There are many clinical components to depression including hormones, enzymes, physical manifestations, and emotional experiences. They can be objectively and subjectively assessed, categorized, and treated. What about the personal experience of depression? How would one describe that?
For each person, depression is a deeply personal event. Each episode is varied and unique in its expression. For me, today, it is a lethargy, a dark shadow cast over everything and everyone I see. No matter how much I love those around me, these momentary glitches in my brain chemistry leave me feeling very much alone, inadequate, and sad. These dips in my otherwise healthy emotional state, are surprises to me, even after nearly 40 years since receiving my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, then called manic depression.
I hated the medications prescribed for me. Some made me feel like a zombie. Others gave me hives. Others caused me to go to sleep. None of them truly helped. I chose a more spiritual path in my treatment. I chose to look at the disorder as something that was present irregularly or mildly because I am fortunate to have a less injurious level of bipolar. Some of my peers, with a more serious condition, could not afford to take the path I take because it could lead to severe and deleterious effects. I suppose by some accounts, I am lucky.
Today, though, most feelings of good fortune and joy elude me. They are memories in my past and hope for my future. I don’t usually talk about my depression much because most people are afraid of that word. They fear it for themselves and for their families. They avoid the possibility that someone they love could experience such deep sadness for no reason other than the body disconnecting with those chemicals that would heal the weighty malaise. So, most don’t talk about it.
The funniest part is when some people whisper like chattering monkeys, “She must be depressed because she’s not very strong,” or “He must not have very good tools at his disposal if he’s giving into his depression.” Anyone who knows me knows that my personal, emotional strength is abundant, and that my tools are many. It simply is a fact that I have a medically psychiatric condition called bipolar. That’s all. In the same way as someone with high cholesterol or mild type-2 diabetes tries to keep his numbers down through diet and exercise, I work very hard at staying mentally healthy. Most of the time I am effective. Once in a while, like now, it gets away from me.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that silence magnifies my condition. Isolation adds fuel to the fire of sadness. So, here I am telling the truth about how I feel. Acknowledging that I am struggling with what has become a lifelong difficulty. Quite honestly, I feel better for doing so.
I share this information with you, dear reader, not because I need your sympathy or pity, because I don’t. I simply want to share with you my process. I want you to understand that perfectly normal people, strong people, wise people, happy people, sometimes have a condition that can, on occasion, get out of control.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one-quarter of all adults in the United States are diagnosed with one or more mental disorders. That’s 75 million people. 2.6% of the adult population have severe bipolar disorder. I am not the oddball by any stretch of the imagination. Many go undiagnosed because of the stigma of mental illness. Sorry, but that’s just plain stupid. If one had cancer, phlebitis, alopecia, or gingivitis, one would not have a stigma applied to those conditions or diseases. So, why should mental illness? There is no reason except that people are afraid that they will succumb to some mental insufficiency.
Again, fear plays out as judgment against a group of people. So, to face that fear, I speak out against the ugly stigma, tell the truth about my disorder, and share with you what happens for me, at least. And I’m one of the lucky ones. It doesn’t strike very hard, even at its worst. For others, it hits harder. It is debilitating. It is overwhelmingly lonely. It can even be deadly. Yet because of the stigma, they cannot reach out for help, even to professionals or programs that would certainly assist in diagnosis and treatment.
I reach out to you so that perhaps, somehow, you will find a way to reach out when you sense someone close to you is having difficulty with mental illness. Speak honestly and without harsh judgment. Avoid terms like, “buck up,” or “toughen up,” or “don’t worry, this, too, shall pass.” Would you say that to someone with an obvious tumor on their head or bleeding profusely? Not likely.
Thank you for reading this message. I will feel better more likely sooner than later. For those who need you, don’t be afraid. They are simply the same people you love when they are healthier as when they are feeling worse. They may reach out to you verbally, or by a change in their interactions with you. They are not trying to drag you down in the darkness with them. They simply are reaching for the light.
It would be trite, I’m sure, to say that there are angels everywhere, no matter how true it is. Here is a simple story nonetheless.
