Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Experience, Strength, Hope

It's been over seven years since I created and began writing this blog. When I began there were plenty of skeptics among the few people I told. The same questions arose time and time again. Why? Who would want to read about depression? There were worries that focusing on depression would only increase my symptoms. In general, there were more questions and concerns than there was encouragement. I quickly learned to stop telling people what I was planning to do. I just did it.

Writing this blog partially arose out of my frustration with how I had been treated by everyone from friends and family to employers to medical personnel. Depression, I thought, was quite misunderstood. My other goal for this blog was to offer my experience, strength and hope to anyone who might read it. Writing had always been helpful for me, and I was hopeful my words might help someone else, too.

That brings me to the crux of this post. This blog is about my experience, strength and hope. I hope I have succeeded in avoiding political discussions, opinions, and preaching. I have no intention of telling others what I think is best, or better, or right. I have tried my best to educate others about depression through my eyes and based on my research.

That being said, I am a medical professional. And based on research, I have called depression a diagnosable, biological illness of the brain; no different than having a brain tumor, for example, which may cause exactly the same symptoms. Depression is no more my fault than is having cancer or diabetes or MS. I differ with those out there who consider depression a character defect. It is an illness, and I believe it should be treated like an illness.

I have no opinion on the treatment you choose. If it works for you, please keep doing it. I find a comprehensive treatment plan which includes a positive, healthy lifestyle, balanced sleep, quality food, exercise, sobriety, regular professional (psychiatrist, therapist) contact, and medications are required to keep my depression under control. I risk my health if any of these components are lacking or get out of whack.

Recently, I've received many comments questioning depression as a medical issue. Comments which are anti-medication have been somewhat prevalent. Many of these have included links to other sites, which I generally do not publish, so you haven't seen most of the comments. (Links to sites I have no knowledge of do not make it into my comment section. It's my blog. I am here to share my experience, strength, and hope, not the opinions of others.)

I'm frustrated, however, by these anti-medication, anti-illness comments. Maybe I shouldn't be, but I feel like I've failed somehow to get my point across. I know there are natural cures for depression, just as there are natural cures for everything else on the planet. And like I said, if it works for you, keep doing it. But calling medications dangerous and placebos really cranks me up.

It's shortsighted to call all depression medications bad. And I want to know if people preaching the "dangers" of depression meds would preach similarly about meds for schizophrenia, MS, cancer, or diabetes? Medications have side effects. It's up to each of us to weigh whether the direct effects outweigh the side effects for each pill we choose to take. If you can cure your illness without meds, that's great for you, but that doesn't make my choice bad or dangerous.

If I could get away with it, I wouldn't take an aspirin. But I can't get away with that. I'd be miserable and eventually, depression, my brain illness, would take my life. Instead, I choose to stay alive, to live my life to the fullest, and to get everything I can out of it. To do that my illness requires I use medications as one piece of a comprehensive treatment plan. Evil, dangerous, bad depression meds?  That has not been my experience, and this blog is about my experience, strength, and hope.


Jennifer said...

Meds + a good therapist saved my life. I *probably* could have survived without the therapist, but I would not have survived my recurrent, severe depression without meds.

Tricia said...

I share your sentiments exactly. Lately I've accepted that (after decades of having depression) my depression is chronic and an illness, not as you say, a character defect. I use those exact words often, and I've become somewhat defensive about it. For me, depression is insidious and I tend to blame myself for it, telling myself it's my fault... I'm lazy, want attention, a bad person, selfish, shirking responsibility... and I fight off society's view that tends to support that I should somehow be able to control it (and just get a grip).

And if medicine helps our illness, I think it's cruel for others to suggest we not utilize that. Hardly anyone would suggest a diabetic not take their medication, or a cancer patient, not get medical treatment for their illness. I really think it goes back to people not viewing this as a legitimate illness that's not within the sufferer's control. If alternative type treatments help, fine. But for most people with a serious mental illness, acupuncture, homeopathy, and such are not going to cut it. Why would anyone suggest we not get legitimate treatment if it's available? I find that unconscionable. As with any illness, taking medication is often not ideal; there are side effects and sometimes long-term effects. But it's a lesser of 2 evils -- the alternative, not taking the medicine, is worse.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with everything you wrote here. Medications were very effective for me and they are very effective for a lot of people.

