I am posting this series again as a response to the death of a much loved, well-known man, Robin Williams. He killed himself. While the spotlight is on depression, I want to add another person’s experience living with severe depression, to the collective consciousness. I hope this series will help those of you who know depression or another form of mental illness to feel the company of the very many people who are your peers. If mental illness seems mysterious and frightening to you, I hope this series will give you the first glimpse into what many people experience. My biggest message is simple. We do not choose the illnesses or injuries that come in life. Our genetics, circumstances, accidents all play a role in what will hit us and what will miss.We can all listen, though, try to learn, commit ourselves to trying to help or trying to accept help. I respond to all e-mails. If you write, I will help or try to find someone who can.
A hurricane swept through last week, although it was downgraded to a tropical storm before hitting us. Nonetheless, there was a lot of rain and periodic gusts of wind that whistled through windows and sent the dogs under furniture. We had prepared. We had removed everything from the yard that could be thrown about by the wind, stocked extra batteries, water and food staples. In the end, we simply had to ride out the storm. Our puppy Bjorn sat calmly in the family room with a bone in his mouth, doubtless ready for the evacuation signal, and I smiled for a minute.
That storm came and went. I face a different storm now, and I have decided to chronicle it on this web log. It is a turbulence I have known before but have not learned how to ride out. After years without an episode, I am depressed. I have been on antidepressants for a long time because of prior episodes and the risk for another. Despite the medication designed to decrease the odds of it returning, the depression is here again anyway.
I had one period of major depression after my head injury. I remember telling the psychiatrist that if I were 25 years old, derailed from a medical career within six months of getting my MD degree, had a constant headache and other neurological problems and were not depressed, I really would need a shrink. He did not see the humor.
I know that my traumatic brain injury, entering menopause, family stressors with a severely handicapped teenager and genetic vulnerability are likely contributors, but that doesn’t help. Advice to look on the bright side doesn’t help. I am going to be more regular with walking because even moderate exercise has been shown to improve mood. I will continue to do activities with my dogs, which get me out of the house and help me both to suppress the urge to cry in public and make me momentarily feel a little better.
I have seen a psychiatrist for a long time, and I was lucky to find someone whose specialty is mood problems in people with a history of neurological problems including brain injury and epilepsy. He will listen, tweak medications, and give life advice. Once more he will tell me he is sorry I’ve faced so many tragedies in life, but I need to find it in myself to ride out this storm. I need to believe I can ride it out. I need to believe there is light ahead.
I am alone in the house at the moment, but not alone in the storm. Depression and other forms of mental illness (disorders in brain function that affect how we think, how we feel emotionally, remember events, or some combination) are one of the most common causes of disability in the world according to the World Health Organization. According to a just-released study that covered all of the countries in the European Union plus several more, depression and other forms of mental illness affect almost 40% of people at one or more points in their lives.
A lot of us are trying to ride out the storm. I hope my experience encourages those of you who know my struggle first-hand or through a loved one will realize you are not alone, you are not strange, you are affected by illness. This will not be the only content on the blog now, because life entails more than a disease, even a severe one, but I hope to honestly track how I feel and what I do as I move through this internal storm.
I want to live each day in the way I always mention when public speaking. It is vital and possible to live a life that includes severe or chronic illness but is not limited to it.
I will be defined by all of what I am.