Paste it in the head!


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

...and when you're down you're down

Warning: This post isn't going to be lighthearted or funny or amusing, so if you're looking for any of those things, you should probably stop reading now.

I just finished reading Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind, in which she chronicles her experiences with manic-depression. I've read a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about personality and mood disorders over the years, and this is one of the best. Personality disorders are interesting from a psychological and social perspective, but mood disorders are directly related to my life. I wasn't sure if I wanted to blog about this or not, but then I figured that since I'm not ashamed of it, I might as well.

I've been dealing with depression and anxiety since I was 13 and have been on Effexor, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, for over a year now. I've hated myself and my life, and have wanted to kill myself or have wanted to die, at various times in the past ten or so years. I've seen several psychologists and psychiatrists, though I finally agreed to be medicated only a year ago, partly at the insistence of my mother, and partly because I was finally ready. With my latest psychiatrist at U of T, I started cognitive behavioral therapy, which is designed to give the patient control over their own self-destructive thoughts. It was important to me to do something other than just take a pill every day; I wanted to play an active role in my own recovery. So far, so good--I feel better than I have in years, and have started to slowly break down the poison of my thoughts.

In An Unquiet Mind, Jamison details an illness far more severe than anything I've lived through. I have never experienced mania, nor depression to the depths she describes in the book. I've never attempted suicide. Even though this isn't covered by Jamison, I wanted to mention it anyway--I don't have schizophrenia, for which I am eternally grateful.

However, I know what it feels like to wake up in the morning, every morning, and feel that there is absolutely no point, no point whatsoever, in starting the day, because there is no point whatsoever in even being alive. I know what it feels like to inflict pain on yourself because it is the only emotion you are capable of feeling and the only emotion you are worthy of feeling. I know what it feels like to fall apart and not be able to pick up the pieces; to being on the brink of something so black and deep that it doesn't have a name.

As much as someone can be, I think that I was born ready to be depressed and anxious. Aside from having both depression and alcoholism in my family, I have it on good authority that I was a difficult baby. In fact, my mother originally thought that she wanted five kids, like her own mother, but after she had me she had to be coaxed into even trying for my brother. I cried constantly, all the time, for no reason. The doctor told my mom that I had excess energy that needed to be burned off, and crying was the only way I had to release this energy. He said, just put her down in her crib and walk away. Don't pick her up, don't respond to her, and soon she'll wear herself out and fall asleep.

After I grew out of this crabby babyhood, I think that my young childhood was pretty easy--a respite before the turbulence of adolescence. I suppose I was a happy enough kid, and I don't really remember being particularly moody. I know that I was very sensitive--I cried at the drop of a hat, at the smallest of criticisms. I still have very thin skin. My outer shell is cynicism and flippancy, but it's so thin. You have no idea.

When I got a bit older, the proverbial shit hit the fan. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami, and two weeks after the hurricane, I got my first period and our house burned down. I was 11 and going into sixth grade. My family and I lived in a trailer on our property, next to the charred shell of our old house, and this is where my mom and I waged war on one another. The trailer became a battleground, and we screamed at each other before I went to school in the morning and when I returned in the afternoon. I can only imagine the shock of my adolescence to my parents. I went from being an A and B student to almost failing algebra; I changed from a swan into an ugly duckling in the space of a year: I went from being a cute kid with clear skin and long blond hair to some pretty serious skin problems and the world's most awful haircut; I went from having a stable, if sensitive, disposition, to having a mercurial, volatile, angry one.

In eighth grade, I would sit in my room, listen to Nirvana, and cut myself. I would write suicide notes. I would stare into the flickering flames of candles and wonder why the hell I'd ever been born. In ninth grade I learned how to drink. Alcohol was, and to some extent is, the great social lubricant, and probably one of the only things that allowed me to survive social interactions as a teenager. I was prone to panic attacks around boys and unfamiliar situations, and when you're boy-crazy and into the underground punk scene in a strictly dance-music city, there are plenty of boys and unfamiliar situations to be had.