- Virginia

Deja Hodge said...

I totally understand why people say meds don't work. It didn't work for them or it didn't work for someone they know. But people have to understand that not everything works for everyone. If it didn't work for you or your friend don't tell me that my meds are a lie. Im not on meds and I probably won't try them. But if I did sometime in the future and they actually worked unlike anything else i've tried, I would hate it if someone told me that they don't work. Thats like telling a cancer survivor that they aren't cured. No one wants to hear that.

Jim Work said...

Ms have brought so much light on a dark subject. Because of people like you, I am getting better and you give me courage to speak openly to friends and strangers alike of my walk with the black dog.

"This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." - Morpheus, The Matrix

'Red pill' has become a popular phrase among cyber-culture and signifies a free-thinking attitude, and a waking up from a "normal" life of sloth and ignorance. Red pills prefer the truth, no matter how gritty and painful it may be.
"I took the red pill"

I have found my perfect cocktail that keeps me moving forward. Yes, there are consequences to swallowing them. But the consequences of choosing not to take them tilt the scales in a direction I don't want to go.

Keep posting the word girl.......en theos....jim

Wendy said...

It saddens and infuriates me at the same time because my husband is unfortunately a believer that depression is not an illness. I have not worked in a year because of it. He mentioned a friend of ours the other day who has something physical going on, but the doctors cannot pinpoint the problem. She can no longer work because of it. He said its such a shame that she's so sick that she can no longer work. I feel empathy for her because I understand, but it was odd and admittedly quite hurtful hearing him say this when I'm in the same boat. The stigma is real...even in my own home.

I've tried acupuncture, vitamin sprays, meds, etc. I agree... Use what works for you! How dare someone condemn you for using medications to attempt to control the dark beast. If only they lived on day in our shoes then perhaps they would finally share a glimpse and begin the comprehend what it's like to struggle daily just to merely function.

I'm so thankful that I stumbled across your blog a few months ago. Keep up the good work!!! I realize I'm not alone in this fight....and neither are you.

Ruby said...

I'm in the trenches right now. The meds are working, slowly. I hate taking them, but they (and therapy) are keeping me alive from day to day. To be told that they're useless would just piss me off.

Nemya said...

Unfortunately, many people haven't learned how to state their opinion with being offensive. It makes me wonder what their point is. If they meant to have an open dialogue, they blow it by being jerks.

Tammy Warner said...

Very well said, thank you. It baffles me why some people feel they have the authority to judge another person's illness and what should or should not be done when they are not in that person's shoes. We do the best we can, and some days just making it to the next day is the best we can do, just like a person sick with cancer, but no one judges them.

Anonymous said...

I have struggled for years with low level, persistent depression and I always felt it was somehow my fault. I also felt that my depression wasn't bad enough to warrant medication. On the occasions when I did take antidepressants I would only ever last a few months before I decided to stop taking them because I felt ok.......only for the depression to return again to erode my life. What a lonely way to live. Up and down, guilty, sad and ashamed, feeling weak and inferior, overwhelmed and numb
Now FINALLY I think I truly accept that I need anti- depressant medication to live a more fulfilling and happier life. It helps me to be a better mother, worker, sister and friend. It helps me to access who I really am behind the shadow cast by this illness.

In the past few months I have been reading blogs on depression to become more educated and accepting. Depression Marathon has been a blessing to me, inspiring, enlightening and most especially l feel less alone. Like you Etta I need medication and I hope I never come to doubt that again. Yes I can struggle on without it, but I don't believe in unnecessary suffering anymore.
Thank you very much for your honesty and your strength :-) xx

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your willingness to express yourself during all the phases and stages of your journey with the black beast!

