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July 29, 2008

If Rafe Mair Can Admit it Why Can't I?

Lately, I have been having difficulties with depression. It has been my life-long challenge. My experience of it and others ignorance about how it manifests and what it may mean about me, personally, I have carried around in shame, internalized for years.

Perhaps because when I first experienced it as a teenager in the 70s, people did not talk about depression openly, they did not recognize it - even doctors - and if they did, they equated it with some form of personal weakness. Or, at least, I did. Back then. When I was young. And that initial self-assessment has plagued me even though I know, intellectually, it is just not true.

For the past 7 years I have been well because I take 2 pills a day. The problem is, that when you have been well for that long, you forget that you ever had a problem. So, you think, I don't have to take those pills. Look. I'm well. So, I decided, yes, I will go off those pills. No sense taking pills when I don't need to. Seven years is long enough to have those chemicals in my body. I'm fine.

And, at first, everything was fine. But, that was 8 months ago. And, the thing about serious depression, especially when you have been plagued with it your entire life and you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder is that it creeps up on you and before you know it, you're not answering the phone. You're not calling anyone. The phone stops ringing. You're having trouble doing your dishes or vacuuming. It seems to be taking a lot longer to get dressed because you don't think anything looks good. You can't decide. You can't really feel anything - even when it's sunny outside - it doesn't feel like sunshine. You begin to close your blinds in your apartment when it's really sunny. All of them.

When I am depressed,I have trouble being enthusiastic about anything and it seems, at its very worst, to affect my vision. At its very worst, it changes the way I feel when I am walking around, as if I am separate from the physical environment and everything in it; removed from everyone around me in a way that even if I was to reach out to touch them, they would seem as if they were behind plexiglass. I'm a ghost of my former self.

And then, miraculously, medication makes it better. Nothing about your external circumstances has changed and yet, you are better. You can still be broke and without a full-time job but you are feeling better. It's all manageable, even if it's not good. You will overcome. You have faith.

And things do get better because your mind is better and you are able to manifest that wellness of thoughts into your physical environment through work, money, friends, activity, humour. You are back in "the flow". It's as if someone has taken a giant straw and sucked out all the pink cotton candy that was clogging my brain and making it slow. And, before they left, they thought, what the heck, might as well turn on the Ferris Wheel and liven things up around here. You're happy again! You can feel the music.

In 2001 when I recovered from another much more serious bout of depression, I wrote this.

It's like the awnings have been taken down to let the light into the livingroom. I imagine it feels the way it might when a prisoner has finished his sentence and takes the first step out into the world, everything as it was before but somehow new or renewed. A freshly painted fence. The smell of a new car. Hope, even though, circumstances have not changed confirming the theory that the mind truly is in control of everything.

At that time, 2001, I had just finished reading a book about Virginia Woolf and as I read it I realized that only those of us buffetted about when mood goes wrong live on two distinct planes.

There is the side that only those closest to us have seen. A subtext. The quiver and dampness in a voice desperately failing to cover up the dissent. Deciding not to pick up the phone. Hiding. Thinking too much. Too introspective. Unable to read a book or a newspaper and comprehend one line of text without being distracted. Unable to be around more than a few people. The self-consciousness of leaving the house and being in the world. The waking at 4 a.m and the semi-conscious state of tossing and turning with the undertow being the silence, the quiet, the aloneness amplified by memories of when that wasn't the case, when you weren't alone.

Recognizing the pacing of your life from activity to inactivity and realizing how that is only the pacing experienced by someone who has survived major depression. That type of pacing does not exist in a regular life - from activity to inactivity - extremes that change friendships, family, financial security.

I have become an expert at hiding it until I can't. Until, having to speak turns words into tears and it can't be hidden. When suddenly, disbelievingly, I am "breaking down" on the phone - or the ultimate mortification - in front of strangers. Emotion scares people. It scares me. There's an acceptable limit - on joy and on sadness.

And then, when that happens, all there is to do is to give in and "say Uncle". To go back on the pills and retreat. To wait it out. To be gentle with oneself and hope and pray that the medication will still work as well as it did the last time before you forgot why you really must take it, even when you are well, because, oh ya, that's why you ARE well afterall. Really.

When we are well, it's not possible to distinguish us from any other. In fact, the distinguishing factors can, for some and in some instances, be positive - creativity, quickness, insights and strength wrought from having to crawl back up, one more time, from out of the muck and the chaos created. Unemployment. Vanished friendships. Debt. Family estrangement. Less. Just less. Self worth. Confidence. Trust of self. All needing restoration. Again.

And this time, I know I really must write myself a letter about how things are and why they are that way so that I can look at it, in the future, when I wrongly decide that "I am just too darn well to be taking those silly little pills."

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