Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Depression Is So Depressing

For most of my life, for as long as I had any word for my mom’s condition, it was “schizophrenia.” That’s what I was finally told at the age of 20, and that's what I told all my therapists. I even participated in a study of children of schizophrenics. I took lots of tests and had my brain scanned and was pleased to find that I did not have the brain of a schizophrenic. More than likely, neither did my mom. She was diagnosed in the 1950s sometime, I guess. I have to guess because no one talked about the “problem," and I get so many mixed reports from my brothers, who were young when the episodes started. She was institutionalized a few times and given shock treatments. She rarely referred to any of this herself, since she didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. A lot of the time she was really tired. Sometimes she didn’t even get out of bed except to make sure I was taken care of. Then, suddenly, she would have one of her “spells.” She would rage at my father, or at no one in particular, pacing through the house, opening the door to wherever you might have retreated to lob one more verbal assault. She would be tense and agitated and restless for a day or two. Then she would calm down. Other times she would embark on massive projects only to abandon them mid cycle, and whatever supplies were taken out would remain where they were. Or she would hustle us off to some destination with some overriding purpose that never made sense to the rest of us. Still other times she would sew for hours on end, entirely engrossed in her project. Then back to weeks of staying in bed. She heard voices, but she rarely talked about them. For most of my childhood I didn’t realize that the doctors she told me about didn’t exist. There were three of them, men, and they seemed very nice. She was sometimes paranoid, thinking that she was part of an FBI experiment, or that there was a conspiracy against her. She was under no treatment whatsoever for mental illness from my birth until her death.

A few months ago my nephew was being treated for depression with an SSRI medication. His behavior changed dramatically. He went into violent rages. He got in trouble with the law. He had hallucinations. My nephew is bipolar, and so, as it turns out, is his father--my brother--who has spent much of his life alternating between depression and episodes of anxiety and panic attacks. More than likely my mother was bipolar and not schizophrenic. Until my nephew became ill, I didn't realize that manic depressives can have hallucinations. I also didn't realize that there are bipolars like my brother who don't have manic episodes but something called hypomania, or that SSRIs can trigger mania or hypomania not just in bipolar people, but in the children of bipolar parents. That there is something called the bipolar spectrum. That I've probably had an episode of hypomania in the past but I just thought I was being "wild." Or that if you are the child of a bipolar parent and you have recurrent depression, you need to revisit your treatment plan.

Recently I turned 40. From age sixteen to my mid-twenties I could count on a depressive episode every year or two. It seemed to lighten up a bit after that, particularly when I threw myself into a new job. Even when I’m not depressed, I am not exactly okay. Psychiatrists call my condition dysthymia—chronic, low-level depression. Sometimes I tip over into something more problematic. I’ve been in the something more problematic stage for about a year now. When I feel like this, I don't remember what I felt like before I felt like this. I don't remember normal.

I am not so depressed that I can’t function. I can drag myself out of bed and go to work. I can’t stay focused, remember anything, or keep organized. I am easily distracted. I can’t make decisions. I forget what I’m doing and move onto something else only to remember that I have to finish the first project. I try to write everything down. At the end of the workday I'm not sure what I did. I exercise regularly, but it doesn’t help. I cry at small frustrations, I cry at commercials, I cry when I see videos of children. I don’t enjoy much. I think, “Hey, this is really nice, I should really feel great about this.” But I don’t.

This condition is very tiring and frustrating. People want you to do something about it, as if I had any energy to make an action plan. As if I could just "change my attitude to one of gratitude." If anyone mentions affirmations I will hunt them down and force them to eat the entire works of Louise Hayes. I can understand why manic depressives who experience euphoria when they're up don't want to give it up. I could use a little euphoria. I'm stuck. As a therapist once told me, therapy doesn't work if you're too depressed. You have to have enough energy to engage. So I'm off to a psychiatrist to adjust my meds and I hope find something to make me feel normal.


  1. Bless you Bad Alice for sharing about yourself, your mom, your brother, and nephew. Hope they can get your meds straigtened out. I too struggle with depression.

  2. ((((Karen)))) I love you :) You're honesty here blew me away. Thank you for sharing a hard story.

  3. (((((Bad Alice))))

    Lifting you up in prayer!

  4. I hope changing the meds helps.

    I went to a therapist a year ago, and to every single issue I raised, she told me to "write out affirmations." I'm not necessarily ready to say that affirmations can't help, but it seemed to me like the most pointless exercise.

    {{{Bad Alice}}}

  5. {{{{Bad Alice}}}}}

    I so completely understand this. I hope the meds adjustment helps you right now.

  6. (((Bad Alice)))

    I know that may seem pointless, too, but take it for what it is--concern and care.

