If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
~ Frederick Douglass
There are degrees of depression, of course. Mine gets severe relatively quickly and stays that way a relatively long time. Yes, I have been an inpatient at psychiatric hospitals. Yes, I have self-harmed. Yes, I have been on every psychotropic medication known to man, and failed most of them. The two that I’m on right now combine for one really annoying side effect.
I have even, since about New Year’s, been undergoing a course of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). My memory is shot, along with many other things, but the suggestion to do it came up in month 6 of an unrelenting depressive episode. Nothing else was working.
Despite all this, I’ve managed to push through as best I can. I’ve found work, and a work schedule, that works for me, as well as a compassionate employer.
It’s still hard, though, and most people still don’t understand. They tell me to snap out of it, or that I’m only depressed because I’m used to being that way, or that there are so many people who have it worse than me but fight to overcome it while I embrace it instead.
Twenty-four hours after coming home from a weekend with nonjudgmental friends who “get” me, I mentioned to a fellow writer buddy (who is one of my very most favorite people and was along on the trip) that I didn’t know how long it would last, and it had been so long since I’d felt it that I wasn’t even sure that’s what it was, but I thought I might dare to say that I was still happy. He said he thought there was a title in there somewhere, and here we are.
I have spent the better part of the last year in abject misery. At one point, my profound pain actually made my psychiatrist cry. For now, though, I feel pretty good. How much of that is attributable to the ECT and how much to an all-too-brief weekend with friends, I don’t know. But for the first time in the three decades I have been forced to cope with mental illness, I understand what all those “you have a choice” people were trying to tell me.
Mental illness is not a choice any more than any physical illness is. Heaven knows I didn’t ask for it. The choice comes in deciding to get help and then helping the help, you know? I wasted a lot of time and money (and therapists’ time) by not really doing a lot of work, just showing up every week and going through the motions. It turns out that putting in the effort produces results as you start to gain insight for and into yourself. That’s not really something someone else can do for you.
In other words, what you can choose is your attitude. I think maybe that’s what folks have been trying to get through my thick head all these years: You can’t choose to have or not have an illness, but you can choose the way you opt to cope with it. You can choose to lie in bed all day and think negative thoughts, and some days, that really is all you can do. But on the days when getting out of bed is a possibility, to do that, and get showered and dressed, and go make something of the day even though you may not be feeling 100 percent, is worthwhile. It might even make you feel better the next day, and the one after that.
I am not an easy person to live with. I have no problem admitting that. The people who love me know what they’re getting into and do it anyway, and for that I am ever grateful. It’s been a helluva year — a helluva life so far, really — and it’s going to take me awhile, I think, to figure out the rest of the journey. But I think I’m going to try to dare to be happy along the way. Can’t hurt, might help, and who knows where it’ll lead me.