I may have alluded to it before  on this blog but in case it is not clear to my readers, I suffer from clinical depression. The symptoms first became recognizable when I was 18, near the end of my freshman year at Washington and Jefferson College. At least it is during that time that events occurred which I only much later could identify as signs of depression.

                    That was in 1966. I neither sought nor received treatment until 1984. Imagine having a physical ailment for 18 years that goes undiagnosed let alone treated and the progressive damage done in the interim. And depression is an illness about which much is known but also which in many ways remains a mystery.

                  I was spurred to write this by an article on about Ron Artest, the NBA player now with the Lakers. I follow pro basketball minimally but  the teaser line “Artest puts spotlight on mental health” drew my immediate attention. Artest, if you will recall, instigated an ugly brawl during a game which spilled over into the spectators and resulted in his suspension for the rest of the season, over 70 games. He also has made headlines with other hijinks. So naturally one would be amazed he had anything to positive to offer about mental health. My bad. His message is right on.

                   Although Artest’s own problems may lie outside the realm of depression, his recognition that he needed professional help with his “dark side” is instructive. Whether he requires long term attention or simply an occasional refresher is between him and his shrink. The important thing, as he advises, is that when one has troubles, seeking help from a mental health professional often results to the ability to better deal with these troubles if not get an ultimate solution to the inner turmoil experienced.

             In my own situation, even after beginning treatment, I was not always the best patient. Blessed with a high IQ which frequently was untapped, I frequently believed I was superior intellectually to those treating me. As a consequence I would withold vital information from them or merely fail to express the doubts and confusion that tormented me.

                  Now depression at its most basic occurs due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. That is why so many anti-depressants such as Prozac, Celexa and Wellbutrin have provided effective therapy. But there are elements of depression that elude medication and are better addressed by a psychologist/psychiatrist.

                    Even if a long period passes before depression is originally diagnosed and then treated, there is still that likelihood that, with the proper attention, the sufferer can lead a productive, satisfying life. Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame is a prime example.

                I have not been so fortunate. My depression has been destructive to my professional and personal life. One reason is that, even when I had insurance, mental health treatment was only partially covered. That’s the way insurance companies did it in the eighties, whether that holds true today I do not know. But I do know such a policy is counter-productive since poor mental health can be deleterious to physical health.

            The treatment I began receiving in 1984, besides my own negative contributions to its potential success, was also interrupted several times for two main reasons. One was money after I no longer had insurance. Two is that sometimes I would be going along pretty well and felt I needed no more treatment.

                 As a result of these interruptions, which in the case of feeling good I liken to a remission of a physical illness, I gradually was deteriorating until I got in crisis. Even with the resumption of treatment for a period with a wonderful doctor and medication, that ended when he relocated and whatever progress I had made was again stalled.

                A few years later, once again starting to feel desperate, I entered a couple of experimental programs at Pitt, having to drive from Morgantown once or twice a week. Then, after missing one session, but driving to Pittsburgh for my next  scheduled one, I was told I was ejected from the program for my absence. The bastards couldn’t even give me notice before I drove the 75 miles. I hate Pitt.

               You may have heard of yo-yo dieting. That is where a person loses a significant amount of  weight and may even sustain that loss for a time, but eventually they regain the lost weight and even more. This pattern repeats itself as some new miracle wieght loss secret is discovered. Eventually the person gives up since they now weigh much more than when they originally dieted and are afraid to lose again for fear of getting much bigger on the rebound.

           So it was for me with my “remissions” from my depression. After a period of minimal problems and believing I was finally on the right track to stability, I went downhill with new lows, and greater difficulty, if not impossibility, of improvement.

             The cumulative effect has been to weaken me tremendously. While I can work for brief periods, such as to produce this blog, my overall abilty to concentrate on mental tasks as well as being able to maintain my life to perform any meaningful work on a regular schedule over more than a few hours time has been irreparably harmed.

                  Thus, though I’ve now had a steady schedule of counseling and medication for six years, it is much too late to reverse the damage done from the previous 38 years. I am able to maintain an acceptable wavering mental equilibrium without falling into the abyss, but also without the wherewithal to keep a constant course around the potholes of my depression that will forever resist the simplest patches.

                Not that I was assured a smooth path otherwise, but if I had sought help sooner and received it more consistently my life would be quite different today. So do not hesitate if you find yourself with unanswered questions. Therapy may be the ticket. To use a popular Chicago saying in another context, “Vote early and vote often”.

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  • Betsy  On October 21, 2010 at 7:14 PM

    This is probably the best blog you have written…at least of the “nonfunny ones.” Thanks for being willing to openly share your story to help others.

    • umoc193  On October 21, 2010 at 9:57 PM

      What? You didn’t see the humor here?

      Thanks. When my autobiography comes out next year this topic will be addressed more thoroughly.

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  • stacy  On November 16, 2010 at 4:07 PM


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