The title may seem bizarre or even downright crazy to you. I actually hope it does. Depression is not fun, it is extremely disturbing. It is worse than that for someone not used it. What about us old farts that have been living with it for a very long time? I can’t speak for everyone of course but in my case depression feels like a friend. Not a nice friend of course, but my only friend. Well, sometimes it is a nice friend. I would be empty a lot of the time without it which is why I am describing it as a friend. Another reason is that I don’t have a way with words.
My current shrink, who is getting fired very soon, wrote “He endorses ongoing low mood, energy, motivation, anxiety, varying sleep, ongoing paranoia and auditory hallucinations”. Why did she write that? Because I refuse to go back on meds (at least for now) because the side effects are worse than all of my symptoms and somehow she thinks that translates to an endorsement. It did get me thinking about how it would feel to not have depression, anxiety or psychosis. What I have realized is that MH issues have become a part of me. People tell me that I am not my depression but I really am. It drives everything, both negatively and positively, and has for nearly two decades.
What makes it hard is that it feels like a foreign entity has moved into my head and has some control of the wheel upstairs. It has become part of my personality. That is not fun but I don’t think I would handle it well if I were to wake up one day with depression, anxiety and psychosis gone. As twisted as it may sound, I feel warm and content when my depression is at its lowest. Which means my brain is spinning and there is just chaos upstairs, but in the middle of it there is a sense of peace. Maybe it is some kind of weird addiction. I believe I would feel cold, empty and lonely if it suddenly vanished. It would be a lot like it was when depression first moved in and I did not handle it well for a few years.
It is not that good of a thing that I have become used to it, but it is infinitely better than the alternative. It is much better if it can be resolved but my depression has been labeled as ‘intractable’ by more than one shrink. So it seems like I am stuck with it. It may sound surprising but my days are pretty stable. It doesn’t matter if I am just a little down and anxious or everything is off the charts. Stable doesn’t necessarily mean good. Most days, leaving the house even to check the mail or go grocery shopping (whoever invented self-checkout is my hero) takes effort. It is even harder to leave if I know I have to interact with someone. The hallucinations are distracting; the anxiety makes it difficult to relax. It is not fun but I am accustomed to it to the point where my days are all the same. That doesn’t sound good either but with all of my MH and neuro issues that is a blessing. Doing poorly but being stable is much better than being all over the place. That is true even if my unstable periods are never worse than my times when I am stable.
The serious problems that people with MH issues sometimes have can be traced back by an inability to deal with it and allowing it to take total control. It is an easy thing to allow and I have allowed it a few times in my past leading to my getting bloody or ending up committed. I might be fooling myself thinking that I have gained enough control to never need to be committed again but I truly believe that I won’t and I am much worse than I was when I got thrown into the psych ward at the Phoenix VA. I was in the middle of the fall term at Arizona State when I was committed for 8 days and still finished the term with honors.
As much as I would like to get a BS in Mathematics I seriously doubt I could deal with school today. My current downswing that lead to where I am today happened when I was working on my Master’s thesis and project and I was very lucky to finish. A kind and understanding adviser help push me through it. I struggle to work on my programming projects and even my Rails project is challenging lately and I don’t know of an easier environment than Ruby on Rails. I don’t want to give the impression that things are easy to deal with. They are not but it has become the new normal. A sense of normalcy makes it easier to deal with and feels more natural but there is nothing natural about any of this.
I talk to a lot of people on various forums, usually fairly young, that struggle to get stable. They fail a lot and they end up hurting themselves over and over. It is sad and tragic. I think the answer is one that no one wants hear: give it time. Problem is that many don’t have time. Meds aren’t working, therapy isn’t and they are in danger. I was once like that but I was fortunate to have children. They are why I am still here. Whether still being here is a good or bad thing varies through the day but my constant suicidal ideation never takes control. It is just background noise these days. I did have a date set once: Jan 1 2000. Seemed like a nice date. I had everything set up and my kids were staying at a friend’s house for New Year’s and I went to say goodbye and once I saw them I knew I would not do it.
The point of this rambling is that it is possible to make peace with MH issues even if they never go away. I am not saying that being friends with depression is a good thing. It probably is the opposite but acceptance goes a long way. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It is simply acknowledging it exists and trying to minimize it. Push it into the background and find something to do. I was and am fortunate to have children, school was simultaneously helpful and stressful but it gave me a solid base as a programmer and have multiple projects going albeit slowly. Read books and it really doesn’t matter what kind, it keeps your mind on something beyond your problems and keeps it active. If you let it, MH issues and meds can slow your mind. Go for a walk, run, bike or swim. Not only is it good for you physically, it produces hormones that help your MH problems. I recently took up guitar although it is coming along very slowly. I started fishing again and that is very peaceful. I am considering getting back into creating pewter items and learning candle making. As a hobby and perhaps make a little on the side. I burn a lot of candles that help my anxiety and it is quite expensive to buy good quality candles. So it is also an attempt to save money. There are lots of other hobbies a person can get into cheaply or even free.
It is difficult to get the motivation to do this but it is worth it to push through and do it. It is very easy and destructive to wallow in the crap that is mental illness. Lying in bed all day is the easiest path, it is also the most unhelpful. Depression and other illnesses feed on you and quickly spiral out of control, sometimes even if you are fighting it but certainly if you allow it to roam freely inside you. After two decades of this, I believe that the best therapy is staying busy and active.