I have recently read a book about depression by the boss. It was transporting. You should read it.
Depression was the first way my brain chemistry got in touch with me. When I was 18, 19, I first got acquainted with it. I had crushing depression, grinding depression when I was a young man. But my family had just disintegrated at that point and I did not have a vocabulary for what I was feeling. I didn’t feel like depression. It just felt like mourning.
I had moved into my own apartment and found myself frequently curled up in the center of the carpet, tensing my muscles on and off. I had a little red car and would drive for hours at night, I mean hundreds and hundreds of miles. The idea was to stave off being alone with my thoughts, and usually the road and the radio helped. I found with depression that there was a kind of perpetual disbelief, one that I think made its way into my interactions with other people and made me seem weird, or weirder – what is this thing, inside of me? And I think I looked to other people for answers even as I said nothing coherent about having depression at all. I would hang out with people to avoid the depression and tell them nothing about my struggles and would leave disappointed that no one had diagnosed me even as I never really interrogated what was going on inside of me myself.
People are really down about the brain chemistry explanation of mental illness, and perhaps with good reason. I do see where they’re coming from. There isn’t too much evidence to support the serotonergic theory of depression. But I would not personally be onboard with those who reject any physical or biochemical visions or whatever of depression. Because depression is a feeling. It is profoundly physical. It expresses itself with your whole body. Just like mania.
Speaking of which, that was the turn – not in my condition, not for a long time, but in my mindset. I ended up in the hospital in 2002 and they asked me questions that I could not wriggle out of. Did I experience feelings of worthlessness and guilt? Yes. Did I experience feelings of extreme fatigue? Yes. Did I sleep too much? I did. Had I experienced a loss of interest in things that used to interest me? I had. And so it came to pass that conversations I would never have initiated in a million years had been initiated by my emergency, and that was the beginning of my first brief period of being medicated for depression. The depression had seemed like a sideshow at the time, as it was not the depression that had gotten me there in the first place. But one way or the other I was on my first round of SSRIS. That lasted maybe three months, and then I was in the wind again, untreated and seesawing back and forth again. You’re probably bored of this story.
And then, somehow, the depression began to get better. Sometime in my late twenties and early thirties things got easier. I had never noticed the cyclicality of my moods before I was diagnosed, but afterwards, with the frequency of my manic periods, it was had to miss. But as I grew older, wandering in and out of treatment, I found the depressions came less intensely if not less frequently. I tend to find that people assume that those of us with bipolar have more intuitive tracking of our mood cycles than we do. The whole problem is that you can’t tell what’s your mind and what’s your brain, right? But I found myself expecting to pass into deep depressions that didn’t come. And the best I can make out, I just aged out of it.
Don’t misunderstand me: I still get depressed. I still have depressive cycles. And I am on two antidepressants right now. But I don’t lie in the center of room in the fetal position anymore. I don’t live with that kind of fear, fear of coming into contact once again with the basic question of whether it was worth carrying on. For that I’m incredibly grateful.
But I do miss the clarity of depression. As vulgar as it is to say that I miss any of it, I do. Maybe others who suffer would get offended by that, I don’t know. But there’s something clarifying about depression, something singular. It focuses the mind to an impossible extent – focuses it, that is, on the darkest and the deepest hole in the human condition.