An acquaintance once opined that those who use psychoactive medication are a defective drain on society, and then betrayed her irrationality by stating that they should be forcibly medicated since by stopping they become a selfish and irresponsible drain on society. Her vicious and illogical rejection revealed that she thought of users of psychoactive medication as “other”, and therefore felt perfectly comfortable judging them without a shred of humanity or comprehension.

This is why I believe it’s so valuable for everyone to share the true nature of their journey through depression and other mental illnesses. The more we can demystify and humanize our experiences, the less we will be labelled as “other.” As we have seen throughout history, labeling a group as other releases moral constraints for the remainder of society, enabling them to view the group as less than human and treat them with prejudice and cruelty. And as we have also happily seen, this *can* be overcome through exposure to the true shared nature of those who have been labelled.

I have been lucky in that I have had a choice regarding medication. I want to stress that it was a personal choice to forgo medication, not a judgment, based on my own history, nature, and response to a particular medication. At the time I was very happy to try the medication, and was equally disappointed when it did not work as I’d hoped. I was also young and impulsive. And so my response to that particular attempt was to reject both medication and therapy and to seek other solutions. I was lucky that this did not prove fatal.

The experience and decision came when i was 24. After a disastrous experiment with psychotherapy at age 17 (the therapist was later convicted of inappropriate relations w a patient), a prolonged visit from the black beast convinced me to overcome my doubts and try again, this time with medication. Unfortunately the psychiatrist was inattentive and detached, and put no effort into the talking portion of the therapy. This left me with just the effects of the medication, and it was clear that although it could help by numbing me, thereby giving me a break from the downward black spiral, it could not prevent the dark beast from attacking again in the future. I’d had the very unrealistic expectation that the medication would miraculously “cure” me, removing depression from my world as quickly and painlessly as wiping up a spill. And so, filled with youthful ignorance, I made the precipitous decision to develop my own methodology, with the goal of eventually strengthening myself enough that i could turn the black beast out of the yard on my own. To my great surprise and joy, I’m still here and still trying. It has been 25 years, and every day takes effort, but luckily slowly luckily i continue to make progress.

It’s clear to me that everyone has to find their own approach for overcoming both the daily and the long-term challenges of depression. We all have our own methods by which we fend off the beast, by which we dig handholds to escape the black pits he throws us into, by which we slowly renovate that darkly cratered world, smoothing it, building areas of bright modulation. Who can judge what another requires for this effort, other than that person?

I also believe that if we can show society that the underlying process of overcoming difficulties is shared by everyone, perhaps we can enable them to see that we are not “other.” Yes it’s true, if you do not have depression, the truly treacherous nature of our pitted landscape may be unrecognizable and the rules of its beast illogical. But underneath, we all struggle to overcome, to survive, to find meaning, peace and joy.

Apologies for the length of this! This is my first comment to any depression blog, and once the dam was breached it all came pouring out…

Many many thanks for your commitment and willingness to share!

Diane Williams said...

Thanks for addressing this issue. I admire your blog and recommend it to others with depression. I work in a clinic with children and teens with autism. Recently, we saw a teen with having depression and anxiety along with high functioning autism. He was reluctant to see a psychiatrist for possible medication because he feared that meds would change him. I am working on a social story to give him to help with this issue.

I think that many people who don't know much about psychiatric medication have this same fear. They have seem movies where people are inappropriately medicated and seem very changed. But my experience, strength and hope is that these images are exaggerated. Medication has helped me be MORE myself and a better mother, wife, friend and employee.

But there is still a great deal of misunderstanding out there. Thank you for speaking up!

Diane in WV

JB said...

Life is too short to be discouraged by individuals who are not enlightened by science and medicine when it comes to mental health. I often find that most of these "skeptics" are, quite often, not sufferers themselves but rail against psychiatry for its supposed evils. This vocal minority doesn't deserve your attention. Keep on truckin.