It is mental illness awareness month and I always like to post a bit about it because of all the stigma surrounding that makes it so hush-hush. Which is bull. 1 in 5 of us in our lifetimes will experience mental illness. And that is no small number. So really… where is the shame there? This is something many of us have to deal with. For a short time. Or for a long time. It happens.
I am prone to depression. I just am. I can blame the pain and certainly, that is a massive factor. I could blame situations because some situations really do not help. I can blame meds because, well, antidepressants make me More Epically Depressed. But the fact remains this is a mental illness I deal with no matter the reason, cause, or rationalizations I could come up with.
I had a bad depression that peaked when I was 18, but must have started around 16 or so. And I was through the other side by 20. But it was a rough ride. I had to take a year off university to wrap my head around it. Make some changes. And when I got through it, well damn, I felt such victory. I felt like I knew how to deal with it. That it would Never happen again. Because I had Mastered it, man. Medication had not helped, because as stated the usual meds for depression make me worse. In this time, it made me sleep all day, I was never hungry and I missed a lot of classes. I dropped a lot of weight. And I didn’t care that I was flunking because I was utterly numb. So I went off the meds. I took a year off. And damn it all I got through it myself.
But did I? Or did I just come out from under it naturally as it ran its course? Maybe nothing I did contribute to coming out of it… maybe it was just that bout was over. Or maybe I did help myself out of it. But, hey, this idea that I would never have it again because I had endured it once… bullcrap.
Because depression came back with a roar
I’ll set the new scene. In my late 20’s. Unmanaged fibromyalgia pain. Unmanaged chronic daily migraine pain. Trying to work full-time and failing but not wanting to fail… so pushing and pushing and pushing.
So yeah a mild depression formed from that which I assumed was because I was in a crapton of pain. Makes a lot of sense.
But it grew the longer I endured unmanaged pain. And it became deeper. Darker. I fantasized about getting in a car accident (not with anyone but like diving off the road into a sign) thinking a nice coma would be such a relief. Then I fantasized about having a stroke or heart attack that would just kill me. Just end all this pain. Then I fantasized I would have to end the pain. And then I tried to end the pain. And this is in the course of a decade. I have to say it is astonishing I made it through alive because I survived thousands upon thousands of suicidal thoughts… up until my attempt, which I gave in to them. But I lived. And nothing got better. And I became more depressed because now I was utterly hopeless anything would ever change.
It was a dangerous state to exist in. But ask anyone at all and they didn’t know I was depressed. Not with my smile, my humour, my laugh. Nope. No one could see it unless they listened closely about what I was joking about… because I had some really dark humour stemming from my really dark thoughts.
And I didn’t come out the other side. This depression just stuck around and I felt trapped by it because the chronic pain was relentless and never gave me a break… so how could I deal with these emotions and thoughts about being stuck in the pain? I Was stuck in the pain. No two ways about it. So that fact really made it hard to cope with my dark thoughts about it… since those thoughts were factual. If, of course, made more extreme by the depression.
I was put on Abilify to help with the suicidal ideation. And it was effing awesome. Like someone turned off the switch in my brain that wanted to just end it all. Just stopped it. And possibilities become possibilities again, rather than ardent hopelessness. Awesome sauce. But you know there are things that … linger. And that is because I had been thinking negative thoughts straight for a decade and that record doesn’t stop playing… the sound it just dimmed.
That is where therapy comes into play. Because you have to retrain your brain to think differently. And this is massively hard when you are constantly assaulted by pain. Because pain sucks. In no way is chronic pain a fun thing to endure. So, of course, we have stucky thoughts about it. It literally sucks. This is totally normal. But not to the extent of depression where thoughts become twisted and extreme and distorted. So you have to recognize how you are distorting your thoughts and trying to replace it with more realistic thoughts. And that isn’t easy. Therapy really helps work through it all.
In the end
In the end, I have Major Depressive Disorder that is treated with medication… and was with therapy while I could do it. But it is still there. It is just less Loud. But I have to constantly watch my mood and thoughts. And it may get worse again. It may get better. But it is there still and I am aware of that. Sometimes you don’t get through the other side… you just make it better to live within it. So that you can cope with it. Not to downplay the medication though because that seriously helped me. But it is really like a dimmer switch. I turned down the blaring light… but I can’t quite turn it off, it is just dimmer. I use light as an example because it is like your neurons are on fire with repetitive thoughts that are contrary to your survival. Medication dimmed that forest fire. Therapy helps me control the burn that remains.
No one will have the same way to treat depression. And every depression bout we have differs. I got through a bout without medication… just changed my life in specific ways and used this book my mom got me on treating depression naturally… I was fixated on the chapter on cognitive therapy and it just made a lot of sense to me. But when it came back, well, I couldn’t find my way out of it. Not at all. I needed medication and therapy. To be at the point I am, which still technically is depressed just coping with it significantly better. Some people take antidepressants, which I cannot. I take Abilify because it works for my fickle brain. Some people do not need medication but therapy helps them cope. We are all different.
However, I think I will always have a fear that it will come back as deep and as dark as it was. That even if this bout ends… it will return worse some time down the road. And it could. It always could. In fact, I’d say, knowing my brain, that it is fairly likely sometime in my life I will have another bout, assuming this one ends. Because I know my brain. I know how it copes with stress. I know the thoughts I get when stresses hit me. I know what I think about unsolvable problems like chronic illness. And I know easing back into those negative thoughts is like slipping into a well-worn pair of old jeans… my brain just goes there. It just dives into it. And you can’t tell me to ‘think positive’ because positive thoughts seem ardently false to me. Unrealistic. Fake. My brain doesn’t accept them as real. No, the best I can do, is try to think realistically and not overtly negative. I will never ever be an overly optimistic, positive person. I will always be a bit of a cynic. I will always see the glass as half-empty. But at least, at the moment, I do not think a half-empty glass has nothing in it at all when it actually does.
So maybe that isn’t a happy ending. But that is how my brain rolls. For now, I cope well and that is a damn good thing considering all the stress I am currently under. All I know for sure now is that if I get worse now or in the future… I know to get help. I know that there is nothing wrong with getting help. I know there is nothing to be ashamed of and it doesn’t make me weak. Because I want to survive. And I will.