Monday, December 04, 2006

Fighting What You Can’t See

I’ve been thinking about depression lately, as this time of year brings it out in someone close to us. Some psychological background may be in order before I post on that though:

As I’ve written, just before coming out I was in quite an awful state. Panicked, nervous, confused, you name it. Sad is an understatement. I’ll not go over that again, but, for the purposes of this post, all I need recall is that it did make me physically ill, and all that was washed away the moment I came out to my parents.

A while after that, my parents approached me wanting to know if I might want to talk to a psychologist. My first thought was they’d changed their mind regarding their acceptance, just as I had begun to give it myself. But, to my great relief, they were simply worried I wasn’t gay enough :-). They were worried I wasn’t seeking out others like me, didn’t talk about being gay, that I may still be feeling some lingering desire to not be gay, and that I was hurt by some of my family and didn’t feel comfortable talking bad about them with my parents.

At that point, my mood was fine; it was great in fact. You should see my journal entries; they still make me smile, but my parents were right in part. I was being very slow and cautious and still needed time to think about being gay, and I was upset at some family. So I went.

I vented my frustrations and sadness at our first meeting regarding some kin, and went though my thinking on homosexuality at our second. But, at our third meeting, we ran out of things to talk about, started to repeat, and awkwardly watched the clock towards the end. The intense internal debate was concluded weeks before. A new and stable mode of living with being a gay man had taken shape, and she could see that. At our fourth and final meeting, we both agreed we were done.

Still, odd how helpful those first 2 meetings were. I must add, though I can’t remember her name, how much I respect her looking back; instead off stating the obvious she could of got a check for at least a couple more months ;-), while we tried to create things to chat about. But no, the therapist called my parents at my request and assured them I had my head on straight (so to speak), and that was that. My parents could relax along with me.

Since then, the only other experience with psychologists I’ve had was in being evaluated before becoming a parent, a necessity for everyone becoming parents in such a way (and maybe not a bad idea for the whole of humanity ;-)). We, of course, passed with flying colors :-).

Now, about 7 years ago, I was in the midst of my Master’s degree and suffered an injury that forced me to take a semester off of near all work. After about a month had ticked by, I began getting sick. It felt like I had a chest cold that wouldn’t go away; it was sometimes difficult to breath and I felt kind of dizzy most the day.

I went into the doctor’s a couple times. Finally, on my third visit, the doctor said something like “Look, we’ve tested everything; I think you need to consider that you might be depressed.” What a Quack, I thought (Maybe I don’t get along well with doctors ;-)). I did not feel sad, or hopeless, or anything like I did when coming out. I didn’t feel what I thought “depressed” felt like at all. I had physical symptoms, right?

I went home, incredulous. When R got home I expected him to back me up, but he instead thought I should consider it too. A doctor’s opinion is one thing, but a husband’s is quite another :-) and so I started to wonder if he could be right. Sure, I’d been worried that my injury would get in the way of my career and the days with nothing fruitful to do were tedious. Recovery feels wasteful, even if it isn’t.

The next day I woke up decidedly against any negative mood and I got myself into a new hobby to take up the hours, as a test, and that was the end of that. All the symptoms were gone, and a couple months later I was physically healed as well and back at work. Was it a coincidence or was it depression? I still don’t really know for sure, but lean towards thinking the doctor was right, to some extent.

And that’s it for anything significant, anything that could be called depression. The last time I remember any sizeable sadness (minus certain Wednesdays in November :-)), was when we had a failed attempt at becoming parents, about 5 years ago. While that hurt more than I let on, it’s a pain most adults will know and we relied on each other and got past it.

But that’s the problem. Mood has been relatively easy for me. Emotional difficulties have been there, but they’ve disappeared with obvious solutions. When I've felt down, or worried, I've almost always known what to do to change that and all I need is the want to do so. I fear though such experiences have made being helpful difficult in the face of other’s depression, entrenched depression.

(Eh, I was going to split this into two posts but I want to get this out at once now)

Today I’ve come to know people who absolutely need psychological help, people who suffer from serious depression. Six years ago, I fear I may have wondered why they didn’t just decide themselves out of it. I did; why don’t they? But six years ago I was a bigger fool than I am today :-). I know depression is often not triggered by explainable events like an injury and even when it is I know enough now to know not all pits of the mind are of the same dimensions. Sometime people can’t just pull themselves up; they physiologically, mentally can’t, and need help, chemical and/or talk therapy.

