Come as You Are

bipolarEveryone gets depressed sometimes, right? What exactly does it mean to be depressed though? Does it simply involve having a minor case of the blues? Is it the result of something undesirable happening, like the sudden loss of a pet? Realizing that you have been lying in bed all day watching a CSI marathon? Those cases would fall under the category of situational depression. The gloom is just visiting. A dark cloud that will pass. Like a relative or a stray cat.

A chemical imbalance in the brain is a complicated and torturous beast. It is a monster. Since we’re comparing animals, let’s liken the former to a Lamb and the latter to a Lion. There we have it. The Lion and The Lamb…except I stopped believing God had anything to do with this a long time ago. I don’t think you can pray the depression away anymore than you can pray the gay away.

Clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which is more permanent. It’s like having a child. It is a lifelong responsibility. It will always be there. How it behaves and acts all depends on how you treat it. This child belongs to you now. You can’t give it back. Just like your diagnosis. You can’t slide it back across the desk to the doctor and say you don’t want it . Like the way you’re able to send back your steak at the restaurant because you ordered well-done and the waiter shows up with medium-rare.

In 1997 I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I have had many ups and downs. I have been hospitalized for at least 4 suicide attempts starting at the age of 15. I have seen more therapists than I can count or remember since I was a child. After my first suicide attempt, since I was technically still a child, I unwillingly endured 6 months of mandatory counseling. When the 6 months came to an end, my mother asked the psychologist what was wrong with me. I remember watching her shake her head and shrug. The child psychologist simply did not know. Neither did I. 

I remember telling my first grade teacher, Mrs. Algire that I wanted to die. I wonder how my mother felt when she was told that her 6 year old was suicidal.  In the second grade, our class had an assignment. I was instructed to take two pieces of paper, draw a happy face on one and a sad face on the other, glue them together and attach a Popsicle stick so I could hold it up and flip the mask for happy or sad depending on how I felt. Well, naturally, I drew 2 sad faces. Miss Schnibly was very concerned and when my mom came to pick me up, I remember sitting at my desk while my teacher presented this artwork to my mother. The were whispering and glancing over at me. I didn’t realize the gravity of what I had done. I was only 7. What I did realize was, though, is that I was a sad child. That much I knew. I know this was horrifying to my mother. It’s not like I was punishing her on purpose.

I attended a private school. My mother wanted this for me to make up for my lack of a father. She figured if I had a good Christian education, I would become immune to the inevitable tragedy that normally awaits a young girl born into my circumstances. My dark attire and pensive gloom concerned the other children and parents. The girls dressed like girls. Dresses, penny loafers, corduroy slacks, blouses and horrific sweaters. I refused to dress like that. I wore jeans, an over-sized t-shirt, preferable from the Men’s section of the Good Will, a flannel shirt as a jacket and well worn sneakers. It was the early 80’s. I was oblivious in the fifth grade to what was in fashion. But I knew with conviction that I wasn’t going to dress like the snobby rich girls I went to school with. My mom even took me to Nordstrom and emotionally bludgeoned me in the Brass Plum section buying all these new Catholic school girl clothes. She even bought me penny loafers. I told her I wouldn’t wear them and we should buy Converse All Stars instead. That we should leave this pretentious mall and stop by Value Village. Absolutely not. She bought them. Was she trying to buy me out of my melancholy? I never wore them. I wouldn’t be caught dead in them. They just felt wrong. Everything felt wrong.

2 weeks ago, at a visit with a new psychiatrist, she asked me when my depression started. How in the hell am I supposed to answer that? I don’t have an exact date. I know the year it was finally documented and I started taking antidepressants. But I can’t tell you when it began. Basically, it creeps up on you and then… there it is. Right there in front of you. It’s like Michael Meyers in Halloween. The music slowly swells, Jamie Lee Curtis oblivious as to what’s lurking around the corner. And then he’s there. And before you can run, you are frozen with fear and scream. That’s what this feels like. It’s huge, like running into a brick wall. Except the brick wall comes to you, not the other way around. One day you wake up and feel as though the weight of a freight train is upon you. You can’t make it go away.

Even though I experienced what I described in my childhood, depression wasn’t a word in my vocabulary. I didn’t know how to put a label on it or on myself. I was just different. I am not even sure how to move forward. I guess that’s what the medication and therapy is for. I know that the heaviness of depression follows you everywhere you go. It becomes a part of you. It changes you. Even though I feel like I was born this way, I have somehow evolved with my depression.

Since I was a teenager, I felt this dark, black cloud over me. Individuals with situational depression take Prozac for 6 months and they are back to normal. For me, the blackness never went away. I have never felt normal. I have been prescribed almost every drug for depression. I temporarily felt better, and then I would fall into a sink hole where I couldn’t stop crying and I wanted to die. I explained this to psychiatrist a couple weeks ago. She said “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it is a duck.” Her analogies were rather humorous. What she meant was that all those medications I took never worked because they are intended for depression. I don’t have depression, I am bipolar (manic depressive). The medication I have been on for 8 years keeping me alive is for bipolar disorder. The troubling part is that the doctor who prescribed it, and even doctors since, never considered I may be bipolar. So here I am taking this drug for bipolar and have been misdiagnosed as depressed. Of course depression is a big part of it, but it manifests itself very differently.

In essence, I live in a state of depression all the time, and then occasionally I have dips where I become worse, which is where the suicidal thoughts and unrelenting crying come in. The medication was taking care of the depression part of bipolar, but not the dips. She prescribed Lithium for the dips.

There are 2 types of bipolar. One is where people have extreme highs and extreme lows. That’s not me. I don’t experience highs. Just lows. So I walked out my psychiatrist’s office with a diagnosis some would feel horrible about because there, of course, is a stigma attached, as with all mental illnesses. Bipolar sounds so much worse than simply being depressed. But I felt relieved, finally knowing why I would get so horribly depressed when I thought I was being treated correctly. Hospitalization is not an option for me. I have 2 kids who need me.  

Now Lithium means more to me than Batteries and a Nirvana song. Now it is the knot I have tied at the end of my rope so I can hold on.

I’m so happy. Cause today I found my friends.
They’re in my head. I’m so ugly. But that’s ok.
‘Cause so are you. We’ve broke our mirrors.”

Kurt Cobain



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