I came across an article recently about how while we have learned much more about treating depression in the past twenty years, there is still a lack of research on recovery. According to the New York Times, “in trying to understand how people with depression might escape their condition, scientists have focused almost entirely on the afflicted, overlooking a potentially informative group: people who once suffered from some form of depression but have more or less recovered.”
I’m surprised but not surprised by this. It runs parallel to all my reading about depression -- and I’ve done a lot -- which focuses on the experience. How you feel trapped and at a dead end and Churchill’s Black Dog and all that. I remember when I was first diagnosed in 2009, my aunt, a psychiatrist, looked me dead in the eye and said, “you can and will get better,” and I held on to that promise like the lifeline it was. I knew getting better would involve meds and therapy, but beyond that, ???
So here’s what it’s looked like for me this go-round. The biggest thing, this time and last? Putting an end to the chaos. In 2009 I was working an extremely high pressure job that I hated. In 2018 I was a freelancer with a failed startup and an erratic client load. In both cases, I felt completely out on a limb, with no support whatsoever, and the extended period of knowing my world could crumble at any minute was one of the biggest contributors to my depression. So I fixed that. In 2009 I was in a better position financially and I took an extended leave of absence from work. Last year I was just straight up lucky, and a full time job came along exactly when I needed it.
There were lots of other things I did too, of course. I pretty much quit drinking, at least while I was at my lowest. I went to stay with my sister and her family for a while, and then later, my parents. Again, I was extremely fortunate that I *could* do these things. Many people don’t have the option. But if I had to point to what helped the most, that was it. Otherwise it’s been a gradual process. Allowing myself to feel, and to rest, and take long walks, and to just be without enormous pressure to provide or produce or whatever. I didn’t escape entirely, of course -- I was still working a full time job -- but I did alleviate the burden somewhat.
So how do I know I’m better? That’s also been a slow process of recognition. But here are some signs of life:
I’m listening to music again, and with the frequency that has been normal for my entire adult life. That slowed almost to a halt during the worst of it.
I can come across shittiness in the world and shake it off. This is a big one -- in a more depressed state, bad news can stick to me like tar.
I started tweeting again. That may sound weird, but it’s almost like I feel free to speak again, and that I might have something to say — and that it’s worth the effort to say it. I have interest in engaging in a dialogue with the world in a way that I didn’t for a while.
I SOMETIMES SPONTANEOUSLY FEEL LIKE DANCING. My dog is rather alarmed at this development, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to actually feel this way. It had been a while.
Most of all, I just don’t feel like I’m in a state of emergency constantly. I’m not ecstatic every day, but I can breathe. It’s not like I missed any of these things when they were gone. The creep of symptoms is one of the most insidious things about depression — bit by bit you lose yourself.
I hope to be here for a good long while, but I’m just trying every day to appreciate and enjoy it regardless. And I want to spread the word to anyone who’s in the middle of a hard time that it can happen to you, too. That there is hope.
Do you know what elation sounds like?
Here’s a weird and pretty much NSFW audio map of vocalized human emotions. Unless you are home alone, I suggest headphones.
Enjoyed this short essay about the loooooong history of depression with examples of medical accounts from the Ancient Middle East.
“The wealth of sources for the Cuneiform medical tradition provide a unique opportunity to explore some of the earliest known expressions of human suffering and offer a reminder that we are not alone in trying to find ways to describe our own experiences of suffering, and to treat them.”
“Reliance, for example, on bodily metaphors like that of the heart (libbu), suggests that there was no separate category for mental health and illness and, accordingly, that there was no special stigma attached to mental distress. The physical and mental were continuous in a way that removed the need for added stigma.”
So 5,000 years ago we weren’t as blanketed in shame about our mental ailments, huh? Got it. Here’s hoping we can tackle that one.
Speaking of destigmatizing mental health issues, I found this tweetstorm about living with ADHD brave and interesting.
A tweet that is true:
And some lyrics that are true:
“And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine”
Here’s a good read on the occasion of the 30th (!) anniversary of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.” I was in 7th grade when this album came out, and they were the first band I saw in concert without my parents. It’s funny to watch this video now and see both how of its time it is, and yet timeless too. I hope the girls are proud.
Maybe you need this today:
That’s all for this time. But tell me, are there signs you’ve noticed that indicate that you’re in a pretty good place, mentally? What are they?
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