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Saturday, August 29, 2015

explaining depression


Explaining depression to a child-

You know how your tummy feels funny or gross sometimes, and you're sorta hungry but nothing sounds good? And then if you do eat, all of a sudden you throw up? You can't really help it, your stomach just shoves it all back out, right? It doesn't mean you're making a mess on purpose.

People's heads can feel like that, where they sorta feel kinda icky and nothing sounds fun to think about, and if they do start thinking about something, their head suddenly urps out loads of gunk that makes them cry or sound real mean. They can't really help it, their heads just shove stuff out. That's why it's important to know they still love you even when it feels all messed up to them. They're not making a mess on purpose.


Explaining depression to a cheery spunky adult who's never experienced it for themselves-

You know how it gets a bit tricky going through a big intersection with lots of lanes, and your cell phone is ringing or your back seat full of kids erupts in a fight or your dog barfs or your baby is crying or your drink dumps over on your lap or the guy in front of you slammed on the brakes or whatever, and you get distracted and nearly have a terrible accident? It's not really your fault, it's just that stuff suddenly got very overwhelming and you had to choose really fast what to pay attention to in order to survive, because that actually could have become a life threatening situation.

People's heads can feel like that, where everything is happening all at once or too fast and it's hard to focus and nothing is making sense, but with depression, it feels like you never get through that intersection, and the only way to survive is to stop time, or make it go real slow so you can keep a grip on the steering wheel and keep making the right decisions, because sometimes it feels like your life depends on it.


Depression can happen to any semi-sentient creature at any age or stage of life. It's a brain thing. Yes, events can trigger it, but they don't have to. Yes, some get past it, but some get stuck. No one chooses it.

People with depression deal with it in many different ways. Some recluse and don't come out of their homes. Some secretly or very openly hurt, maim, and disfigure themselves. Some self medicate for years through prescription meds, alcohol, and street drugs. Some self punish or starve themselves, then either show it off or hide it under nice clothes, wigs, and makeup. Some wear emotional masks and never let anyone know until it's too late, others share all their stuff and still fall through the holes in the safety nets.

This is not new. Depression has been a very big part of human history for time out of mind. There is never a moment where a single person on this planet can feel absolutely safe in their own brain, because brains are dependent on proper chemical checks and balances, synchronizing a variety of hormone fluctuations, overseeing millions of details continuously whether we are conscious of it or not. We are all stuck in our brains.

Depression isn't about being sad. Sadness is its own thing. I can be feeling quite happy and still be dealing with depression, because depression is a condition I live with. Having a few happy minutes or even a happy day doesn't mean my depression is over or cured. It just means I'm feeling happy. Feeling sad doesn't mean someone is depressed, but you can feel depressed when you are sad. I think sadness might be the closest that non-depressed people come to understanding part of what depression feels like, so they erroneously equivocate it with that.

Telling someone with depression to cheer up or smile, as if depression was an attitude fail, is like telling someone with gut pain to cheer up or smile. You do not know what is going on in there, and cheering up or smiling is only a bandaid over something so other people can't see it. A person could have anything from heartburn to acute appendicitis and sometimes not be able to tell the difference. Our heads are the same way. A person could have anything from not having gotten enough sleep to everything in their life crashing around them with someone dying or finding out they had cancer, and you cannot tell the difference just because they aren't smiling.

I think the scariest thing about depression is how many people are so trained to smile that no one can help them. Nothing can get past that smile.

My mom smiled right up to the day she died. No one outside of immediate family, least of all nursing home staff, ever seemed to understand that her smiling and nodding was so ingrained and enforced into her behavior from childhood that she could be in any amount of pain, any amount of grief, any amount of overwhelming depression, and no one ever really knew. Even if she cried, she was so quick to smile to anyone outside her immediate circle that we couldn't convince nursing home staff she was in pain, and she was there for five years. They'd walk in and see smiles. Everyone called her sweet.

