“The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four people is suffering from a mental illness. Look at your 3 best friends. If they’re ok, then it’s you.”
― Rita Mae Brown
I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. I had it even before I knew I had it, and long before I even knew what it meant to be “depressed.” My depression has always been cyclical in nature meaning that I suffered from continual, on-going low levels of depression interspersed with serious depressive episodes where the only solution appeared to be suicide. I can still clearly remember the first time I thought about suicide, the feeling of not wanting to be alive, and I can clearly remember my shock. I was only 16-17 years old, and even though my life would have never made the “Leave It To Beaver” cut, it was still life and I still wanted it. Until, that piercing moment when the thought occurred to me, “Maybe I should just kill myself.”
I was in the car with my first husband, I don’t remember what we were talking about but I do remember the hopelessness, the pain and the despair. I also remember that the thought shook the very foundations of my concepts of the sanctity of life, reality and sanity. A million questions ran through my brain as it tried to digest the unpalatable reality of my new world.
Who in their right mind does not want to live? What was happening to me? Was I losing my mind? I would never find the answers to these questions, but I was to suffer much worse over the rest of my life as this mild form of depressive thought spiraled out of control and led up to three major depressive episodes. The first of these episodes, occurred about 40 years ago and lasted nine months. The second occurred in 1996 and lasted two years. The most recent bout happened in 2003 and lasted nine long years. A key feature of these episodes, aside from not wanting to live, is the inability to function, to cry, to laugh, to live. I spent the better part of the last nine years in bed: sleeping late, taking long naps and going to bed very early. I also spent the last nine years heavily medicated as only drugs could control my constant companions: self-loathing, discouragement, and overwhelming hopelessness.
Recent studies indicate that one in every 10 Americans suffer from depression of some sort, with 4 of those individuals, nearly half, suffering from major depressive episodes. However, in light of my own recent experiences, I have a ton of more questions to ask. Like, what causes it? Why don’t the treatments work better? And, who says what depression really is? I can believe you are depressed if you want to kill yourself, but are you depressed if you simply just don’t like the current circumstances in your life?
I know they have charts, grids and tests, I have taken enough those tests myself to build a bonfire with them, but who establishes the standards and measurements for those tests and charts? If you perceive yourself as being depressed, are you? Or, if you perceive yourself as being not depressed, are you? From my own experience, I think it is a combination of both. I think there is a physical and inherited tendency toward depression, but I also think how I perceive myself also factors into the reality of its severity. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is quotes as saying, “Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
And, I am wondering, is this true? I cannot explain what has happened to me, or what has happened in the past. I do not understand why the depression is gone, why it happened in the first place, and if it will come again. Studies suggest that those who have suffered one major depressive episode will like suffer another, and that each new episode will be more severe than the last. I, personally, have found this to be true, and I am terribly afraid that if it happens again, I won’t survive.
However, today, I am good! I am in a new place, an environment of my own making where I am free of depression, and once again, I am wondering…what and who I am? I have never experienced this level of freedom, this level of energy, or this level of love in my life: love for my children, my husband, my students, my pets, my friends and my God. I awake, when I sleep, energized and ready to take on the world. I am excited about my career, my writing and even posting on Facebook. So, I am wondering, is this what normal people do? Is this what life is all about? Or, am I must in a manic phase of a manic/depressive episode. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music.” Is this me now? I don’t know, but I am wondering.