When You’re Not a Ray of Sunshine

I like this blogging thing. While few might be reading, I’m enjoying the chance to write what’s on my mind, what’s important to me, and keep refining a skill. As you can read on the “about” page, one my hang-ups in starting a blog was the uncertainty of having something to say that wasn’t more noise over bandwidth. I don’t want this blog to become my pseudo-anonymous online confessional. But I do want to be honest that I’m not always a ray of sunshine, or happy, or even pleasant.

No, male readers, don’t start thinking, “Well, every chick I know has days like that!” I’m not talking about the hormone cycles that disrupt a woman’s frontal cortex.

It’s the condition that middle schoolers like to make fun of, high schoolers feed off of, college students drink away, young adults are blind-sided by, and a few of my friends thought I could just pray away – depression.

I would say that I’ve faced two conscious “bouts” with depression. The first time I knew what was wrong with me was five years ago when I was first diagnosed. Part of me was relieved. Part of me felt shame (though I shouldn’t have). Part of me felt defeated; part of me had hope for the first time. I know I’ve had other bouts since then, but my most recent one and its surrounding circumstances necessitated that I couldn’t depend solely on talk therapy and friends to get me through. Because of depression resurfacing, I’ve thought about other periods of time over the past 15 years or so that I was very likely experiencing depression, I just wasn’t able to put all the symptomatic pieces together.

Why might a person from a semi-balanced family face depression? Let me paint a psychological picture for you:

Youngest of 3. “The different child.” Musician/artistic. Bullied for 5 straight years in middle school. Told to just ignore it. You’re too sensitive. Too worried about what people think; people-pleaser. Genetically favored to have low serotonin.

Depression isn’t feeling sad and “woe is me.”  Depression isolates you from others; it is an invisible wall between your soul and the world.  Depression is a wanting to get out of bed, but a combination of internal and external forces tell you that life is better if you stay flat on your back. Or once you are up and going, you fear the silence needed to go to sleep, so you stay up as long as possible. Wanting to share in others’ joy and only being able to give lip service. Grabbing onto anything that will distract or numb you from the anger and sadness welling up in your heart. Fearing forgiveness, peace and calmness in your soul. Crying because you need to, not because there is any expressed reason. Believing that you are isolated and no one cares to help. Feeling bitterness slowly eat you from the inside until you are a shell of a person. Wanting to forget whatever it is that made you this way to begin with until you forget everything that happened 5-10 minutes ago.

I write the above not so you will become wide-eyed and think, “Holy ****, I didn’t know it was that bad!” Nor do I want you to go the route of “Whatever. You’re exaggerating. If you quit being selfish, you’d get better.” It’s hard to explain to people who have never faced depression or grief. No matter what your physical ability, your brain takes over and you are physically and emotionally paralyzed.

Please bear in mind, I never got to the level of depression where I struggled with substance abuse or thoughts of hurting myself. But I did get to the point where I understood why people with depression go to those extremes. You are so numb and miserable that you just want to feel  something, pain or joy, just so you know you’re alive. Being awake in silence and peace is what you fear the most, so you try to sleep or keep your life noisy.

Thankfully, during my first bout I was seeing a therapist, who saw my slow decent from the outside and told me that I needed medication. I was on the amazing happy pills for about a year, when both my therapist and physician said it would be okay for me to discontinue that prescription. I continued seeing my therapist until I moved east.

I’ve had 2-3 downward trends since then. I’ve used a combination of sun-bathing, talking with my priest, crying, and pin-pointing the source of my anger to combat the negative effects. I will say that identifying why I’m sad or angry is incredibly helpful in recovering from bouts.

There were a few compelling reasons for me to start medication again. First of all, I’m back in school – i.e. having to remember a large amount of facts for tests when forgetfulness is one of my common symptoms is not a good combination. Second, my work schedule is horrendous. Between my three jobs and school, I’m not home much, let alone have time to meet with my priest or a counselor on a regular basis. Third, I know that depression is treated best with a combination of meds and cognitive therapy.

My fourth reason for seeking out medication for this bout has to do with the long-term effects of depression. Brains lose plasticity as you age. Thus if my brain learns to keep functioning in this depressed state, it will be harder for me as I age to “come out of it.” I’ll lose the ability to think of life in a different way. Thus, medication can help prevent my brain, neurons, and neurotransmitters from being locked into depression and my later years have a chance of being fruitful and positive.

I’m not sure how to end this narrative. It’s not one where I’m able to say, “I’ve done it! I beat my disease!” Because, depression isn’t a disease. I can’t take the round of anti-microbials and eliminate the cause from my body. The cause is a two-fold predisposition to low neurotransmitter levels and lack of coping skills for stresses. The later can be addressed in therapy, the former is something that I will always have – like some people have high cholesterol, blood sugar issues, low vitamin levels, or any other chemicals or body processes that the medical field can measure. My imbalance happens to effect my relationships with others and my own inner dialogue more than the others I listed.

People take cholesterol medication, insulin, and multi-vitamins. What’s wrong with me needing a neurotransmitter stimulant?

*None of the above is medical advice. Depression is a treatable condition, for which you should seek professional assistance in identifying your symptoms and treatment options.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Basking in the Sunshine | tallrayofsunshine
  2. Anna P
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 12:32:26

    Wow, Laura, that paragraph where you describe what being depressed is like is really harrowing.

    Please know you’re in my thoughts and prayers!



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