    Like a couple of other commenters, I, too, have lived with depression. Meds helped, time helped--but it was mostly hell.

    You're in my prayers.

  7. I too hope they can straighten out your meds. You deserve to feel good.

  8. (((Bad Alice)))
    I hear my mom and sister in your story. Thanks for bringing it to the light and helping folks like me to keep on learning and searching for help.
    Bless you. Namaste.

  9. Dear Alice,

    Blessings on you. I have a bipolar sister and grandmother and a brother who is both bipolar and psychotic. Then there's my mom and younger and sister and I, who are all depressive.

    SO many people suffer this way. I empathize. Sending hugs your way.

  10. I doubt there are many not touched by this in some way. I had a roommate for six years who lived with bipolar. Because of drug and alcohol addictions, the meds never really had a chance to do their thing, you know. Broke my heart.

    Praying for you now, BA... for healing and strength, and for a huge dose of joy!!!

  11. That is a powerful post. Thank you for sharing it.

    I will pray for you and your family.

  12. Alice, I've noticed the symptoms. I have worried about you and prayed for you. I have been on medication for depression for about twelve years now. I can handle the depression when things are going well. But when I'm under a lot of stress, like I have been the past couple of months, I don't handle my depression well at all.

    I'll continue to pray for you. Please pray for me.


  13. thank you for sharing. you spoke so well and so eloquently, to and for so many.

    depression. here too. ugh.

  14. i hope you'll feel better soon. thank you for sharing that. i'll be praying for you and your family.

  15. Thank you for being so open and honest about depression. I have stuggled with the nasty illness for over 2 years now. I am always afraid to mention to people what I'm going through. Most people do not take it as a serious illness. They tell me it's not like cancer or heart disease. There are no symptoms. This just makes me want to scream "bite me" It is real and I wish I did not have this ailment. I have missed so many days from work becuase of this imaginary illness. People need to be educated. Thanks again for being so honest about the whole issue.

  16. I really hope they can find a good dose of medication to help you.

  17. How very sad. I hope you are able to find something that puts the joy back into your life.

  18. Thank you for posting. Most people can relate to what you are saying. The spectrum of mental illnesses is very widespread and almost everybody, if they are not suffering themselves, has a friend or family member who is, including me. Eventually they will find the causes and some cures since it is a physical problem. I hope it is soon. There are so many side effects with current meds and sometimes they don't work at all.

    There was an article recently that said that 40% of all youth, teens and young adults suffer from significant depression or worse. Read some of the kid blogs and it is very easy to believe.

    What are we doing about it, especially if we are not suffering, to ease the pain in the lives of those who do suffer? I spend a lot of time mentoring people without condemning them (sometimes, for some people who suffer, there is also social isolation and everybody needs friends) and I refer lots of people to NAMI for further information and support groups. They are free and they are a great resource. Almost everybody there is a volunteer who has dealt with mental illness or has a family member who has.

    I really believe in NAMI as a resource. I was volunteering regularly at a food pantry giving out food and every time a person shared a battle with mental illness, I recommended NAMI. It offended another volunteer giving out food and she complained to the organization's head that I was driving her crazy by recommending it so often. Since she had never known anybody with these battles, she was not sympathetic.

  19. I can say "me too."
    I wonder sometimes what normal really is -- and if anyone really is normal or if it's just a myth.
    When I begin to slip into depression, I swear that my thoughts actually begin to hurt.

  20. Dear Alice,
    I too have dealt with depression most of my life. Just this evening in fact, I had one of those "waves of regret" over the way I've been and what it has done to my children. I'm doing pretty well now, but know that I must always be watchful of the darkness creeping up on me. There is a song on the Michael Card CD "Poeima" (I may not have spelled that right)in which he sings of visiting "that dark place" and goes on to say "the one who could condem me has called me friend instead".
    Most people don't understand that dark place where we are forced to visit, and I hope they never do, as I would wish that on no one. But for those of us who do understand, the only One that really matters does indeed call us friend.

  21. Hi,

    I found your blog link on my friend's blog ( I totally know and understand how you feel. I've been on Paxil for three years now, and over the last few months, I've began to feel like it's not working for me anymore. I began my regimen shortly after I went on birth control because that completely threw me out of whack. I go in for my annual tomorrow and I'm going to talk to my doctor about possibly switching to a different BCP and see if that helps.

    Anyway, I think my Dad is bipolar, and my mom is an alcoholic, so she might as well be bipolar too. I have had a problem for the last 3-6 months where I cannot get out of bed on the weekends and end up sleeping one entire day away. I've pushed away the majority of my friends because they think that this is all in my head (well, I guess it is) and this is something I should be able to just shake, maybe with Tom Cruise's advice of exercise and vitamins.

    Sorry to be so long winded, but I wanted to let you know I feel your pain...