things I’ve learned about and from depression

I was diagnosed with depression some months ago, but this wasn’t the first time I had been depressed, nor was it the worst episode.

Wolf and I had been inseparable for ages until he started his doctorate at a university overseas almost five years ago. The first year was bad. The second year was worse. He hated being away from me, hated his dorm where there was never enough privacy or quiet to satisfy his hermit soul.

Meanwhile, I was having difficulties with someone at work in our family business. I walked on eggshells around her and on a few occasions when I tried to discuss things with her, it ended in explosive arguments. Wolf and I were in touch daily, but the most obvious consequence of his physical absence was that the psychological buffer he created between me and the ordinary hardships of life began to dissolve. It didn’t take long before my heat shield was completely stripped away and my soul was bare to the elements.

Tensions at work were escalating. I just couldn’t do Christmas and I mostly skipped the whole thing. After being home for a month, Wolf went back overseas, and within three weeks I. Just. Couldn’t. Handle it anymore. I had a breakdown.

I couldn’t face going to work, and the counsellor I’d been seeing told me to take a month of stress leave. (It didn’t quite play out that way. I dropped the work that I found soul-sucking but still had assignments — just the really important stuff </sarcasm>.) The month passed and I finally managed to extricate myself from all work for about a month.

I had lost myself. I was crying a lot and could barely do anything for myself. The immediate problem was my work situation, and I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to do, without coming up with any answers. And how could I when I didn’t want to do anything at all? I wasn’t interested in anything, which was weird and distressing because I had always been interested in all kinds of things. I peered into myself looking for interests and found… nothing. An echoing void.

I had started doing some reading about psychology to try to gain some insight into what had gone so wrong with this family member. My counsellor suggested a couple of books and ideas as a starting point, and as I read, I developed new leads and followed where they took me.

I had been thinking about sex a bit as well. I had always been uncomfortable about sex and had predicted that while Wolf was away, my very effectively suppressed libido would come out of hiding, and so it did, though it took longer than I’d expected. I hadn’t yet found the sex blogging community, but did find a reference somewhere to Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, a book of women’s fantasies so I got it from the library.

In the middle of all this not giving a shit about anything, I was actually interested in sex, and specifically in learning and reading about it. It was unfamiliar and I wasn’t entirely at ease with it, but it was the only thing I was interested in and that was valuable. It helped lead me out of the woods like a trail of breadcrumbs.

(The reading on psychology and personal growth work I’d been doing came together with the research about sex and resulted in my epiphany that June.)

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: I have experienced a serious depressive episode. But I knew it was situational. I knew that I couldn’t allow the work situation to stay the same so when I started working again, I worked from home to avoid the conflict. I knew I’d feel better when Wolf was home, and I did.

I spoke to my doctor at some point in the middle of all of this and told him that I thought I was depressed and he agreed but no diagnosis was made because in the same breath I said I didn’t want medication. I hate taking pills: the body is a delicate ecosystem, and throwing things into the mix can have unintended results. I prefer to err on the side of caution by keeping the chemistry simple.

(I learned this lesson when I was about 20, on birth control pills, and getting recurrent yeast infections. When I confronted my then-doctor about it, he acted as though it was common knowledge that the pill can cause yeast infections. But neither of my (male) doctors had ever told me that when writing me a prescription. I’m still irritated about this.)

In retrospect, I’m not sure that avoiding taking anti-depressants was the best decision. It was situational, I toughed it out, and yes, eventually I got better. I remember having the sudden realisation at some point that I felt like myself again. Which  meant that I hadn’t felt like myself for quite a long time, actually.

I suffered for months, and to what end? Aside from the obvious drop in quality of life while I was stuck in the middle of it, I may have become more prone to depression in the future. I’m usually very rational and I take good care of myself, but guess what? Depression fucks with the way you think.

Since then I’ve been trying to have more of what I like and less of what I dislike in all areas of my life, which doesn’t come naturally for me. When it comes to people, what I look for now is feeling of real connection, and when the other person expresses clearly and warmly that they enjoy my company. I’m learning to trust my gut more and follow up on those connections.

When depression hit, I had no support and no one to talk to. Well, there was Wolf of course, but he was going through his own shit. Up until then, we had each been the other’s only real support.

The single most important new person is Gawan, of course; he’s simply wonderful. And there’s also my friend Pippa, who has since become a close friend. Building up relationships with people who I genuinely like and who genuinely like me is a reward in itself, but I’m also creating a little support network too. Emotional support is essential, and only more so when depression strikes.

10 thoughts on “things I’ve learned about and from depression

  1. Sometimes during this period, we find comfort in the unlikeliest of places. And from strangers plus online community. Each of us has our own way to deal with depression and I am glad you found yours and working towards recovering. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. The breakdown I described made me question things I had taken for granted, which started me on a path of self-discovery in all areas. It’s challenging to chop this up into blog-sized discussions because it’s all interconnected. Meeting Gawan has changed my life, and that’s relevant to my experience of depression of course, but it’s also relevant to everything else too. I’m just growing 🙂

      FYI, more thoughts on depression coming up in my next post.

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  2. I am a retired Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I worked for a non profit mental health facility for 20 years. It can be a very tough decision on when to prescribe medication. Some people do well with talking therapy (your blog is talking therapy) talking and medication and the there are those who don’t respond to anything. They often solve the problem with suicide. Good luck and I enjoy your blog.

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    1. Yes, I can well imagine how difficult it is to judge when and what to prescribe. In my case, I believe that my doctor was prepared to diagnose and prescribe but recognised that I wasn’t ready for it and decided that sticking with the status quo was unlikely to cause harm. Fortunately, I’ve never been suicidal.

      Thinking about it further, I wonder whether I would have had my epiphany if I hadn’t had the breakdown first. They aren’t directly related, but it’s possible that I wouldn’t have done as much research and personal growth and thus might not have reached that particular conclusion. The past is past and so I don’t have to decide whether, knowing what I know now, I’d do it differently. But thinking of it this way helps me avoid the regret of not accepting different treatment earlier.

      Glad you enjoy the blog, and thanks for your comment.

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      1. One thing I used to remind clients: For you to be in your present moment everything in the past had to unfold exactly as it did and if it had not you have no idea at all what your present moment would be. So be happy with your past.

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  3. Although it sounds like your depression is quite different from my own situation – probably more than i have to deal with, sex bloggers have become my own support community. Perhaps that’s down to the gratuitous honesty that’s inherent to talking about cumming, butt plugs and swinging.

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    1. The depression in this post was about three years ago, and the current episode has, luckily, been nowhere near as bad. I’ll be writing it up soon, so keep an eye out for that.

      I hear you about sex bloggers being supportive. I think you’re right – talking about intimate sexual experiences is not so different from talking about mental health issues as they’re both ordinarily considered taboo. This blog started out as strictly sexual and writing about depression is a bit of a departure for me, and yet it feels completely natural to write about this here. Sex and mental health aren’t things I’m in the habit of talking about openly with friends and family.

      Beyond that, I’ve found sex bloggers to be more intelligent, open, compassionate, and kind than I’d expect from a strictly random sample, so I think some kind of self-selection may also be at play.

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