But help is where I’m still at a loss. I imagine what a colorblind person thinks of my sense of, say, red is kind of how I relate to other’s sense of such depression. I know it’s there, in their mind, but I can’t really understand it. You know: what do you mean you don't want to get out of bed? I could imagine that it’s like an inflated, more intractable form of what it was like just before I came out, just as I could tell a colorblind person red is like a warmer, deeper yellow. But neither can ever convey the qualia accurately, and I just can’t see it.

So, when faced with it, what am I supposed to do? Probably not tell those stories above. You know: Buck up; take control; pull yourself up by your bootstraps; confront your problems :-). Some people just don’t have bootstraps where others have them. Some people are depressed without a problem to confront. I can also imagine that, if, for example, something happened to my family, I may not really care to pull myself back up. So what to do for such folks?

I can't say I understand, but I’ll be with them and take care of them if they want me there. I’ll check up on them if they want to be alone. I’ll call professionals if it seems in the slightest they’d harm themselves. I’d tell them to seek professional help regardless. But I is there more?

That’s what I want to know. Is there a best way to act one-on-one, things to say? Should you be forceful, take them out of their home? Nurturing, but how far? To the point of compliance? It just seems like such an important topic on which to be feeling in the dark.


Loyalist (with defects) said...

I've struggled with the same questions since entering into a relationship that is frought with depression.

I dont have answers...I don't even have suggestions. I just try to there. and to not judge (which is a difficult thing for me to do).

Thanks for the post, Scot, it really does say how I feel inside too.

mark said...

I have dealt with depression and have been in recovery for the last 3.5 years. The biggest help to me at the time I was going through the worst of it was to have a few people to whom I could talk about what I was experiencing who were very understanding and non-judgmental. Some of them had also experienced depression, so they could relate. This really helped a lot, if only to help me feel like I was not alone and isolated.

A big thing I found with the worst of depression was the feeling that every moment lasted forever and that I was in pain and exhausted, etc., and that it would not end. To quote Madonna's recent song, "time goes by, so slowly". It really helped me a lot to have particular events to look forward to, that helped me to say, okay, I can stand this at least until 7 p.m., for example. My parents called me two or three times a day for a couple of months, which probably saved me.

I also got referred by my doctor to a good psychologist who really helped me a lot. Again, knowing that I was going to see her each week gave me enough hope to struggle on through all of the unpleasant things about depression and then the unpleasant side effects of medication.

So, I think that for me the biggest help was having people who would listen and who would be a little proactive about letting me know that they were there for me. Not too aggressive, but not totally distant or passive, either.

I hope this helps, Scot.

Anonymous said...

the stereotypic view of depression is someone who mopes around, lethargic and uninvolved. True enough for some, but it can also come as irritability and crankiness. when i find myself negatively reacting to just about everyone and everything, i have to ask myself, maybe its not them, maybe its me, depressed. the 'bad' moods of a teenager or the gumpiness of a senior citizen may not be age-related as much as an overt symptom of depression

Scot said...


I read your account on your site with great interest, and your comments here strike me as one of the times you can tell good advice (and insight) right as it’s offered.

It seems there will always be that tricky balance: the tradeoff between proactive and too aggressive, or between encouraging and judgmental, which you and Loyalist mention.

Thank you, Mark.

Anonymous said...

Depression takes many forms and no two people will react the same. I've suffered through major depression numerous times starting in childhood. It was not until I came out and found a great therapist that I was able to use a combination of therapy and medication to get my feet back on solid ground. Over the past 10 years I've decided to use medication for three different episodes of depression. Generally, I use the anti-depressants for 6 months to a year and then I'm back on track usually for several years. Each episode seems to have been brought on by major illness or extreme emotional or physical stress. I've learned to recognize the signs and I'm very pro-active in taking care of business before it gets to the point where I no longer want to get out of bed.

It is a hard thing to realize I get depression because it is so stigmatized. And worse yet to realize it runs in my family and that it will probably be a life long struggle. I have elderly family memebers that have suffered with this for as long as I can remember, but they have never sought out treatment. I'm just greatful that I've been given help, and that I found a therapist that was willing to work with me both with medicaiton and talk therapy. I don't like taking medication, I don't like the side effects, but I'm so greatful that I have the option.

Scot said...


"the stereotypic view of depression is someone who mopes around, lethargic and uninvolved."

Yes. I think that may have been my error at first.


It is a hard thing to realize I get depression because it is so stigmatized.

This is where I hope to be hyper self-conscious. It absolutely shouldn’t’ be stigmatized. I know a similar family in which this happens and they need the chemical help just as some families tend to need medication for high blood pressure.

I’ve heard the medication is tricky. Some people I understand have to try a bunch of them before they find what influences them best. I’m glad you’re finding some measure of help though.