Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Depression is stupid

Depression is stupid. So is anxiety. In fact, half the time I can't even tell the difference between the two. That in itself is stupid, because it seems that they should be complete opposites of one another; the former being stereotyped as a person moving and making decisions slowly and the latter lightning fast thoughts peppering one's consciousness. The common ground between them is that both are overwhelmingly paralyzing when they grip your life.

I revisit this topic in part due to my own experiences, and partially because of the wonderful blog by the author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened (well, really it's more a book written by the author of the blog, The Bloggess), in particular this insightful and sensitive entry about depression; Most people don't understand depression or anxiety, which is probably why so many cases go untreated. (I honestly think this is a huge factor in the level of unhappiness in the United States, but that's another topic.) It's also very hard to explain the experience of depression and anxiety to others, even if they care about you and want to understand.

Depression and anxiety are both categorized as mental illnesses. This label carries a lot of baggage with it. I yearned to be an astronaut for a very long time, and worried that my eyesight (terrible by any standard) would be a barrier; in reality my family and personal history of depression would be much more likely to hinder my ambitions. A few months ago I read that in the northwest, some political candidate running for a state position accused his opponent of being crazy, evidenced, he claimed, by her diagnosis of depression several years past.

The world's view of depression is disgusting, especially considering that it afflicts millions of people. Depression does not make you crazy. Most people who are depressed are not suicidal. The overwhelming majority of people with depression do function normally, if not as well as they otherwise might.

That's not to say that being depressed doesn't MAKE you feel crazy. It's a chemical imbalance in your brain, which causes you to feel things inappropriate to your situation. You feel disconnected, and frustrated. You're sad and nervous even though everything is fine. I'm trying to graduate this spring, and facing that, during a time of the year that's personally difficult, has caused my brain to go into anxiety/depression overload. Plus, my boyfriend is away this week, which is a huge help. (NOT that I'm saying he should have skipped his work/band trip just to support me; he should have brought me along.) So here I am, trying to crunch data, and my brain is saying, What if this doesn't lead to any conclusions? What if my study shows that all of the differences in my data are insignificant and essentially a big jumble of shades of gray? What if we DO find something but no one will publish the paper so I never get a job and my landlord kicks me out and I run out of money because of the vet bill when my cat at the two feet of fishing line and I have to move back in with my parents and there's a nuclear apocalypse and I'm one of the only ones left and I can't find my boyfriend and my glasses are broken and all of the Sephoras burn down?????!!!!! And then I need to take a break and I text my boyfriend and he doesn't respond and my brain says that he takes me for granted and that I NEED LOVE RIGHT NOW OR EVERYTHING IS DOOMED TO FALL APART BECAUSE IF MY BOYFRIEND CAN'T EVEN TAKE THE TIME TO ANSWER A TEXT WHILE (KIND OF) ON VACATION THEN IT'S NEVER GOING TO WORK OUT WHEN I'M A FAMOUS SCIENTIST AND HAVE TO TAKE THE SPACE ELEVATOR TO THE MOON EVERY TUESDAY TO HOLD MY LAB MEETINGS OMG!!!!!!


And that's why it's so hard to control depression and anxiety; it's all these "logical" thoughts screaming at you while you're unable to make a stance firm enough to make a decision. But all the while you also realize that your brain isn't working in the way that it normally does and if you can just ride it out, all this will pass. Which it does. Sometimes some tissues and kitty hugs are required. But when you're depressed, as when you're drunk, the person who you are is still there underneath, and in both cases your state of mind doesn't change who you are. You're responsible for the consequences of your actions. And no matter how hard you try, you can't make yourself sober just by wanting to be.

I'm not sure what the moral of this entry is. Depression and anxiety are difficult to deal with and an involuntary burden of those who suffer them. But it doesn't make those afflicted unfit to hold responsibilities or allow them to carry on a normal life. It's a fine line to walk, to insist that we are responsible but need help, are suffering but are still the same people. One thing that I've done to help myself lately is to inscribe valued advice I've been given by people I respect and care for- including "Just keep chipping away and it will get done," and "Don't take shit from anybody, including me" (my boyfriend is the best). It helps to hold on to these truths, not only because they remind me to be positive, but also because they keep me from withdrawing into myself and surrounding myself with only my own confusing thoughts and feelings. That just amplifies the despair. Rather, I try to stay grounded in this tangible evidence that people care for me and understand me, even if they might not understand what I'm going through.

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