My depression kicked into gear about a year ago — to the extent that it makes any sense to say this sort of thing “kicks into gear”. Which it doesn’t. Make sense, that is.
So I’ve been wanting to do a sort of status update on it for a while now, but haven’t been able to formulate any single coherent idea I want to communicate. I’ve felt obligated to come up with such a formulation, because I am a writer and an editor, and my job is to pull disparate thoughts into a meaningful whole, to puzzle pieces of a jigsaw together so that it’ll match the picture on the box. But that’s not happening.
I think I need to let go of the hope that I’ll be able to integrate these experiences into any kind of useful narrative.
One small thing that I’ve found odd about my experience is that no one ever sat me down in a room and told me, “Greg, you have depression! I am diagnosing you with depression.” Rather, my psychiatrist just said she thought medication would be useful for me, and gave me a prescription.
Antidepressants are super great. I don’t mean to be flippant about this. But I have not really wanted to kill myself since I started taking bupropion, which is a marked improvement from how things were before. I started taking the medication around December of last year, which means I’m pushing half a year now. So far, so good.
I can still feel dips every now and again. They’re milder than before. I know what they would have felt like a year ago, before medication — and it’s a little eerie, like being under local anesthesia and feeling the pressure of an incision.
The metaphor is not quite a right one, however, because anesthesia implies numbness. Here, depression is the numb condition, and medication has provided me access to a wider range of emotion, not a narrower one.
I feel lucky. I found a medication that works pretty well, with no discernible side effects, and I found it pretty quickly. Because of this, I feel like I’ve cheated somehow. Like I have just enough depression to be sort of special, but free of any truly substantive hardship.
I mean, heck, I never even got sat down in a room and told I was broken! So clearly I must be cheating.
Normally I’d leave the self-deprecation there — but in this case that would be irresponsible. The impulse to say, “Oh, no, it’s not really a big deal, I can handle it, my problems really aren’t so bad,” is a seductive, noxious one. It’s the same impulse that kept me feeling trapped for long enough that I got to the point I did. Which, though far far shy of where it could have eventually gone, was still too far, unnecessarily far.
When I was in my depression, I was convinced I wasn’t worth helping. And any time I got out of it for a spell, this became proof I could handle things just fine. In my experience, the space between depression and dismissal is very narrow.
I used to post stories to this blog on occasion. A few months ago I removed several stories from the archive, reasoning that I might eventually want to submit one to a magazine or contest. (A lot of places don’t accept material that’s been published elsewhere, even if it’s just on a personal blog.)
But here’s a fun fact: as I was taking down posts, I also took down the one post where I mentioned having depression!
The funness of this fact may be lost on you if you never read the post, or don’t remember it very well. Its main thesis (which I was admittedly kind of oblique about) was that the social stigma around mental illness is pretty fucked up, especially given that these conditions by their very nature make it difficult for sufferers to go out and get help. These conditions love festering in the dark, so why conspire to keep the lights off?
So: the post in which I disclosed my depression, and in which I also argued for the importance of more open discussion of mental illness, is the post I deleted.
I hope you can now see why it is such a fun fact that I took down that post.
Isn’t the fact fun? Aren’t you having so much fun???
Imagine a big pool. And to get into the pool, you have to dive in at the deep end.
Everyone is forced to go into the pool.
Most people can swim. For these folks, the pool is a lot of fun! They get to swim around, do underwater somersaults, chat up their friends, and just generally have a ball.
A few people can’t swim. Not through any fault of their own, of course. They just never learned how. But the fact of the matter is they’re in this pool and they can’t swim.
Now, none of the swimmers really wants to come out and say it, but let’s be honest: The non-swimmers? Kind of a drag. These people just can’t let go and have fun. They’re stuck puttering around the shallow end; or clutching at the edge of the pool; or faking it as best they can, kicking frantically, terrified that their tenuous buoyancy will give way at any moment.
Of course, the shallow end is for lame-os. Clutching the edge of the pool is even worse. And — ugh! — let’s not even mention those cheaters who are wearing floaties. They’re never going to learn to swim properly with those stupid things on. At least the people who are faking it are trying. Besides, swimming really isn’t that hard. You just kind of, like, kick your legs and move your arms. It’s actually second-nature. You just need to let yourself learn.
So the swimmers keep swimming. And the non-swimmers do what they can to get by. And occasionally someone will go under, and everyone will look and shake their heads and comment briefly on what a tragedy it all is. Certainly we can all agree on that. Certainly it’s a downright shame.
And then it’s back to swimming.