"When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up, we'd no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability...To be alive is to be vulnerable."
You'll find I'm not ordinarily this vulnerable to, well, anyone and I'm certainly never vulnerable in public.
In this particular instance, I have a friend who was suffering recently from a series of setbacks. And I was standing there, holding them while they cried when they stepped back to look at me. I said, "Okay, go do x (thing that will be accomplishment)," and they blinked and said, "Okay," and walked off. In the moments after, I felt bad for having sent them off, but then I realized I did it because I know how important it is to accomplish something when you're having a bout of depression. So then, I thought I'd write this for everyone.
This may come as a revelation for many of the people who know me:
I have been chronically depressed for most of my life. Really for as long as I can remember.
The first time I recall contemplating suicide was when I was about 5 or 6 years old. My sadness at the world I lived in, my constant feelings of being alone, these were too much to bear at that age. I lived on a road that was a horseshoe and I lived right at the curve, the road sloped so that my house was at the bottom of two hills. I remember thinking that one day I might just jump out in front of the school bus and let it end my pain.
Thoughts like this plagued me my entire childhood. When the stress that was my life became overwhelming, I would hide myself in a small, dark corner (eventually on top of a shelf in my closet) and hold myself crying, wishing that I could just stop the pain. End my life, be done.
This perhaps explains why I was such an underachiever as a child. I recall my mother talking to my babysitter once when I was about 6 or 7. I had just moved to Texas from Washington after my parents had their final split (which in itself had been a traumatic event) and I was listless, I suppose. I don't recall the experience internally, because it was all a haze of not wanting to exist anymore. But I recall the babysitter and my mother discussing it while I sat on the stairs and I recall my mother saying that she attributed my behavior to what happened with my father and then the move, that perhaps after being given enough time to settle in that I would improve.
When I was about 11, I discovered for the first time what might be going on in my head. My mother had the newspaper spread open on the kitchen table and she was talking on the phone. While I stood patiently waiting for a moment to ask permission to go play, I saw an advertisement talking about depression. There were several questions, you know the standard, "Is it difficult to wake up in the morning, blah blah," and as I read the list, I found I had answered yes to five of the six questions and the ad said if you answered three or more with yes then you might have depression. When my mother turned her attention to me, I asked permission to play and she granted it. I then said, "Hey Mom, you see that ad there," pointing, "I answered yes to five of those questions."
My mother stopped, "Are you sure, Andrea?"
"Yes, I'm sure," and I pointed out which ones I answered yes to.
She read them, looked at me again and said, "And you still want to go play?"
"Yes, I don't feel that way right now. I feel happy and I want to go play, Steve and the guys want to play basketball."
And for my young brain, the situation was so black and white. Sometimes I feel that way and I can't function and sometimes I don't feel that way and I'm happy.
The results of this revelation to my mother however, were not good. I did end up seeing a child psychologist (not necessarily bad), but I ended up being diagnosed as manic depressive.
Because you see, I had already been living with the depression so long, it was already so much of who I was that I self-managed. And the opposing end of the depression was a happy, hyper girl. I had become already used to kicking my own butt out of those feelings and into the only ones that felt good.
But I was prescribed Lithium, which made me likely to fly off the handle and hit someone. And I did, I broke a boy's nose on the bus one day for swatting my butt with my textbook. Because that is what anti-depressants do to me, they make me so agitated that I'm ten times more likely to lose my cool and strike someone.
And anger for me is a scary thing. I witnessed abuse as a child, I was abused, I became angry and abused others. And that, too, like the depression, I learned to rise above on my own. Because more than any other thing in my life, one constant has been that I have been on my own. No one but me to take care of me and since, like every other human being on the planet, I want to be taken care of, I rose to the occasion.
So, here we are, roughly 20 years since I broke a boy's nose and decided that I would never use anti-depressants again. When I was 18 years old, a psychiatrist overturned the diagnosis of manic depression, indicating that I was far too grounded and aware of myself and my actions to ever be considered manic. We never addressed the depression and it's entirely possible he never noticed it. Because I have lived with it for so long that most people, even professionals, don't even notice that I have it unless I'm in the middle of a particularly bad bout.
And ask any one of my friends. Unless they are in my inner circle, they would answer "no," to the question, "Does Andrea suffer from depression?"
But I know the truth of the matter. I know that I am probably one of the most highly functioning depressives you will ever meet.
For me, a bout of depression is an automatic signal to go through the motions of my regularly scheduled day. Without thinking, I set little goals for myself, a to-do list, so that I can methodically tick off accomplishments. I re-evaluate myself and my life, look for what kicked off this bout so that I can avert one in the future. And most importantly, I reach out to people. To have them remind me that I am not as alone as I feel in that moment. And I keep within reach those strong enough to take my hand when I need it.
In short, for me, being chronically depressed simply means to manage a part of myself. Like any other feature, I notice it when it interferes with what I'm up to and I learn from it and find ways to make it better for next time. People who notice I have depression (professionals, other sufferers) often ask me if I self medicate. I guess you can say that I do, in the ways noted above. I also drink energy drinks, on constant bouts of quitting and restarting. It has been pointed out to me that these may also be self-medicating.
Either way, I see it not as a disease, but simply a facet of the being that is me...another part to consider as I go about the daily business of conducting my life.
Drugs are not the answer, self-awareness is.