Monday, May 27, 2013

The 5 Stages: #4 - Depression

This was the hardest stage for me to get through.  It's one thing to be sad about something - everyone is allowed to be sad.  But depression is something else.  Western society does not treat mental illness as readily as physical illness and so it is often dismissed or ignored or avoided.  But most people suffer depression at least once in their lives and it is a shame it is so poorly approached.
I had felt depressed twice before in my life, but both times it emerged suddenly from an event that was truly deserving of depression and so I never thought about handling it any differently (i.e., not handling it at all! Just ignore it and be as busy as possible).  But this time it caught me by surprise.

I thought I had a particularly pesky running injury.   I think at some unconcious level my brain suspected my back was really the culprit.  And when I was dropped from a relay team that quite rightly preferred a runner to a walker, I crashed emotionally.  Being kept from my sport was very discouraging, but being dropped from my community was devastating.  Running buddies are activity-specific relationships - fantastic when running but they disappear when you aren't.  There isn't anything sinister in it, it is just the way it is.
Criss-crossed communications and sleepless nights added to the mess and then one day I got a searing pain across the top of my butt, which set up permanent residence for several months.  Nerve pain.  I tried this medication and that treatment - full of optimism at the beginning and then plunged into tears when it didn't help.  12 months later I found a cocktail of medication that allowed me to sleep more than 2 hours (to all you young mothers out there dealing with babies that will not sleep - I totally feel for you!), which helped enormously.  I went to two different psychologists, but nothing turned up amongst all the potential reasons I put forward.  Oddly enough, it was the day when I finally met with a spine surgeon who told me I couldn't run any more and he couldn't do anything for me that, just like that, I popped out of my depression! 

You'd think that would have plunged me deeper, but I think perhaps it was not knowing that fueled the floods of tears.  Depression is a feeling of helplessness, of complete despair and incapacitation.  You look for something to fix the problem (or even to identify the problem) or that will mask it so you can get on during the day, but of course this is never successful because the problem is still there.  You don't talk about it because you don't want to dissolve into floods of tears for no apparent reason.  And you can hardly expect someone who doesn't know what's going on to be able to help. 
Looking back, the only person who was convinced my back was at the heart of my distress was my indominitable pilates teacher SK, who always made me cry just by asking how I was. Now I feel pretty sure it was because my brain suspected the same thing and she managed to connect in to that unconscious thought and that triggered an emotional response. 

The unconscious part of our person is a lot smarter than we give it credit for, and it really needs to be allowed to reveal itself.  Having a confidante or two who will just listen to you is the best you can hope for until the underlying source is identified and dealt with.  Now I look back at the time my fiancé died in a car accident and I ran away travelling, and the time I realized I would never be a mother and I plunged into stressful work projects, and I realize that I never really did cauterize the wound until years later.  I'm sure I have lost a few days at the end of my life by not allowing myself to heal at the time. 
Knowing this gives me a bit more ammunition in case it happens again, and I know to be kind but stern with myself.  It's no use ignoring it, but instead try to confront the issue and resolve whatever is in the way.  It might mean going deeper into the morass but it will result in rising above it a lot quicker and stronger.  I have learned a little more about myself and how I hande things, and I feel a little bit more empowered to act differently in the future. 

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