Aug 3, 2016

i think: depression

today i heard an interesting piece on NPR about the genetic factors behind depression. the reporter suggested that maybe depression is an adaptation -- which sounds like a TERRIBLE thing for our biology to do to us -- but his theory was that back in the day, you might be struggling to find food to survive, and this helpful little reminder would kick in that the world's a rough place so don't get your hopes up, buddy. enjoy the taste of that stick. that's as good as it gets. and then you'd survive because you'd be like "alright, a stick!"

it was interesting to me because just last week i took my last dose of the antidepressants i'd been on since december.

i've been depressed a few times as an adult -- the first two times were tightly tied to situations i needed to get out of, but felt helpless to do so. the first time i didn't even recognize it as depression, because i'd never experienced it before and i'd always been such a happy kid, depression didn't even cross my mind. i just figured that phase of my life was over, and adulthood was dull and bleak and lacking. so first i needed help understanding that life could be better, and then i needed help getting there. both times i used a counselor to get there.

this last time, though... it was different. sure i was stressed about work, and it was winter in portland, but the feelings of sadness would come out of nowhere and utterly crush me. i remember describing to my new counselor, "it's like i'm going about my daily routine, not thinking about anything in particular, and then i'll notice this shadow creep over me. and i look up and there's a giant black anvil slowly descending from the sky, and i know i've got about 10 minutes to get home and get safe before it hits." like i'd have to leave the grocery store halfway through my shopping list so i could get in the car and hopefully back to my apartment in time. for a couple months there, you could often find me sobbing and unable to move from my driver's seat.

then there were mornings i'd wake up and without even having time to think a thought, i'd be crying. tears and snot and that pain that pinches your chest down to your stomach. i couldn't sit up, i couldn't get dressed -- at best i might be able to text a friend to ask for help not feeling so alone.

it was scary.

this time i couldn't identify the source of the feeling, and there certainly wasn't a problem worthy of its intensity. i didn't know what to fix so i could get to the other side of it. so my counselor suggested i go to the doctor to make sure nothing was physically wrong.

when my doctor found my physical health was in order, she made a suggestion: "why don't you try antidepressants for awhile and see if that helps?" now to a person who doesn't even take tylenol for a headache, the idea of antidepressants was hard to open up to, despite having educated myself about them and supposedly getting rid of my biases. i knew sometimes people's brains just chemically didn't work right, so treating them with chemicals made sense. but this was my brain.

this was also my very desperate brain, though, and my usual tools didn't seem to be working at all. so i started the antidepressants. i remember the day they kicked in (thursday, dec. 10, just two days before my birthday ball, which i'd been planning for months but had been secretly dreading). i felt... ok. i felt like myself. like i no longer had to fight against this powerful negative force to get through each day. i could just get up, put some pants on, and do life. (and my birthday ball was magic.)

most doctors will recommend staying on antidepressants for at least 6 to 9 months so your brain can get used to them. i had a really comfortable 8 months, with minimal side effects (except for all the wild dreams, which were actually kind of fun) and a general sense that i could handle things. more out of curiosity than anything, i recently decided to try to ease off them. that went fine too. the last couple days i've felt dizzy and tired, but those are just withdrawal symptoms as the drugs finally leave my system. i'm pretty sure once that's over, i'll be back to my old self.

i wish i didn't ever have to deal with depression -- it takes time away from my life. and i doubt that that was my last run-in with the old beast. but now i know not to wait, and to be open to treatments, and that even if depression is a biological adaptation, i don't have to be satisfied with just a stick.

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