Wednesday, March 28, 2018

It's back, but Crystal Chan kinda helped

I didn't even get one month before the depression came back. It rolled back over me on Monday and as hard as I've been trying to pretend "as if," I can't stop it. The twelve step programs advocate "fake it til you make it." Act the way you wish you were and eventually you'll really be that way. I'm not doing it very well with this disease. I'm doing a slow slide down into it.

Why is it so bad now? Why does it seem like in the past two years my depression has developed into a real pattern of on-again-off-again with completely sporadic periods and pauses? Is it about middle age? Is it about --- actually, I can't think of anything else that has changed about my life in the past two years.

Yes, my psychiatrist increased my meds. I've been doing increased exercise, decreased junk food; more fish oil, less dairy. I just don't know anymore. I just know it's back and I want to scream.

My friend Crystal sent me a link to Krista Tippett's On Being podcast. This episode is called "The Soul in Depression" and it aired on March 22, 2018. Three writers and experts discuss depression with her, and after listening to the whole thing my initial reaction is, "Wha-a-a-a?" Tippett mentions that she has experienced major depression, as have all of her guests, so it surprised me that whatever they said, she agreed with. Then again, she probably has the radio interviewer's focus, vocabulary and accommodating approach.

Andrew Solomon talks about depression in the second person (saying "you" instead of "I") which did not work for me at all. He describes his depression as "to be afraid and overwhelmed all the time," which isn't how I describe my depression. He says things like "You lose the sense of the inevitability of your own being alive," and referrs to "the profundity of the inner self." Huh?

Solomon also mentions that depression makes it hard to eat. I have never, ever had trouble eating through even my worst depressions. Tippett calls her depression symptoms "classic" and includes that she lost weight. Lost weight? That's a problem? I have wished SO many times that my depressions caused weight loss. I find several of their statements alienating because they don't apply to me and make me feel like I'm doing depression wrong.

Tippett asks Solomon to explain the statement in his book, "Depression is the flaw in love." He says love can't exist without a bunch of other emotions, like fear of loss. Part of loving someone is to feel sad when you lose them, so a range of emotion that includes great sadness and great pain is necessary for love. He identifies severe depression as an overactivity at the sadness/pain end of the emotional spectrum, but says that without those emotions, we couldn't have intimacy.

Um. Okay. So that's just a new way of saying that if we were never sad, we wouldn't be able to feel happiness. I resent Solomon's explanation because I've had plenty of depression (sadness and pain) in my life, but not so much love, so clearly being in this overactive state doesn't increase one's likelihood of experiencing the other end of it. So what good is this model? It has nothing for me.

Tippett's third guest, Anita Barrows, talks about depression as a spiritual place where there is "ripening" and "quieting." Quiet I get, but "ripening?"

Barrows at one point starts to say "the depressed mood," then stops and complains about the word and how "it's taken on so many rotten connotations." I assume she means the word "depressed," but I'm not sure what rotten connotations she's complaining about. She says she wants to "redeem it from the medical and the clinical." I really need an explanation of these comments.

Parker Palmer, the second guest, is much easier to understand, and he disagrees -- as does Tippett and her other guests -- with the Judeo-Christian belief that there's nobility or godliness in suffering. Good. But then near the end of the program, Tippett hypothesizes that depression can yield maturity, insight and a bigger soul and Barrows agrees. And there it is, the idea that there's some benefit to major depression, some payoff that makes it all worth it: the horrible days, the medication side effects, the broken marriage, the time in hospitals, the bills and knowing there's no cure and this is just how my life is.

The idea that depression leads to greater insight and compassion is nice, but I expect it's rare. I think most depressives just live with their disease, never getting the treatment they truly need and self-medicating with things like alcohol. And after they die, no one even knows they had depression. But Tippett is ever optimistic on her weekly podcast and it was a good note to end on.

On Being airs on National Public Radio (it's on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. and Sundays at 7 a.m. on Chicago's WBEZ) and its audience is probably able to keep up with its ideas and vocabulary, but for me Solomon was too intellectual and Barrows too poetic. I felt angry when the program reminded me that many depressives get skinnier and suggested that depressives live fuller lives that make (some of) us better people. It also just irritated me when I didn't know what they were talking about (the inevitability of your own being alive?).

Maybe this program would make more sense if I weren't depressed and exhausted. Or maybe I'm not even the audience for this. It's possible this discussion is for people who don't have depression, which would explain why they talk in such intellectual and poetic terms. Palmer is the one who speaks in the language of emotions and bodily experience. It's like his is the segment for those of us who actually have depression while Solomon and Barrows are for those who want to understand it.

Anyway, while the parts that upset me made me cry, analyzing and blogging about it has made me feel calm. So thanks to Krista Tippett and to Crystal who sent me the link.

NOTE: I tweeted my post and Tippett tweeted back!

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