It feels weird to cash in on the “Sorry Not Sorry” title for something super heavy rather than pop culture analysis and feelings, but a) it’s clever and I like it, and b) it’s pretty apt for how depression remission feels.
Most of the reason I chose to write about having depression is because it’s still something that is deeply stigmatized, and my usual coping mechanism is gallows humour, which, when you’re also being open about your depression is makes things hella awkward hella quickly.
“How’s it going?” “Things are great, I’ve only wanted to die about three times today!” or during casual lunch chit-chat with coworkers, “You ever wish the rapture was real so the world would end?”
I’ve always struggled with moodiness, and an overabundance of feeling (hello, person who cries when they’re angry, that’s me!) but it wasn’t until the past eight years or so where it got really obvious I was struggling. I was graduating university, having to job hunt, getting married, moving into a new house, deal with personal relationship fall-outs from a few different sources. It was not a great time to be me, and I was lucky to have a GP who was open to getting me both some pharmaceutical and psychological help. The drugs stayed, the therapy didn’t, primarily because you don’t have to interview drugs and make sure you click with them on a personal level. When the one therapist I really liked moved on, I looked for a new one kind of half-heartedly and gave up.
When you’re depressed, giving up is like your favourite thing to do. You get really good at it, because you’re practicing all the time. Grad school looks really hard and expensive, better not apply. Writing makes me feel gutted and uncomfortable, guess I’ll stop writing. Showering is exhausting, get rid of that too. The thought of getting out of bed and facing human people with human words coming out of their human mouths makes you dizzy and ill. Eventually, all you’re good at is staying in bed and staring at the wall. And you get really, really good at it.
As an added bonus, I wasn’t even a weepy, sad sack. I had the angry depression. If you think people don’t want to be around you because you’re sad or apathetic all the time, they get especially itchy when you’re the emotional equivalent of a hissing goose.
I was angry about sexism. I was angry about being tired all the time. I was angry when my husband paid too much attention to me. I was angry when he paid too little attention to me. I was angry when the cats stepped on my hair. I was angry when I was too weak to go to work, but I was angry while I was at work too. Mostly I was angry at my softening, exhausted traitor body.
It was painfully obvious the meds, which worked for a time, weren’t working any more. But I still pushed through for another two years, telling myself, “Oh, we just moved to a new town. Oh, I just started a new job. It’s stress. Oh, I’m just getting used to not having as many friends around.” I might as well have kept writing during this time because I was spinning wild fictions that were so plausible to my fucked-up brain that I believed all of this, even while loading groceries into the car would make me cry.
The one good thing about anything potentially setting you off is that eventually, the catalyst for making a change can be anything as well. For me, someone I knew online posted about their experience with seeing the doctor and getting medication that was making a huge difference in their life. “Whoa,” I thought. “That happens? You don’t just go on meds and they turn into a meat zombie with a brain full of cotton fluff?” The smart-ass part of me put down the book it picked up years ago when I was ignoring it, and said “Wow, finally, welcome to reality.”
So I made a doctor’s appointment and together we came up with a strategy for pinpointing places where we could make changes. She looked into the possible issues behind my meds not working and making me feel ill. I did a sleep study to see if it was anxiety disrupting my sleep, or my insomnia making me anxious. (It was the former.) Progress was slow, as it inevitably is in the Canadian healthcare system but I was doing something! What a strange and invigorating sensation!
Eventually, it did come down to the news I was dreading – we’d have to make some changes in my medication. Obviously what I was on wasn’t working, but I was terrified of the withdrawal process, scared that a new medication would be worse. My current plan wasn’t working but at least I’d come to terms with getting 40 lbs fatter, a little more forgetful, and headachey all the time. Together with my doctor, we made a plan to taper off the one medication and onto the new one, while keeping my second as it was, as a continuity measure.
Day one felt pretty good. Cautiously hopeful. No weird reactions, felt okay about going out for the evening. Day two, Chris and I had plans to see a movie. Midway through, I felt a little weird.
“I don’t feel so hot,” I tell him. “You need to go to the bathroom?” he asks, moments before I barf into the cup I’m holding. WELL DONE NEW MEDICATION. Take a look at the bottle when we get home, and sure enough nausea is a side-effect. I make it through the rest of the movie, nap off the rest of the queasiness and that’s about it.
Aside from that one blip, things have been… good? and yes, everytime someone asks me how I’m doing, and I say “Good?” it’s always with that valley girl uptick at the end because I still can’t quite believe it. It’s only been a few weeks, but who knows what the future holds? Hopefully more “good?” for everyone. And if this doesn’t work out for one reason or another, I know that trying something new isn’t the end of the world.
What’s even the point of telling this story? Well, for one, it’s not unique. I’m sure the person who’s story motivated me has a similar arc. Secondly, because it is a bit of a PSA. I feel better, I feel stronger and willing to talk, which means hopefully, I am willing to answer questions or help people understand some common and harmful myths about being depressed.
Depression is feeling very sad.
This one should be obvious, but no. It can be that way for some people, but it can also be irritability, anger, anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, or any combination of those. It’s not even about feeling it – it permeates your entire being. Your body is Silent Hill and depression is the all the gameplay that takes place in the otherworld.
But you’ll get off your meds someday, right?
Maybe! It’s entirely possible I won’t. But to give you an idea of how insensitive this statement is, think about asking a diabetic, “Have you tried tapering off your insulin?” or someone with kidney disease, “You can’t stay on dialysis forever!” I’m not thrilled to think about the cocktail of brain medication I’ll be taking for potentially the rest of my life. I might even be less thrilled about it than you. But if it’s what I need to do, I’ll do it. Not to mention, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Scientology.
Everyone gets a little depressed sometimes!
Not wholly inaccurate. Sometimes people can get so stressed out or unhappy because of grief, or a bad school or work situation that they have symptoms of depression or anxiety. Often this can get better once they’re away from or have dealt with that stress. Not always – sometimes that stress is just the breaking point for chronic depression, rather than situational. Everyone’s different. But if you’re somebody saying this like depression is going through a sad break up, or getting a bad grade in school, well. You’re probably an asshole.
Is depression a disability?
Yes – and no. It’s definitely a mental illness, and many mental illnesses can be disabling, but my depression isn’t so clear cut. Has my depression been a disability? Oh yeah. See: getting really good at staying in bed because getting up is impossible. It’s interfered with my life in a way that is disabling. Can depression be a disability? Absolutely – there are many people on disability leave for issues with depression, or another mental illness. (If you’re Canadian, you might remember the woman who was cut off from her benefits for looking “too happy” on Facebook.) People with major depression and anxiety can qualify for therapeutic and service animals, for example. That said, I don’t personally feel comfortable using my experience with depression to talk about disability in general. It can have physiological effects, and mimics a lot of chronic illnesses that are invisible – but most people don’t understand those any better than depression, so I’m not sure how useful that identification would be for me explaining myself to others.
Depression and PTSD is disregarded as a serious issue.
Despite being more talked about now than perhaps ten years ago, it’s obvious that overall, people with depression and PTSD are not getting the proper care. Suicide rates among soldiers/veterans are rising dramatically in the past few years due to poor handling of mental health in our veteran’s affairs system, for example.
I’m glad I’m able to write about it a little, now. For every one person like me, there’s probably dozens out there who are too scared to speak out, or don’t know what’s wrong with them. Hopefully, in time, respectful dialogue will begin to change that landscape.
jesus, how do you even write a conclusion to this kind of thing? in summary, here’s a dog to illustrate that dogs are awesome, and also depression is hella weird to get out of, if you even can