Last week was Invisible Illness Week, as I discovered from Citronella. I also found out that one of my favourite webloggers, Katie of Minor Revisions, has been taking an anti-depressant for two years.
I bring this up because it is a very brave thing to admit to such things. I suspect that the vast majority of people do not understand depression, nor how incapacitating it can be. Depression is not sadness, or necessarily something that occurs temporarily in response to external events. It is as much an illness as cancer, or pneumonia. In many cases it goes undiagnosed, maybe until the person affected can not take any more.
The Black Queen and myself suffered from post-natal depression for a few years, and did not realize we had been sick until afterwards. We looked at ourselves one day and said “Oh! That’s what was happening to us”. We had no support, our friends did not tell us something was wrong, no one from church picked up on it: we did not realize we were suffering from something that was treatable. Once during those dark times we had friends round for dinner, one of whom is a clinical psychologist. I asked, knowing I was ‘down’, what is the definition of clinical depression. She replied that it is incapacitating; that you can not get out of bed (and there was nearly an Argument because someone didn’t want to talk about it). I thought then that I must be OK, because I could function quite well thank you very much. I thought I was just inexplicably sad.
But there is a difference between depression and sadness. The latter can usually be tied to an event, a crisis, unwelcome news. Mild depression is more of a constant companion, a black hole around which you orbit. It can indeed be the result of circumstance, a low-level nagging that wears you down. It can also be the result of a chemical imbalance. It is scary (and I understand that many depression-related suicides occur on the up-tick, because the victim never wants to feel like that again), and can be debilitating if not incapacitating.
Most of my friends and acquaintances would possibly diagnose me as monopolar manic. But there is a darkness that follows me, which I keep hidden from all except those who are very close. I have approached the edge, I have flirted with the event horizon. Fortunately I have never had severe depression, never felt I needed treatment. What I have done is learn to mould it, use it creatively. This does not always work–sometimes I end up wasting time rather than writing–but I have help from one or two people now who understand me, and encourage me.
I can not stress enough that depression sometimes requires pharmacological intervention. But sometimes it is a sign, a symptom if you like, that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. A disease that lacks a cure. For me, over the last eighteen months or so, the singularity has approached quite closely. But in the last few weeks I have been thinking about my future career directions, and I have come to a decision.
And the event horizon has receded. It has disappeared from my radar, and this is an unusual feeling.
I’ll keep you posted.