This is a post I didn’t want to write, but that wanted to be written. There will likely be more of them, too. Why? Because I believe this topic is under the surface of many lives, many conversations. Especially for women. Because life is too short to keep secrets, especially from ourselves.
In the last twenty years, I’ve been a student of the causes and cures for depression—what the old books used to call “melancholia.”
The first thing I learned is that I Have It. I learned that, in the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR), my kinds are called dysthymic disorder and major depression. I also had postpartum depression.
The second thing I learned is that no one really knows what depression is. No one—and I mean no one told me this—I just concluded it. In fact, every person I’ve consulted for help with my depression has had an answer for what it is. Mostly they don’t[ agree, though. For instance, I’ve been told, or read, that depression is:
an imbalance of serotonin in the brain
a failure to pray enough
a hormonal imbalance—not enough progesterone
anger turned inward
the result of faulty cognitive behavior patterns
a reaction to medications
based in nutritional issues
a part of the grief process
the name for what’s “wrong” with you when you’ve been sad for more than 2 weeks.
a failure to carry out the mission of the U.S. Air Force
a mental malady
an emotional malady
a spiritual malady
a physiological malady
Given this list, it seems rather arrogant for the people who write the PDR—that huge compendium of things wrong with people—to presume what depression is. The fact that my thing is called a “disorder” in itself places a judgment on huge segments of the population by labeling their internal processes as disorderly; that is, not normal.
Secondly, the fact that so many people in the helping professions have different answers for what causes depression—and how to treat it—can itself be a mighty depressing prospect. That these well-meaning people don’t talk to each other doesn’t help, either.
What does all this mean? Hell if I know.
But I did learn other things, too. I learned that plenty of smart, accomplished people have had “It.” It’s almost common now, but back when I was twenty-eight and first diagnosed, I didn’t know that. Abraham Lincoln is my favorite in this category. There are so many others I’m not even going to pick some—but I will note that a disproportionate number of famous depressoids seem to have been writers, artists, and musicians. Many of my favorites, of course, are on the list—like Hermann Hesse and Dylan Thomas.
Gradually I made my own list about what causes depression, and even more gradually I’m learning to trust it. On top of that list is self-judgment, and a giving up on oneself—neither of which have been helped along by the medical establishment labeling me or throwing treatments my way. Oh, the stories I could tell. Someday, maybe.
Here are some other ways I understand my depression. It’s:
a reaction to stress—either “good” or “bad”
a response to too much stimulation
a crucible for art and growth
a haven for a heart or mind or body that is simply overwhelmed.
a blessing: thank God my body knows when it needs to go inward.
a curse. In a major episode, nothing could be worse.
There are reasons for this post emerging to the surface needing to be written today, as opposed to last month, or next week. But because I’m tired and need to get to bed, I’m going to stop here. I’ll close with saying I was motivated to write this to reach out to others who have been diagnosed with depression and might recognize some of what I’ve written.