Friday, January 11, 2013

THE RIGHT PEOPLE

   
   Depression is such a drag. That may sound like a stupid thing to say, or to admit. On the other hand, perhaps saying something blunt and honest isn't necessarily stupid. It may just be blunt--and honest.
   I walked around with dysthymia for many years. I probably picked it up sometime in high school. It's been with me in one form or another ever since then. What dysthymia means is a form of what I like to call walking depression. You know how there's a thing called walking pneumonia, where you have the illness but it doesn't send you to bed? I had the depression version of that. I felt lousy for so many years that I didn't even recognize my condition as abnormal. 
    Here's the really horrible part of the story. One day I'm walking along, not feeling terrific but certainly no worse than usual, when all of a sudden actual and real things in my life began to go wrong. Old people passed away. Girlfriends left me. My social circle dwindled to virtually nothing. And then my walking depression did a strange thing. It instant mutated into Major Depressive Disorder, otherwise known as Unipolar Depression, or Chronic Depression. I couldn't hold a job, my friendships were nonexistent, I couldn't sleep, had no interest in food or sex, and I basically wanted to smoke all day while pretending to watch television, struggling with the impulse to just walk out into the desert and die. 
   It was one of the worst things I've ever known and it stayed with me--or I with it--for a long time. I did manage to do some writing during this period and a bit of it was published, probably because, as Pete Townshend once reckoned, sickness can take the mind where minds can't usually go. But my amazing journey damn near killed me. 
    A lot of people who take on MDD also suffer from a lot of pain, so it isn't unusual to find people who are already feeling extremely low addicted to pain medication, not because they don't have pain--they usually do--but because one side effect of the opiates is that it very temporarily lessens the depression, at least until it wears off and then you need an even bigger dose to get out of the new depression. 
    In my case, pain was not the comorbidity factor. It was cardiology. I still wear a small pacer pacemaker the cardiologists put in just in case my heart rate drops below forty beats a minute. It was suggested to me that the mental stress contributed to the physical stress, rather than the other way around. All I know is that the whole thing was downright terrifying.

   This rotten MDD thing hits me still and with some regularity. Oh, sure, I take the standard medication and all that good stuff. But it comes along every now and then and knocks my head off, probably just for fun. I try to ignore it or distract myself from it.
    Many researchers think that some of us have a predisposition to being vulnerable to depression. There exists something called a serotonin transporter gene, also known as 5-HTT, that affects the chance that a given person who goes through a series of traumatic events will fall victim to clinical depression. In my case, one of the co-occurring issues tends to be a certain amount of memory loss, something that suggests a problem in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that regulates both mood and memory. 
   Of course, all sorts of social factors can predispose a person to depression. Abuse, poverty, isolation--years ago I suffered from them all and each one has been shown to affect a person's likelihood of clinical depression.
    Combine all this with the fact that I hate pills of any sort and you have a bit of a quandary. I have been prescribed Prozac, Wellbutrin, Zoloft and many other things over the years, most of which have lost their effectiveness on me. The best thing I have found is to force myself to live a better life, meaning that I get enough rest without over doing the sleep. I make sure I eat three or four meals a day--and even a few healthy ones. I have always been thin, so overeating has yet to become a problem. I also get outdoors and walk or run some everyday. But I think the one most important factor is that I have connected and reconnected with the right people. My friends, I'm happy to say, haven't much of an idea that I've ever suffered from depression, mostly because they have been the best treatment I could possibly experience. 
    So there's a little secret--possibly not as well kept as I've imagined--that you now know. For what it's worth. Until next time, take care.

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