I went through many years of severe unipolar depression, did my time in hell; and that period is over, has been for some years now, and I do not talk about it much, as a rule. But lately some people have been describing symptoms I recognize; so I hope the following might help any in that awful place, or their friends, lovers, carers, pastors, or medical professionals.
This thread is to say: you have my ear; you are not being ignored, dismissed, abandoned, or disliked, and certainly not mocked. It is to say that while nobody knows exactly what you are going through, others have been to similar places; with hells, one size does not fit all; each of our hells was a custom job.
But mine ended; I got better. How and why this happened is not today's story. And I only tell the story below to let people who go through anything similar that:
1. They are not unique in their suffering even though their particular problems, means of expressing it, coping with it are unique to themselves.
2. Look for things unseen, and unforseen. The end may or not be in sight; the light at the end of your tunnel may not be in sight, but it may be around one or two bends, and you will come upon it sooner than you can predict; the darkness of the tunnel prevents seeing into the near future.
Yes I used to claim that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. And that it is darkest before the dawn, when you get the light and see how f***** up things REALLY are.
3. What you need may appear to be simple: more friends, a partner, more money, or leaving your stupid hick-town, gaining religion, losing religion, having a car, or getting people to stop meddling and trying to help and just leave you the hell alone. Any of these may in fact help in the short term; I have met nobody who moans that finding a twenty on the street worsened their mood. Long-term though is a different matter.
And all of the above may help, but will not cure anything; coping with the depression day by day, sometimes just hanging in there hour by hour is necessary; so I have some suggestions about what worked for me or might have if I had understood these things with the benefit of experience.
Before we go on, I shall describe what my depressive illness was like, for the people with an experience similar to my own. Enough time has passed that I feel OK to talk about it: it no longer gives me chills to look back, and wonder at who I used to be and shy away from the things I said and did. When you get far enough away from the abyss, you no longer see the chasm; all you see is the land separating it and you. Parallax.
OKAY. I have had a sleep disorder my entire life: I was a tired person. Imagine forcing yourself to stay up 3 or 4 or 5 nights, until becoming a slow-moving zombie, unable to concentrate on anything, clumsy, forgetful, and unable to really enjoy things. Then you take a whack of sleeping pills, to throw yourself into an extra-sleepy state, but also you take a bunch of speed, not so it stimulates you or gives any energy, but just so it prevents you from sleep. This was my state for some years.
(Obviously the pill-taking part of this is a metaphor. Also, in case it need be said explicitly, I do not seek or want sympathy; I am no longer in this state; I am not the person who experienced these things. This is to say to today's sufferers, yeah, your torment is not unknown to some of us.)
So I led a frustrated life: unable to acquire social skills, learning how to get on with people in general; unable to learn either fast or thoroughly; having to struggle with stuff others found easy. Tidying a room was a hellish burden, in terms of mental energy, equivalent to a horrible school exam.
The depression set in early but really intensified in high school and through my 20's. I do not know how much of it was in reaction to all the ways I was not equipped to handle life, or how much of it was endogenous: built into the system. I know the former for sure, and believe the latter was a big part of it.
Endogenous depression is especially tricky, as it will not be cured by finalization of the messy divorce, a pay raise, or moving out of your parents' home. This leads to all sorts of difficulty: not understanding that the illness is organic, you assume the depression MUST be to do with things you can identify, like your poverty, being surrounded by assholes and twits in your school or church or neighbourhood, like they were assigned to your district just for your torment and alienation. It leads to picking out problematic areas you can identify, and pinning your hopes on solving them to feel better, like gaining sudden wealth, or getting laid. Then when these occur, and they do not improve your state (though they improve your mood temporarily) , confusion occurs, like for the people who fall to their knees, embrace Jesus (or whichever,) get baptised, and DO NOT feel washed over with karmic bliss. Apparently the bliss they sent you was a bad batch; it is worse when everyone else seems to have got their bliss and is having a good time with it; you wonder if you did something wrong, God is pissed at you, or you are defective, or the others just lucked out - or if they are all deluded, and their happiness is an illusion, and only you understand the true nature of the cold, uncaring cosmos.
