There are some things that are not comfortable to talk about. Not to yourself and certainly not to other people. The reason things are uncomfortable to talk about is mostly that we worry about what people will think of us. In other words we are judging ourselves and then projecting the judgement out on to the world. It’s rather mental, but it’s a cultural habit we all have.
Some of these “blacklisted” topics include, murderers in the family, Uncle Frank’s incestuous tendencies (name changed for sensitivity purposes lol) and people with mental illness. In my French Canadian/Scottish and some other stuff family, we were often told hushed stories about an old Uncle with a name I cannot even fathom how to write correctly, even though I write French fluently. Something like “Mestayee” if you pronounced it phonetically. Anyways, apparently he used to come in our house (this was before I was born) get wailingly drunk and take a dump in the corner where the broom closet was in the kitchen. No one knows why. The story was told to me many different ways by many different people. Subsequently, when I finally was born, that corner became the corner one was sent to when one was naughty. He had died many years before and the mess had been taken care of, thank God.
My family was filled with alcoholics and people who died early of strange disorders. Until recently I never thought to question these stories. But what I have discovered is that not only am I (at least half of me as I don’t know my biological father) is genetically predisposed to mental illness, something for which you are ill prepared when it hits because no one ever talked about it. They had no problems talking to me about disgusting things like sex and my period, but they had no vernacular yet for describing mental illness. It was all so misunderstood that they could only think that depression, or bi-polar disorder constituted a fundamental weakness in a person. Let’s face it, people with “mental conditions”, which are necessarily conditions which rule what is deemed as the “normal scope” for emotional healthiness in an individual can have unruly emotions. Emotions that don’t fit into the accepted cultural norm and cause imbalance in human relationships and interchange. So, naturally since we had already begun to rely on technology and science for the answers to our physical problems, we developed a scientific method of regulating people’s emotional lives.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression and bi-polar disorder some 17 years ago. Since that time I have been given every conceivable form of medication, finally ending when was awakened by a great shifting in my understanding of who I am, and what my role is in this world. At that time, my final doses were nearly 1200 mg of lithium, seroquil, deyrl and some anti-depressant, I can’t even remember which one came after the next. There were too many.
During the time on my medication, I desperately was trying to find a way to be “normal”. I remember for a very long time carrying with me a deep deep fear of being “crazy”. I could feel my unhappiness inside me like a black cloud, but I tried to “fake it till I made it”, and frankly, I was running out of steam. After my father died when i was 30 I hit an all time low and finally at some point found myself on my knees, unable to move one step further forward. Or so i thought. Where I had stopped, God had finally be able to start.
Depression for me was filled with time of such intense darkness, I didn’t even resemble myself. I could fall into a pit of guilt and self loathing that, if anyone could hear what i said to myself in my head, they would have been shocked.
Self loathing is a symptom of depression and I knew that, consciously and intellectually, but because it had been so hushed in my family, I didn’t want anyone to think I was “crazy”, so I said nothing.
I took my medication and my insides began to shrivel up. I didn’t feel like having sex, I didn’t feel like eating although i was gaining so much weight, I was ok with everything, and life felt “normal”. I didnt play music for 13 years. I that what “normal people” feel like? I wondered often.
I tried to fit in and push aside the impending darkness, with little success. At times it would just overwhelm and and I would feel immobilized by it’s force. Having three little children and not being “all there” all the time for them, made my guilt triple and my self-loathing quadruple.
I have made decisions in depressions which have had long lasting and horrendous impacts on my life. That’s part of why it is important for people with depression to share their stories. Because sometimes when you are feeling something, it is not the best time to make a decision. There is always a grey area and when you are in “that place”, you can only see black and white.
At the time, and in my case, I was probably suffering from post-partum but had always had a proclivity towards depressive thinking. I had suffered with hateful thoughts, guilt, deep intense sadness, unruly fear, swings of radical anger and frustration all of my life from teenage hood onwards. Inside, I felt different, unreachable and often invisible to the world. I lived in a constant state of anxiety, always feeling as thought the next shoe was about to fall off of the universe.
I tried every means available to me over the years to find a way out of my misery. I saw my first counsellor when Mrs. Ricciardi brought me to “Head and Hands”, a local teen counselling center when I was in grade seven. I don’t remember the sessions but I remember the ice cream and her kindness. I was too young to really be able to identify and correlate events with emotions, but I began to discover a world of people who thought how I felt was important enough to talk about it. I also remember feeling very uncomfortable and unworthy of all this attention and wondered why she would spend her time with just me; I was no one important. Low self-esteem is another symptom of depression. These earmarks were not widely available until maybe 20 years ago.
