It’s been cold here the last few days reminding me winter is still with us. I don’t mind because the cold brings clear skies which means sunny days and starry nights. My spirits have lifted considerably, not because I was down in the dumps or anything, just that I was getting really tired of rain, and dark, gloomy days. It is February though, a month known to be particularly tough for the most optimistic among us. And that reminds me of something else – depression.
What is it about the term that strikes fear? Well, mostly, it’s our own misunderstanding of it. We’ve come to believe pop-hype that suggests if we have a few down days we must be suffering a mental illness. So, off we head to our nearest pleasure-bringing practitioner. It doesn’t matter whether it’s big pharma or the wellbeing industry, either. Each has a sure-fire cure for those doldrums. Each convincingly disparages any method but theirs for recovery, too. You freely swipe your Visa for advice, a tincture, or a remedy, then head out to walk barefoot on the grass before buying a bottle of wine you drink with a Prozac at dinner. You’ll be fine, is the promise. And, guess what? You probably are or will be, because the blues lift of their own accord. It’s called life, and living it means feeling things. Some days we feel yucky things. Other days, wonderful things. Ideally, we’d like more of the wonderful things days, but no matter how hard we strive for that, it’s not possible, not as long we’re breathing. Thing is, that’s not depression.
Most of you know I’m familiar with the gauntlet major depressive episodes throw down. I’m seldom glib about the illness, either, because it stinks. It stole a good many years, not to mention copious opportunities, from me. Still, let me assure you, despite feeling fairly competent discussing a few aspects of the disease, I’m no expert about diagnoses or treatments. Truth is, I saw only three experts in forty-plus years. And while they concurred in their diagnosis, they did not agree about a course of treatment. One reason for that is psychiatry remains new as fields go, and medication, even newer. To quote a pharmacist – “It is still in the zygote stage.” So, if he’s telling it like it is, apparently we’re just lab rats. However, the science is evolving rapidly. Since being identified in the early 60s, great strides have been made and one such stride made the difference between me staying sick and getting well. Was I just lucky? Valid question, but the answer is an unreserved, “NO”. I worked at getting better. It took years and was some of the hardest work imaginable. How did I manage? What is my secret? Well, there’s no secret and the simple answer is to that I just didn’t give up.
For decades, I woke up in the morning despite wanting desperately not to. Eventually, I decided to try really hard – give it my best shot – to conquer the disease. I was so over being nuts, and desperate to light up a darkness that haunted me even in sleep. If I had any luck, it would be I failed each suicide attempt. And, I’ve a solid constitution. It held up under the barrage of self-abuse and neglect I heaped on it.
Am I remarkable or made differently from everyone else who continues in the grip of some form of depression? Maybe, but I doubt it. I did decide to break with the company that loves misery, though, and that might be too difficult for some. Whatever the case, real and abiding happiness awaits. It makes each misstep worth it. I’ll say again, though, the journey is perilous. And, here’s the paradox – you need help but only you can do it which means, in the end, the only person who knows what will work for you, is you. The trial and error can be unsettling – it was for me – but I learned over time – even if it was what not to do!
So, here’s my wish.
If you’re a depressive, first and always, lighten up on yourself. You are on a particular path. Your days are filled with misery and confusion. Accept what is. Don’t fight it. But know there is help for you. You will find what you need if you keep seeking. Then give yourself a great warm hug. You’re still breathing! Hurray.
If you love a depressive, stop with the pep talks. Listen. And most of all, empathize, don’t sympathize. If you can’t do the former because it’s way too scary, admit it and simply be there for them.
We all spend our days avoiding unpleasant emotions. Those with chronic depression don’t have that luxury. They’re in the deep end whether they can swim or not. They might need quite a few lifelines before they catch on, too. It’s the nature of the illness. But rather than shaming or even excusing them, perhaps by honouring their journey, they’ll feel cared for and figure a way out of that unsafe water faster. Maybe.