Posted in musings

coping with chronic depression

I’ve been listening to some podcast archives from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and in one heard a man tell the interviewing doctor, about depression, “I don’t think you’re ever cured – it’s like alcoholism, it will always be there.” (I paraphrased).

That’s a reality I’m coming to terms with, as I have a new and more normal mood thanks to the medicine and therapy, but still feel the old out-of-sync emotions and unhelpful habits of thought there in my mind, popping up at tiny triggers or for no apparent reason at all. When the Zoloft started working – when I felt that first incredible lightening of the burden of depression on my mind and body – I suddenly had these amazing hopes and even expectations for my continuing treatment: that I would be completely cured, completely rid of the shaming voices, the heavy dragging slowness of thought, the spirals into despair, the frantic panic of seeing and fearing the darkness and irrationality closing in. I knew I would be sad, frustrated, and angry, of course, but those are normal emotions, a healthy part of life; I felt sad a few weeks back when the bikes were stolen and was surprised that I was able to feel simply sad without all the depressive corollaries. It was a clean and cleansing feeling. So sadness is beautiful, and even frustration and anger can be helpful and are certainly normal! But I thought the depression would be completely, utterly, totally, eradicated.

But there I was at work, feeling down. There were some triggers (a failed experiment, though no one was at fault), but nothing major, and still I felt the old familiar emotions, the whispers that I wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough; still I was weighed down with the weariness of continuing on when everything is pointless; still the voices tempted me with suggestions of sleep or drink or death to blot out the world and the pain of inadequacy and shame, to finally find peace from the tormenting emotions. Depression and anxiety have this irritating tendency to build on themselves; one begins to feel down about feeling down, or anxious about feeling anxious; and that’s what happened here as well. And then on the podcast came the line from a fellow sufferer: “I don’t think you’re ever cured.”

Suddenly it all made sense. It wasn’t a happy revelation, but it was a fortifying one. Just as it might never be safe for a recovered alcoholic to have a drink, so it might never be safe for this recovered depressive to let down her mental guard, to relax her mental vigilance. Into the breach, when the sentry is sleeping, the depression can attack or silently infiltrate. Oddly enough the thought tasted hopeful on my tongue: if the unhelpful thoughts and destructive emotions return, it doesn’t mean I’ve relapsed and can never hope to be cured – it just means I need to repair the walls and increase the guard. But what is the most hopeful thought of all is that now I have experienced genuine happiness, abundance of joy, and everyday normal emotions. I know what they feel like, and I know I am capable of them: so when I do feel depressed, I can remind myself that the depression need not last forever. I have overcome before, and I can overcome again.

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