08 November, 2010

Depression is lame and stuff

Do you know what really sucks? Everything.”
- Scott Pilgrim
OK, so everything sucked for Scott because he had girl trouble, but he pretty much sums up how I feel at the moment. Depression sucks. It really does, and it makes everything else suck.

It saps your motivation, makes you tired and grumpy, and makes everything you do feel like a failure. It's like there's a voice in your head telling you how much everything sucks. Whenever you attempt to do anything - especially if it's important - that voice is there telling you that trying is pointless because you're not going to succeed at what you're doing, and therefore, will fail at life forever.

That's not a silly exaggeration - that's literally how I feel when I attempt to do my work. It's really hard to maintain motivation when the part of my brain that I need to do my work, is being used by my depression to tell me that there's no point in doing any of the work, because I'm never going to get it finished to any kind of acceptable level. It's annoyingly circular, it makes your life feel like one big clusterfuck, and if left unchecked, will spiral out of control until your whole life collapses into a catastrofuck - kind of like what a neutron star goes through - except neutron stars are awesome and depression isn't.

A lot of people don't seem to understand depression. They often tell me to 'cheer up' or 'get over it,' or worse, they point me to a self help book which spends a whole chapter telling me that I just need to smile - Oh right! That's my problem! It's got nothing to do with the ability of the neurons in my brain to transport serotonin*, I just need to smile!†

* I'm not a neuroscientist - that's just what I got from a cursory glance of Wikipedia.
† That book is real, by the way. I can't remember what it's called, and I'm not going to give the author the dignity of looking it up, but it was, by far, the most patronising opening chapter I've ever read. Seriously, Self Help books are a waste of time and money.

It doesn't work like that (well, not for depression strong enough for a doctor to tell you that you have depression. Everyone gets in a bit of a 'blue funk' from time to time). You can't 'cheer up,' you can't 'get over it' and you certainly can't just fake a smile and pretend that it will trick your brain into thinking you're happy. Because you're not happy, and the suckiest thing is that you can't explain why.

In my last post, I wrote about my struggle with depression due to living in a homophobic world, and ended by saying that It Gets Better. But it's not just homophobia that makes me depressed - I am clinically depressed, and though it hasn't affected me very much over the past few years, it's coming back right now with a vengeance - right at the time when I most need my motivation and a clear head. Clinical depression doesn't go away and recent studies have suggested that anti-depressants aren't as effective as once thought. How can I tell young LGBT kids that "It Gets Better" when, right now, I feel like it never will?

The trouble is, we always want to strive for perfection. We want to be perfectly happy, without a care in our perfect world. But in reality, we have to set our sights a little lower. "Perfect" is unattainable. We have, instead, to set our sights on "good enough." My depression will never go away, I will have to battle it again and again. You can't escape it. For me, there are long periods of what can be approximated as "almost-normalcy" punctuated by periods of depression. For me, "almost-normalcy" is as good as it gets, but that's OK, as I don't really want anything too saccharin.

But it does get better - I have to fight and fight against an unknowable force using the very tools it's using against me. It's an uphill battle and it's hard and it usually strikes when you least want it to - when you're under stress or work pressure; when it has it's most deleterious effects - but it does still get better. It's taken me years to train myself to remember that. I'm not on medication now, haven't been for a few years, because I've trained myself on how to notice depression sneaking up and how to deal with it when it does, and the solutions are as individual as the person it affects. But that doesn't mean that I can just turn it off like a switch. I still have to fight it - every minute of every day - until it goes away. And it doesn't just take a day or two, it can linger for weeks or months - sometimes even years.

So I can't despair (even though that's what my brain is trying to make me do), I just have to plod along and do what I can to fight it: enjoy the sun, listen to good music, eat good food - and take solace in the fact that it will get better, but it's not easy. It's not something I can run away from or protest or accuse of bigotry. I've got to slog away at it until it's over. Even though it's the loudest voice in my head, I've got to ignore it, and I've got to shout over it to get anything done. If shouting math equations over an obnoxious emo in your head sounds like a bit of fun, then you should try depression too. But for me, it's not fun (OK, visualising and personifying it, is fun, but I digress...), it's a necessity.

Depression's a bitch, and if you don't nip it in the bud, it'll make you it's bitch. Talk to your friends (friends love it when you bitch about stuff at them), or a counciller, or a doctor or anyone who can help, and get yourself on the right track to mitigating it (you can't "cure" it). It's not easy, but with a little effort, it will get better.


  1. Reading of your experience has given me pause to reflect. I've been through a depression cycle a few times during my 20s, and although right now I'm pushing 30 and I'm fine, it's such a fragile fineness that at times even the low-level fear of regression almost pulls me down. You are right that talking can help, and that it will get better. It will get worse again too, but it will get better again after that. You're also right that it takes effort. Kia kaha. I wish you all the best.

  2. I am managing my depressive spells better since I separated from my wife. Although
    I am grieving for the loss of that relationship and still love her, she no longer shouts at me to buck up and pull myself together.
    I feel that it's best to have someone who can be sympathetic, but notice when you begin to wallow in it, and steer you onwards and upwards.
    Is the chemical inbalance the cause of depression, or the result of it?
    Conventional wisdom is the former. I'm not so sure.
    I'm off anti depressants after a long tail off period (google "brain zaps") and managing depression, but I don't think that there is a 'cure' Like you say, relative peace of mind and contentment is enough.
    Good luck and keep on keeping on.

  3. Thanks you two. The simple fact that people not only read my blog, but commented is enough to pull me out of my particular "funk" today.

    Talking, or in my case blogging, about it is one of the better things to do (though Anon#2 is right to point out that you shouldn't wallow in it), and if you talk to enough people, eventually someone understanding will listen.

    I am very lucky to have surrounded myself with understanding and sympathetic people (some of my best friends happen to be psychologists).

    As for the "chemical imbalance" causing the depression, it's easier for me if I think that it is, as I have something I can label and put in a box. Although a more scientific understanding would suggest that it's a complex mix of brain chemistry, stress and social stimuli with a bit of evidence for genetics thrown in for fun. It's certainly not just one thing that can be 'fixed' with a pill, or a book or any other purported panacea. But, as I said, I'm not a neuroscientist.

    But, I digress - thanks again for your heartening words. My thoughts are with you. :)