(For clarity: the religious example was just an example, a metaphor; I am not suggesting in your case you need religion, or saying you are being punished for your atheism or any such nonsense. Another example: it could be everyone you know is doing really well on some med that doesn't help in your case.)
On with the show. You pin your hopes on something and it doesn't work; your expectations are dashed, it is confusing, and despair sets in. Then successively you pin your hopes on one thing then another, and when they do not work, and you run out of things to blame, and when there is no IMAGINABLE solution you think there can not be ANY solution, and despair seems the only logical world view.
There are people who have a perfectly nice marriage, professional success, decent money, physical health, who live out their goals and fantasies: they own and fly jets; they win Olympic medals; they have a partner who can't be improved on; they have plenty of their poison of choice (cocaine, alcohol, a Ferrari and places to explore its performance envelope) - and still have an overwhelming, spirit-crushing depression. This makes no sense to them; and the illogic and unfairness of that worsens things; if they who are fortunate can not be happy, what hope is there for reg'lar folks? - despair results. Look at the people who attain wealth, fame, have beauty, academic success and still are not happy.
I used to envy the alcoholics and druggies: they at least got temporary relief, even if it destroyed everything else, their marriages, their wallets, their septum (bit of the nose separating the nostrils) or their liver. Substances offered me no relief: I could be drunk or high and just as miserable, just a bit poorer.
(This - by the way - is not a game of "My depression was bigger than yours is now." Yours is equally big to you. I am simply saying others have been to similar places, and though the maps are not the same, my map has a similar topography to yours.)
Some depressives can run to something that will make them feel better: huggles, orgasms, going off to deliver sandwiches to random people sleeping on the street, or a holiday.
Others like me were apt to cling to their depression, wrap ourselves in it like a thick cloak with a drain-warmth curse on it. It occupies so much of our mind, the self-identity parts, that it becomes more than just a symptom we can separate from our normal selves; it becomes a large part of who we are. The illness as an entity is no longer differentiated from its host. We express it to the world in our choice of topic at school, our fashion statements, the books we read, the movies we like, and all the art we consume. We indulge in it and wallow. Why? We humans have the power to create our environments; we adorn them - our homes, our bodies, our internal environment, with tokens of our self-expression. We like to be with people who understand us: the authors, directors, poets, painters and dungeon-masters who create the icons we adopt as our own, who say our thoughts beautifully and accurately. Sometimes we adorn our wrists with scars - not to kill ourselves but to externalize the pain: the pain feels better on skin than inside a mind. Or we are yelling GOD-DAMN YOU WORLD!! GOD-DAMN YOU GOD!! You did this to me, You win! I am doing what you drove me to do!! Are you happy now? Of course cutting can be a blatant cry for help, or a ploy for sympathy. [Notice carefully if the cutter wears short or long-sleeve shirts.] Whatever the exact motivation, the urge is no less real, or important - or life endangering; You do not really want to have to explain - or dodge explaining - to your grandkids how your wrist scars got there; nor do you want to pick up that hawt person at the club, buy them all kinds of drinks, grab a hotel room on your credit card, and just as you are guiding their head down, they see your scars and leave right then and there.) (Goes for girls too.)
The most frightening thing I ever contemplated was being able-bodied and attempting suicide, and failing... and leaving your body so f**** up not only must you live in a wheel chair or in a hospital bed for the rest of your life - and knowing every second of every day you had no one but yourself to blame - but being physically incapable of finishing the job: unceasing torment without end, and all the while your nurses and doctors carefully do everything they can to prolong your life... You end up paralyzed from the waist down, and no more sex life for you. You hit your head, or the pills mess up your brain, or the neck-rope cuts off oxygen just long enough to cause brain damage, and you get to watch as day by day you lose your mental faculties, envisioning the drooling vegetable you will eventually become, slowly, inexorably creeping up on you; each day your erection is a little softer, your favorite TV a little more confusing, the time between your friends' visits gets longer and longer as one by one they fail to call or show up, then the blindness and deafness begin to set in, slowly, while music becomes more annoying and cacophanous, until none of it does more than give you a headache, what little of it you can still make out, and your room-mate, incontinent and unchanged for hours intrudes on your senses, his radio left on, a permanent symphony of clatter and white noise jangling in your head, already in the nearly vegetative state soon to be yours, and with your paralyzed neck, your head permanently positioned so he is all you see all day, even when you close your eyes, his after-image remains, that self-same image occupying your dreams...
