Monday, January 24, 2011

the Januaries.


On my afternoon break at work today, I decided that Survival was highly dependant on the immediate consumption of coffee. So, I grabbed my necessary items (wallet, keys, umbrella) and raced to my car. These days, with all the rainy weather and shitty, non-conformist circumstances and whatnot, I have been serenading my little soul with the music of Ari Hest. Track number 11 repetitiously, to be exact (ironically, I don’t know what the title of the song is). Today, for some odd reason, the lyricless part of the song made me cry.

Although, I suppose the tears weren’t entirely out of place. Did I mention the rain? If I didn’t, let me mention it again: rain. Lots of it. Vis a vis, there is a serious lack of sunshine. Having grown up in the Northern half of the province, I was never exposed to the trials of a dull grey winter. You see, even the clouds don’t like cold weather, so when it’s cold enough up there it’s clear as a heavenly bell and just as bright; minus-45-and-you-still-need-sunglasses kind of weather.

So while I had heard about the Lower Mainland winters – “Rain, followed by rain. After the rain, we expect rain. In addition, there will be some sort of rainy like substance” – it took moving here to fully understand the reality of the situation. My first November on the coast, I actually went to the doctor in a medium-sized panic, for fear that I had come down with some sort of sudden-onset-brain-eating disease. It was like I had been powered down overnight. “I sleep all the time, and when I’m not sleeping, I feel like I’m sleeping, and if I’m not sleeping, it’s because I can’t *%&^$ sleep. Also, I weep a lot for no reason at all.” Dr Walkinclinic looked calmly over my head and reassured me that what I was experiencing was quite normal, and told me I had Seasonal Affective Disorder; that I would feel better in a few months. The short form of that disorder’s name? …S. A. D. The irony of the name was not lost on me, and I immediately wondered if they purposely spelled the words with that acronym, or if they discovered only after naming it that “Hey! We just pointed out the obvious!”. Perhaps these are the same brainiacs that named the Rinoplasty. In any case, every November through to February or March, I cry a lot. Ready for the weighted word? SAD is a form of: depression. In truth, this (depression) is something I’ve dealt with since early highschool; something that’s only been accented by the long grey winters here.

The weirdest part about all of this is that I actually don’t like to tell people, and I especially don’t like to tell people that aren’t biologically programmed to turn Emo every winter (or ever, at all).I suppose this is because the reactions from the na├»ve/uneducated are so varied, and you never really know what you’re going to get in return for the confession.  In my close circle, there are more people than I can count that are affected with some sort of depression, be it SAD or constant, genetically transferred, post-partum or otherwise. So, since SAD season is not quite over, and more of us are dealing with this now in one way or another (either on our own or with someone we know), I thought it might be helpful to post a few things I have noticed about living with depression, and of course: a helpful resource or two for the curious.

#1 – “Don’t talk about that with her. You’ll make it worse”. A common misconception about most (if not all) forms of depression is that talking about a sad subject with someone who is depressed will make the depression “worse”. The truth is that while depression can be circumstantial, or can start with circumstantial changes, most often the immediate surroundings of a person will have very little to do with it. The truth for those that don’t know it yet: depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and is far beyond “circumstance” or “choice”. If anything, depression (seasonal or not) is a heightened or intensified ability to feel, not a lessened capacity to do so.

#2 – “I don’t want to ask, I don’t want to embarrass her”. Another common misconception that I have encountered with frequency is the trepidation people feel around me when I am obviously not “doing well.” The thing about depression is that, because of the heightened emotion, there is usually also a heightened perception (truthful or not) of what other people think or notice. In short: we can tell that you can tell, so just ask how we’re doing. Sometimes, all it takes to save my day is knowing that my friend noticed how I was doing.

#3 – “It’s just depression, you can’t take her too seriously.” On the flip side of the above, another misconception is that it’s not important to take a depressed person seriously when they are sad. Not every sadness relates to our depression (ladies: this is like when people assume your bad day is simply your PMS and write you off; it feels about that frustrating). This isn’t a cry for attention, it feels genuinely horrible (if even for a moment), and as I mentioned above, the acknowledgement of the sadness is sometimes all it takes. One of my best friends has handled these moments with me incredibly well: by taking me seriously. Not by agreeing with my irrational thoughts, but by acknowledging them and reminding me of the reality. Sometimes we can’t tell when an incident is isolated, and so we need a trusted voice to remind us of the real things in life. That being said, sometimes we just had a bad day; don’t coddle us, acknowledge it.

#4 – sometimes we are happy, too. I think the biggest misconception about depression is that the depressed person = a negative person. In actuality, the most negative people I know are simply negative people, and the most depressed people I know are some of the most positive.

#5 – It can be an affliction, or can be an accelerant. Without question, some of the best art in the world has been created in the midst of emotional difficulty. Countless poets, musicians, and actors have become “world renowned, not despite of their mental illness, but rather because of it” (Michael Schratter, from an article in 24hrs Vancouver last November). Examples like T.S. Elliot, Edgar Allen Poe, and Beethoven come to mind. Even in my own life, some of my most well received work has been the things I’ve written while in the midst of desperate sadness; the fact that these bits of my life are so well received seems ironic to me every time, given the stigma surrounding “mental illness.” Perhaps art is proof that 'even the depressed’ have richness and beauty to offer the world; their depth is something the world needs, and I would even go so far as to say that without these individuals, we would miss out on a large part of the human experience. So for those of you who question the weight of your world, embrace it and know that you add to the richness of our planet. And for those of you who don’t yet understand the weight of your friend’s world, that’s okay; as long as you’re trying.

Well this turned out to be a lot more weighty than I thought it was going to be. I was actually just going to make a few jokes and then sign off (what like that’s a habit of mine or something? Pssht). However, I figure most of you have noticed my entertaining mood swings by now, so I figure I’d name the source for them. Thanks for reading.

I also happen to know (simply by the fact that so many of you actually enjoy my ramblings) that a number of you must understand the world the way I do. I don’t want to call you out (I realize this is a deeply personal journey), but if you’d like, I’d love for you to add to this conversation. These were my thoughts; what are yours?

Stigma? What stigma? F*&$ you, Stigma.

Recommended reading: by far, some of the best articles I have ever read on the subject of mental health have been written by Michael Schratter, a guest columnist last year in the 24hr newspaper. Click here and scroll down to “24hr Ride Don’t Hide Columns”.

For some helpful information on SAD specifically, visit this link



Mama said...

Talking about these things with others allows us to get them out of ourselves where we can really look at them. Then we're less likely to obsess. Sometimes, once I say something out loud, I can see the significance of it, or lack thereof, better. I hope I'm making sense.
And, once again, you come by these things honestly....and I may have to wash your mouth out with soap... ;o)
I adore you.

anita said...

I love that it takes your mama 7 lines before she mentions soap. Cool mom :)
And funny that what you call mood swings comes across as quirky and very endearing charm. Must say you ROCK this s.a.d.ness in a completely non-stigmatic way.

afterthoughtcomposer said...

:) Thanks Anita! And yes, my mom IS the coolest!

Mama said...