Everyday I get out of bed is a fantastic start (aside from assuring me I didn’t die). Over 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. In the space of three months, I went from husband, father, home owner, and senior copywriter to homeless. To misuse Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: It was the worst of times.
Sadly, when I needed them most my family and friends bailed. No, this isn’t the first time someone with mental illness has been shunned by those they love, nor the last. Far too often family members are more ego-oriented by how it reflects on them. But when you are totally alone living loses much of its lustre. The only constant was my son and ensuring I had access to him. Five trips to Family Law court proved to me that I hadn’t become useless or lacked passion or empathy.
Those five trips took three years during which I was allowed back within the family fold. They didn’t fully understand (and more than likely still don’t) “depression” – lots of buck ups, and shake it offs. But, I had a base to build on. Made the best choice of my life and sought psychiatric help. After about six sessions my Dr. (note: Do not refer to psychiatrists as “head candlers”, they don’t get the joke) diagnosed me with clinical depression – the long-lasting extra fun kind. He prescribed Paxil and Valium – panic attacks are real (I’d choose No, but in time . . .).
What used to be one-step forward and two-steps back has morphed into three-steps forward and one-step back. That doesn’t mean those dark days are gone, just far more manageable. The physical act of writing is difficult, let alone the keeping the train of thought on one track. I didn’t want to write this, but I forced myself. Similar to eating cauliflower.
Thankfully, I was born with a strong sense of tell me it can’t be done and I’ll do it: a variation of fight or flight. It has worked for me so far. Yes, in those dark times, especially at night, I’ve been suicidal. That doesn’t accomplish much other than leaving a grieving, bewildered, suffering family behind.
Clinical depression is no different than diabetes. No one chooses it. It’s simply a bio-chemical disorder in both cases. But, because “one’s in your head” bring on the stigma. To date, I’ve lost only one friend after explaining that I had clinical depression, he said, “So you’re crazy.” I tried to explain, but I decided to leave him in his ignorant bliss.
One thing I have practised is learning to ignore the idiots, and wean them out of my life without responding with a verbal onslaught. Which, as a rule, is hard for me.
For folks reading this who are coping through depression, their family, and friends, sometimes the best thing you can do is talk AND listen and repeat.