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Sometimes things aren't better in the morning

Sometimes things aren’t better in the morning. The opposite of this maxim is one of Colin Powell’s 11 rules that I think about when I am having a depressive episode; that rule being, “It always looks better in the morning.” The other one locked into my brain was simple as well, “Be kind.” But when depression rears its ugly head both those rules get flushed down the crapper. I stop being kind to myself and those around me and, even though I pray for it, sometimes it isn’t better in the morning. It is the one of the worst part of the disease, the ebb and flow of it. It is the daily grind that I imagine those who suffer other traumatic scenarios deal with. As recovering addicts say they live day to day in sobriety. I would agree that depressed people have to live that way to an extent as well. And I don’t want to take away from the overwhelming disease of addiction but we tend to not have a date when we were last depressed. It seems that we are always depressed, it just at different levels. We are full blown, unable to get out of bed, or in remission where everything seems ok but fragile. It is a day by day affair the more I think about it and not simply defined by major depression episodes. There are many smaller hills and mountains that are in between those deserts or valleys of death we have transgressed through. And those are becoming more and more taxing to me. “I’m still depressed,” is becoming a common phrase in my daily vocabulary as my girlfriend asks how I am doing. Anyone else and the answer is “I’m doing Ok.” It is such a struggle to try and reframe reality and see past the seemingly impenetrable fog when I’m like this. The haze blurs everything but I have gotten so good at being a functional depressant that I could trudge through it as if things were fine so I don’t abdicate the responsibilities I have made previously. But I’m starting to see things starting to slip, old habits forming, and the steady heaviness grow on my soul. I don’t want to socialize, I don’t want to study, I don’t want to clean, and I don’t want to do anything but be depressed. I have been here many times before and I try to take the outlook of waiting out a cold. You just don’t get better overnight and there really isn’t anything you can do but minimize the symptoms. So mornings keep passing and the answer steadily becomes the same. You start wondering how often is this going to happen, how often have I been here before, will this actually end? Thank God it does but it seems relentless, unavoidable like the flu or chicken pox. But you don’t want anyone to know you’re sick because of the stigma and you don’t want to admit that you have always been sick with this disease. Soon you start isolating yourself because it seems to be our natural instinct when we are going through a depression episode. And it really doesn’t matter what the trigger is, in this case it was doing poorly on the GRE (Graduate Record Exams), what matters is that it is triggered and you have to start the mental marathon of depression. You have to run through it not knowing where the finish line is, just praying and hoping that there is one. Worst of all there is not anyone cheering you on because you have shunned all those people or don’t want them to know you are running through this hazy maze. So this becomes one of the few outlets I have. I can try real exercise which is next to impossible to motivate myself to do, or clean up a little to take my mind off of my current status. But those are momentary reprieves from the exhaustion of the mental marathon. We all know what these mornings and marathons are like as we sit on our islands that we isolate ourselves on trying to stay alive. There are no markers indicating that we are inching closer to that clear finish line, there sometimes doesn’t even seem to be one. One of the few solaces are that we are not alone, even though we can’t see each other running through the fog with us, we are there together trying…

