A Sentence and a Word

So, if you haven’t already read Hyperbole and a Half’s absolutely brilliant write-up about severe depression, go forth and read. I’ll wait.

How ’bout that, huh?

I was talking to Kevin about the post (we’re both fans, and have both had our own bouts with depression) and as I was talking, I realized that before I had my particular breakdown, two people had said something to me—two people, one of whom I don’t know, one of whom said one word—and those two people had a profound impact on my experience with depression.

One was good, one was bad.

The first—the good one—was my doctor. When I’d gone in for my checkup after my divorce, when I was getting all the medical stuff done fast before I went off my ex-husband’s insurance, she asked me if I needed antidepressants.

I told her no, that I was fine, because it hadn’t occurred to me that what was happening wasn’t fine, if that makes any sense. Yes, I couldn’t sleep and was sobbing a lot, but I was getting a divorce! I’d moved out! Random sobbing and epic insomnia are normal in that circumstance! It’d be weird if I wasn’t miserable and irrational!

That’s what I was thinking, anyhow. I don’t know how coherently I expressed any of that, but she looked at me over the clipboard and said “Uh-huh. Well, call me if that changes, and we’ll get you started on something right away. It’s a lot easier to start it now than when you’re at the bottom of a hole you can’t get out of.”

I can’t say that this phrase saved my life, because I’ve never had suicidal tendencies (the closest I ever got was a profound hope that the atheists were right and I eventually wouldn’t have to deal with this any more) but it sure as hell saved me a lot of time and grief.

It normalized everything. It made it a medical problem. It still took me awhile to figure out that a lot of things were probably linked to depression (insomnia, say!) but when I finally broke, at some point what I thought was “Oh, hey! I’m at the bottom of that hole she warned me about! I will call my doctor. She will fix it.”

(And may Ganesh give her every blessing known to nurse practitioners, because she handled it like a pro. “Oh, no! Okay…okay…yes, that’d be anxiety.” (I believe I said “Oh! Is that what that is? Neat!” because even in a hole, I am still fundamentally me.) “Now where are you? Let’s find the nearest pharmacy, and I’ll call in what I can over state lines. Come in as soon as you’re back in NC.”)

If she hadn’t said that one sentence, I would have floundered around for ages, trying to do the brain chemistry equivalent of fixing a broken leg through the power of positive thinking. But she did say it and so when I finally realized what was going on—“Hey! This is a nervous breakdown!”—I didn’t go through any of the stages of trying to figure out how you treat that or was it bad enough or whatever, because she had set the stage.

Thank god.

The other person was…well, less helpful. And I don’t know her name and couldn’t pick her out of a line-up, but I still feel a vague bitterness toward her, because when I was newly moved out of my house and away from my garden, I went to a local garden center to ask what I could grow in pots in the shade of a building–real, true, deep dry shade, in permanent shadow.

She curled her lip and said “Plastic.”

I know I tried asking a few questions, and maybe she suggested ivy or something, but it ended quickly and she walked off with the you-are-wasting-my-time air. And I, in innocent despair, believed her and went home and didn’t garden again until I moved in with Kevin.

I know perfectly well WHY I believed her—I was depressed and getting a divorce and leaving one of the cats with him and it made total sense that of course something else I loved was going to be taken from me, because that was just how life was going to be. But I do wish I’d cracked a book open, because, as it happens, she was incredibly wrong.

I mean, jeez, I had flowerpots, I could have done ferns. Impatiens. Sedges. I could have grown moss, if nothing else. If I didn’t feel like watering, there are epimediums and cast iron plant and any number of things. Meehania will grow in a dark closet. (Fine, that’s obscure, I can’t blame her for missing that one. But I could have taken up growing mushrooms, for cryin’ out loud!)

There’s no knowing what road you don’t walk down, of course, but that definitely slowed my recovery. Gardening is what I DO. I say “I’m a gardener,” as often as I say “I’m an artist.” Gardening is where I feel the most like myself. (Art is where I don’t actually notice myself, if that makes any sense.) If I’d been digging around, I think I would have been much more resilient. (And by “resilient” I may mean “would have put grow-lights all over the living room and been living in a jungle” because if that had occurred to me, I expect I would have done it in a heartbeat.)

Plus there’s that one soil bacteria that gives your serotonin levels a boost, which is not to be sneezed at when one is fighting chemical wars inside one’s skull.

So I don’t know. Life is better now and both these things have largely faded, but Hyperbole reminded me. Much like single pieces of corn.

(Mind you, at the time I found duck decoys pretty damn hysterical…)

  • reply Wolf Lahti ,

    Thank you.

    I knew I had clinical depression, and I knew that I was bored most of the time with most things. I never connected the two before. Duh.

    I haven’t had a corn moment myself, but despite the writer saying that nobody gets it, I do, I most certainly do. I can almost share the hilarity of the corn; I understand it, but I cannot explain why it’s funny.

    One thing that helps me is learning new stuff. Recent studies have shown that our brains are wired to produce endorphins when we learn new things—in other words, our bodies reward us with innate doses of drugs. So I read a lot on all kinds of subjects, from linguistics to raising pigs to the advantages of subsonic handgun rounds to… Well, you get the idea.

    One of the things I read recently—actually, a series of things serendipitously read in close sequence—show how DNA and brain research has clearly demonstrated that experiences in life actually changes one’s DNA. It has long been known that there are “sleeping” areas of our genetic code that can be turned on by environmental triggers. Now we know the mechanism for how it works. Stimulus X leads to result Y: Being bullied turns on a portion of our DNA that makes us prone to depression. Watching dark, gritty, negative dramas does the same. We change our genetic program by what we expose ourselves to, and by how we think. New Age guru-types have been saying things like this for decades.

    The reverse effect is clearly true. I know of cases of people who cured themselves of depression and bipolar disorder through meditation. And there is too much evidence (anecdotal as it may be) of people curing cancer by, say, watching comedies to ignore the implications.

    If I had a lawyer, he would probably insist I say that I am not a medical professional, and medication may be helpful and necessary in many cases; that’s just common sense, people. But the point is, we are more in control of how we interact with the world than we ever imagined. Well, more than I ever imagined, anyway.

    Even though taking steps to improve one’s life are within everyone’s reach, the bitch with depression is that one just doesn’t care. Happy? Not happy? What’s the difference? Why should I bother?

    • reply Hawk ,

      Thank you from me as well. Having been struggling with my own severe shit, and having been in (or at least in the vicinity) of that hole several times, the article and your post both helped me a lot. As did your past post, about glass mountains.

      I don’t take meds for the problem. I hate taking medicine and am still balking at blood pressure meds (that is to say, I take them but I bitch constantly about it). I do my damnedest to up my brain chemical happies on my own steam. It might be because I’m also chronically stubborn.

      Crafting stuff and writing is one of the things that I do get feelings over. And I’ve discovered one or two TV shows that help, though I bet Nathan Fillion wouldn’t believe me if I told him his acting helped me stave off a bout of depression.

      Learning things, that too, thank you Wolf.

      But yeah. I never even had the ability to articulate that it’s the boredom, the same-ness…how do you explain that to someone?

      Well…make ’em read that article…!

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