Thursday, November 02, 2006

What it is like

I'm deliberately stealing the subject line of a post by Dooce because I'm so glad she alerted the world to this excellent article by a reporter in New Orleans who realized he was suffering from serious depression and needed medication, but only after his life had almost completely fallen apart. He was one of many people, including me earlier on, and my mother-in-law now, who didn't quite believe in depression as a serious illness that can and was skeptical of antidepressants, perhaps feeling that taking medicine was a copout and was simply bypassing "real issues" that could be sorted out only by talk therapy. I myself always figured that depression was a natural result of temporarily difficult circumstances in your life, that you should buck up and keep plodding and you'd eventually feel better, etc., etc.

I too was an on-and-off sufferer starting at age 15; that episode I attributed to RHI (Raging Hormonal Imbalance, i.e., being smack in the middle of puberty). Looking back, it was situations that caused stress and feelings of inadequacy that brought on depression, like freshman year in college, a lousy job I had in a place I didn't want to be working, etc. SSRIs didn't come onto the market until the late '80s after I'd already joined the working world. Finally I was seeing yet another therapist who recommended Prozac and I finally agreed. Well. What a revelation. No more depression, but also? A lot more self-confidence, less anxiety, less shyness... effects that were being noticed by lots of other people. As for me, I felt so good that I got married -- to another kook who also took antidepressants, which I used to think was pretty dodgy and consequently not too interested in him a year or so earlier when we first crossed paths. Once I started trying to get pregnant, I went off Prozac since I wasn't too sure it would be a good thing for a baby in utero. Big mistake. Lotsa anxiety after the baby was born, which NATURALLY was due to the stress of first-time motherhood and all that. Until one day six months post-partum when I called a mental health provider at 6 a.m. in sobbing fetal-position panic and got some emergency tranquilizers while waiting for the restarted Prozac to kick in. And I will happily take it for the rest of my life. It's the best thing since epidural anesthesia -- but no spinal needles or temporary paraplegia!

Getting back to New Orleans reporter Chris Rose, he notes, as did William Styron in "Darkness Visible" (he just died yesterday, by the way), that the word "depression" is a totally inadequate because it sounds sort of minor, like "the blues" or "melancholia" or "down in the dumps" when in fact it describes an extremely painful and sometimes life-threatening condition, yet one that isn't readily obvious to others. Being a reporter certainly can be stressful, as I know from experience, and I can also see where covering an ongoing tragedy like Katrina would disguise your own condition even from yourself, since you're SUPPOSED to feel sad and stressed. That might be the hardest part for people around you. You're not spouting arterial blood or peppered with malignant tumors, only a tad withdrawn and weepy, so quite often people can't fathom what it's like, which is why Rose's article is so valuable.

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