Okay, so there’s no “pretty side” of depression. But yesterday was so ugly as to be fugly.
This goes into what probably seems like hyperbolic detail. But I hope that even non-depressives will take the time to read this. I think it’s necessary to talk about our experiences, and to make “outsiders” aware of just how hideous an episode can be.
The thing about antidepressants…
The thing about antidepressants is that they help people with depression function better. On the flip side, taking meds means that a simple lack of them can throw you into a deep, deep depression in almost no time at all.
That’s what happened to me yesterday. For reasons too long and detailed to explain here, I ran out of pills after Saturday’s dose and failed to notice. By the time I woke up on Monday, it had been more than 40 hours since my last dose of antidepressants.
At first, I thought I was just logey from sleep. When I tried to write up emails for customer support, I had a hard time typing. Work flowed as smoothly as molasses. Everything felt like twice the effort it should have been. Also, I noticed that the world appeared to be at a 20-degree tilt.
I realized what was happening, so I had to start making calls. Unfortunately, another side effect of missing meds is that I get weepy. Everything makes me tearful and I can’t hide it at all over the phone. So I had to begin each call with an apology for my crying — I had missed some of my meds. (There’s nothing like that to make you feel like a competent, capable adult.)
By the time I woke Tim up to get my meds, I was spiraling down quickly. I was crying harder and seemingly without any reason. You know, other than feeling utterly out of control and helpless. But, from the outside, it looked like I just couldn’t calm down.
Anyone who has ever experienced depression — not the blues or simple malaise, but actual depression — knows that one of the worst things is being able to see yourself from an objective standpoint. Well… not actually objective — anyone else would probably be far more sympathetic. But it seems like an objective standpoint.
The point is, I already had to contend with the terror/helplessness of what felt like drowning in technicolor feelings of despair. Added to that, though, I saw myself from an outside perspective. I sounded wild and wildly pathetic. Which, of course, only made me cry harder.
Of course, in these situations, nothing goes smoothly. So Walgreens and my new insurance couldn’t seem to get on the same page about filling the prescriptions. Meaning I had to make even more tearful phone calls.
Time is not your friend
The longer things dragged on, the worse my symptoms got.
Rage kicked in. When not on the phone, trying to sound rational, I was throwing things and screaming. And I do mean screaming: simultaneously shrill and hoarse, thank-god-we-have-concrete-walls-so-the-neighbors-don’t-hear screaming.
Anger isn’t a strong enough word. In that state, seething fury is the only way to describe it. It floods my system. I feeling rage pumping through me, pulsing into every thought until I want to break or rip apart everything in sight.
Because it’s so intense, the rage does at least come in short spurts. So I was alternating between that and basic despair. Oh, and worsening dizzy spells that made me sure I would throw up at any moment.
Mostly, though, I went between screaming my head off and weeping in humiliation at how uncontrollable I felt. I didn’t want to be so scary, to sound practically insane. I wanted to be someone with normal brain chemistry, who didn’t go through bouts of feeling alien to herself.
With insurance and Walgreens still in negotiations, Tim could only get the Wellbutrin. Once I found that out, I started sobbing in earnest: gut-wrenching, curled in the fetal position, gasping for air between wails sobbing.
About 20 minutes later, I was told it had been fixed and my Effexor would be ready in 20 minutes. Tim left to pick it up, but I had already hit my worst level in years.
I was still crying uncontrollably in spurts, now rocking back and forth steadily. But mostly I was tearfully mumbling the same words over and over. The words weren’t in answer to anything. I just couldn’t stop the stream of them. “Don’t” came out for awhile. Then “I don’t want to.” Then “No.” If I put my hand to my mouth, I could stop. But then pressure would build up inside and I’d have to start up again.
Within 15 minutes, Tim was back and handing me water and Effexor. After about half an hour, I was significantly calmer, had quit rocking and the dizzy spells were starting to wear off. It was 3 p.m., so I had been spiraling down for nearly five hours.
Baring it all
Okay, I know that was intensive in the detail department. Maybe you feel like it was verging on lurid. But I was specific for a reason: I didn’t want to be. Really, I didn’t want to talk about it at all. If I had to, I wanted to gloss over it.
Understandable, I suppose, but if we all keep leaving out real details of real depression, nothing will ever change. People on the outside won’t understand how bad it can get. Some might even think we’re exaggerating or malingering.
Perhaps even more importantly, if none of us are honest — with ourselves or other depressives — about what real depression looks like, if all we do is talk about how it can be hard to get dressed or leave the apartment or make phone calls… Then we’re never talking about the other reality — the deep, dark pit that we occasionally fall into.
You’re not alone
By and large, depression is made up of dreading the small things like dressing, running errands, etc. But sometimes, for whatever reason, the full-on worst of this illness hits. Those times are scary. If you’re anything like me, you spend most of the period wondering if you’ve lost your mind for good. You sound crazy. Hell, you feel crazy.
And none of us really want to admit that. We feel like we should be able to overcome it. Or maybe we’re afraid that it will scare people off. Probably, we all wonder if it’s just us — if no one else goes through this and they’ll judge us if we talk about it.
So it gets hidden away. And the less it’s talked about, the less we feel okay talking about it.
I totally get it. The kind of behavior I described fills me with shame and humiliation — even though I know that this is a real illness. But I want to pretend that I don’t get that far down. That I never sound that crazy or feel that out of control.
But for people who have had an episode even 1/10 as bad as the one I described above… They have experienced all the same feelings and doubts and worries and shame. And I imagine that, like me, they fear anyone finding out just how bad they get. As though it’s an unforgivable sin, rather than a symptom of illness.
Depression will never be the norm, but I do believe it can be better normalized in society. Unless, of course, no one ever talks about it. Then, it remains scary, unknown and, ultimately, shameful for those suffering through it.