Let’s see. This is long, but then
I’ve lived for a long time. I’m pretty sure I’ve had Depression all my
life. Actually, I think that all of the men (and a couple of the
women) in my family have it, but I was the “designated patient”.
I have had my share of traumatic
experiences but I’m not going to dwell on them here now.
The big problem is that in
English, “depression” is a mood that everybody gets but also a
neurochemical disease that only some of us have.
When you’re in your teens, it
tends to get dismissed as adolescent angst. On the other hand, now
that depression is a “fad” disease, mere adolescent angst is often mis-diagnosed
as depression and AD meds prescribed inappropriately. You can’t win.
ANYWAY I had my first major
“breakdown” in 1962 at age 17. I was institutionalized by my parents,
who were convinced that it was the right thing to do. At the time it
was believed that only old people got depression, so we young ‘uns
were all tagged as “paranoid schizophrenics” and (mis-)treated
accordingly. These were the days of the 50-minute hour and classical
psychoanalysis “on the couch”. The conventional wisdom was this
process took about seven years.
My mother was mainly concerned
with the disgrace of having raised a mentally ill child and was
forever getting me neurological tests in hopes of finding something
wrong with me physically. There was, but it wasn’t the petit mal she
was hoping for.
I have never quite been all
there neurologically. When younger I often had “fugues”. These are
“lost time” episodes, but briefer than the MPD kind, and my
unconscious would keep me from wrecking the car or whatever. One time,
I came “back” while standing at a urinal in a men’s room. My first
thought was “but for the grace of God, I could be anywhere
I have also seen or heard things
that other people didn’t. I always knew I was the only one, so I don’t
think that counts as psychosis. Now that I know that depression is
neurochemical, it all makes sense.
It was in the hospital (Gracie
Square Hospital in New York City – it’s still there) that I embarked
on a lifetime of addiction. The kitchen help were dealing heroin to
the patients. It was cheap and there was nothing else to do. I hadn’t
even smoked pot yet! (Most of my family have also been addicts and
alcoholics, but again I was the designated patient.) Addiction and
Depression do indeed go hand in hand – and neither is “curable”. The
best you can do is achieve “recovery” and “remission”.
Soon I figured out how to
escape, and hit the streets knowing that the psychiatrists* didn’t
have a clue what they were doing, so I would have to learn how to take
care of myself. Ah, the (early) sixties! I was hiding from the law,
the Army, the hospital and my family – but I had plenty of company.
All I can say is that if anybody ever tries to hospitalize me
involuntarily again, there is gonna be a gunfight.
[*I will make an exception for
the remarkable R. D. Laing, who was himself mentally ill, and
challenged many contemporary notions of treatment. Some in the
“anti-psychiatry movement claim him as their own, but he disdained the
label. He just wanted it to be done right. And as far as I know, he
was the only psychiatrist to ever advance the notion that a doctor
ought to try a psych drug himself before administering it to a
As my life progressed, I often
became severely depressed for weeks or months at a time, but I still
didn’t know what it was. I just was overwhelmed with fatigue and
unable to concentrate on or care about anything. This had a lot to do
with losing my family. But, being younger and fitter, I was still able
to work and usually lost myself in that to ride it out. As I got
older, the episodes got longer and deeper.
During my 30s, I would alternate
between extreme social anxiety and confident openness. I didn't
know why, and was confused. Ages 35-45 were a very lonely time
for me, and I made matters worse by doing lots of coke and drinking
like a fish.
Around age 40, I was finally
diagnosed correctly. The treatments still weren’t any good, but at
least I knew what was wrong with me. Around then, I also figured out
that psychologists help you much more than psychiatrists do. It’s the
psychologist’s job to make you see that you aren’t as sick as you
thought you were. It’s the psychiatrist’s job to convince you that you
are much sicker than you thought you were.
By the 90s, most psychiatrists
no longer did talk therapy at all. The HMOs didn’t want to pay for it
anyway. The only talk therapy I’ve had since has been with MFCCs and
the like, who are often quite good. I really miss my last T, we were
together for several years and she helped me immeasurably. But health
insurance doesn’t pay for that any more unless you’ve been traumatized
in some way, and even then they want to limit the number of sessions
to a dozen or so. So now I go see the psychiatrist for 20 minutes
every other month, he reads me questions from a form, and writes my
prescriptions. That will be $160, please.
In 2002 I had a major
collapse and have been on disability ever since. I have no idea
whether I will ever work again. We’ll see, I have to change some
circumstances of my life before I can be sure.
I’ve had a few suicidal episodes
but if I had really meant it I would have succeeded, so I guess I’m
Over the years, they would refer
to a treatment as “the bad old days” and say “we really
have it figured out now”. 5 or 10 years later the “new” thing was “the
bad old days” and there would be something else. When I wandered in to
the system, they were phasing insulin shock out in favor of
electroshock. Drugs went from thorazine to Miltown (meprobamate) to
Valium to Xanax. And from MAO Inhibitors like Parnate to tricyclics to
SSRIs, which are still very much in the R&D stage.
Right now I’m on Effexor XR
(375mg/day) as the “least objectionable”. Wellbutrin (400mg/day) also.
And others too numerous to mention. I am on 6 psych drugs and 8
cardio drugs. I got the “live fast” part right but sort of forgot
about the “die young” part. *snickers*
The words keep changing, too.
What used to be “clinical” depression is now “major” depression and
“clinical” has some other meaning. Gotta keep selling those new,
So what have been my survival
and coping skills?
My cynicism and ability to see
corruption in anything is important. Having a bent sense
of humor, especially about ones self, is crucial. Self-importance will
keep you from getting any better at all. I used to get cocky and think
that I had put depression behind me. That's tempting the devil.
I chum up with to everyone I
know who has it, too. I no longer waste my breath trying to explain it
to those who, however well-meaning, don’t have it and will never
I think that the important thing
is to avert the onset of depression. Once it gets its teeth in, it’s
no longer about anything and you just have to ride it
out. There are several ways to prevent or delay the onset of an
episode. Not drinking is good. St. John’s Wort helps (it’s not much
good for treatment during an episode but can definitely help keep you
from the edge beforehand). Little things like “HALT” (don’t get
Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired) help a lot. Avoiding negative or
stressful influences as much as you can is a biggie.
I don’t know if I’ll ever
recover this time. For now, I hang out here to help my brothers and
sisters if I can, to unburden myself, and to annoy people *winks*. I’m
not sure what I’d do without BtB. Jillie and Sheila are the best
admins in the world.