Now think twice about tall buildings and bottles of pills.
So though I am not that sort of cutter, nor any sort, actually, does not mean I have no idea where they were coming from. I spoke with some them and asked about it; most were happy (if that is the right word, maybe "willing" is better) to explain it to me.There must be some kind of way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I cant get no relief
But I did indulge myself in the art of Hieronymous Bosch and HR Geiger and Dali:
I read the poetry of Emily Dickinson and G M Hopkins:
I listened to Ravel and Mahler, and 60's protest songs and lots and lots of metal: not for the individual songs or artists so much as the feeling of letting hours upon hours of it fill my head with the anger and alienation and loathing and rage and helpless frustration I felt; I listened to:
YouTube - The Jesus & Mary Chain - Blues From A Gun live Oslo 2007
YouTube - Prince - When Doves Cry (With Sound)If youre talking for real
Then go cut a deal
Youre facing up to living out
The way that you feel
And you shake shake shake
cause you know youll never make it away
YouTube - Marianne Faithfull - Ballad of Lucy JordanHow can u just leave me standing?
Alone in a world so cold? (World so cold)
Maybe I'm just 2 demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father 2 bold
Maybe you're just like my mother
She's never satisfied (She's never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry
YouTube - Billy Bragg-Which Side Are You OnHer husband, hes off to work and the kids are off to school,
And there are, oh, so many ways for her to spend the day.
She could clean the house for hours or rearrange the flowers
Or run naked through the shady street screaming all the way.
YouTube - Melanie Safka - What Have They Done To The Rain? 1989It's hard to explain to a crying child
Why her Daddy can't go back
So the family suffer
But it hurts me more
To hear a scab say Sod you, Jack
(referring to nuclear weapon attack and fallout)Just a little boy standing in the rain
The gentle rain that falls for years
And the grass is gone, the boy disappears
And rain keeps falling like helpless tears
YouTube - Tool - Sober [hq - fullscreen]
YouTube - KMFDM- A Drug Against WarI am just a worthless liar.
I am just an imbecile.
I will only complicate you.
Trust in me and fall as well.
I will find a center in you.
I will chew it up and leave,
I will work to elevate you
just enough to bring you down.
And last but not least, I listened to this over and over again:TELEVISION, RELIGION
SEX AND DRUGS
PARENTAL ADVICE LEADS TO MENTAL EROSION
YouTube - Eve Of Destruction Video
Eve of destruction meaning of course my own suicidal contemplation; this was in the early 90's and I am entirely removed from that head space: entirely. The 4 days in space meant of course hospital stays: they fix you up just enough to send you back to the front, to the grinding poverty, the muggers and hoodlums in the cheap neighbourhood you can barely afford, the broadcast peasant tv, the bottle depot walks to line-up with the rest of the bums clutching their $2 worth of cans, watching buses go by that may as well be Rolls Royces for all your chances of riding in one, the neighbours knocking to use your phone since you are the only one in the building with one, the pocketing toilet paper from public rest rooms...You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, itís the same old place
The poundiní of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but donít leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but donít forget to say grace
AndÖ tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You donít believe
Weíre on the eve
I still remember... YouTube - REM Everybody Hurts
If I were in that headspace today I would be wearing out with replayWhen the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes
YouTube - ~Johnny Cash - Hurt~ |Full Video|High Quality|Lyrics In Info|
I wear this crown of shit
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
the feelings disappears
You are someone else
I am still right here
Oh yeah, I watched all the films I could find that depicted madness, not in the third person (Look at the creepy nutjob stalking people with knives) but through the eyes of the insane: Dead Ringers, Silence of the Lambs, The Fly, Cat People, Altered States, David Lynch's Eraserhead, Liquid Sky . Yes, they depict in the third person, but portray a first person point of view Liquid Sky (1982) - IMDb user comments and the greatest of all, Videodrome: the one I identified with most.
