Counseling/Therapy

I have been in therapy for most of my life. I first started therapy in high school. Luckily it was free and I went for all four years, having one therapist the first year and another the last three years. Then I went in college and in graduate school and have seen several therapists in private practice in the years I have not been in school. I am in counseling now with a therapist I have had for five years or so. Most of my therapists have been good at what they do and very compassionate and empathetic.

With that said, I wish therapy worked better. I have been in therapy forever and I can’t say whether or not it has actually improved my mental health. It has kept me alive. I think it has kept me treading water rather than drowning. But is that really enough?

Western talk therapy is severely limited. It provides a space to talk about one’s problems, but seldom is it a place to actively solve problems. Therapists rarely give direct advice and I understand why. They want us to have insight into our problems. They want us to come up with our own solutions. But if I could come up with my own solutions, why would I be in therapy?

The holy duo of talk therapy and medication is what is supposed to fix us. The “talking cure” and psychotropic drugs leave a lot to be desired. I have had major depressive illness since I was 14 years old and it has largely been unrelenting for 30 years. Sometimes I am surprised I have made it to 44 given how serious depression for me has been, leading to a suicide attempt, suicidal ideation and hospitalizations.

Going to therapy makes me feel better in the immediate aftermath of a session. But it doesn’t last much beyond a few hours or a day. Then I am back to stage one and trying to survive.

The talking cure is very Western-based and not necessarily the way mental health challenges are dealt with around the globe. I think we could take a cue from developing nations and see how they deal with mental illness. Clearly what we are doing in the U.S. with talking therapy and medication is not working. We need to think about much more creative solutions and multiple modalities. We need to demand that insurance cover all mental health for FREE [with no co-pays] and that it also cover alternative forms of therapy like Reiki, Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Biofeedback, etc.

I am thankful for most of my therapists and counselors. They have a difficult and stressful job in trying to help people who are often living on the edge. However, the system itself needs to change. There needs to be better mental health access across the board and there needs to be more options available beyond talk therapy and medication that are covered by insurance. I would not wish the depression I have had to contend with on my worst enemy. I hope that in my lifetime treatment vastly improves and that one day I can be free of this debilitating illness.

 

Depression [Part II]

Good things about depression? The mere concept seems absurd. But the answer for me lies with the motif of this blog: queerness. In this entry, I want to talk about the “good” or “positive” facets of depression by talking about it through a queer lens.

For me, being queer means being an outsider and taking pride in being an outsider. It is being a pariah. It is being and living at the margins and making a home there. Being queer is different from being gay and different from being transgender. Those could well be part of it, but they do not define it. Queerness is more expansive and distinctly more political. In my view queer is radical and it is revolutionary. It takes pride in being different. Which is why all of the emphasis on normativity and status quo establishmentarianism is so annoying [military service, marriage, adopting children, etc.] and so thoroughly anti-queer.

If I revel in my queerness there is a way I can revel in my depression in that both confer outsider status. It is very important to state: being gay or trans does not cause one to be depressed. Being gay or trans in the context of a virulently homophobic and transphobic society may cause one to be depressed. Making society less homophobic and transphobic may make LGBT people less depressed. But in the interim, many queer folks deal with depression and search for ways to survive with it or even find “positive” aspects of it to make sense of their suffering. What are some possible “positive” things about depression for me [these may not resonate with other depressed folk]:

1. Having depression makes me more sensitive. I have to be. It makes me more sensitive to other people’s illnesses, disabilities and life adversity. Suffering can cause great compassion to develop. It can help manifest empathy in the depressed person’s life. Sensitivity is a good thing. There is far too much harshness in our society. Depression has caused me to develop greater empathy, compassion and sensitivity and that is indeed a gift.

2. We have to think about our health: mind, body and spirit. Depression means thinking about where you are in terms of your mind, body and spirit. It means taking action to work on mending yourself. We cannot ignore our depression. If we do so, we do it at our own peril.

3. Depression can be life-threatening, so it makes you reflect more carefully on the value of life. Life is so precarious. It can be gone in the blink of an eye. When you make it through the dark tunnel to the other side, you can have a new appreciation for the value of life. We have good coping skills. However hard it is, I now often think, very simply: I am alive. And what a miracle it is that I have had the ability to live my life for 44 years. I am thankful for life, even though it has been full of suffering.

4. We get stronger. One of the most obvious positive parts of depression is our strength, determination and resiliency. Many of us go through hell and back. But we make it, and we get stronger and we get smarter. I would not be who I am if I had not had depression. It has certainly made me more determined to fight and to take pride in my queerness, my fatness and my crip-ness. Depressed people are often cast as weak, as tragic and as victims. An opposite way to view it is: We are strong, we are epic and we are survivors. Meeting other depressed people is always a joy because I see the strength within them and the desire to persevere.

5. We experiment with self-care in ways that are innovative. Writing this blog is a form of self-care for me. So is coloring, playing my keyboard and drinking tea. Sometimes I bring a small stuffed animal with me for comfort when I am anxious or feel social anxiety. Often we may get in touch with our “inner child” and do child-like or playful things as a form of self-care. When you’re depressed, you have to get creative and improvise. We often don’t care about others viewing our actions as strange because we are willing to do whatever it takes to feel better and be more functional. This will enable others to be brave and unswerving in their commitment to unique/queer self-care.

There are surely more but this gives you a sense of my thinking of subverting depression away from hegemonic meanings and queering depression to see its potentiality. If I had the choice of having or not having depression, I would choose to not have it. But since that is not an option, there are ways to re-think and re-conceptualize life that are comforting and innovative. Step by step, I choose to live with depression by using my agency to fight for my own life and everyday mental wellness.

 

 

Depression [Part I]

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?