DEPRESSION——-THE OTHER FATAL DISEASE

              I have written previously of my depression. I return to the topic because of so many wrong perceptions of the illness held by those who have not suffered. So the warning sign is out…ENLIGHTENMENT AHEAD…TEMPORARY INCONVENIENCE-PERMANENT IMPROVEMENT. Since I am not the Department of Highways this sign can be believed, but there are no orange cones to admire while in the zone.

               I suppose one of these misperceptions or misconceptions is addressed in the public service announcements often heard on TV and radio these days. These PSAs go something like this.

             “If a friend of yours had diabetes or heart disease, you wouldn’t pat them on the hand and say ‘you’ll get over it’.Well depression is an illness just as diabetes or heart disease is and can be just as fatal”

               I have had that basic expression of “you’ll get over it” offered to me by many well-meaning but misunderstanding friends and even family on occasion. These folks think that somehow if you get distracted from whatever is “wrong” or perhaps just have a little luck in your favor the depression will evaporate. I had a buddy once during a particularly distressing time give me the book  ” Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…..and it’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson. Now this friend has provided enormous support to me on many levels but in this case at that time, that book offered no solace. I know this because I never even opened it as I knew in the next few days it would all be irrelevant anyhow.

                Besides if exhortations or aphorisms work at all one has only a respite from, not a cure for the underlying chemical imbalance in the brain that is the root of depression. In fact, as I have found, Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Xanax, Ludiomil, and Melloril have all come up short in that department as well.

          Now I’m going to tell you some facts about my depression. I make no representations that other depressives experience their illness the same way. I can tell you that my own therapist has indicated to me, when I explain how I feel or have felt, that there is nothing unusual about any of it.

           I have had two major knee operations, gall bladder surgery and a heart bypass. I fell thirty feet off a telephone pole and suffered a collapsed lung. I have had numerous sprains and contusions and gashes and possibly even a concussion. I have never felt pain so bad as when I was curled up on my bed in a fetal position contemplating not whether but just how and exactly when I would shuffle off this mortal coil.

            The pain was wringing and wrenching and twisting my body. I gasped for breath and I sobbed uncontrollably. I was as achingly alone as a shipwreck victim washed up on an uninhabited isle. I did manage to recover enough to make a phone call but I could barely get two or more words out in a row. It hurt to form words and it hurt to think I was letting anyone in on my dirty little secret.

          You see, if you have terminal cancer, or liver disease or diabetes…anything at all which could kill you within a short time…you want to draw your loved ones near and help you pass, though you still may have some fight left. But depression? Goodness gracious you don’t want anyone to know you’re crazy. That you’re thinking about killing yourself. If you do kill yourself, others will have proof that you’re crazy and they’ll go around talking about just how crazy you were as they mourn your passing.

        If you’re crazy you’re not rational, right? I mean that’s almost by definition. So killing yourself cannot possibly be a rational act. WRONG. It may be the most rational thing you ever do. Isn’t it more irrational to continue in pain? To have your body contort unnaturally and allow that to continue? To have your skull squeezing you, forcing your brain to emanate thoughts that no one should ever think? The only way to end the torture of your very being is to destroy the source of that torture. And that source is you.

         Depression sometimes lulls you into believing you have finally gotten much better, but it is  a relentless bastard that can sneak up on you and attack your psyche when you think that is about the last thing that will happen.

            Depression is erosive. It washes away your normal brain functions over time just as the Colorado River eventually created the Grand Canyon. My first major recognizable depressive episode was in 1966 a month or so prior to my nineteenth birthday. I first sought treatment in May of 1984. No psychiatric therapy, no anti depressants in my blood system, little or no self -realization about what depression meant to me and how to deal with it.

      Within a year I was in Federal Court on an embezzlement charge, soon to lose my law license and do a work release stint in jail. Whatever ego I had was soon so supressed that I was a shell inside. I could act like my normally assholish self outwardly, but inside I was a mere drone.

      Released from my sentence and newly employed in a computer business I fought to restore my inner dignity and feeling of self-worth. I failed miserably. I had been rather blase while all these degrading penalties were imposed. Delayed reaction. I soon was withdrawn to my wife, who had stood by me throughout my legal troubles. I didn’t even realize it at the time but I guess I felt emasculated in a way. No pride here.

     I also had lost my health insurance and, as insufficient as it was, that had allowed me to get a modicum of care. I did go to therapy sessions with a private group that charged a rather small co-pay. But I was receiving no medication and my sessions were filled with mundane complaints, little introspection and complete eschewal of expressing my true inner turmoil, which frankly, I’m not certain I could have articulated in any case. And I only know this myself in retrospect. So what chance was there for anyone else to help me?

       My wife and I were gradually growing apart though outwardly none of our friends picked up on that. Even between ourselves we didn’t really address that fact. I had filed bankruptcy and  our house had been foreclosed upon, delayed only briefly by the bankruptcy filing. Knowing we had to move we looked at rentals together. But when it finally came time to vacate we ended up leasing seperate apartments.

           So let’s see. In a little over two years I had gone from an up-and-coming law practice, to being forced out on my own, to finally acknowledging that such a creature as depression inhabited me, to being barely able to work which left me tampering with trust funds which led to a felony conviction and disbarrment, which led to being behind bars five nights a week for almost six months which led to bankruptcy, foreclosure and estrangement from my loving wife. Oh yes, I was hitting all the stops in fulfilling the Great American Nightmare.

         Throughtout this period and for several years afterward I would experience some more shit and think ” I have finally bottomed out”. But my nadir was still ahead and it was to be a doozy. You’ve had a preview of what that was like for me. You’ll find it was even more horrifying than what you think when you read  my next installment.

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