Nothing about writing about depression comes easily for me. But I’ve decided to write this in the sincere hope that I can help somebody. I am battling a painful period of depression currently. This was largely induced by the death of a friend but I’d be lying to say there weren’t myriad other factors in my life. Truthfully the only things I wouldn’t cite would be my friends, family, and especially my beautiful wife who is the greatest thing I have. Nor my job. Just everything else pretty much. It might seem like I’ve removed everything that matters from the equation but trust me, I haven’t.
Suffering from depression is almost inevitable when you’re a high functioning autistic. How can it not be? You’re often lonely. You’re utterly at war with a universe that’s damned indifferent to you. Nothing makes sense in the world. So yes, depression rates are unusually high in our community.
And depression adds another stigma to you. That’s the fun of it. You’re already outside the system and the universe decides to add one more to you. Depression is stigmatized horribly in our society. The depressed are mocked, ridiculed and treated as jokes in even works that would normally have sensitivity to everybody else. You’re told to “just get over it” by people who would never in a million years dare to tell a sick person to “just heal.” And you’re told time and time again that you’re just faking it for attention.
Depression, for those who have never faced it, is a hell that every single one of us facing it are clawing our way out of. We are not wallowing in it for fun. It is the sensation that all hope is gone. That nothing will work out. That nothing you will do will get better. That things will get worse. It is a powerful sensation of fear and anxiety.
So yeah, I’m not a fan of the stigma to say the least.
Much of this has to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of pretty much everything to do with depression. I blame cultural ignorance to be blunt. For a society incredibly aware of the concept of mental illness, we usually don’t know very much about it.We know enough to think we know everything but we don’t.
For starters, depression is often thought to just be sadness. We wish. Depression isn’t just sadness. It’s a complex mix of emotions. It starts with sadness, sure. But there’s a giant thread of fear in depression, the fear life won’t get better and something very bad will happen. There’s anger at the stations that place you here and the frustration that comes. Anxiety smothers all of it. So you can’t just cry it out.
There’s the widely held misconception that if your life is good, you can’t possibly be depressed. This really pisses us off to be blunt. Heard this one a lot when Robin Williams died. My life right now is rather wonderful with a devoted wife who I love. I’m still battling this crap. Why? Because it’s still a part of my makeup and I’m still struggling with it. That doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the joy in my life. It means I’m still struggling with this issue. I always will most likely.
We do indeed face extreme fatigue. This is not a misconception. Fatigue and then accompanying nightmares are common. I’ve even developed a recurring dream that I’m fighting to get food in a restaurant and can’t. Recently it even turned into trying to check out books and not getting to. I’ve also had very dark dreams involving my family and friends. Nightmares are just part and parcel of the chaos and something we face. Even in sleep we are haunted.
So why don’t we just snap out of it? Well that’s not as awful as it sounds. One of the things we’re advised to do is to get out and distract ourselves by focusing on something else. It does work to a great degree too. I feel better when I’m out and about. The problem is eventually I will run into the wall. When you’re in a depressive state, it’s fated to happen. You can’t outrun yourself.
Medicine is really misunderstood I think. There’s this idea that antidepressants numb you. Bad ones do, yes but that’s not how they really work. I see medicine as a clutch that holds us back from constantly combating the problem every day. But you know what? I’ve had two car accidents in a year, a series of setbacks, a healthy amount of rotten luck, and then the capper. I can’t make myself not feel the real issues I’ve faced. I’m not dead. Some things I’m still going to fight.
How do I feel about therapy though? I love it. Too bad for the vast majority of us it’s out of reach. That’s something not discussed very often. I’m not someone flooded with cash and on my previous insurance plan, therapy was pretty limited with a sky high deductible. Hoping for change soon. I believe in therapy though. I think talking to someone who is neutral has to be a good thing. As for going to the church for help, well I’m far from against that either. I’ve been frustrated a lot in some experiences I’ve had but I’ll always like the ideas and values of a like minded community who can help you. If that’s church or a book club, awesome.
What of the arc of depression? I seem to hear this idea put forward a lot. Depression is treated as a curve. You have a period where you get bad then you get better. Ha! No, it’s not that way at all. Here’s what happens. You’ll be bad one day. Then you’ll be worse. Then you’ll be better. Then you’ll be much worse. Then you’ll be okay. Then you’ll ponder suicide. And so on and so forth. Only with time does the balance shift to better days. Even then, there is the awareness that yes, you’ll still eventually find yourself fighting again. But you’ll also be happy too.
That’s the good thing. It gets better. We often like to point out depression lies. It does. The truth you don’t see coming is that things will get better. It does take time. Nobody rebounds from a major episode of depression immediately but we do rebound in time. Little by little we get better.
So how do we get better? There’s no formula. I can say that surrounding oneself with family and friends does help a great deal though. If you can get into therapy or on meds, I advise you do that strongly of course. Don’t lose touch with the things you love either. I’ve lost myself in a number of good comic books and films lately. I’ve also darkened the halls of LR Main Library almost constantly.
More than anything else though, we can’t hide. We can’t put on a false face. If there’s a stigma then let’s fight back! I don’t want to run from myself. I want to own my issues and to air them so I can get better. At the same time we can’t hide either. I haven’t missed work during this bout yet and I have no intention of doing so. I’ve continued to live the life I am obligated to live because that’s what adults do. I might want to run and hide but I can’t. It doesn’t fix things.
All I’ve tried to do with this piece is to tell my truth. If you read this and feel like things are different for you that hardly bothers me. No two lives are alike after all. But we’re all united in this brotherhood of humankind. And no matter what, we’re not alone.