What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Terry.
“Are you having sad thoughts?” Asked the psych PA as she was monitoring my gradual weaning from Paxil. I made the choice to do this because I have been feeling so good. “No, I haven’t noticed any.” Let me think, what are sad thoughts: I miss my mom. I feel so bad about Jayme and Ron’s loss. There was another school shooting. No. I haven’t thought like that. I try to stay positive. But then I realized, sad thoughts are not depression. Hopeless despair and the total inability to cope….that’s depression. It bypasses thinking. It is subconscious and physical. It is crippling. Sad thoughts make you cry. Depression makes you mean and angry, incapable of functioning, overwhelmed, and disconnected from life. Sad thoughts show a connection. They mean you are invested. Depression makes you go through the motions the best you can. You act like you are invested because you know you should be, you want to be but all your energy goes to staying alive, doing what needs to be done. There is nothing left for things like feeling sad, feeling happy…feeling anything. When I am depressed, life becomes a series of choices: What has to happen? What should I do? How should I respond? There is no consulting my emotions because they are not functioning. I don’t know what I want to do or how I feel because my emotions are sick, they have the flu. It is like asking someone with the stomach flu what foods they like or don’t like. Nothing is good. It is all a matter of choices to take in what is needed to stay alive. When I am depressed, I do what is needed, expected, etc. to stay connected to the world and the people I love, that is, to stay alive. Depression makes me sick not sad. My thoughts are not sad, they are distorted. Every concern becomes a crisis. If Syron is snotty, I think he is becoming a rebellious teenager who will break my heart. If Elise is tired, my mind tells me she is overwhelmed and unable to cope. If Ian doesn’t call, it is because he is growing a part from us forever/if he does call it is because he is hurting and needy. If Jess is down…she is depressed. Everything is very bad and will only get worse. When I am depressed, all the brokenness of life is pumped through my brain and heart at a steady flow. I see sunshine as blocking the clouds which lie beneath and never trust it. (kinda like living in Western PA). I see people smiling and laughing and think that they are not living in reality. Reality: all our work is futile and then we die…everyone we love is going to suffer and die. How can we bypass this with frivolous “good times” “good days”? How can I laugh when someone is holding their dying child? Life is not good it is hopeless but love makes me do what I need to do to provide ‘good’ to the people I love. It amazes me how much like being physically sick being depressed really is. Sad is like being tired at the end of the day. It is the appropriate feeling. It is a body that is feeling the natural rhythm of work and rest. Depression is like a body with the flu. It is not part of the rhythm of healthy emotions. When I am depressed I do not feel better ever. I have waves of a higher ability to function, but I do not feel right, or good. I feel sick. I never feel happy or sad. That is like feeling energized or tired. I feel emotionally achy, exhausted, and feverish. When you have the flu, you stay in bed until it goes away. When you are depressed, you have to get up and live or you will never get out of bed. When I was depressed, I loved getting the flu because I could finally live like I felt. Sick. I was feeling so good over the past few years that I thought my depression was gone. I thought I should try to get off of Paxil. I was still taking Wellbutrin for my ADHD and new it would help with depression too so I figured I would be fine. I didn’t want to take too many meds. I knew that I would experience side effects of getting off of Paxil. I have tried before but the side effects were too severe: dizziness, feeling like my brain and body were jittery and sharp…generally feeling miserable. I have been working on getting off of Paxil for 3 months. I have worked my way down from 20 mg/day to 2.5mg/day. The side effects were waning. I was physically not feeling weird any more. What I didn’t realize that all the depression was seeping back in. Depression is like a leech, a parasite. It feeds off of hope, joy and happiness until all that is left is despair, sorrow, and resolve. I was able to fight the darkness at first. I noticed a few stray thoughts of gloom which I was able to dispel. I felt strong and thought, “Oh I used to believe these thoughts but I know better.” But I was still strong and healthy. As the weeks went on I lost my strength and began slip into a resolve. I thought, “Oh, this may be depression but I can do this. I am strong enough to cope with this.” But last night I realized, I was sick. I had become weak and there was little left to fight the illness. Depression was sucking all the good and I was left with despair, and exhaustion…I was overwhelmed with the simplest tasks. Life became a series of strategic decisions. It was like when my kids were small and I had a stomach flu or I was nauseous for months with a pregnancy…I had to determine when I felt the least horrible in order to complete tasks. It all snuck in without me noticing but when I could not walk a block further to go to the concert last night…I realized what had happened. Chris and I were in downtown Pittsburgh walking from our car to meet my sisters, Susan, Cathy and Bridget at the Arts Festival’s, Lucinda Williams’s concert. It was a gorgeous summer night. 75 degrees, low humidity, blue skies, and lots of great people and art. I felt exhausted, annoyed, and cranky and overwhelmed with the thought of doing anything except going home and going to bed. I honestly thought I might have the stomach flu. But as I was on the way home I realized that though I did have a bit of nausea due to sinus drainage…I was depressed. I couldn’t handle putting any energy to “fun”. I felt miserable and wanted to be alone, in bed. Before I went to bed at 8:15 pm on a gorgeous summer night, I took 12.5 mg of Paxil. I will work my way back up to a healthy dosage. A diabetic needs to take insulin to control their blood sugar. Heart disease is controlled with Coumadin. Bipolar disorder it controlled with Lithium. My depression is controlled with Paxil. I am thankful I have a mental health disease (very hard to say that) which responds to medication. I have learned a lot about my illness so I am glad I tried to get off Paxil. I needed to own my depression as an illness and a mindset or a matter of will. I am already feeling hopeful. The sun is shining and I am going for a run.