A real disease

When I started this blog, I knew there where certain things I would want to address at some point. Some topics are easier to talk about than others. A few days ago Robin Williams, an actor and comedian who I and many people loved, took his own life. He had battled both substance abuse and depression, losing his fight with the second. This has prompted a lot of people to call attention to the topic of mental illness. It’s a topic a lot of people try to avoid in conversation, much like religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.

I suffer from depression. My official medical diagnosis is major depression with moderate severity. This isn’t something that I’m ashamed of but I also don’t open conversations with it. However, if you’re reading this I can only assume you’re somewhat interested in what I have to say. Let me continue.

I have dealt with depression for a very long time, starting back when I was twelve. I am now thirty-five. I didn’t start getting treatment for this until I was thirty. I now take medication. I have been in and out of therapy over the last few years, really only stopping when insurance/money issues forced me to. I have very good days and days that are really hard to get through. I have been suicidal and have, in the past, come very close to following through on it.

So why, if this started so long ago, did I only recently seek treatment? A few reasons. One was that for quite some time I never felt that anyone would take me seriously. The few times I had tried to really talk to people about it weren’t very successful. I did speak to a doctor once who decided to try me on samples of a medication. It did nothing for me so the  conclusion was that there wasn’t a problem. It actually got to a point where my stubborn streak kicked in. I really started to think that if no one thought I had a problem, then I didn’t need any help. I had made it this far on my own and could continue to do so. Also, there was a certain level of feeling that I was weak if I asked for help. Part of me felt that I was broken but I couldn’t let anyone else know it. I would deal with it alone.

How did that work out? Not well. The turning point was when I took a job that made my depression worse to the point where I also started getting panic attacks. Eventually, I had a nervous breakdown. Fortunately, I had already started seeking help. My wife encouraged me to talk to my doctor and I started seeing a therapist. When I fell apart, I called both individually and they both recommended I go to a local mental hospital for evaluation. That was when I got officially diagnosed and I spent a little over a week in out-patient psychiatric care. I’ve been on medication since.

It’s weird to look back on my life prior to those events and after. I’ve had a few friends point out that I had changed once I started getting help. I wonder if parts of my life would have been better had I done something sooner, but that isn’t something I dwell on. It isn’t a perfect fix. Like I said, I do have days that are harder than others. And one thing that the whole Robin Williams thing has done is scare me. It makes me worried that one day I will lose my fight too. Will the steps I’ve taken, the progress I think I’ve made, ultimately mean nothing? I know I can’t dwell on it, but it’s a genuine fear. All I know is if I do lose, it won’t be because I didn’t fight.

I also worry that I will pass this on to my kids. My depression is the chemical kind, connected to my brain not producing the right happy juice. That makes it part of my genetics. Will Phoebe develop it? Will Zoe? Will I be able to tell if they do?

Depression, like other forms of mental illness, is a real disease. It’s not something that happens because you did something wrong. It’s not something you chose to be. It’s not something you can just “get over” like some people still think. You don’t just get over skin cancer or lupus. You don’t tell someone with asthma that they should just stop having asthma. It doesn’t make someone weak or stupid if they lose their battle with mental illness. When that happens, it’s just sad because it didn’t have to end that way. I refuse to let it end that way. I want to be here. I will be here.

All right. Let me wrap this up. I honestly feel I have made progress as a person, and part of that was dealing with my depression. It is not, however, something I could do alone. No one can. I know we don’t always like to hear the problems of other people. I’m like that too. But try to listen. When you do, you can tell if someone is genuinely asking for help. It sounds different from someone who is just whining or bitching. Take it seriously. And if you are someone dealing with mental illness, don’t be stubborn about it. Talk to someone. If they won’t listen, find someone who will.

Do everything you can to be here.

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One thought on “A real disease

  1. Oh Jay … so glad you shared this, and that you only got close and then backed away. I am going through the process of figuring out what’s been going on with me, and if there is an explanation for my historic emotionality and hopeless feelings. So it’s good to read stories like this, but of course not at all good that you went through it (and still are). I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing, on this topic, perhaps, as well as others. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of people – bloggers, friends, whoever – will say that more people should talk about depression … but then when you open up your mouth and talk … it just scares them away. So, they think you should talk about it, but they don’t actually want to hear it. It’s a conversation they want someone else to have, not one they want to be actively engaged in. I’m not saying that to put anyone down, but just to explain that we give a lot of lip service to the concept of having difficult and important conversations, but tend to shy away from the discomfort that results from actually doing so. So my hat is off to you for being brave enough to talk about this. I really hope that other people find their way here and are strong enough to keep the dialogue going.

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