And here’s hoping this helps you too – my recent struggle with depression

I wrote the following this past January, around the time that I felt I was at the end of my rope. I wrote it because I felt, or I knew, that I wasn’t the only one going through a rough time. But for one reason or another, I chickened out and never published it. I decided to keep it to myself. But I read it this morning and I feel like I’m ready to put it out there, and to add to it now that some time has passed. I don’t necessarily still agree with all that I wrote, but I’ll try and address that in my addition afterwards…

January 2010

I’m depressed. Much too often to be normal. In fact, i would say I suffer from clinical depression. Looking back, I think I have for years. So I’m going to get help, because I’ve realized I do have a number of issues I’ve been in denial about for a long time and I think maybe they are connected and it’s time to do something about it.

Last night at my brother’s birthday party I believe I had my first anxiety attack, or was on the brink of one. It’s the last straw and it’s time to get better. I am not going to put up with this.

I had an unusual upbringing. I feel ashamed about my family sometimes. I have issues with my racial identity. I spent most of my childhood living under the illusion of a marriage. I desperately want to get away from my family. I feel like they’ve smothered me my whole life. I have to face these and many more issues. I’ve lived too long pretending I am perfectly mentally healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty solid, but issues are issues and they should never be ignored.

I have social anxieties. I don’t like parties. Talking to kids my age that I don’t know freaks me out. I’m judgmental. I can’t approach girls. I’m shy. I become antisocial. Stuck up. But sometimes I’m fine. It’s weird. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

But things will get better. I want to be better.

I’m not the suicidal type. I prefer to be proactive, to realize that my state of mind is temporary. Sometimes I manage to channel it into artistic productivity. But I’d prefer if it didn’t happen at all anymore.

But I spend too much time alone, with too little to do. I’m often unmotivated. I don’t want to see my friends. I don’t want to do any of the things I need to get done. I don’t want to work out. I feel like I have very few friends that I can call up to do something with. I’m growing apart from them. We’re moving in different directions. It’s nobody’s fault.

I feel like a loser a lot. I feel like everyone is out doing more interesting things while I mope at home. These are all known symptoms of depression. I can’t deny it. I’ve had these feelings as long as I can remember.

I don’t know if I can afford therapy. I don’t know if that’s a possibility. But I have other options. I’m going to try my counselors at school, see what they say. I’m also going to do things. I’m going to fill up my time. For years I’ve felt that while I am going to school, I have no time to do anything else. That’s bullshit. I know people who are taking four classes, two internships, and attending every club meeting and social activity they come across. They are filling their spare time with activities, and I am spending mine on bullshit. I need to get over the fear of not having enough leisure time, because the truth is I have too much. Way too much.

I’m better than this. I am above this. I am a man filled with potential and I won’t let a mental disease stifle my flame. I’ll try meds. I’ll try therapy. I’ll try finding more to do with my time. I’m determined to treat this and live a better, fuller life.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. By admitting I have a real problem, I’ve already taken a critical first step. This year I will deal with my ailments and I will come out a better person because of it. Fuck yeah.

So that was nearly five months ago, and soon after that I decided to talk to my doctor, who prescribed me Paxil and suggested I talk to a therapist as well. I took the pills and still have yet to see a therapist, which is admittedly the wrong thing to do. I heard one person describe it as “pouring soap on dirty dishes, but not bothering to scrub.” However, therapy is expensive and inconvenient, and I thought I’d try and handle it on my own first. It’s working out okay for me, but by no means does that mean you should take the same course of action.

First, a word on the pills. Paxil is one of several types of prescribed medications for anxiety and depression known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s, and they’re extremely common. There are many brands and varieties, and most people have to try a few before they find one that works well for them. I was lucky with Paxil and have experienced no side effects, but I know people who’ve gotten terrible nightmares, sexual side effects, digestive side effects, etc. from Paxil and had to switch to something else. I won’t go into the specifics of how they work, because in a way nobody really knows. They’re prescribed for all types of anxiety disorders, and depression is a problem rooted in anxiety. More on that later.

But back to the pills. The sad truth is that in our society, depression is seen as a sign of weakness, and medications come with a stigma attached. Movies and television shows love to write plot lines about characters going through a rough time who eventually manage to “kick the pills” and get their life back on track. That’s not how it works, and that’s not how you should look at these medications. The truth is that depression can be a crippling and debilitating thing to live with, and if a daily pill makes you feel like your old self again — like you’re ready to tackle the world and contribute to your own life and that of others — than I don’t see how there is anything wrong with that. It should not be seen as a “bad habit” or a crutch. Some people need their 8 hours of sleep. Some people need their coffee in the morning. Some people need their prescription drugs. Will the drugs change you? Yes, but if you find the right one for you, it will change you for the better, and there is nothing wrong with anything that makes you a better person.

Personally my Paxil doesn’t make me feel “high” or like I’m drugged up on happy pills. I just feel…normal. Beautifully, wonderfully normal. Depression, like I said, is rooted in anxiety. If you know me at all, you know that I am very easygoing, and not a worrier by nature. I never thought of myself as a person prone to anxiety, and up until that episode in January, never felt an anxiety attack in my life.

