This one is really tough for me to write about. I have stated publicly in talks that depression has been the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in life. Given the myriad of problems I have dealt with, this is really saying something, trust me! I have faced depression since I was around 13 or 14 years old. Originally it was largely caused by the bullying I faced in Elementary School and Junior High School but it continued after the bullying ended. However, the bullying simply switched to discrimination and being a social pariah for being Trans, queer, fat, tall and disabled. The thorny question becomes: is my severe depression due to social circumstances that I live under or due to biological/chemical realities going on in my brain and/or body?
I really don’t know. And it is not for lack of thinking. I have thought about this many times. It is a question that remains elusive and that remains a mystery. I think that it is probably not an either/or, but a both/and. Depression is multi-pronged and has a multi-causality origin. It is incredibly complex, and many years of therapy and psychiatry have me shaking my head because I have yet to figure out this behemoth which has taken up so much space in my life and in my brain. In fact, it should be paying rent for the way it has moved in on me!
Depression is life threatening. I know because it has been life threatening for me multiple times. Even writing this makes me nervous. To admit in a public forum like a blog that you deal with mental health challenges is taboo. We are not supposed to even talk about mental illness, much less admit that we are dealing with it. And yet, SO much of the U.S. population deals with depression, anxiety, bipolar or other mental health diagnoses. It is the pink elephant in the living room. Everyone sees it but nobody talks about it or even wants to admit that it exists.
I think being in a professional job makes the stigma even worse. The powers-that-be may assume that your mental health challenge makes you unable to effectively do your job. Or they may believe that if this is something you experience that you should not talk about it. You should not talk about it with colleagues or with students. I have been very open about my journey with depression and I do wonder how much of a liability that has been for me on the job. Somebody once told me that I had enough strikes against me and that I should not talk about my mental health issues. In fact, my other targeted identities laid the groundwork for me to talk about having depression. I have come out of so many closets. What’s one more?
Depression is an illness and it is physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually painful. I really would not wish it on my worst enemy. It is difficult to deal with when it is chronic. I have been dealing with depression for 30 years. I have had countless years of therapy and psychiatry. I have been hospitalized and been in a partial hospitalization program. I have survived a suicide attempt and frequent passive suicidal ideation and I have literally been on dozens of different psychotropic medications and even thought about ECT. I know that unless there is some miraculous cure, I will have to deal with this life-threatening, chronic condition for the rest of my life. The negative impact this has had in my life is tremendous. I also have great trouble identifying what is the trigger for my depression. I can have times of relative calm and then be hit as if a bomb has detonated. I search and search my mind for what has caused the seismic shift in my mental landscape and come up empty. This is frustrating beyond belief but it shows that a person does not have control over their depression. That is one of the greatest myths, that a person has control over this and can simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This is a myth and a very dangerous one at that.
In Part II of my discussion of depression, I will be writing on a challenging question: Is there anything positive about having depression?