21 June 2009

Depressive Stigmas

What happens if I don't take my medication? I turn into a zombie. Everything turns flat, it seems almost as if things lose their color, like all the colors fade. I feel like my body weighs so much that I can't even hold my shoulders up. I become lethargic - I can't get myself to do anything. I don't feel sad; I feel nothing. Empty, blank, flat. Great things can happen, but they don't make me happy. Awful things can happen, but they don't make me sad.

What happens when I take my medication? I'm myself again. The medication doesn't make me feel happy; it makes me feel. With the medication, my emotions come back; I can feel happy or sad. I enjoy it when things are going well; I get sad or angry when they go poorly.

~MarkCC @ Good Math, Bad Math

I seem to have made it through my bout with depression, amazingly without the aid of pharmaceuticals. Some would say that makes me "better" than people who need the pharmaceuticals; I would say it makes me damned lucky. I've talked to people who actually think that all you need to do if you're depressed is "snap out of it." It's obvious that such people have never, ever suffered from genuine depression. They've had the "oh, I'm a bit down today" variety.

In my case, I was able to keep functioning through sheer effort of will, but I didn't give much of a damn about anything. The place where this manifested most obviously was in getting bills paid. I would know that the bill was sitting there, that I had the money in my checking account to pay for it, that the checkbook was under the bill...and I could not motivate myself to get up and do anything about it. I managed to push through that often enough to avoid losing anything other than cable...mainly because none of the other companies were as ridiculously uptight about late payments as the cable company. One of the signs that the depression was lifting was when I would sit down almost immediately after receiving a bill and get it paid.

Here's the thing, though. I didn't use pharmaceuticals, but I did use a meditation practice. Meditation has been shown to alter brain states. Instead of taking a drug to alter my brain chemistry, I adopted a practice that would do so. I tended to keep with practices that seemed to improve the condition, but it was largely a matter of trial and error. I can't see how that is "better" than using a pharmaceutical to achieve the same effect. Such a practice is a major time commitment, and has to be done everyday if you want to keep receiving benefits. The pharmaceuticals are a hefty monetary commitment instead, and have to be ingested everyday to receive benefits. Which have you got more of, time or money? And do you have enough patience to give a meditative practice time to work?

I do think there are further benefits to a meditation practice, particularly one that utilizes physical meditations like taiji and yoga, and I do think everyone could benefit from such practices. But I am not about to tell someone who is so depressed that he/she can't get out of bed to go do yoga asanas. Pharmaceuticals would be a much better option at that point. Maybe, maybe, after the pharmaceuticals have helped enough, such a practice might reduce dependence on them, but, then again, it might not. Whether it's worth trying is entirely up to the person who is suffering.

In my case, since the meditation practice works for me, I prefer to rely on that. It doesn't require a doctor's visit or a prescription. It does require a strong commitment to the practice. Most people who are depressed wouldn't be able even to contemplate such a commitment. When I began it, my goal was to keep it up for 36 days straight, and that was all. Just 36 days. I did not expect to make it through those 36 days, but it gave me a goal to concentrate on. Rather to my amazement, I made it through 36 days, then 108, and I've just passed the 900 day mark. That's 25 cycles of 36 days, when I didn't honestly expect to make it through a single cycle of 36 days. I've even expanded the practice since then. But, that's me. That's not going to work for everyone, any more than a single pharmaceutical remedy is going to work for everyone. It helps that I'm a touch obsessive-compulsive and have a fascination with numbers, so that counting the days actually served to motivate me when I began. Now I still keep track of the numbers, but it's more a matter of interest than of motivation.

But what if that hadn't worked for me? What if I hadn't lucked into a practice sufficient to keep me sane? I don't know. Best case scenario, I think, would be that I wound up on some sort of pharmaceutical. Worst case? I don't think I would have suicided, as the only time I felt suicidal it was ginger-induced*, but I might have gotten to the point of not giving a damn about anything, including the job that pays my bills, or the cars coming on a street I needed to cross, or... One way or another, the situation would have gotten worse and worse.

*I've determined that if I'm perfectly awake and healthy, ginger just makes me a touch sleepy. If I'm already tired, ginger makes me feel depressed. If I'm already depressed, it can make me feel suicidal. I no longer cook with ginger.

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