I suppose that is a wonderful thing to be remembered for. I certainly don't want my children seeing my pain, whether it's physical or emotional, spiritual or mental. But I don't want to scar them with the memories of hurting myself or taking my own life, either. It was hard accepting at first that the reason Mom was in the nursing home to begin with was because she refused to treat her diabetes, which complicated into severe health problems and then eventually a hard fall, and that possibly because her depression had been so severe that she honestly believed and hoped a stroke would liberate her and she'd go to heaven. That doesn't exactly qualify as self harm, does it? That's not really suicide, is it? Not really... No, that is someone choosing natural causes over medical intervention. It used to be part of life anyway. Everyone went the hard way, no one had medical intervention just a couple hundred years ago. But deep down, we knew Mom knew she had a choice, and she threw away her prescription meds. A lot of people do that. There's no law of any kind against it. But it's still hard to grasp as a grown child having children that your parent made the choice to leave early on purpose.

And this is why I write.

I live my life out loud on blogs so I won't hurt myself. It's been the most terrifying commitment I've ever made, and took nine and a half years for me to commit fully (I've been completely public since January 6, 2014). Not everyone can handle talking on a phone when they need it the most, although a few family members have talked me home while I'm driving. (The fear of compulsively taking a roll off the road is very real on bad trigger days because I have PTSD from a nasty car wreck, which is getting worse as I age.) Many of us need to know someone else is 'out there' and then we feel better. I'm in a quandary since I'm super aspie, I don't even need people to wave back because it makes me duck down, so just little dots showing up on a tracker is enough for me. Other people need much more reassurance.

If I had the stamina, I'd be volunteering at one of the hospitals, because I love hospitals and feel safe there. I've spent so much time in hospitals hanging out with other people that they feel like home to me, even though I've never been hospitalized myself. Volunteering somewhere (libraries, schools, community centers, conservation, etc) is a good way to set up a safety net of people who would miss you if you didn't show up. It feels good to have people expect you to show up. When I skip a day on Pinky blog, my hits sometimes double. There have been days where I've gotten more hits on days I don't post than on days where I post two or three times. Those feel like little hugs to me.

I have become so disciplined to blogging that I don't feel nearly as emotionally dependent on it as I used to. Now I do it because I really do enjoy it that much. It used to be a lot of work, a crutch getting me through pain crisis, a feedback loop for my head when distraction wasn't working, but now it's more like entertaining myself, or like making a little book so I can see what I was doing on this day or that. Before blogging came along, I kept a calendar journal, and I was able to go back and see that a certain intense stabbing ear pain happened every year about the same time, even before a virus hit that I usually blame a bunch of nerve damage on. A journal is like getting to look into a mirror back at myself. I think it makes me smarter about who I am now.

Some people keep scrapbooks or vlog, some draw or paint for art sites, some share photographs of stuff they're doing. All of that is journaling, and it's an awesome way to let other people check in on how you're doing without having to answer phones or write emails. The more we put out there about ourselves, the more our friends and families can go "I wonder how so and so is doing, I'll go check", and they click to a place and see your stuff, and they feel good being able to see what you're doing. I have family all over the United States, and sometimes I can see one or two on a tracker, even though I have lots of people all over the world popping in and out. It's not the same as having facebook. Facebook is pretty awesome in its own way, but it's also a little intrusive and very complicated when you have to adjust every little setting to keep notifications from zinging all day long, because facebook wants me to know every little thing everyone even remotely friended to my connections is doing. I'm a mute button enthusiast. About every 6 months I'll make the rounds checking on far flung loved ones, which is actually the best part of facebook, because it collects people into groups like that.

Anyway, my point is that if you want or need connection, it's up to you to do it. Most of us can't read minds on this planet. I'm very experienced in holing up and never contacting people, and the reason I'm 'living out loud' is because so many people kept asking me how I was doing, because my life has been pretty challenging, and I suspect a few people quietly understand I'm one of those at-risk types, and even nowadays I still get two or three people a week privately making sure I'm ok, and I'm wondering if y'all have a rotation schedule figured out because most of you are once a month-ers. I'm not that nice, I generally let someone go about three months before I check on them, but I think it's more out of obliviousness to time passing than anything. Rest assured this includes my own child. I'm not proud of that, but I'm not going to cringe over it, either. I'm a goofball, and I'm pretty sure I can blame it on DNA. Yes, I've gone on way longer than I intended. Sorry about that.

Everyone who went crazy over the run-on sentences- nyah nyah.

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