Friday, July 19, 2013

It's my depression and I'll cry if I want to

In 2003, my final semester of college—at the age of 31—I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Or Major Depression. Or Clinical Depression. The three are roughly the same thing, from what I gather on WebMD. But I think the term the doctors used at the time was Major Depression. Let's go with that.

I think the pressure of finally closing out a nine year off-and-on college journey was the straw that made the camel want to kill itself. Thus, I started having "cuckoo time". I was going along doing great and, over the course of about a few months, I started thinking, "I'm going to fail. And I'll never graduate. I'm worthless. I'm 31 and can't finish college. Life is horrible. It'd be better if I were dead. How can that please happen?" 

Depression symptoms generally go like this:
  • Extreme fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Significant weight loss or gain
Those are the big ones. Those who've had it, either chronically or in episodes, know how it feels. Some who haven't think you're just lazy and sad and could just use some exercise and Jesus.

"Real depression – clinical depression – is something else. It’s being down in the dumps times a hundred. It’s being down in the dumps times a hundred, and you feel like there’s no way to get out of it, and you hate yourself for feeling that way, and all you can do is cry, and would you just look at how fat you are? No amount of ice cream or sympathetic friends or CDs by The Cure can help it. It’s a chemical thing in the brain. It’s a PHYSICAL problem, just like the flu, or having red hair, and just as awful."—Eric D. Snider, writer, friend, and film critic

Getting Help: Round 1

When I finally went in to talk to a doctor, they screened me and asked me questions and basically I had all of these symptoms and had had them for a while without realizing they were depression. And what appears to have happened was double-depression. I had major depressive episode on top of the probably-already-existing condition of dysthymia. But what brought it on? Again we can turn to WebMD:
  • Grief from losing a loved one through death, divorce, or separation
  • Social isolation or feelings of being deprived
  • Major life changes -- moving, graduation, job change, retirement
  • Personal conflicts in relationships, either with a significant other or a superior
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
Did you catch it? Graduation. But let's go back a little farther into my past and see what else pops up as possible contributors.
  1. In 1993, 1998, and 2002 I had three major breakups with women I honestly thought I was going to marry. I learned that at least two of them were cheating on me. In each instance, I became socially isolated for a time and then lashed out with frequent heavy alcohol use. Also, I was a horror to date for not being emotionally available for long periods of time, missing out on really connecting with some great people.
  2. From 1981 to 2001, I lost all four grandparents, a great grandma, one baby brother, two of my best friends and my oldest sister. The two friends and my sister were suicides.
  3. My parents divorced in 1989.
  4. From my birth until I was 19, I moved 12 times. From 21 to 31, I think it was another 8. Moving is hard on the mind.
  5. From age 21 to 31, I changed jobs 9 times.
In early 2003, my life looked like this: wake up, school, homework, work, 5 hours of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, more TV, the occasional social activity, Del Taco, write poems, play guitar, do some improv, smoke, drink, and make out with various ladies. Now some of you will say, "What's the problem? That sounds amazing." Well, I thought it was fun at the time too. Except for the death thoughts part. That sucked. I was looking for ways for it not to suck. But it pretty much really sucked.

The doctors prescribed Zoloft and counseling and off I went. I focused and graduated. By July of that year, I had quit the Zoloft cold turkey because I was a happy college grad and thought I had a handle on things. (One of the things about depression meds is that you're never supposed to quit them without a plan to wean and lower dosage.) Things seemed to be fine.

The Lifesaver of Comedy

Now, I know there are plenty of other people with lives that have been harder than mine. They've had really rough challenges and never got depression. That's ok. I think those people are fantastic. Adversity is something we all face and people without chemical imbalances in their brains are inspirational to me because they are examples of techniques that can help anyone, including me.

My lifesavers were, and continue to be, acting and improv. They take a lot of time and effort but nothing ever soothes me like studying a character or comedy principles and performing with amazing and brilliant people. I honestly think that, from 2000-2011, being regularly involved in forms of comedy saved my life. Performing it, learning it, reading it, watching it. It all was medicine for me. I don't know how many people know this about me.

"There are people who know what it feels like to be cripplingly introspective –- who embrace their oddities and express them without fear of reproach. Those people are comedians. Even if you’ve never experienced a mild case of the megrims, the comics in whose work I’ve found solace are universally funny and insightful. As a group, they tend to have a mordant, self-deprecating wit and a few among them may be misanthropic to a fault, but I’d describe myself that way too. For that reason, I have ... comedians ... to thank for playing a part in preserving my sanity."—Rebecca O'Neal, comedian and writer for

Getting Married and the Relapse

Fast forward to 2006. I got married in June and life looked to be on the up-and-up. And it was, for the most part. I'm glad it happened. I was actually in a good headspace and had been for about two years. Amelia and I and the kids were generally having a blast. Except … I started feeling anxiety about my new role as husband and father/father figure. I began to stress about providing for four people instead of one, including money, food, shelter, and clothes as well as their emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. I stressed about my relationship with the kids' fathers. At the time, depression triggers and symptoms were everywhere, but I just simply thought the reason I was doing things wrong, getting irritable, fighting with my new wife, and avoiding everyone for long stretches of time was because marriage is hard.

