I’ve never been reluctant to talk about aspects of my mental health that for most normal people would be private.
I wrote about my self-diagnosis last year when I described myself as having “Bipolar SAD,” a condition that does not officially exist from a DSM-IV standpoint. Well, it turns out, even though I made up the term it actually is an apt description of my condition.
Earlier this year, I attempted to join a Depression drug trial which required that I meet with a psychiatrist for an official diagnosis, something I’ve never done before. It looked like I would be a shoe-in for the trial until she pursued a further line of questioning. It turns out that my seasonally affected, enduring mood shifts represents a form of bipolar (manic-depressive as it used to be known) that is labeled Bipolar II.
I’ll leave it to you to read the link if you want a thorough exploration of the disorder and its symptoms, but the important aspects of the disorder, and specifically what sets it apart from Bipolar I, is the appearance of major depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, which are not as intense or volatile as manic episodes (hypo- meaning ‘less’ or ‘below’).
I was in high school when I first understood that I had depression, but it wasn’t until college that I started recognizing the counterbalancing periods of extreme elation and confidence that come on every spring (and fall, to a lesser extent) and offer a stark contrast to the considerable lows I feel in the winter and summer (when the oppressive heat sets in).
Despite the fact that hypomanic episodes are not as extreme as manic and thus Bipolar II would seem to be the less severe form of the bipolar disorder, those with Bipolar II are considered the greatest suicide risk across the spectrum of people with depression and bipolar disorders. There is medication for the disorder, though I do not take any. Because it is a mood stabilizer, as opposed to an antidepressant (SSRI), Lithium is the most common drug used for treating bipolar patients.
So why am I putting all this out there? Why am I letting strangers and, perhaps more damning, friends know this about me?
Because I can.
The number of people in my life who did or do suffer from depression is likely not that vastly different from any other person. But, I’m probably privy to more people’s struggle than your average non-psychiatrist. Friends talk to me about it. People I only have a passing acquaintance with will unburden themselves onto me. I’ve even had a complete stranger online start an Instant Message conversation with me (remember those?) in which he told me how depressed he was and that he was considering suicide.
I’ve always been more naturally a listener than a talker and I think that encourages people to reveal things about themselves they normally would leave private. I’ve certainly been in the situation with more than a couple people where I was the only one who knew they were struggling with depression.
People are understandably afraid to admit the problem to friends and family. It can be embarrassing. It can change the dynamic of the relationships. It could even hurt someone’s career or livelihood if it were out in the open.
Which is why I am openly writing about my own struggles with depression. It’s not going to harm me. I have no career aspirations outside of being a writer (where being a depressive is considered a skill), and the people who are deeply involved in my life know that I’m unflinchingly honest, sometimes to a Gregory House level of dickishness. If they can put up with that, they can put up with my mental problems.
Some people don’t have that freedom, and so for you I’m making the conversation public. If you think you’re struggling with depression in any form and you’re not sure who to talk to, seek out help. Find a psychiatrist, or a counselor. Don’t be afraid, don’t be embarrassed, don’t worry that admitting it means you’re succumbing to it. If you want to fight it, you have to address it. You have to gain knowledge about it.
Depression is a disease that perpetuates itself, it creates a cyclical stream of negative thoughts that only goes to reinforce the depression. Any number of things can kickstart a cycle: A death, the end of a relationship, rejection, financial concerns, stress. It can come on late in life or you could be born with it. It can be genetic, or you could be the only one in your family that has it.
When people say, “that movie was so depressing,” or “I hate that band, their music is depressing,” I roll my eyes. People who say that kind of stupid shit don’t know what real depression is. It’s not sadness, it’s not a bleak thought or a passing emotion. It’s not an emotion at all, really. Depression is a mental state of being, a pair of goggles out of which everything you view is distorted.
The only reason I can write this now is because I’m no longer in the depressed phase of the cycle. That’s not to say that I’ll spend the entire spring in a hypomanic mode, but my good days will outnumber my bad at least for the next couple months. I feel optimistic, more assured of my life choices and confident that somehow I’ll make my savings goal for my next move (this can be dangerous, though; sometimes I spend money I shouldn’t). My self-esteem is higher, my sexual attraction more acute (ahh, short skirts). It feels good.
It’s temporary. It’s like my mental state is doing its own 10 Cities Project, never staying anywhere for long. There will be depression in my future. Knowing that won’t make it any less severe. Recognizing the cycle as it begins again doesn’t make it possible for me to will it away. It’s going to come and I’m going to hit rock bottom. It sucks.
But I do know, and knowing allows me to push through, to sunnier days, to warmer weather, to mental stability.
It’s a biological process manifesting itself in thoughts and emotions. I don’t seek God, or inner harmony, or spiritual peace. I only strive to endure.
If you’re finding yourself at the end of your endurance, don’t be ashamed to find help. You’re not alone.