Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Depression Chronicles, Volume 1

I decided to use this current bout of depressive anxiety that sprung up Sunday evening and compounded Monday morning to my advantage by channelling it positively and writing about the cripping effects of an anxiety disorder first-hand, as someone who personally suffers from it. As part one, this is going to serve as a sort of introduction to the problem and my relationship with it. I intend for this to be a periodic, ongoing series of personal reflections on the subject, as I feel like writing them. There's no guarantee when, or even if, there will be future installments. Although I have at least a couple more loosely conceived, I can't promise when I'll feel like fleshing them out. Lastly, I apologize for the tardiness of this update, which was intended for Wednesday. Something came up last-minute Wednesday and I didn't have time to finish it before Midnight, so I'm going to cheat and backdate it about a half an hour so it can still be counted as a Wednesday post like I had originally intended.

I don't intend for this to be a sympathy ploy. After all, I think my symptoms are light compared to those some people have. At least I can generally control mine, but it doesn't mean they're any less real. They manifest the same way and have the same effects on my pscyhe, even if I am determined enough not to let the feelings dominate me. I'm doing this to promote a better understanding of the illness and the effects it plays on normal social interaction.

Many of my more loyal readers, in other words, my friends, know that I have a depressive anxiety disorder. I generally don't talk about it in my regular updates, though, because I figure that it isn't really anyone's business, I'm not looking for sympathy, and I don't want this weblog to center around that. So for any of the casual readers, or anyone who happens to randomly stumble across this blog during a Google search about depression or the word "fuck," I have a depressive anxiety disorder.

This isn't self-diagnosed. This has been clinically diagnosed by a real psychiactric staff as ranging between moderate to severe. This means that, for a good number of years, the best I ever got was "moderate," and the worst was "severe." I used to take a prescription to neutralize my mood, but when I switched jobs from one that offers comprehensive health care to one that offers absolutely no health care, I decided to try my luck without the medication instead of paying for it out of pocket.

I used to think of my depression as a separate entity that I had to fight, but that is too negative and too taxing. The truth is that it's not a separate entity; it's a part of who you are. In my case, I'm pretty sure, from reviewing my family history, that I had a genetic predisposition to it. Whether it stems from a genetic source or an external stressor, the result is the same. It's a misfiring of chemical receptors in your brain. It's a part of you. You can't fight it, so you just have to learn to live with it. I've made my peace with it and started to understand it as a part of my body. Instead of trying to fight it, I now work to control it.

Everybody has their anxieties. Everybody worries about things from time to time. However, when you have an anxiety disorder, you spend about as much time not worrying about everything as most people do worrying about any one thing. Imagine how you feel when you fret over something in your life. Multiply that anxiety to a completely unreasonable level and then apply it to absolutely everything that you possibly could worry about, including entirely unrealistic scenarios, and things that you have no control over, and even things that are actually going well for you, and then never stop worrying. That's kind of what it's like to live under the influence of an anxiety disorder.

As you can imagine, it can become a very debilitating condition. Some people view a problem as a challenge to overcome, and it motivates them. A problem makes an anxiety sufferer want to curl up into a ball in a dark corner and wait for the problem to pass. People with anxiety disorders tend to be more socially paranoid than normal people. Aggression is the wrong way to approach someone who suffers from anxiety because they won't respond to it. They'll build up their walls, close up, introvert, and hide instead, and you won't get anything out of them. Anxiety sufferers need far more comfort and reassurance than normal people; the best way to approach an anxiety sufferer is to make them feel safe, not threatened.

Depression and anxiety walk hand-in-hand. It's very easy for the constant worry to lead into depression. People with an anxiety disorder don't think of their problems as fixable. If they thought their problems were solvable, they would work on solving them instead of worrying about them. When you spend a lot of time thinking about a problem that seems hopeless, it's easy to convince yourself that it actually is hopeless and decide to give up even trying. Anxiety may make you withdraw into a cocoon of self-doubt, but it's depression that will keep you there, constantly reflecting on every fatal flaw that might keep you from succeeding. Anxiety makes you worry about the problem, but depression keeps you from fixing it.

I've gotten to the point where I can sense the onset of anxiety or depression, and I try to take precautions against them before they can fully overwhelm me. For instance, I've discovered that I get most anxious or depressed when I'm really tired, so before reacting to a problem, I get some sleep and wake up with a different perspective. Depression is much easier to spot. It's easy to determine that you're feeling morose for no reason at all. Anxiety, not so much. Sometimes I might think that the thing I'm worrying about is normal and before I know it I'm either shutting down or panicking.

When something triggers my anxiety, it's hard for me to be funny, and it's almost impossible for me to create. That is why I couldn't crank out a post Monday. I knew I had stuff to write about, but all I could think about was a current real-life problem. Compound that with the pressure of a deadline to publish the entry, and it's a recipe for a complete creative breakdown. Anxiety makes me focus on the problem, and depression convinces me it's not worth trying to fight it.

The only way I can attempt to overcome the crippling affects of my brain misfiring is to consciously convince myself to make the effort toward success that comes naturally to most people. Even then I can still be distracted, gloomy, irrational, and irritable while the problem persists and even afterward, but it's very easy to fall into the trap of apathy if I allow myself. The safest place to be is in complete blissful ignorance of the problem, but in reality that only makes matters worse.

It is much more difficult to coax myself out of the dark recesses of my protective shell and face the fear than I assume it is for most people. However, just like any vertifiable, quantifiable disability such as chronic migraines, cancer, or the loss of a sense or limb, anxiety and depression is something that I have to live with and sometimes work around. It can make life more difficult, but it can make the successes that much more rewarding too. Whatever our disabilities are, we cannot allow them to overtake our lives. I am determined and I work hard to not let them. It's just something I have to accept and live with because it's part of who I am.

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