Depression: Don’t trivialize an illness

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In December of 2014, I wrote an article for LAPX titled Out of the Fog in which I marked the first year of my being free from a lifetime battle with depression. More than three and a half years into my new life, I am always more than willing to share my struggle with others who are currently struggling with depression or know someone who is. For five and a half decades, I lived with an illness I first didn’t know what it was, then went on to try and hide it from others, and finally felt crippled by it all too often.

Thanks to a wonderful doctor, I finally found an antidepressant that for the first time in my life allowed the fog I lived in to lift once and for all, allowing me to think in a way I was never previously able to and in turn to understand my life in a way I was previously oblivious to.

I have known what it is like to go to bed feeling happy about life only to wake up the next morning knowing I was in for a struggle that might grip me for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. I saw the harm it did not only to myself, but to my wife, children, career, and friendships. I know the feeling of going through life angry, anxious, and worst of all, ambivalent. I know what it was like to try meds that left me tired, lethargic, or simply emotionless.

The stress of wondering when it would hit me, how hard it would strike, and how long it would last was enough to control my thought process to the point life was hard to soak up and enjoy. By the time my doctor placed me on an antidepressant that actually allowed me to feel rather than just be numb, I was feeling I had little fight left in me and was destined to become another faceless person who checked out of this world far too soon, leaving people behind to wonder what went wrong.

What went wrong in my case was a chemical imbalance that when I was able to examine my life with the help of a psychologist showed how I was born this way. Add in some of the other contributing triggers that might hit others from time to time, but seemed to be all too frequent for me, I was someone who hit the depression jackpot.

I share all of this because yesterday, I came across a Facebook post from some self proclaimed self help person who I will not name because I believe he does not warrant any attention for his “work” (Who the hell relies on Facebook as their sole means to spread their expert advice about something they have no training or experience in?). Anyway, among other things, in his roughly 150 second video in which he explains to everyone with depression how they are simply creating their depression and just need to change their thinking, this clown does what far too many have done: trivialize a very serious, misunderstood, and horribly stigmatized illness.

Seriously, would anyone change their outlook on cancer based on such a flippant video, one in which he points out how a TV remote is real, but depression is not? Do we still have happy go lucky ass hats who think that just because they are happy and it comes so easy for them that everyone else should be able to as well?

At a time in which we debate identifying those with a mental illness because of horrific shootings while trying to make mental health available to more sufferers, does such trivializing help anyone who has not been as fortunate as me to find the right medicine or a caring doctor to deal with the shame and embarrassment that comes from knowing you are not right?

Depression is a general term, much like cancer. No two people suffer the exact same form of depression, the same level of chemical imbalance, the same triggers, or even the same cure. This makes treating the illness all the more challenging. For some, talk therapy is all that is needed. Finding a mental health professional who can listen to your problems, help you identify them, and then teach you how to change your thought process can be all someone needs, but it must be noted this is not a quick fix process. Such treatment takes time. In my case, over two years.

As for those who may need an antidepressant, some will only need one for a short period to help them navigate their way through a terrible and unexpected life experience, like the loss of a loved one. Others, like me, need one they remain on for the remainder of their lives unless they want to risk seeing not just a return of their depression, but all too often a worse return.

In either case, the medicines come with their own risks and side effects and often take a few months before the body and brain adjusts to them. One example, I was once placed on one antidepressant that left me so lethargic, I could fall dead asleep within 15 minutes after finishing a four hour bike ride. I do not mean a nap, I mean out cold, dead to the world asleep. Who wants that?

Some patients hear of an antidepressant that has worked wonders for a friend and think it will do the trick for them only to find out it did nothing, leaving them feeling more depressed and more desperate. In my case, I eventually spent countless hours researching the scores of drugs, filling out personal profiles, and then keeping a list of medicines that “might” work for me.

When one medicine kept popping up at the top of every list, I visited my doctor who then told me she had been researching medicines that she thought would work for me based on what she knew about me. When she mentioned the same drug I kept seeing, I finally felt relief was in sight. Within a few weeks, I felt like a completely new person, one who could think clearly, feel joy, and live with the idea that the future offered me much to look forward too.

None of this would have happened had our culture continued to either not talk about mental illness or worse, trivialize those who suffer from one that is quite treatable.

So the next time someone tells you they suffer from depression, don’t gloss over it, don’t run from the conversation, but rather, talk to the person, ask questions, and let them know there is no reason to hide from it or feel embarrassed by it. You will be doing that person a favor.

And the next time you see some idiot post something that dismisses depression, over simplifies its cure, or pokes fun at it, speak up. Report the post. Let that person know they are off base and doing harm to a problem they have no business talking about in such an ignorant manner. While it may not do anything to change their thinking, it may go a long way to helping others who suffer from an illness our entire culture has hid from for far too long.