Depression is hard in general to explain

Depression is hard in general. The worst part it is hard to understand and even harder to explain. A great analogy comes from the HBO series Rome when Lucius Verinus (a Roman Centurion that was Marc Anthony’s 2nd in command in Egypt). Anthony was waging war against Augustus Caesar in Rome by withholding grain shipments from Egypt and had just turned away his wife sent by Augustus to negotiate a truce. His wife instructed Lucius to tell Anthony that he is cowardly scum. When Lucius relays this message to Anthony, he asks Lucius what he thought of him being called cowardly scum by his wife. Once ordered to, Verinus stated, “You’re no coward, but you do have a strong sickness in your soul. One that will eat away at you until you die from it.” “Oh, what is this sickness?” asks Marc Anthony bemused. “I don’t know I’m not a doctor.” “No you are not, then how can you be sure of your diagnosis,” asks Marc Anthony defiantly. Verinus steps closer and sternly states, “I recognize your symptoms, I share the same sickness.” I find that is how depression is as well. There are subtle signs that I can pick up and guess with great propensity of accuracy of someone’s illness. But I can’t really explain the reasons why. It is an instinct, and when people ask “How did you know?” I respond like Verinus, “Because I am depressed too.” Nothing more is shared other than a silent understanding. Maybe a question of meds you take or whether you see a therapist. A shared mutual empathy of suffering is connected but it is intangible and fleeting that it might seem that it did not happen at all. For like this sickness Marc Anthony and Verinus share, neither wants to do anything more than acknowledge it and move on. And the symptoms noted are not the ones that we all know and have answered. Have you a decrease in pleasure of things you used to enjoy, increase or decrease in weight and sleep, do you have thoughts of hopelessness, suicide, mood swings, feeling drained or tired, ect. I notice a nervous tick of a finger on a glass of beer while others are laughing. A downcast look and heavy shoulders when someone is in a crowd. A forced smile and nonchalant, “Yeah I’m just tired”, or “I’m ok,” when asked if something is wrong. The adage is the “eyes are the gate way to the soul.” There is a certain pain I can detect but cannot describe, like an optometrist can diagnose glaucoma but can do so just by inspecting your eyes with no particular signs to look for. You simply see them and know, and when I look at others I wonder if they see it as well. The saddest part of depression is its sigma of being hard to understand. Many people who don’t have depression have had symptoms similar to it before so they believe they can relate as Verinus and Marc Anthony do. But that is like saying I had the Flu once so I know how it feels to have stage 4 terminal cancer. One can only try to empathize. It is a sickness of the soul, a self-absorbed haze of hatred that inhibits any rational or normal thought processes, and can hardly be put into words. More intelligent and eloquent writers than myself have described it in beautiful narratives; books such as Prozac Nation, A history of a Suicide, and Now, More, and Again surround the WW II history books and biographies in my pile of books. It seems that I can relate but only hope I can emulate a small version of these masterpieces. The stigma is the common theme across these novels I read. I don’t want to take away the other crucial soul crushing ailments of alcoholism or drug abuse, but it is an analogy that it is a problem that people can actually empathize and understand. They carry their own stigmas, discrimination, and frustrations but less so than depression. At the opposite spectrum are those that have physical illnesses by no fault of their own such as genetic cancer. But when you have a seemingly normal life with no significant problems and confess I don’t even have the strength to do the dishes, I can’t and don’t want to take care of myself, and worst of all I can’t tell you why; most people respond ignorantly with no malice but ill-informed advice like, “Happiness is a choice, you are just going through a rough patch, I have been there before and you have to want to get better.” I never saw the logic in individuals giving that advice. It’s like telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking or telling a cancer patient you can get better but only if you want to and work at it. I have heard all those pieces of advice before and between my bouts of gasping for breath from the emotional explosion of confessing depression, I simply ignored these and nodded my head. I knew it was useless to try and explain because I barely understood it myself. Usually exhausted from the experience I tried to diffuse it as fast as possible. The person I confessed it to may have checked in with me a couple times after that but it was soon a forgotten incident in their lives and just another similar occurrence that made me more reluctant to open up to anyone unless they too were depressed. Honestly I did not get much out of it, I was drained emotionally talking about it and just became disillusioned to the fact that maybe some way it could be therapeutic. It is the pessimist nature of my being but has been proven right over many times throughout my life. I don’t feel these people are insensitive or have any malice when they act this way, they simply do not know how to handle it and are very disturbed by it. We as humans tend to dislike things we are not familiar with and avoid it. So I can understand why they do that. Ironically the best reactions have been those who simply listened, offered no advice, and urged me to seek professional help. That has always been my approach when I talk to depressed people, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The bottom line is that it is an illness, hence the term mental illness. But it is a loaded word, something obscene that seems to be whispered in corners similar to back in the 70s when others would gossip about so and so having an abortion, using contraceptives, or is a recovering alcoholic. I have confided to supervisors simply to explain that I will be going to therapy sessions sometimes during work hours and have them walk on egg shells around me, as if any negative impact or word would drive me to a downward suicidal spiral. While their care comes from a good natured place, it is misguided. I simply wanted to be treated normal, not like a pariah that you have to worry about and try to offer subtle advice to. It can be very frustrating all around, especially for those around the depressed. It seems like a black hole that sucks people down with you, leaving you more isolated and misunderstood. It is a vicious cycle. There are no survivors in my personal opinion. No chips that states I haven’t been depressed in so many days. And again I don’t want to take away from those that can celebrate those triumphs over significant trials but in my mind that depression does not have any. It can simply be managed, it can be mitigated with medication and therapy. But in my mind (no pun intended since I am in the school of thought that it is a chemical imbalance in the brain) it is with you for life. It almost comes to define you and becomes a very convenient crutch to lean on to justify all the negative behaviors or outcomes in your life in a very unhealthy way. I can ramble ad nauseam about what depression is but to me it is a terrible cross to bear, unseen and misunderstood, with silent sufferings and small victories every day. Like recovering drug addicts it is a day to day affair, slugging it out to try and make it to the next sunrise. But for some reason it seems that we walk through a haze and cannot remember the last time we were not depressed. Some can probably remember their last major episode or God forbid their last suicide attempt, but I know if you asked me I can’t tell you that it has been 7 months and 3 days since I was depressed. I can just tell you that I am depressed and it is being managed right now. I am in a state that the medical community likes to call “remission.” I can say with certainty that it’s a screen that filters the good in life and makes you focus on the malice, hate, and despair. It is wanting to not be you, something you cannot escape. To me, and I feel only very few could understand this, it is the overwhelming desire to delete everything I just wrote because I think it is rambling nonsensical garbage, but the struggle of saving, editing it, and posting it.

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