I should interject here that I don't think I come across as someone with depression to most people. On the outside and in social situations, I think I hold it together pretty well. I don't know, you tell me. Maybe I scream "depressed creative tortured artist" type everywhere I go. If I do, please let me know.

Anyway, it was hard on everyone and it was just the beginning. In 2007, we moved from SLC to Provo and into the house of hell that has been well documented on Amelia's blog. I was already having a hard time and, when we found out how much needed to be done to fix the problems, I shrunk away instead of rising to the task. This caused more disappointment, guilt, and self-worth issues. I threw myself into a new job, a video game, plays, and my improv group The Thrillionaires. I continued to be an inconsistently irritable and constantly unavailable, especially toward my family. I tried to be brave and happy to the public. I exercised. I tried to pray it away. Prayer is good for sure and there were always nice moments mixed into life which I was grateful for. We went on a couple family vacations, things like that.

In 2010, I backed out of ownership of The Thrillionaires improv group which was hard but for the best. In 2011, the company I worked for was bought by another. They proceeded to suck any remaining joy out of the nice culture and any joy I had at work. We moved again in the the fall of 2011. In April of 2012, after an astoundingly harsh yelling match with Amelia, I sought counseling. I met with a great psychologist and I was reminded of techniques I was taught back in 2003 as well as some new stuff to take responsibility of getting better. Things started to look up.

Last June, in the middle of counseling, I got a new job. Then Amelia's heart stopped working. She got her pacemaker. Then something happened to me. Faced with the possibility of another devastating loss and knowing she'd need constant support, I knew I had to get and stay "better." Be stronger.

Meds and Supplements

At this point, I was pretty functional with my depression day to day. Occasionally, I'd sleep until Noon and have to call in sick but most of the time I'd get to work and do my job. With the new job, things again started to get better but by November I was back to the same symptoms. Pressure and expectations at work were piling up. So were the medical bills. I finally sought out a doctor and was officially diagnosed with depression (again). I was reluctant to go on meds (again). I was put on Wellbutrin this time. It helped for a while and then started to lose its effectiveness in February. I started taking a supplement called Q96 which is basically a bunch of natural minerals and things in pill form. In less than 10 days, I was feeling better than I had, mentally, in about 25 years. I remain on a lower dose of Wellbutrin and the Q96 supplement to this day. I've learned that unsupplemented I would again feel paralyzed with grief, doubt, inadequacy, pain. I'd have to spend days waking up thinking, "This is just what I have to do. For my wife. For my kids. I can't die. They need me." Right now, because of meds and supplements, I don't have to do that anymore.

"Everyone wanted me to go on medication, except me. I felt that it would be weak to do so and that I could soldier through and get a handle on it. But everything got worse and it was terrifying … If you know me personally, all this information may surprise you, as I think I generally have a pretty sunny demeanor. For most of my life, I’ve been a happy, optimistic guy. But for whatever reason, I’ve had depression of a serious, life-threatening nature rear its head a couple of times."—Rob Delaney, comedian, Twitter star, and depression sufferer

Why do I tell this story? Why now? I'm pretty good now. I guess I needed to. And I needed to see a light at the end of the tunnel before I could be honest about it or even start to talk about it. I tell it because maybe it will help someone. Maybe I can be of help to someone. I tell it to be accountable. Today I feel a full range of emotions. Most of the time they are happy ones. I don't cry for no reason 10 times a day anymore. I think I'm less crazy and irritable. I think I'm more pleasant to be around. I have big goals and plans for myself and my family. I have great friends, including these gentlemen of PTA, and I hope we can all get together sometime and have a dance party and ice cream together.

To those facing it too, you aren't alone. Ask for help. Try to have courage. Keep waking up and facing it head on. It can get better.

"There is something that happens in the middle of the night, when you turn around and see nothing but darkness ... This is the despair of the night, a despair that calls up what Napoleon called two o clock in the morning courage. The most hectic person, the most frenzied fellow, deep down, if he wakes up at two in the morning, knows it is dark, and he is alone. To continue with life in the face of that knowledge requires courage. Courage is the virtue that provides the solution to the problem of despair. To make the choice to live and not commit suicide, to make important choices in life about marriage and work, to accept failures and keep trying—all this requires courage."—Nassir Ghaemi, author of "On Depression: Drugs, Diagnosis, and Despair in the Modern World"

Edited since originally posting for errors, clarity, link additions, and structure.
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