31 May 2011

Blogging for mental health, two weeks late


As a first step in building Blessed Depth's blog roll, I started looking through a long list of mental health blogs and soon realized I had missed the American Psychological Association's Blogging for Mental Health campaign on May 18. So, two weeks late, I hereby respond to the APA's call to write something to help people recognize the importance of good mental health, overcome stigma, and seek out professional mental health services when needed.

Something is making more and more of our brains go on the fritz, and whatever it is — our go-go-go-buy-buy-buy lives, environmental poisons, exhausted soils, lousy diets, Kit Kat bars — no one has pinned it down so far. The fritziness depletes the brain of needed resources, or knocks them out of whack, and what resources are left will always be diverted first to basic functions like running away from a saber-toothed tiger and back to your cave. More amusing brain functions like appreciating music, looking forward to seeing your friends, and all the other things that get those neurons connecting to create the person who is you: Not a Priority. If your mental health ain't good it means your brain can't activate all the traits/potentials/talents that [insert your deity here] saw fit to kit you out with when you were conceived. Which deprives everyone, especially you, of your vital humanness.

On an old PsychCentral post I found this quote by Save Your Sanity's Erica that's the best description I've found of depression as I experienced it. (Here's her original 8/5/07 post.) (I was warned in school about my use of extended quotes, but I just...can't...stop.)

“Being severely depressed is having things in your brain randomly light on fire. If you’re severely depressed, these fires happen so frequently that all you have time to do is run around trying to get the fires to go out. Sometimes you have water for the fires, sometimes all you can do is try to light a backfire. Sometimes nothing works, and you want to die. Sometimes nothing works, and you live. You can’t tell what’s going to happen, but you can’t ignore the fires because they’re FIRES. You have to put them out. Trying to get back to normal is like building a house. To build a house, you need blueprints, materials, labor, and know-how/experience. I have some of these things, but not all at the same time. And all my experience is in putting out fires. Not building.”

Pastor Jayne and I started this blog because we discovered how helpful it was to have someone to talk to who'd been through the same thing. I almost never spoke to anyone about my depression when I had it, because people either tried to cheer me up, which 1) doesn't work and 2) puts the relationship at a weird tilt, or they offered their Puritanical philosophy that depression is a cross to bear and you have to try harder. At my most charitable, I can remind myself that it is a rare bird who can imagine something like depression if they haven't experienced it. But I secretly suspect that in their previous lives the latter group sold lemonade at witch burnings.

I never found it helpful to think of my brain as my enemy. Why on earth would it be my enemy? Who came up with that idea? It's doing the best it can with what it has. If it can't do its job, go find something to help it.

Seeking out treatment can be an exhausting prospect, even if you have the money and the insurance and the time. I picture it as one of those hedge mazes in English gardens (or the one in "The Shining" — your call). You try one direction, hit a dead end, back up and try another path. If one approach isn't working, it isn't that there is no solution, but that you've got a big privet hedge in your way. Since the Powers That Be don't know exactly what is causing the problem, or why the problem is increasing, attempts at fixing the various things that go wrong are a bit scattershot. However, enough approaches exist (see our earlier post on finding a doctor) that if your mind does decide to take a train ride on the 21st-Century Dispirited, you should be able to find something — or more likely, a combination of somethings — that gets you back to normal functioning.