But think about what anxiety is for a second, and you’ll realize depression is just another flavor it comes in. Depression to me stems from over-rationalization. It’s true, unfortunately, that if you really think about life for a while, you realize there is “no point” to anything you or anyone else does. Yes, we are all going to die and one day be forgotten. This is a fact. The difference between the old me and the new me is simply in how I reacted to that fact. The old me would see that as an excuse for lack of motivation. At my lowest low, I went days, maybe weeks, waking up every morning with no desire at all to get out of bed, talk to anyone, or do anything. Why bother? Nothing seemed to peak my interest, and life felt much like waiting for a bus. I walked around with this daily feeling that “one of these days, something will happen and things will change.” I had no idea what I was waiting for, but I knew something was missing.

Depression is much like the symbiote in Spiderman that turns Eddie Brock into Venom and Peter Parker into emo Peter Parker. It affects everyone slightly differently, based on the type of person you are to begin with. I am nonconfrontational and I hate to be hassled, so rather than deal with life I just wanted to sleep through it. I napped almost daily and slept long hours. I am an introvert, so I shut away from people (more than usual) and dreaded going to school or work. For other people, depression makes their mind race. They suffer bouts of insomnia staying up at night thinking about everything wrong with the world and themselves. They may turn to drinking or other vices to cope. Your mileage may vary.

Now the new me sees the pointlessness of life in a positive light. I realize now that most people tend to take life a bit too seriously and forget that the real “point” is to enjoy the ride. That means different things to different people. For me, it means enjoying the little things that I’ve always loved, like a cup of coffee in the afternoon or a 20 minute drive with my favorite music. A big part of leading a happier life is knowing yourself, and what brings you joy. I like to take walks, so I take walks. I like shopping alone, so I shop alone. The other major part is putting things in perspective, and realizing that much of what you feel anxious about or fear is not nearly as big a deal as you thought. I felt anxious and extremely uncomfortable in certain social situations, especially with people my own age. I would dread being in the cafeteria at school during the rush hour. The massive amounts of students that I felt were looking at me and judging me made me want to run to my car and race to McDonalds for lunch. But now, that anxiety is gone and I feel totally relaxed in that setting, which is one of the biggest clues I found that the Paxil was working well for me.

There are two important quotes that were helpful to me in the past few months. The first being “Don’t sweat the small stuff” which is a rule to live by. If it won’t matter much to you tomorrow, or next week, you shouldn’t freak out that much about it today. Everything will pass, and almost everything you do will be forgotten, so allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow OTHERS to make mistakes. Be forgiving and understanding and always, always, always imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. Before you send that text, read it over and think what you would feel if you received it. Just little things like that will make a big difference in your positivity levels. There is a virtue in being able to let things go, and leave the past in the past. If you screwed up, or your best friend screwed you over, it’s done. Now think of what you could do to resolve the situation in a positive way, and take it from there. It’s a vital skill.

The other quote is “The mind is it’s own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven.” Don’t ask me what that’s from. I don’t know and don’t care, but it is extremely true. To everyone on this planet, they are the star of their own life story and everyone else is just supporting cast. Remember that the world lives outside of your own mind, and that your mind is actually an incredibly blurry lens to view it through. How is it possible that two employees can work at the same place, doing the same job, and one loves it and the other is ready to hang himself? Why does the richest country in the world have one of the highest suicide rates, but nine times out of ten when I see impoverished african children on TV, they are smiling laughing and playing? Because the mind can spin any situation any way it wants, and happiness and misery are always possible in any scenario. Your attitude is really the only thing you have control of when it comes it dealing with your own realities.

So yes, for me, I needed the help of a pill to realize most of this and get me through the days. To be honest, on a typical day, I feel fantastic these days, and I’ve been on Paxil daily for over three months. There’s downsides of course. I am now dependent on a drug to keep me happy. If I miss a pill, it can and has thrown my psyche out of wack and I can feel depressed or upset for up to a week before my brain chemistry gets back on track. I have no idea how long I’ll be on the drug, refilling my prescription one month at a time. There are definite downsides to medicating, and if you can afford therapy and do without the drugs, I would encourage you to try that whole-heartedly. But to me, it’s always more about the ends than the means. Do what you need to do to find real happiness in your life, because your youth is a terrible thing to waste.

And it would be real cool and writer-ly of me to end this thing there, but I have one more thing to say. I have a theory that depression is in fact, not an illness. In fact, some researchers claim (google it yourself, smartass) that depression actually serves a practical function in the mind. It may be your brain’s way of forcing you to deal with a major dilemma in your life. That feeling of not wanting to see anyone or do anything may actually be your brain forcing you to focus all your thoughts and energy on the thing that’s ailing you. It’s just a theory, and I don’t know if I believe it completely, but it’s an interesting thought. Many scholars and poets in the past have lamented that the more knowledge you attain, the more misery you’ll carry on your shoulders. The world can oftentimes be a cold and disgusting thing, and its the smartest and the most philosophical of us that realize these things first, and get really really bummed out about them. Nowadays in this era of informational abundance, I think it’s extremely common for people in our age groups, who are just starting to grow up and face the realities of adult life slowly but surely, to feel overwhelmed by it all. Part of the reason I wrote all this is because I have seen MANY, if not MOST of my friends deal with depression in one form or another, usually unbeknownst to them. And because of the stigma that’s attached to it, I suspect that many more are suffering daily behind closed doors, afraid to talk and afraid to seek help. I have a strong belief that people are a lot more alike than they are different, and so I know that what I experienced has to be pretty widespread especially amongst college students.

And hey, maybe you’ve read all this and you’ve thought “I don’t agree. I’m fine and I’m happy.” That’s fantastic, but you probably know someone who isn’t. Maybe this could help them out. Awareness and support from each other is really the only solid cure for this epidemic.