Thursday, January 06, 2005

on depression

Over at Jeremy Freese's Weblog, he wrote about the experiences of a friend who has been depressed in the past, and is now trying to quit smoking:

But as much of a pain-in-the-ass trying to quit smoking is, it's nothing - NOTHING - compared to the mental battles I had with myself when I was really depressed. Like trying to talk myself into getting out of bed, or making a phone call. Cycling through self-recrimination, shame, and despair, and still trying to function like a normal human being. It makes me sad that everyone I've told about quitting smoking is all "wow, that's really tough, you're doing great just to make it 3 days" or whatever. But when you're depressed, no one is all "great job for not killing yourself for 3 whole days!" or "wow, that's really tough, doing a load of laundry is really hard". It's just like people's perceptions of how difficult it is to quit smoking vs. how difficult it is to be depressed are way out of whack.

It's rare to read such a genuine account of depression.

So many days, I was psyched because the kids were wearing clean clothes and everyone had something to eat at some point. Laundry has its own particular evil... it is relentless. My own "depression yardstick" happens to be how long the clean laundry stays in the laundry basket, or the dryer...

Perhaps it's for the best that more people know how to talk about quitting smoking than they do dealing with depression. Maybe it means that more people have quit smoking, or personally know people who have quit smoking, than have been, or know someone who is, depressed?

Certainly quitting smoking and the evils of tobacco get a lot more media space than depression does. I don't think we can easily change that, either: smoking has panache even if it's "evil", but still anyone who quits has "guts" and is "doing the right thing." Whereas depression is never anything but a downer, no pun intended.

Consider: everyone knows when you're quitting smoking, people make a point of involving their social circles and their families and getting their support (or at least, fending off unwitting sabotage.) When I'm depressed, I don't talk about it. It's part of the pathology of the disease. I think that's common among people with depression -- we deprive ourselves of the support systems that hopeful soon-to-be-ex-smokers automatically tap into.

There's still so much stigma attached to depression: "there's nothing really wrong with's all in my head." No one chooses to be depressed, but nearly everyone I know who has been through depression (self included) feels some sense of responsibility about it. It's ridiculous, really. I have no guilt over my rheumatoid arthritis or my thyroid cancer. Why is the depression any different?

It was a comfort today to read about another soul somewhere having those same arguments with self, and going through the familiar agonies of guilt and despair. It's not just because misery loves company. It's because here was another soul who had come through everything that I've been through, and was clearly standing, very solidly, on the other side.

See? There's a reason for hope.


Corrie said...

I love commiserating about depression and laundry!

I live in an apartment building where the laundry machines are down a flight of stairs from my place. The last two times I did laundry, I wrapped the dirty and clean clothes up in bed-sheets to transport them up and down the stairs, rather than empty some other clean clothes out of the perfectly good laundry baskets, where they've been living for over a month. And I consider myself about as not depressed as I've been in a decade!!

Seriously, though, living with depression takes an enormous amount of guts, courage, and strength, just like living through other diseases. Thanks for pointing that out.

jnsys said...

Long comment (got here from your comment on JFW), but I've been borderline depressive for years. Through taking better care of myself, physically, in the last year and a half, I've felt a lot better. However, what really turned the tide for me was a letter someone wrote to Dear Abby in July. She wrote about FlyLady, a woman who was helping people declutter their homes, and incidently, giving them a lot more. Well, the site was "slashdotted" nearly immediately, but I got through the next day, and was hooked.

FlyLady just made sense, in a weird way. You start with shining your sink, even if you have to put the dishes in a tub under the sink until you can wash them. Sounds crazy, right? Then, you set small, attainable goals for the morning, and evening (get up, make your bed, get dressed and put on a little makeup. At night, take a bubble bath when the kids are in bed, set out your clothes for morning, and go to bed before midnight!).

"Fifteen minutes at a time," is the mantra. And the surprising thing is, many of the things that I used to avoid because I "didn't have time for all that," ended up taking much less than fifteen minutes. But you have to be ready for this, just like you have to be ready to quit smoking. You have to really look at yourself, and make some tough decisions, and be brutal about decluttering, both physically and mentally. People, mostly women, share their stories, and I would really suggest reading through some of the testimonials. I have cried upon seeing stuff that I could have written. I thought I was alone in how I felt, but I wasn't. I wouldn't go back for anything. I still have "Mount Washmore" in my closet, and am slowly catching up, but my clean clothes are where they belong - in the dresser and closet (or in the trash or at goodwill :), and I know that I am on my way.

Who knew that a clean sink could do so much?

ps: interesting blog!

Joan said...

I've heard great things about the FlyLady, too. I follow the general precepts -- a little a time, as often as possible. Things have been a lot worse around here, let me tell you! (hee!)

Thanks for the comments.