Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Depression - "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, ch. 17

"I took on my depression like it was the fight of my life, which, of course, it was.  I became a student of my own depressed experience, trying to unthread its causes.  What was the root of all this despair?  Was it psychological?  (Mom and Dad's fault?)  Was it just temporal, a "bad time" in my life?  (When the divorce ends, will the depression end with it?)  Was it genetic?  (Melancholy, called by many names, has run through my family for generations, along with its sad bride, Alcoholism.)  Was it cultural?  (Is this just the fallout of a postfeminist American career girl trying to find balance in an increasingly stressful and alienating urban world?)...Was it artistic?  (Don't creative people always suffer from depression because we're so supersensitive and special?)...Was it hormonal?  Dietary?  Philosophical?  Seasonal?   Environmental?  Was I tapping into a universal longing for God?  Did I have a chemical imbalance?  Or did I just need to get laid?  What a large number of factors constitute a single human being!  How very many layers we operate on, and how very many influences we receive from our minds, our bodies, our histories, our families, our cities, our souls and our lunches!  I came to feel that my depression was probably some ever-shifting assortment of all these factors, and probably also included some stuff I couldn't name or claim.  So I faced the fight at every level."  - "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, ch. 17, pg. 49

This was kind of a tough chapter for me to read, as the author described in pretty good detail her phases of depression and how bad they ended up getting before she decided to get help.   A couple of thoughts occurred to me while thinking about this.  

  1. It might sound strange, but I really am thankful that the brand of depression that I struggle with (technically called "dysthymia") began so long ago in my childhood.  Typically, dysthymia starts with traumatic experiences in childhood and puts a person in sort of a "permanent low" (the main symptom of dysthymia is a low, dark, or sad mood on most days for at least 2 years.  In my case, it went undiagnosed for about  25 years).  Because I have pretty much felt this way my entire life, I didn't know that I could be happy or treat it...which is sad.  But, at the same time...I didn't know...so, in a way, to me it is like a blessing in disguise.  I never had the violent depression that some people have (like this author) where they contemplate suicide or want to do drastic things like cut themselves, etc.  I don't know  if this is like Stockholme Syndrome for Mental Health or what, but somehow...after all that I've dealt with and worked through, I guess I'd like to thank God for my depression.  Is it unthinkable for me to see it, in some ways, as a sort of "defense mechanism" that kicked in when I was little...to shield me from the terrible things that I was seeing that no child should see?  I don't know.  It's really tough to analyze and probably pointless.  Because, well...it is what it is.   
  2. I researched my disease and found this interesting nugget, which is just true. "People with dysthymia will often take a negative or discouraging view of themselves, their future, other people, and life events. Problems often seem more difficult to solve." This really does not need any explanation. Hence, the result...this blog.
  3. What a great day it was when I decided to fight for my joy, rather than just let myself be defeated by my own body/mind/negative spirit!  I used to feel that medication was a crutch that people would use if they didn't have enough faith in God to heal them.  More than that, though, I was extremely worried about my propensity to become a drug addict...as it runs in my family and I had grown up watching it destroy lives.  But a very good friend who is a social worker (and who was trying to help me figure out where all this anger inside me comes from) said, "Leah, you know...sometimes Anger is just a mask for Depression."  Then, another friend explained that if I had low levels of seratonin and whatnot in my body, it was not something that was my fault.  It was a PHYSICAL thing...like a broken bone or a disease.  She then said, "You wouldn't tell someone with a broken arm to just try really hard to feel better and just use your arm more and have more faith.  That would be cruel."  It was at that point that I finally understood the possibility of relief from medication.  I have been off and on ever since (currently on) and I have been very lucky to find something that works VERY well for me, with no side effects at all.  I have tried to live without it a couple of times and I do OK for awhile, but then find the panic slipping back into my life. (And, before you even ask...yes, during the "dark times spiritually" that I recently went through, I was off my meds.)  Frankly, my family deserves the best me I can be...so I remain on the meds.  And I'm not embarrassed about that at all.  It took me awhile to become comfortable with the fact that I might be a "lifer".  But it's working...and it's how I fight.  And I like it.

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