March 14, 2014

Loving Someone who has Depression

            One in four of you will experience a period of clinical depression at some point in your life.  You are highly unlikely to have to deal with it for a whole lifetime like I do, but you have a one in four chance of experiencing real depression.  The good news is that many people who have one depressive episode never experience another.  But if you happen to be one of the one in four who does have this experience, I want to share something important with you- something I’ve learned the hard way.  If you’re not one of the one in four, you know someone who is.  I think this is important for you to know, too.  Let me start with a little bit of my story- I want you to know that I know what I’m talking about.
            When I was in middle school and high school dealing with my depression (I have Major Depressive Disorder, MDD, or depression), I had no idea what was going on; I just knew that my life was falling apart and I absolutely couldn’t deal with it.  I hung on by the skin of my teeth.  With therapy, I made it through each episode.  See, depression for me has always come in waves.  I always have it, but it is usually mostly under control.  Sometimes, though, it’s not.  When I started college, the first time a major episode hit, it knocked me down hard.  I wasn’t sure it would end.  When it finally did, I picked myself up and tried again.  And then the next one hit.  And it got better.  And then another one hit.  And it got better.  Each time, I lost months and even years to the disease.  I just hunkered down and gritted my teeth and waited for it to be over and then tried to get back to living my life.  I continuously worked with doctors and medications and therapists and therapy groups and figured out how to make each episode as bearable as possible.  In total, I’ve spent around five years nearly incapacitated by my depression, and I’ve lived with the disease for over half my life.  That’s how you know I know what I’m talking about.  But why does my experience matter to you?
            Well, throughout the course of this last major episode (I’m just starting to pull out of it now), I’ve learned something really important.  You see, I used to just hunker down and wait till it was over.  I worked hard in therapy and with my doctors to find the right medications and address problematic thought patterns, but I still felt like I was waiting out a storm and when it passed, I’d come back out from under the depression.  I felt like the depressed person couldn’t possibly be me- like I was waiting for me to come back.  In a way, that’s useful.  It helped me to visualize my healthy self coming back to take control of my life again.  But in another way, it held me back. 
            As long as I thought of my depressed self as me+depression, I couldn’t really love my depressed self.  And anyone else who has thought of me this way- who has waited for me to come back from wherever I go when I’m depressed- hasn’t really been loving my true self either.  You (and I) shouldn’t love me despite my depression.  We shouldn’t love me “even when” I’m depressed.  What we have to realize is that I’m always me.  And we need to love me.  The depressed me.  The depressed me isn’t just to be tolerated, pitied, or suffered through.  The depressed me IS me.  I am me, no matter where I go or what I go through.  It’s a fine distinction, but it’s an important one. 
            During the worst of this most recent episode, I so often found myself waiting for “me” to come back so that I could do the things I meant to do and move forward in my life.  But one day I realized that “me” was never coming back.  I was never going to be the person I was before this episode.  I never have returned to being the person I was before any given episode.  That’s the point.  I grow and change in really important ways every time this happens to me.  And I’m me while I’m going through these tough times.   This may seem like a small thing, but it’s made a big difference to me.
            So if you’re going through a tough time, realize this: you’re not just “in there somewhere”.  You’re right there on the surface.  You are you.  You don’t have to apologize for what you’re going through or promise to make it up to people when “you” come back.  You just have to love you.  And you have to have people in your life who will love you.  Not love you despite your sickness.  Not love you “even when” you’re sick.  But love the sick you, because that is you. 

            And to all of you who know and love someone with depression (or bipolar disorder or anxiety or anything else), remember this.  I know it’s repetitive, but it’s important: Don’t love a person despite their illness.  Don’t love them “even when” they’re ill.  Love the ill them.  Because that is them.  It will set them free.

February 5, 2014

Drowning and Depression

            Last semester was a rough one.  I ended up having to drop all my classes and sit on the couch clinging on to my sanity for dear life.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know why this sometimes happens to me.  Sometimes I just get wildly depressed for no reason, even though I’m still taking my meds.  Even though nothing has changed.  So I met with my therapist and my doctor a hundred thousand times.  And things got better.  A medication overhaul usually does that, but it usually takes at least a thousand years to get it right.  And so I made it.  I lived through the worst of it.
            But now is now, and now is different.  I am feeling vastly better, but I am definitely not all the way back to ok yet.  I really need to finish school for financial and sanity related reasons.  So I’m enrolled in 8 credits right now.  Last summer, I took 17.5 credits AND explored Israel, Turkey, and Jordan all at the same time.  But now is now.  I go to school three days a week for four hours each day, and I diligently do my homework.  That’s all.  That’s all I do.  And it’s All. I. Can. Do.  This is where the drowning part comes in.  I feel like I’m drowning in 8 credits.  I can barely do the work and go to the classes.  I am exhausted by the end of each day, including my days off.  It’s all I can do to keep my head above the water. 
And outside of school, I have loves.  I have two horses who need exercise and who I love dearly.  I have two nieces who need playtime and who I love fiercely.  I have friends and family in the area who just need face time and who I love sincerely.  And I have a wonderful boyfriend who is trying so hard and being so accommodating and kind and patient and who I love deeply.  But 8 credits is All. I. Can. Do.  All of the other things in my life are falling by the wayside completely neglected.  And I am drowning in the guilt.  The 8-credit-drowning wouldn’t be so bad if the storm of guilt didn’t keep sweeping in and dragging me under.  Sometimes I allow my mind to wander for just a moment to one of the things I’m neglecting and I slip under the surface and come up spluttering and gasping and screaming in my head because I know I can’t do it all.  I know I’ll slip back under the surface of the dark depression if I do too much.  The other day I went shoe shopping for an hour AND grocery shopping for an hour on one of my days off and it was almost more than I could do to drag myself to campus the next day.  I spent the whole weekend in bed recuperating.  And I feel pathetic.  I feel like a complete failure.  I feel like a disappointment.  And I don’t know what to do about it other than keep swimming.
Thank you for coming. I hope you get something out of this. I hope you learn about yourself. I hope you get help if you need it or give it if you can.