Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Can't Be Cured of Depression

**For anyone who reads this and relates, please know that my prayers and thoughts are with you. If you ever think of committing suicide, please call 9-11 or a suicide hotline for help.**

Those of you with major depression know what I'm talking about. You get on medication, start doing counseling, and things are looking up. You have interests again! You don't want to sleep all day! You have the energy to get through a full day of work! All those little things that "normal" people take for granted are yours, or at least in part.

And then one day you think to yourself that the medication has worked so well that you can "finally" get off it. You dream of never again taking Zoloft/ Klonapin/ Prozac/ Welbutrin (I've done them all baby). You dream of "finally kicking this thing" and "functioning like a normal human being."

So maybe you decide to skip every other day. Just to experiment, just to see if it's just a sugar pill and you're experiencing a major placebo effect. Maybe you find yourself pretending to take your medication so that your spouse won't suspect you. You hate being deceitful, but "nobody understands" that you need to be strong, to kick the pill-popping, to stand on your own two feet.

And then one day you find yourself clinging to a rail at the metro station, tears welling up in your eyes as you try not to huddle on the filthy tile floor and sob. You want to call your husband but your hands are shaking so badly that you can't make a call. You try to focus on breathing slowly, in and out, while you listen to your heart pound. And when the train comes roaring by you jump like a hunted animal, and it's all you can do not to claw at your face.

The term for this is "medical non-compliance." It sounds so rebellious doesn't it? It doesn't sound at all like someone who just wants to "get off those meds." But there's one thing this past year has taught me, and that's not to judge people. People, don't ask God to teach you this, because He will, and it will hurt.

When you've found yourself in the psych department of the ER laughing hysterically and threatening the doctor - yes you, you little white middle class college-educated nerd - then everything changes. That woman on the street with the matted hair that's picking through the garbage and yelling at pigeons? That could be me without my advantages - without my husband, without medication, without our support system, without capable doctors, and yes, without meds. When I look at a "crazy person" I see myself, and it ain't pretty.

And when you are forced to look at all this, to take in the pain, then you finally admit that you are weak. I need medication in order to do things that "normal" people do without thinking, and you know what? Even with the meds it's not working so well. I still get panic attacks that require fast-acting medication and well-honed relaxation techniques. I still wonder if anyone actually likes me or if they just put up with me. I still wonder when my husband will realize what a mistake he's made and leave me, even though he's said over and over again how much he loves me, how he will never leave me. I still struggle to make it through work. A "good day" for me is a day without a full-blown panic attack. Thus far, today has been a good day.

So there are a couple of things I won't say anymore:

"I struggle with depression." No. I don't struggle with it, any more than someone struggles with diabetes. I have it, or it has me, but with the proper treatment and support it doesn't have to rule me.

"Once I get off the meds...". It is humiliating to realize that I may always require medication to balance my brain chemistry. It's humiliating because we stigmatize mental health, and I just want to be normal damnit. Apparently that's not in the cards. Oh well. Slowly but surely I'm discovering that maybe the strong thing to do is to accept that I need help.

I'm not looking for a cure anymore. I'm using the supports I have - the excellent cognitive-behavioral therapy I found in DC, the excellent psychiatrist at the same place (The Ross Center for Anxiety if you live in the area - it has excellent doctors and counselors), the medication, the breathing exercises, the yoga mat that I pull out every night though I rarely feel like it.

It's kind of like when you've done your first confession, and you feel light as a cloud, and then you sin again - badly. So you go a second time, and then a third, and then a fourth, and you start to wonder if you're a worse sinner than the others. And then one day you accept that for the rest of your life you will go to confession, and a huge weight rolls away. (Please note: I am emphatically NOT saying that depression is a sin. No, no, and no. The point of the analogy is that these problems ain't goin' nowhere).

I don't think it's coincidental that I had these epiphanies within days of each other.

And now I try to let it soak in. I will always need confession. I will always need treatment for depression. I will always need other people. I will always be dependent, and I will never be rich enough to turn away the gifts that God sends my way.

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