If you know someone in the kind of state I was in, please do not tell them to abandon their dark movies, music, images, poetry. It is meaningful to them; it is a comfort. It lets them know they are understood, that someone else has had dark ideas, experiences, feelings. Besides it is great art. Do not tell them to have an ice cream or cuddle a cat or replace their images of broken statues or the dead roses they keep in vases with cutesy nicenesses. And do not under any circumstances try to pound religion into them; you may be filled with bliss when you contemplate Jesus or the Buddha, but not only does it not work for people with severe unipolar depression, it mocks them: because you are waving your bliss in their faces and they can not partake of it, it is denied them.
On the other hand do not disparage their religiousness if they have it; it may be the only thing keeping them from suicide. Do not attack their most personal beliefs, their religion or their taste in music; these are deep and personal things; deriding them will not make them feel better.
And frankly, sitting around listening to "I Hurt Myself Today" in the dark with the heat turned down in the middle of winter and watching the candles wither and die is a lot healthier than tracing one more line with a razor, watching the blood bead in tiny drops, and run in rivulets down the side.
Do get them talking about anything but their depression, during small talk and regular conversation; I mean their just going on and on about how awful they feel - unless you are one of the select few they can pour their hearts out to. Try to see they have an outlet for this: hopefully a professional who will listen, non-judgementally, just listen, and put off advice and groups and so on until they can handle it. This outlet is vital. There are tourette's sufferers who can "save up" their ticks and release their ticks in private; so with the severe depressives, if they have a few people to whom they can offload all their feelings, they may find it easier to change the subject with everyone else. If they call and say they are going through a particularly rough patch - then yes, listen, be attentive and caring; but do not let them go on and on and on about wanting to die or cut themselves just for the sake of conversation.
Do NOT tell them to snap out of it, pull themselves up by their bootstraps; they can no more do so than a schizophrenic stop hearing voices. Comfort them, be entertaining, encourage whatever productive things they do, even if it is making depressed art. Bear with the black clothes, dim lighting, and dreary music.
But do not put up with them talking about self-harm; they have no right to frighten you, alarm you, or turn your stomach, especially if they know full well you are in no position to do anything to stop them harming themselves. If they want help, by all means stay by their bedside, admit them to emergency, even a hand job is not always out of the question. If you can not handle them being in misery, if it affects your own well being tell them so, and require they interact over something else.
I went through the kind of feelings that lead to self-harm; I do not care to see others remind me and bring back those memories. I am not being insensitive when I tell them to cut out that nonsense. When people repeat stuff about looking forward to suicide or wanting to cut, it becomes reinforced in their heads, becomes a default pattern. They can not replace it with thoughts of sunshine, lollipops, and fuzzy little llamas. But they can maybe talk about the latest neoclassical music they have unearthed, and maybe get out of the house to go a live performance of such music, and have a good time, for a couple of hours at least.
Try to remember that they are having very intense feelings; and feeling intensely is the reward for existing: it is a large part of how genes self-propagate. And losing the ability to feel intensely may be worse than having unpleasant feelings; it is uncomfortable, and this is part of what drives them to remain miserable. It is also part of why people (sometimes)go off (some) medications that improve the mood: yes they are happier, but they feel vague and wooly, and the world is muddy and not intense, and there is a loss of one's identity, since one's identity is wrapped up in the depression. They do not have the same thought patterns as you; theirs make no more sense to you than yours do to them. Anti-psychotics often have that not quite there feeling, the world being less sharp, less defined, less meaningful.
On the other hand, there are cases when the meds work just fine, and people think they are cured and go off the meds and rebound. Watch out for that. (Or the addict is cured and feels he got over his 10 lines a day habit, so a speck every now and again isn't going to hurt...)
