This post has theme music. While you read this, have Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse by Of Montreal playing in a seperate window.
Depression is a horrible thing. Severely depressed people trudge through their lives, barely (but not always) coming up with enough energy to make it through each day.
Depressed people often have physical issues too. They can’t sleep, their appetite or weight fluctuates, they can’t concentrate, they have various unexplained aches and pains, or they have other issues. All those can be treated individually but often the doctor will look for a root cause and decide that depression must be the problem.
A lot of people self medicate to deal with their depression. Many substances can alter your mood, and numb you to the pain and tedium of everyday living. Some are legal, like caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. But if you’re depressed, any change can be good, even if the relief is temporary. Just take the substance as needed. Unfortunately, as time passes, you become acclimated to your substance of choice, and to get the same effect you need to take more of it. That can cause problems. Or you move on to other substances, ones that might be less legal. That can bring on even more problems. Either jail or death would make a little depression seem tolerable.
Alternatively, western medicine has come up with a plethora of pills that can help lighten the load. Drug companies want you to believe that there’s a pill, a capsule, or a liquid that will reliably brighten your day. If the first one you try doesn’t work, just keep sorting through the pile of prescriptions. Sooner or later something is bound to work for you.
It can seem amazing. Nothing has changed but your brain chemistry, but slowly, gradually, you have a new outlook, one that can now find hope where there was once only hopelessness, excitement where there was nothing but a grey fog.
60-80% of patients get relief from their depression within six to eight weeks after they begin taking a medication. Oddly enough, 60-80% also come out of their depression within six to eight weeks if they take a placebo.
Still, if can work, why not give it a try? These are powerful drugs. They change the way you think, which can be a blessing. But those changes almost always come with unintended side effects. The list goes on and on – sleep disruption, digestive upset, sexual dysfunction, …
You know what happens to people who have problems like those? That’s right. They get depressed. And they go to their doctor for help, where they get more pills to treat the symptoms caused by the first round of pills.
And the antidepressants aren’t different from other drugs. Over time, you can develop a tolerance, and you need to take more of them to have an effect.
Around and around you go. It becomes apparent that there’s no fix, in spite of the implied or explicit promises of the medical profession. So you give up on the antidepressants. Sometimes, as the drugs clear your system, something subtly dangerous can happen. You develop a mania. Everything is great! You’ve got energy, ideas, and enthusiasm. Maybe you can’t sleep much, but that just makes more time for fun! Finally you feel good! But the mania fades and you’re back where you started, just as depressed, but with the memory that there’s a temporary solution. And we remember where that leads – see “self-medication” above.
Or suicide. Doctors are always asking you about suicidal thoughts. If you haven’t had them before, you sure will once they bring it up a few dozen times.
Does this mean that it’s hopeless, that you’re doomed to an unending cycle of drugs, illness/dysfunction, and sadness? No. The fact that drugs can alter your perceptions means that they are changeable. Other, perhaps more sustainable things can alter your perceptions for the better. The world is not a consistently dreary place, with patches of horror. If you can safely change your viewpoint, without drugs, you can beat the depression and live a more fulfilling life.
It’s not totally bad to try the drugs. You may be lucky and get good results without overwhelming side effects. Or the changes you go through may at least get you to realize that there is hope, though no easy pill-popping solution.
If you can convince yourself that there’s the possibility of happiness and peace of mind, that’s the start towards finding a way out of your depression.
Get out, meet people. Find new friends or lovers. Share your thoughts with people you trust – your thoughts are worth sharing. Listen to what people have to say in response.
Money isn’t everything. Think about what you want to do with your days, then find the job that allows you to do it.
Eat better and get some exercise. If your body feels better, so will your mind. As you exercise, you’ll see measurable improvement in your weight or fitness, proof that things can change for the better.
Religion is not called the “opiate of the masses” for nothing – there’s something there that billions of people find satisfying. Study the various religions, and see what touches your spirit, maybe meditation, helping others, or visiting sacred sites. If following some magical being in the sky helps you, go for it. Just don’t start flying airplanes into buildings.
Stop following the news too closely, and remember that, as Robert Heinlein wrote, “most neuroses can be traced to the unhealthy habit of wallowing in the troubles of five billion strangers.” Bad news sells, but there’s plenty of good news if you look for it, or go out into the world and create some.
Think up your own changes. You’re not happy now. Why not try something else? Unfortunately, there are no magic beans, but keep trying – don’t give up.