Depression Defined

This short video by the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) is perhaps the best explanation of what it is like to live with clinical Depression that is appropriate for people of all ages, whether or not they suffer from Depression. It doesn’t cover what happens when things get to the worst possible stage, but it does a great job of showing what it’s like to live with the disease. I especially hope that every family member and friend of anyone who suffers from depression will get to view this video. Perhaps then they will finally understand at least on a conceptual level what it’s like to live with depression.

Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.”  In a talk equal parts eloquent and devastating, writer Andrew Solomon takes you to the darkest corners of his mind during the years he battled depression.  That led him to an eye-opening journey across the world to interview others with depression — only to discover that, to his surprise, the more he talked, the more people wanted to tell their own stories.

Printed below with the author’s permission.

“Of Depression”
Wednesday September 23, 2009

Throw out your reasoning, all you reasonable people!  Discard your logic, for logic makes no sense in this universe.  For the laws of physics and science do not apply here.  What should be up is off, what should be right is wrong, what should be down is sideways, and what should be left is empty.  No wonder I messed up my meds.

Love ceases to exist and then reappears again.  Happiness is rare, like a precious gem.  Joy is as illusive and craved as an illicit drug. Loneliness, sorrow, despair, and bouts of anger are the ways of this world.

To just be still; to feel content, would be so heavenly.  Yet I have found this peace so few times that I can recall, I only need one hand’s fingers to count them.  Depression is loneliness, despair, agony, and physical pain.  Anxiety is extreme discomfort that can turn into immobilizing physical pain.

The outside environment presses upon my world like an army of thousands wanting my blood.  The bubble will surly burst!  From the inside the daemons tear me up.  They devour my flesh from the inside out.  My organs are rotting away. My strength is sapped.  I cannot lift my arms.  Pain shoots from my heart, into my head, and down my arms.  When will it stop?

I have learned that it does stop. I never know when or why.  The time can be long or short, but it is infinitesimal compared to the time of agony.  And yet I wait for it. I have hope.  I have faith.  I believe in God.  Otherwise, how could I go on?

Do you think you could endure this pain?  You cannot even fathom it!  How can you decide?  You live in another universe, where up is up and down is down, and sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.  And seldom do you lose a loved one, and bare that pain.  Yet I lose a loved one most every day.  I lose myself.

I disengage from my wife and children, and I cannot get myself to reengage, no matter how hard I try.  Yet I am blessed in this universe that makes little sense.  My wife is loving and kind.  She knows who I am and she loves me.  She helps me to conceal my world from my children, and we succeed; for they are happy, healthy, and whole.  When they were in their mother’s womb I would pray to God that they would not be like me in this regard. And God answered my prayers.  So thank you, my Heavenly Father. I am surely blessed.

And throughout all this I am sane.  I understand it all.  I know each feeling intimately.  They are intruders.  They live inside me, and come and go as they please.  My will is of little use, except to keep me from killing myself. For I will not destroy the lives of my family, of my children.  That will not be my legacy.

But how I long for reprieve, and I find it in the strangest places.  If I can get myself to run past the point of normal.  If I can windsurf well just for a few moments.  If I have just the right amount of wine, but for that one there is a price.  One glorious night for a weak of pain and suffering, of anxiety and depression, shakes, and headaches.  So I pay the price.

My one true friend besides my wife is sleep.  Sleep is almost always kind to me.  She takes away the pain, but again I pay a price. For how many of God’s precious days have I lost to this disease?  How many years?  How many moments?  I am sorry Lord for wasting the precious gift you call life, but I know no other way. I try to do good.  I try to help others by sharing what I have learned.  I follow all of the doctor’s instructions.  I read.  I do breathing exercises, biofeedback, physical exercise, meditation, physical therapy, acupuncture, self help workbooks, journals. charts, psychotherapy, CBT, DBT, medications of every kind. And I pray.  What more can I do?

And look how sound my acts are.  There is logic mixed with faith in what I do.  So how can I be sick?  And here again is where your world and mine differ.  Where mentally ill people act with such thought and fortitude, and are thought of as week. We are valiant warriors, and we fight not for ourselves, because to end it would be so much easier. We fight for our families and for our souls.  This is a holy war!

The enemy is unseen, like a ghost.  The battle is unheard in the midst of the stillness of your perception.  Yet the war rages on, and there is no end in sight.  There may be some cease fires, but the prospect of everlasting peace seems all but impossible.  Yet I have faith.

So what have you learned about depression, about real clinical depression – not the blues, or of the doldrums, or of melancholy, or of worry, or fear, or anger, or even to loss of a loved one?  What could you possibly have learned, in your rational world, where my words have only begun to scratch the surface of this dreadful sickness?

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