After hanging out with a very good friend of mine the other night, I felt compelled to write about this topic. He suffers from clinical depression…and at times anxiety. As a former psychologist (yes I have graduate degrees in psychology and counseling from St. Johns University) I’ve seen how utterly destructive both conditions are and the stigma associated with them. Telling someone to just “snap out of it” or “get over it” just wont work…Well they cant get over it or snap out of it no more than you can snap out of HIV or cancer!! It’s not something so simple as to get over it or just do it. Many times this is a crippling condition that you cannot even get out of bed and have no desire to do ANYTHING! The worst part? you CANNOT see this under a microscope. You cant study it like cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV, psoriasis, or diabetes. There’s nothing physically wrong with you although it does indeed manifest itself physically. Because of this, the stigma is far worse because one is viewed as a mental or nut case. This is however SO FAR from the truth. The majority of times it stems back to events or an event that triggered a pattern which became habitual and so engrained in the person that they don’t know any other way to respond and once the habit is formed they don’t see any way of getting out of it. You don’t wake up with it like a cold. Its a process that sneaks up on you and invades every inch of your life. Where brain chemistry changes or at what point is still under debate and I personally don’t believe they have all the answers yet. The human brain is the final frontier of research because its the most difficult to study given its a jelly mass enclosed in your skull and not easy to get at.
The commercials on TV talking about it don’t really tell the full scope of how devastating this is to ones life. My friend has gone through numerous therapists, meds, groups and nothing has helped much. AS he gets immune to one set of meds they have to move him to a different regimen. Then there are the side effects which have to be controlled. Its a very nasty situation and the majority of people are of no help because there is this value judgment. He has heard awful comments like, “I’ll trade my HIV for your depression”! REALLY? They can do more for HIV than for depression!! With HIV they can actually extract the virus and see which medications are effective against it. With Depression you cant do this. Its a LONG LONG trial and error process where you go on meds and if you still feel like shit after several months AND dealing with side effects, they take you off and switch you until they get the right combination. Because brain chemistry is unique and different in everyone, there’s no way to know how each SPECIFIC individual will react. It’s a miserable ride.
The next topic is going to be on a more personal note. Something I know a lot about. ANXIETY. I have suffered from anticipatory anxiety for much of my life. For me it began with a mother who should have been treated for mental illness. I likely would have been removed from my house as a child due to the physical beatings and mental abuse at the hands of the one person you are supposed to believe would protect you the most. I was a piece of property to her and she had already lost a son to rheumatic fever and asthma. She was almost 40 when I was born and it was her final chance to have a child. She was so afraid something would happen to me so she hovered over me like a helicopter. Since I didn’t come with a manual and back then no one went to shrinks, I learned how to be afraid of EVERYTHING and was often beaten into submission. There was very little joy and peace in my life and that carried over into my adulthood. Panic attacks, anxiety attacks, stomach problems, Irritable bowl syndrome, spastic colon, heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, headaches…yeah I’ve had all of that. The only time I felt any peace was when I slept. You go for every test in the book and they find NOTHING wrong with you that they can see under a microscope. I hid my condition for decades because of the stigma. I’ve gone to therapy throughout my life trying to fix the damage she caused. When she got old and sick I took care of her form a distance…like a thousand miles. When she died I didn’t go to her funeral. I made all the preparations over the phone from Florida to NYC. She wished I got AIDS, she didn’t want me at her funeral (yes I was told that ) and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I made peace with myself for hating her and forgiving myself for the negative feelings I will always have. As for forgiving her, I have. She did the best she could since she was so mentally sick herself. I love her but don’t like her. I never will. All in all though, life isn’t so bad but at times its a HUGE struggle and challenge. I’ve managed to live despite it all and without any medications EVER! I have been relearning what life and love is through my friends and the special men that have always been a part of my life. It just stinks that so many of us have had to go through this. So to all those out there who are dealing with either anxiety or depression, OR BOTH, I DO understand! If any of you who read this want to ask me any questions or talk further you can email me here, reply and I will get back to you ASAP because I understand how difficult this is to deal with. The one piece of advise I have my friend the other night and I will give it here. KEEP MOVING FORWARD AND DON’T LOOK BACK!! If you need help, seek it. With all the bullshit, life still holds wonder for me.