An Insidious Affliction

WritingIt has been way too long since I wrote any kind of blog update in general, let alone any kind of update at all. I last wrote in March to sum up my Oscar picks and I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog ever since. So much for my New Year’s goals that I set for myself, although I could still engage in that now. Speaking of those New Year’s goals, you might remember that I mentioned in that post that I had trouble with writers’ block, although I believed I understood what the problem was at the time. I had said that I wasn’t ready to say anything about it yet, but that I might in the future. In light of some recent events, I think I may want to discuss that now.

As many have heard by now, Robin Williams committed suicide. In a statement, his manager stated that he had recently been suffering from severe depression. This comedic genius who had branched out and proven himself to be more than just a comedian suffered from an insidious disease that afflicts many people, even those that don’t recognize that they have it. I know this because I’m one them.

I’ve suffered from depression for quite some time. It was something that I didn’t want to accept but ultimately needed to if I was going to get better and have any quality of life. And depression is incredibly difficult to combat. It is not a simple sadness or just feeling down that someone has to snap out of, like many people think. It’s currently believed to be an actual chemical disorder in the brain, the organ that one needs to get out of it. I would use the following analogy: Imagine that you’ve busted both your hands very badly to the point that you can’t hold anything. However, the hospital will not admit you to have your hands treated until you fill out the correct paperwork. You are alone in the waiting room with no one to help you (and loneliness in a crowded room is something that depressed people can sometimes feel). And you can’t hold the pen in your hands to fill out the paperwork, preventing you from getting your hands fixed. Eventually, you might finally be able to grip the pen in your teeth and very slowly and imperfectly fill out the paperwork to finally get the ball rolling, but it is extremely difficult to do.

So, it’s not something that can simply be snapped out of or be a passing mood like many believe. I’ve had problems where I’m extremely tired and want to do nothing but sleep all the time. I know that many have had that happen now and then depending on how well they’re sleeping or the weather, or even had Mono like I did years ago, but when it starts happening everyday, it becomes a cause for concern. I’ve had trouble focusing and keeping my thoughts in order. I’ve had trouble with my short-term memory (interestingly, my long-term memory seems to have remained intact). I’ve had trouble with my attention span. So, it’s not just feelings of sadness but can become an all-encompassing illness where many don’t recognize the signs of depression.

It got really bad for me recently, and I’ve had to start taking medication. I’ve also recently had to seek counseling if nothing more than to have someone help walk me through the steps to recovery. Fortunately, I’ve had encouragement from people in my life to seek treatment. There are many others who aren’t so lucky. I’ve never had a suicide attempt or considered it, so again I’m one of the lucky ones, but the overall effect of it has still been very damaging to my quality of life and in seeking to achieve my goals. I haven’t been writing, something which I find enormously satisfying and fulfills a need, nor have I been taking care of other parts of my life. I’ve let this blog slip and needed to start writing again.

Depression is one of those weird things where the research seems to change frequently. Well, maybe not change, but it gets added to and adjusted. To me it appears that we have only developed a basic understanding of how the brain works on the whole and how disorders can affect thought processes, but this understanding is incomplete. But one thing that seems to remain consistent is that the problem is physical, not purely mental. Our current understanding seems to show that depression is often caused by a depletion of monoamine chemicals in the brain, namely serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. So the previous hand analogy may not be very far off.

One little side note that I thought was interesting is how the use of antidepressants can increase the risk of suicide. I know that doesn’t make sense until you understand how recovery from depression works, which I didn’t know until recently when I asked. The first thing to happen in recovery is not an improvement in mood but rather an increase in energy. Where a depressed person would feel down but not have the energy to do anything, someone starting recovery will often still feel depressed but now have the energy to do something about it, hence the reason suicide risk increase in the beginning stages of recovery. Again, I haven’t been this bad, but given the impetus for this post, I thought it was important information to get out there.

I’ve decided to come out about this problem to prove that there’s nothing be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, writing about this feels freeing. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have been tested to have above average intelligence. I have a loving and supportive family. I’ve led a decent life and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had time go on a sort of walkabout and figure out who I really am. So when I look at these aspects of my life, it has not been a bad one by any stretch. And yet I still suffer from depression. It can strike at anyone under any circumstances. While Robin Williams death is indeed tragic and we’ve lost a man who brought joy to so many people, one thing his death has done is to shine a spotlight on depression, and hopefully it will inspire others who have had these problems to seek help if they haven’t done so.

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