Technically, I'm depressed. More specifically I exhibit the symptoms of mono-polar mood disorder. I'm really interested in the way the world has changed since I went to the doctor and got treated for this.
(If you are reading this to see if you're depressed, or if you know you're depressed and you want some information, check The Internet Depression Resource Page.)
The obvious thing that happens when someone is treated for depression is that they either get better or they don't. That's pretty interesting to me, but it isn't the only thing, because if once you experience a bought of depression you are significantly more likely to experience another episode sometime in your life. Depression is a chronic illness, like pancreatitis or maybe like diabetes. So I manage my depression, pretty much the way most people I know who have been diagnosed with the problem do. I take medication and I try to live in mentally healthy ways.
As interesting as the depression is the way it has changed my view of the world. For one thing, I'm rather uncomfortable with the whole concept of being depressed so I talk about it. It's mildly embarrassing and it feels self-indulgent, since it is to some degree about what kind of mood I'm in--when I'm feeling depressed I'm cranky and sad and not much fun to be around and I should be able to just get myself together. The symptoms are vague and seem to be controllable by sheer force of will. Nobody can give me a blood test and say just what neurotransmitter I produce in greater or lesser quantities than I should. Of course, I really can't control it which is what drove me to seek treatment, and sometimes I want to blame my behavior on it--but not directly, of course, since I feel as if I should be in control of my behavior--so talking about it is a way of letting people know that I haven't returned their e-mail because I've been sleeping fourteen hours a day and feeling rather stupid and listless and sad when I'm awake, not because I don't like them. I have my doubts about talking about it. It seems utterly American and foolish to share intimate details about my life with people but I keep thinking that if it was insulin I was taking instead of anti-depressant medication I wouldn't think so much about it.
The funny thing about talking about it--lots of people around me are taking, or have taken, or are thinking maybe they should see their doctor about taking anti-depressant medication. I discover this when I say I'm taking it. Apparently enormous numbers of people are taking Prozac and Zoloft and Paxil and I find myself standing in the parking lot at the grocery store talking with the guy who is helping me with my groceries about dry mouth, insomnia, and that funny irritable, just on the verge of pins and needles feeling some people experience as a side effect. (Someone told me that the feeling they had was rather like the feeling at the end of an acid trip when you're really tired and you think you can go to sleep, and your jaw aches because you've been grinding your teeth, but you lie down and discover you can't go to sleep. I've never done acid because Hunter S. Thompson said that if you had a lot of shit running around in your head that you were really uncomfortable with, you shouldn't. Since I spent a couple of years in college suicidal, and since that was the only time I ever would have had the opportunity to do acid, I never sought out the experience. Anyway, the person who told me about this quit taking the medication, which struck me as a pretty intelligent thing to do.)
So now when I see these people at the grocery store or the block party and we are all connected in this invisible web of shared experience and we say hello and how are you, which in the context of our familiarity is a real question, often answered with something like, 'Okay, I had a couple of bad days early this week but okay now,' and then we talk about all the normal things people talk about like where we're going on vacation. But I know odd things about these people--like that they can't drink because it interferes with their medication, or that they switched from Paxil to Zoloft because Paxil made them completely anhedonic and even though it stopped their suicide ideation it wasn't worth it if the only way that they could stop it was to feel no real emotion about anything, but Zoloft works fine for them. I know that I knew them for years without knowing that they thought about suicide all the time.
It's like when I started going to Alanon, the twelve step program for people whose lives have been affected by alcoholism in a friend or relative. I didn't know much about twelve step programs like AA but after attending Alanon meetings for a couple of months it was as if I had dropped through a trap door into a world full of signs I had never recognized. All those bumper stickers that say 'Easy Does It' and 'One Day at a Time' and 'Friend of Bill W.' on them meant something--primarily they meant that the guy driving the car ahead of me was probably a recovering alcoholic. It was like joining the Masons or some other secret society. For awhile I had the twelve steps from Alanon thumbtacked to the wall of my cubicle when I worked as a technical writer. The pamphlet was really small and easy not to notice, but people would eventually notice and then they would do the sort of secret handshake dance until they could indicate to me that they were Alanon or AA or Narcotics Anonymous (not that there really is a secret handshake, of course, but there are phrases and key chains and all sorts of different things associated with recovery programs, a lot of which I'm unfamiliar with, and to add to the confusion, since the pamphlet was up for months, when people were doing all this, I tended to be thinking about revising their procedure to comply with FDA and European Standard Requirements, not twelve step programs, and so might miss the point for a bit.)
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