Symptoms of depression in my case include thoughts which are not exactly flattering; a constant running dialogue in my head that I am not good enough, I can’t do what I set out to do, I am stupid, unworthy, unlovable. When it gets very bad, my mind tells me that I worth nothing and that if I died the world would somehow be rid of an unnecessary burden. In a state of depression I feel incapable of handling life`s demands. I am overwhelmed and anxious and terrified of the next caller, the next doorbell the next event in life that will finally be the one to break me and I will never stand up again. So, I begin to stop answering the door and the phone and I stop inviting people into my life. I create a world so small that it is difficult for even the smallest pinprick of light to enter. In a depression I am incapable of creative expression, so I always say it feels like I am creatively constipated.
But I am not alone. According to the largest global study ever conducted, more than 121 million people suffer from depression world-wide. It goes on to say that at its worse stages, depression causes more than 850,000 people to commit suicide. In a study of more than 89,000 people globally, researchers found that in their lifetime, nearly 15% of people in developed countries are likely to suffer a MDE (Major Depressive Episode) compared to 11% in lower economic regions. Interestingly enough, patients in lower-income areas identified symptoms 2 years on average earlier than in first tier economic environments. These numbers are elevated to over 30% in France, the Netherlands and America. About 65% of depression sufferers are women.
And there lies the point. As long as we see our states of emotional mind as suffering, we will suffer, because we create what we believe. For the last while, when I feel what i would have termed a “depressed”, I don’t try to run it over, work through it, change it, ignore it – instead I try and pay attention to where it came from. I have figure out that depression or no depression, feelings always come from somewhere and the somewhere is a valid place (just because it’s biochemical doesn’t mean it’s not valid), and that valid place is giving you some indication that could reveal more to you about yourself. I know this can sound like a selfish pursuit but frankly, the more you know about yourself, the better your life can only be. The more you figure out, the more you can give what you have to others, which is the whole entire point of your life anyways.
During a depression, for me, it works to be quiet, to honour my lack of energy maybe and just rest. Before, I would work until I dropped and had to stay in bed for 5 days to recover because I would get a terrible flu or whatever. That doesn’t happen anymore, because I take it easy, I try to listen to my body and I honour what my instincts tell me. I eat well, and I use natural means to calm my nerves or sleep. This doesn’t mean I don’t get it wrong sometimes, and it doesn’t mean I am “cured” of depression. What it means is that I am trying to find a way to accept how I feel, rather than fight it, even when it doesn’t fit into what the world needs from me.
I have seven kids, a ranch and a full-time musical career, and I write so please don’t write telling me that you don’t have the “time” to take care of yourself. I don’t buy it. There are INNUMERABLE ways to take care of yourself and honour how you’re feeling. It doesn’t mean you have to drop your city life and move out to a kibbutz. It only means you have to keep yourself in mind during the hours of your day, try and find the reasons behind things, spend some time on the interior world consciously. It’s a mind game you play with yourself, always reminding yourself to not take your life too personally. That everything isn’t always about you.
I know this sounds harsh, but anyone with depression will tell you that the inherent characteristic of the mental state is that you are thinking about yourself. When I am depressed it’s ME ME ME ME ME. This is especially true when it comes to close relationships, like your spouse. They say one word, it could be about the janitor at work, and you take it personally. It’s an exhausting state of mind. Rather than allowing your mind just to listen hear feel and be, you are analyzing, cogitating and demonstrating. It’s a fruitless state of mind only because it causes you to stop trying.
To keep moving forward, you have to spend more time slowing down and standing still.
Even on medication, you can’t expect your “happiness” level to increase unless you start using additional tools that allow you to an emotionally handle life differently than you have been. Cognitive behavioural therapy can be very useful because a good therapist will show you ways to see yourself and your emotions with more reason and objectivity. It’s a great place to begin self understanding. It also allows you to see the past and perhaps put it to rest. Too many of our thoughts are based in some time that is way long gone and don’t even knwo where we are standing in this moment.
Mental illness – or chemical imbalances in the brain that cause emotional disturbances – are an important tool to allowing us to more deeply understand ourselves. Taken in this context, the depression is usually shortened and its severity is greatly lessened. On or off medication, this kind of renewed perception has helped me make use of this physical condition and by facing it head on greatly diminshed the power of depression.
In our house, we talk about it. When I am feelign sore or emotionally wonky (I can see my reaction doesn’t match the situation) I warn people openly, and take the time I need to feel better and everyone pitches in. My daughters have tendencies towards harsh moods, and we talk about it. Openly. We have names for it and we try and understand. I think removing the shame surrounded what is clearly not a wekaness in character but in fact simply just an aspect of character (remove judgement of it), is fundementally important to our emerging pharmaceutical society.