Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sad Face

I try not to get too confessional and weepy on the internets.  I strive to keep my little corner of the web as entertaining and drama-free as possible.

However.

I recently read this article, and for this first time I feel ready to go public with something I try to down-play as much as possible: my depression.

Get ready for some deep shit, you guys.

It began after I graduated from college. My years at Shenandoah were some of the happiest of my life. College was where I found a "group" for the first time. It was where I learned about and submerged myself into music and theatre. It was on the campus newspaper that I discovered my talent and love of writing and humor. We all tend to "find ourselves" in college, and my case was no different. I was content.

Then I graduated, and that was that.

Suddenly, my closest friends were scattered all over the country. Days that were normally full of classes now needed filling. After two years in my own apartment, I was once again sharing a bedroom and living under parental rule (this wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as I'll get to later). I didn't make a plan for the future. Outside of a month overseas I had nothing solid to look forward to.

Partly, this was my own fault. When deciding as a teenager to dedicate my life to the one thing that made me blissfully happy, there were a lot of things I didn't take into consideration. Mainly, the fact that my life- which at that point had a rhythm and order of school and summers- would never have structure again. I had no idea how important that was to me, or how I would deal without it.

After I returned from England, I used that left-over energy to get myself cast in my first show out of school. I was in theatre again. I was in my element. I made friends. I felt like things could be better, normal. There was life after college. However, every show has to end, and as closing night approached I began to panic at the prospect of facing the empty days again. Was I strong enough to do this forever?

It was at this point that my parents realized something was wrong. We talked. I confessed how miserable I was, and how I didn't understand why. All that happened to me was graduation, and that happens to everyone. Why was it harder for me?

Immediately, my parents got me to the doctor, got me on anti-depressants, and into therapy. The next couple of years my parents were heroically patient as I fumbled with prescriptions, day-jobs, frustrations, and set-backs. Eventually, with the help of the medication and through working with my therapist, I became healthy enough to move to New York, while my parents continue to be a rock of support and love from home.

I'll end my story there, even though the story never truly ends. I'm still in therapy. There are still set-backs and struggles and the shadow of a threat that my worst days may yet return. That is the nature of depression, though. It's not a disease that you "cure". It is something you may have to deal with your entire life.

I once again need to express my profound love and gratitude to my parents. In my stubbornness, I never would have admitted on my own that I needed help. Without them I know that depression would have killed me someday.

That felt good to get out.

The reason I felt the compelled to air my own dirty laundry, was because today I became painfully aware about the misconceptions that still surround depression.

The article I linked to is about a theory proposed by let's say scientists. To wit:

"According to scientists, depression is good for us. They suggest that medicating depression as if it is a disease stops us embracing our miserable side and removes the motivation to change our lives for the better."

Fascinating. Go on.

"Being sad can leave victims stronger, better able to cope with life's challenges, and can lead to great achievements."

That's true! I achieved a lot during my own depression, like sleeping 16 hours a day and losing ten pounds from simply not eating!

"Studies suggest sadness could have a protection function. For example, an ape that doesn't obviously slink off after it loses status may be seen as continuing to challenge the dominant ape - and that could be fatal."

Oh, now that's just silly. If an ape doesn't pout after losing to a stronger ape, that doesn't mean he wasn't appropriately emo. The ape could have just been really stupid. Darwinism, people! It works!

"Professor Jerome Wakefield, of New York University, said: 'I think one of the functions of intense negative emotions is to stop our normal functioning - to make us focus on something else for a while.'"

And that's when my brain exploded.

What's wrong with this article is that regular human sorrow is being generalized as depression, and that's a dangerous misinterpretation.

There is nothing unhealthy about sadness. Sadness is natural and inevitable. Without sadness, there would be no happiness. Sadness is a part of life.

Depression is not sadness.

Clinical depression is a physical condition. It is a numbness. It's the inability to feel happy, sad, angry, anything. It is not healthy and it doesn't have to be accepted by anyone as "natural".

Unfortunately, there is no medical "test" to diagnose depression, much like ADD, it's redheaded step-cousin (which I also dealt with at one point Hi, ADD! I miss you! Hey! Look at what the cat's doing!). It's easy to declare someone as depressed because it all depends on the sufferer's words and behavior. It's a tricky little devil, and hence all the fuzziness and grey areas surrounding it.

That doesn't make it any less real.

I put my story out there in hopes that someone with unshakable opinions on depression as "weakness" will read this and think about it in a different way. I hope it will open up a few dialogues about depression, diagnosis, and treatment. Above all, I hope someone who is depressed themselves will read this and get the help they need and deserve.

Thank you for your indulgence. Now, back to my regularly scheduled nonsense.

1 Comments:

Blogger Billychic said...

Amanda,

I think it was so brave of you - and wonderful - to share this. I found it very helpful to me...I suffer from depression, in different ways.

Your writing is beautiful, and I really appreciate it.

xoxo
d

11:25 AM  

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