Depression isn't about dark days and lonely nights.
I do have days when I stare out the window and cry because it won't stop raining. And mean people do put me in a vile mood in which I can't stop thinking about all the sadness and evil in the world.
But the truly worst part about depression is those days when everything should be perfect - the sun is shining, your friends and family love you, maybe you even got a raise - but none of it matters. You feel alone and miserable anyway.
Instead of absorbing the light around you, you smile awkwardly and hide your inner self. You grin and bear it until you can be alone with your blackness so that the world doesn't know how awful you really feel.
At least on the rainy days, you have a reason to cry - a focal point for all that bitterness. But, day to day, in the real world, when you are feeling depressed yet forced to interact with others, including those you care about and who care about you, that's the toughest. You don't want to be a downer, but sometimes it's tough just being in the same room with others.
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And then you start to hate yourself.
I hate it that instead of being there for my friend, listening to her talk about her day, I'm focused inward, obsessing over my own thoughts. And I especially hate it when I can't control my feelings of irritation, anger and hatred toward innocents. I know my friend's voice isn't any louder than usual. I know it's me and how my mind is processing that day. But I can't stop it.
I used to think it was normal to drive home from work and cry until you could summon up the strength to go inside. Others told me they had days like that too. But when I couldn't get out of bed without crying at the thought of having to get dressed, go to work and pretend everything was okay - that was when I knew I needed help.
The counsellor I went to see had me take a depression quiz. Anyone with a reasonable IQ could guess which answers led to which diagnosis so I didn't take it that seriously when the diagnosis stated "severely depressed." But an online test gave me the same result.
I didn't want to take the easy way out and join Prozac nation, but my moods were affecting my relationship with my partner and I didn't know how else to function so I went for it.
Transitioning onto the meds was awful. I went over the edge one night, becoming claustrophobic at an outdoor music festival and hiding under a tree, crying for an hour. It scared me how little control I had over my own mind. But after about three weeks, I started to feel okay. The black cloud lifted.
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I had expected antidepressants to make me feel more numb than happy, so I was surprised when I actually started to feel terrific. For the first time in my life, I didn't cry on a regular basis. I didn't mind answering the phone. I accepted my job even if it wasn't my ideal. I wasn't even that affected when my partner and I fought. I could rationalize that it was just a fight, not the end of the world.
Over time, I couldn't believe I had never taken these pills before. It was so clear that many times before in my 31 years - during high school, my second year of university, a couple of stints overseas - I had been severely depressed.
Still, after two years, the side effects started to bother me. My sex drive had disappeared and that was becoming an issue in my relationship. Plus, I was always tired. Tiredness is a symptom of depression, but the antidepressants I was taking were known to cause sleepiness.
So I went to my doctor to change my prescription. I stopped my pills cold turkey and immediately started on another kind.
The withdrawal made me nauseated. If I moved my head too quickly, I felt sudden brain zaps. A couple of times, I was so dizzy I almost fell over. I researched the symptoms, but the more I read about antidepressants, the less I trusted the science behind them.
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The breaking point was when, similar to when I first started taking the meds, I had a night when I lost it and couldn't stop crying hysterically for about three hours. I was alone and after that was scared to be by myself again.
Suddenly the cure - the pills that had saved me - scared me as much as the depression. I stopped taking them altogether in January and never went back to my doctor.
Slowly, my withdrawal symptoms passed and I felt normal again, though it's hard to know what normal is any more. My sex drive and some energy returned and I was functioning relatively normally in the outside world. I committed to exploring alternative treatments such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture and herbal remedies.
But it has been a few months now and my mind feels like it's slipping again.
I drove home from soccer the other night and cried before I went inside. The days are dripping drearily into one another, over and over again, and the idea of going to work tomorrow turns my guts.
Now what? Is the cure better than the disease? Or do I stick it out and try to be the real me? Am I more real when I'm on medication?
There really is no easy answer.
Sarah Artis lives in Terrace, B.C.
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