Still, I somehow managed to emerge from all of this relatively unscathed. After middle school, my grades improved and in high school I was in mostly honors and AP classes. I stopped cutting myself. I stopped writing suicide notes. I didn't stop drinking but neither did I develop a habit. I can't say I stopped listening to Nirvana, but some things aren't likely to change.

I'm not sure that I'm ready to write about my problems with depression and anxiety in college and post-graduation, so I'll save those for another day. Suffice it to say that eventually, I moved home before my mom came out to Oregon and physically removed me, so unable was I to deal with my emotional problems.

I don't think that I will ever be 100% depression and/or anxiety free. I think that these are part of me, part of my personality, and have been part of my genetic makeup probably since I was conceived. For the longest time, the knowledge that I would never be "shiny happy people" has haunted me, has made me doubt myself, has scared me into believing that I will never be a worthwhile, productive member of society, into believing that I will, inevitably, die alone.

Jamison, in An Unquiet Mind, rails against the assumption that all depression, all mania, is bad. On the subject of whether prenatal genetic testing for a pre-disposition to manic-depression be made available to expectant parents, she writes,
Clearly, if better and earlier diagnosis and more specific, less troublesome treatments result from the ongoing genetic research, then the benefits to individuals who have manic-depressive illness, to their families, and to society will be extraordinary...But what are the dangers of prenatal diagnostic testing? Will prospective parents choose to abort fetuses that carry the genes for manic-depressive illness, even though it is a treatable disease?...Do we risk making the world a blander, more homogenized place if we get rid of the genes for manic-depressive illness--an admittedly impossibly complicated scientific problem? What are the risks to the risk takers, those restless individuals who join with others in society to propel the arts, business, politics, and science? (p. 193-194)

I love this. I love it. Why do I have to be perfectly balanced, perfectly stable, each moment of each day of my life? What would the world be like if we were all perfectly balanced? How many artists and musicians and politicians and religious leaders would we be missing if manic-depression and other mood disorders didn't exist? How much of what makes me unique, what makes me me, would be taken away if my depression and anxiety were to disappear? Would I lose my innate connection with animals if I didn't suffer from depression? Would I stop being creative? Would I stop writing? Would I stop being able to appreciate the beauty of stillness, of solitude, of peace? I'm glad I started taking Effexor; I'm glad I started cognitive behavioral therapy. I don't want to hate myself. I don't want to be unhappy. Part of that is accepting that I have depression and anxiety, that those disorders come with problems, to be sure, but isn't part of it accepting that those disorders have given me creativity and writing, sensitivity and empathy?


  • I really admire how forthright you were with that blog. I've had depression on and off since I was 18. It's terrible. I'm glad that you're on Effexor. I know that since I started Zoloft things have been so much better for me.

    By Blogger McGeekan, at 3:23 PM  

  • I really admire how forthright you were with that blog. I've had depression on and off since I was 18. It's terrible. I'm glad that you're on Effexor. I know that since I started Zoloft things have been so much better for me.

    By Blogger McGeekan, at 3:24 PM  

  • I know I've said this before I've known you though much think and thin and talk downs but I will and have always loved you, but still I LOVE your little red pill. I LOVE your cognitive theory! I love you depressed or not, but still... not is a bit better.

    By Blogger Aundra, at 7:48 PM  

  • Okay, now that I had time to read your whole blog... I think being weird is a good thing. I tell this to every child I nanny, tutor run into on the street. What did you say about that scean in Weeds. "Let your freak flag fly!" I think yes, how great is it that we each have such different freak flags, such creative views (depressed, supper happy, twisted whatever). Yes, at times the freak flag doesn't need to wave to high or so hard but it's good to have it up.
    PS> I also want to make sure you know I don't love the little red pill all by it self, I love you no matter what... the little red pill just makes loving you that much more lovable... dude I'll stop now

    By Blogger Aundra, at 9:44 PM  

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