22 July 2011

How long did it take for you to recognize your depression for what it was/is?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: I knew early on what my depression was, but I can't recall when exactly I learned it. My mother told me, because she had grown up with it herself. It was ninth grade at the latest. I do remember sitting in study hall in tenth grade and wondering, "Why do I feel this way, if nothing bad has ever happened to me?"

For a long time I assumed that people who were depressed without knowing it were dumb, or assholes, or both. When I read a magazine interview with a fairly articulate man who said he hadn't realized he was depressed until his wife suggested the possibility, I started to wonder if it was unusual for anyone to be able to identify depression in themselves. Maybe it has to do with what your baseline mood usually is.

Even though I felt like a freak because of the depression, and felt it was at least partly my fault, I imagine that feeling would've been a whole lot more destructive if I hadn't known it was depression. I'd probably have ended up an alcoholic, glue-sniffing cult member. Or at least surrounded by people who treated me like crap. Or, God forbid, musicians.

Pastor Jayne: Although my father had clinical depression for most of my childhood, he was not diagnosed until I was in my 20's. So you think I would've been on the lookout for early signs of blessed depth in myself. The combination of risk factors (complicated grief process, major move to another state, career change and especially decrease in exposure to sunlight) should have put me on alert. However, I only gradually realized that my inability to sleep or eat, and my stream of regular tears at sundown daily, were due to something other than my bad cooking.

From what I can remember, it was about six months from onset of symptoms to diagnosis. By the time I saw a psychiatrist, it had progressed to what she described as major clinical depression. So digging out took longer than it might have. I am now depression-free, but also much more educated about what to look for to prevent relapse.

By the way, my cooking has gotten better, too.

Soledad: I think I've always realized that I suffered from depression more than most others around me. The summer after fourth grade I remember laying on the couch all summer -- no idea why -- just didn't want to interact with anyone. At the time, I don't think I had the capacity to psychoanalyze myself enough to discover what was happening. But I suspect I was mimicking my mother's behavior.

Many people think depression is just a pile of neurons misfiring based on chemical imbalances. Or that it's caused by watching family members display similar behavior. And these things certainly could be root causes of depression.

At this point in my life, I can say that I recognize the D monster for what it is -- regardless of its causes, it's something that can destroy all my relationships if I let it. And it's also something that makes me a great friend -- because I recognize it in others -- enough to do positive things for them -- gestures, cards, emails, calls, get-togethers -- whatever works for that particular friend. It allows me to be a better writer as I revel in telling people's stories of triumph over their particular demons.

I now recognize depression as a way of looking at my circumstances in a pessimistic way. I had had to clear a lot of negatives out of my life -- toxic people mostly. The rest of my own personal negatives I try to work with as best I can -- and look at things optimistically even when they're looking dour. It isn't easy, especially when you feel that others may have it easier than you do. But, I've learned you can't compare yourself to others -- as they have different skills and circumstances. You can only look at yourself and work to make yourself the best you that you can be. Sounds simple. And simple is good I've found. It lets the brain rest awhile. And a rested brain is a creative one, and that leads to a happy heart.

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Illustration by Kris Barnes.