Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Coping with Clinical Depression

It seems I have a hard time staying happy.

One of the reasons is that my brain is incapable of regulating the neurotransmitter known as serotonin. I take medication for this and mostly it keeps me away from the edge of the pit. The latter, however, is always in range of my peripheral vision.

In truth, I have as many reasons for being happy as I have for not being happy. It's really a matter of which list pops into my mind at any given moment. I do have some control over this but not total control.

Some people still think that clinical depression is a fabricated disability promoted by the pharmaceutical industry. These same people think ADD is a mother's self-justification for being unable to control her child and that autism can be cured with a good spanking.  I've also heard people claim they're much too busy to be depressed.

The truth is you can be the busiest little bee in the hive and still wake up in the belly of the pit.

The logic of the pit dictates that doing your laundry is futile because your clothes will just get dirty again. Similarly, there's no point in making your bed so that you can unmake it sixteen hours later.

In the pit all books you try to read are aimed above your level of comprehension. Either that or they are insufferably boring. Assuming, that is, you are able to read at all. Music of any genre is an assault on your eardrums. Food tastes like cardboard and leaves you feeling bloated or sick to your stomach. Trying to follow a conversation is like trying to discern meaning in the chatter of monkeys.

In the pit every action, however small or ordinary, is exhausting. The mechanics involved in taking a shower or a bath seem so daunting that the thought of doing either one brings tears of frustration to your eyes.

You are certain that the vast majority of people hate you, that your very essence exudes a pernicious form of mental contamination.

You lie down with your eyes closed and pray to be able to sleep. Flash bulbs explode like firecrackers on the inside of your eyelids. Your body is assaulted by random aches and pains. You turn this way and that in your bed, seeking relief. There is a dense, heavy pressure inside you making it impossible to breathe normally.

Despair is no longer an abstract noun; it is a physical presence that has taken command of your mind and body -- heavy, hollow, dark, and all-encompassing.

Getting out of the pit is difficult even with all that medical science has to offer. Not everyone can do it and not every brain is receptive to pharmaceutical solutions, talk therapy, etc.

I am one of the lucky ones. I did not expect the SSRI drugs to work but they did. That is to say, they make me feel what I assume is normal. Or close enough to it.

Contrary to what some people think, anti-depressants do not get you high. They may numb you to a certain extent. You may find that you no longer cry even in situations where crying is appropriate. You may also find that they dull your sex drive -- but who cares since existing in a state of depression pretty much kills it. Mostly the SSRI drugs raise you to an emotional state where you are able to cope. But that state can become tenuous from time to time.

Physical activity helps, there's no doubt about that, whether it be swimming, running, walking or spending thirty minutes a day on the treadmill. Becoming absorbed in a project, any project, is also a good strategy. I don't mean busywork, though. I mean something you care about.

In truth, though, if you are genetically prone to clinical depression, you are never all that far from the rim of the pit.

You simply have to train yourself not to look down.


  1. Thanks for posting this, B. It may have been hard, but it is the truth. I've been depressed this past week because of my job. Even though I quit, I felt like I lost it. And, I am one of those prone to clinical depression, so it has been interesting to analyze what I'm doing vs. what I should be doing. Yesterday, I was still in my pj's at 11 am! Meds do help and I know not to look down too far anymore.

    1. Free time can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the stability of one's mood. I believe that leaving your job was ultimately a good thing since you were having to deal with a group of dysfunctional people. You have your writing and your acting and you will find work that is satisfying. In the meantime, don't look down.

  2. thank you for sharing this very personal experience. I agree that there are some people who don't understand depression and won't until they have experienced it first hand. Having fallen into a mild depression years ago, I have empathy for anyone who cannot express it's not a "good" day. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks. You're right; it's almost impossible to describe depression to people who haven't experienced it. It's a condition that won't succumb to words. I just wish people wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it as laziness or self-indulgence.