This time of year is the season of depression, though for some depression never seems to take a day off. I marvel at anyone who can function, however minimally, in the midst of that miasma. When I had it, at my worst, getting dressed in the morning was an actual and somewhat rare achievement. I was ultimately so happy to find a drug that would help me to do that, that even if it meant horrible side effects—getting little sleep and retching at least twice daily—I didn’t care. That was all better than the ongoing charcoal gray.
Millions of people silently wage this war day after day. (In 2007 the CDC announced that antidepressants were the most frequently prescribed drug in America.) For their success they receive no applause, no laurel wreaths, no large cash prizes. I think they should. Living with depression is like living with a monster in the closet. Some days you feel helpless; some days you’re scared; most days are just a long, silent dread. Just sticking around is a supremely heroic act, sometimes one of blind faith, because it can be difficult to imagine anything getting better. Ever.
Antidepressants are supposed to be the marvel that can change your mood and your life, but there are so many different antidepressants on the market that the average consumer may go through a dozen medications or combinations to find one that will work. Once people get past the hurdle of actually believing they can be helped, to find the medication(s) perfectly suited for their brains, they need two traits depressed people don’t excel at: patience and hope. The good news is, if they stick with it, they will find their pharmaceutical Holy Grail. The bad news is, they may have to go through a dozen combinations to get there. That can mean a year, or more, of disappointing or downright nasty side effects, without gain.
Add to this the Fall Season: as daylight dims earlier and earlier, the already huge ranks of the depressed swell. Seasonal Affective Disorder is said to affect one in 20 of us, with women three times as likely to react to the dying of the light. (Chronic depression is a problem that affects twice as many women as men.)
Some people also find that the holidays bring depression: life isn’t as good as the way they remembered it, the way they’d hoped or always planned it would be. Feelings of failure are often intensified, particularly when your greatest accomplishment—putting on shoes and socks–is something everyone else accomplishes with ease.
Depressed people expect failure and often believe things will never change. They come to see themselves negatively, their self-esteem suffers, and they have little or no self-confidence. They do not believe they have any control. They may have an urge to give up. Research has also indicated that severe hopelessness may be a predictor of suicide. But after all that depressing news, consider this. Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First Rate Madness, writes of great leaders with mental illness. He tells us that Mahatma Ghandi and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., both attempted suicide as teenagers, endured at least one depressive episode in midlife and suffered a very severe depressive episode in their final years, before they were killed. Oh, and although they were sometimes fairly powerless to do anything, but took on hopelessly huge causes. And ultimately they were revered for their accomplishments.
They changed the world. They changed for the better the lives of millions of people in generations they would never live to see.
I hate the waning of the light. But this year, as the light dims, I tell myself it’s time to remember to hold on. Everything changes. The light will return. And if you’re on your Nth combination of meds, the golden Nth plus one is on the horizon. There is hope and there is help.
If you suffer from depression, if you got out of bed today and just managed to put on your socks, know that there’s someone on the other side of the screen, applauding you wildly. And if you know someone who is depressed, and be-socked, maybe you can do some applauding in person.
Do you experience depression? What is it you miss most from your pre-depressed life? What do you do to make yourself feel better?
Mindy Glazer is Communications Director of NAMI Westside-LA. If you’d like to participate in the NAMI Westside-LA blog, please drop her a line at email@example.com.