Speaking of meds, they are necessary for most unipolar depressives: you treat a chemical imbalance with other chemicals. But be warned: it is a matter of trial and error. It may take trying 10 different meds or combinations before finding one that helps. The important thing is not to give up. But also be warned: meds, while being miraculous in some cases can only do so much. I liken it to levelling a playing field where before you had to play uphill and against the wind; on the level playing field you still have to play. Sitting in a chair in the dark on meds is no more productive than sitting in a chair in the dark off meds. Now you still have to work, play, eat, have lots and lots of sex, GOOD sex, and generally get on with life. Meds can do a job, but they can not solve the messy divorce, undo global warming, bring back the dead pet, or rehire you. You must get on with dealing with those things yourself; the meds, if they help, will only make you more able to go and do things yourself.
So to sum up:
1. I have had my own trials
2. I got better; so can you, in time, and with effort, assistance and persistence.
3. One can be sympathetic with the sufferer without giving them license to ignore the feelings of others: being ill does not permit one to commit suicide while on voice Skype, talk about self harm (threats of same or descriptions of doing it) to people unable to intervene, and generally be manipulative.
4. The depressive must take a positive role in their own therapy; their being forced is only a last resort, and only works during the period of enforcement; it saves lives but does not improve them much; that is pretty much up to the ill person.
5. Unipolar depressive people have irrational thought patterns and can be hard to understand and therefore hard to assist; note I did not say they have "irrational thoughts" - their thoughts are perfectly rational within their world view.
If you are a unipolar depressive, please force yourself NOT to talk about your illness and suffering at length. If you genuinely want specific advice, or have specific problems then do discuss them; but please do not merely drone on and on about wanting to hurt yourself. For one thing you are crying wolf, and people will simply tune you out, at the time you need them to pay attention. This can lead to escalation, your feeling pressure to do or say more and more extreme things just to keep peoples' attention. And at some point they will forward chat logs to your local 911 or 999 or whatever emergency number you have, and the nut squad will put you away for observation; and that does one's sex life no good whatsoever. And the food sucks. And they can and will. And worse yet they will call your parents.
Remember the impact you have on the people you take into confidence: you are used to and comfortable within your headspace; you are not going to get any more depressed than you already are, but the people who like you have a long way to fall, to be dragged down. Some of them are empaths: people who feel others' feelings: and if they get too close to your pain, they can be consumed in the fire, and become ill themselves. Seen it.
In general one's illness may be much worse for others than it is for the original sufferer. Lovers especially. Your pain can make their sex drive go away if you stay ill. Or they may get fed up and leave. And you do not need the guilt of hurting people you love, or having them avoid you or leave you. Nor do you need them to stay out of guilt or worry.
Take positive steps towards trying to get better, even if it starts out by bemoaning your life, and nothing else. Professionals (and amateur raccoons) have insulated themselves from the personal risk entailed by sympathy: still sympathetic, but with radiation shields. If you have ever been a member of any church, you can stay lapsed but avail yourself of referral to counselling; most churches prefer not to have their members, active or lapsed, take up unnecessary room in graveyards and obituary columns, especially when they could have prevented it. Enroll in a college and promptly hightail it to their psychological services; ditto for your union. Go to your friends in the spirit of friendship, and your lover(s) in the spirit of lust, but leave the counselling to people experienced in such matters; pick your own professionals; they are more effective if you respect, trust, and hopefully like them. No matter how well intentioned are your friends and parents and lover(s) they are not objective and probably not trained in such things; I am not formally trained in these things, but have my own experience to go by, and have had past success in helping people. (As well as failures, particularly with abused women; but they are even more difficult to help than depressives who want to get better, and much more difficult than people who just want to pass their driving test.)
Do not give up. It may well be you are beyond help though I doubt it; the only way to test this is to get help and work the program; if you do nothing you are guaranteed not to get a better life.
 I must add for anyone with any illness of any sort: Yes, the pitfalls and dangers of being in denial or refusing help are obvious. But so too is embracing too strongly one's illness as an identity: making illness the lifestyle, with the groups, coffee with the other sufferers, the self-help books, talking nothing but doctors and symptoms and medications and herbs and expecting everything subsidised and living off sympathy and the food bank. Personal responsibility is to be exercised , as much as possible, without trying to go it alone.
Yep. /me checks off the list: Sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, religion, mental illness, death; I think I covered all the major taboos
YouTube - Vincent - Don Mclean