room full of other depressed people, I felt alone.

So maybe it's better for people who aren't suffering from depression to come across this. Maybe it'll help them understand a little better. Even if they can't empathize, they don't necessarily have to. They just have to be there, and be vigilant. You can't save everyone, but you can sure as hell try.