This morning, feeling overwhelmed by my life and responsibilities, while also feeling that everyone else has their priorities in place and that I’m not really one of them, the pity party began in full force. As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, although a mild form of it, every so often, my depression does take hold. This morning was a prime example of that experience.
This afternoon, a new friend of mine wrote to say how grateful she was to have me as a friend and to be working with me. She had already offered to help me with a project that, in my current state, I simply couldn’t handle right now.
This angel lighted upon my shoulder and in doing so, she took a burden off of me that has helped me feel more peaceful. I am so deeply grateful to my friend for this gift. Of course, I wrote to her to tell her thank you. That, too, made me feel good.
I am consistently in awe, too, because these angels, in the masks of humble, loving people, keep finding those of us in greatest need. Their intuition and desire for healing with others is enormous. I have such profound respect and love for these wonderful entities. The funny part is that they never, ever know just how important they are to others.
As I prayed to God to help lift the weight off my back, he responded in the sweetest way possible. He sent someone to offer me her hand. It seems to work that way when I need it most. I live in constant gratitude for these unexpected gifts.
I believe in miracles. They happen every day.
I believe in angels. They are all around.
I believe in God. God’s light shines on everything.
I believe in gratitude. It’s what makes us recognize the value of every gift we receive, even the ones that look like challenges.
I just wanted to share my experience. Consider this my Commendation of Perpetual Aid to those who stand by me in love and support. Today, especially, I extend my gratitude to my new friend. Thank you, one and all.
Like many people who have been diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder, I truly do enjoy those manic phases in which I’m so very busy doing so very many things. Since my manic phase is usually exhibited in the area of spending, it’s not much of an issue for me since we don’t have a lot of money to spend. My diagnosis has always been considered mild, at best, thankfully. I’ve survived for many years without medication and have been fairly successful in operating at this level, with some major and minor exceptions along the way.
My challenge has always been the depressive phase. The drops in energy and desire to accomplish anything, the lack of motivation to the point where important things go by the wayside, have been the hardest part of this journey. Interestingly enough, being married has helped in that arena because now I know it’s not just me who would be affected by my inability to get things done. I can talk about it with my husband and just in the talking, there seems to be a switch turned on in my head.
People have always said I tend toward being a prideful person. I don’t like asking for help. I don’t like being perceived as weak. I don’t like needing assistance at all. So, when I actually reached out to someone for help, it usually meant things had gotten quite out of hand. That’s not so true any more. Now, I reach out much more easily because I know I can often avoid the “out of hand” moments by doing so.
Since I’ve been married, though, those times have been even fewer and farther between. Sometimes, I’ll just say to David, “I’m having a tough time getting through the bills.”
Now, one must understand, that doesn’t mean I’m asking for help from him because he has no idea how I balance the budget or pay the bills. It simply is my trigger to get my pride moving. That pride, as questionably healthy a motivator as it may be, seems to get my juices flowing in such a way as to get my bills paid.
I’ve always been very busy in my life. Whether I work outside the home or from home, I’ve always kept myself active and connected to the outside world.
Through my writing now, I’ve been able to communicate what’s going on in my life and keep things more even-keeled.
Now that I’m not teaching in the classroom any longer, I am still busy with shows, writing, teaching at home and with my family, but it is all on my time now. I have found that my mania and depression have not been as severe in some ways, or lasted as long when episodes to arise. My awareness has been half the battle.
Between my faith and my study on dealing with my condition at home, I’ve been pretty successful, actually… surprisingly.
I still struggle at times, but they are always struggles I win.
Those of us who are “The Busy,” as I’ve called us, and suffer with bipolar disorder seem to make our lives look effortless. We can, for the most part, show our disorders in our rapid, over-animated speech and at other times our gloomy affect, but overall, we are effective, contributing members of society.
This condition must be brought to light and spoken about so that the stigma of suffering with a disorder of mental health will disappear. I am not afraid of my condition nor am I afraid of how people will perceive me any longer. That left many years ago.
Through education and treatment, people like me with bipolar disorder are finding it easier to operate in their daily lives. It’s about time.
I know I’m grateful for my life and the ability to stay busy.