I’m 28. I’ll be 29 in a month and 6 days. And the first time I took a psychology class at the college level, I was a gawky fourteen-year-old, and the only reason I was in a college class at 14 was because my father was a professor at the school at the time.
It was an intro-psych class. College level. College material. I did pretty well, considering I was a high-school freshman and in an intro-psych class that dealt in both cognitive and abnormal psych. In other words, I diagnosed myself with depression – a family gift, passed down from generation to generation – at fourteen.
If I were anyone else, with any other life experience, then maybe I could laugh at this now and think, this is why teenagers shouldn’t read the DSM. However, I had to claw my way out of that quagmire, and nearly everything that I learned in that textbook over the three months I was in that class – and the others I’ve taken since – became the staircase I needed to get out of the hole.
It split perspective in an interesting way, too, but for that, keep reading.
What I may not have mentioned in prior entries on the topic is that depression often manifests physically, because if the person doesn’t have a psychological outlet, it flows over into physical well-being and turns into lack thereof.
No two people experience the physical hallmarks of depression the same way. There’s no real way of knowing. If mental hallmarks are difficult to spot, physical are twice so. You just cannot tell. And moreover, you just cannot put an end to it if you happen to be the one who has to deal with it. This is why whenever I catch someone saying to anyone, “well, they can just not be depressed”, I want to beat them with something blunt.
The best way I can think to describe depression is to have a constant, heavy, tightly-buttoned, self-closing coat on you. Imagine it. Imagine that it has a mind of its own and the only thing it does is drape itself across your shoulders and button you up in its merciless grip. Imagine it weighing you down to where you know that if you reach up to open one button, it’s going to take an immeasurable effort, and no matter how hard you try to reach the first button, your arms are so weighed down that it’s a Herculean effort to even shift while wearing it. It’s tight; you know you can have it loose or off, and that it won’t interfere with you unbuttoning it, but since you can’t loosen it, then you have to walk around and deal with the way it constrains everything that you do. And it doesn’t go away: you can’t take off the coat and put it back on as you feel like it; once it’s on, you either fight to remove it for a prolonged period, or you take the other route. You have to wear it everywhere.
But when you do manage to unbutton it, take it off, let it fall with a dull clunk on the floor, your body never quite recovers from it. It will always remember the heaviness, the tightness, the discomfort, and the weakness that it felt when trying to remove it. And the coat is there, still, on the floor, reminding you that any minute, it can be on you again. You can wake up wearing it again and never know how the hell it got back onto you again.
Because I’m a scholar at the core, and because I studied the science of psychology in many and multiple iterations for what’s now half my life, I have a very curious dual perspective of depression. I have the experience of someone who had studied it, and someone who had gone through it. And, if my physical symptoms are to judge, is still getting through the aftershocks of it.
My own physical symptoms of depression are particular to the lifestyle that I find myself in. I’m a lot more tired mentally than I’ve ever been physically as of late, and this is something that I can neither help nor mitigate; this is the nature of my line of work. But what it lent itself to is the fatigue; the consuming physical and mental fatigue that makes me want to crawl under the covers and want to stay there for a week – which I’d never allow myself to do because it’s completely contrary to my otherwise very active nature. While no, I’m not at my ideal health, the aches and pains I’ve developed lately are not due to any physical ailments. The back pain is no injury, and I am not prone to headaches, and especially not migraines, on an ordinary day. I know too well the mindset I was in when I first started having those headaches. I expect some joint pain, yes, but it’s localized mostly to the knees – not the shoulders, which feel as though there’s a small boulder on each.
And it discombobulates me a fair bit, because I didn’t notice anything creep up on me on the mental side. I enjoy things the way I always enjoy them, I am in my regular mood – hey, for me, being cantankerous and sarcastic is 100% normal – and I certainly do not feel as though anything is particularly, you know, off. I don’t feel sad, hopeless, or anything even remotely resembling the mental black hole I was in before. But I feel the physical symptoms a lot more than usual. And lately, I just don’t have the spoons to keep going past a certain point.
If you want to know what I mean by “don’t have the spoons”, read The Spoon Theory. It’s a really great read about chronic conditions, and living with them, and depression is no different.
Funny thing is, I’m still treating myself as my own case study. On one hand, I crawl into bed wishing that the alarm wouldn’t have to go off (and knowing full well that it’s not like I have that much of a choice), and on another, I will wake up at that alarm clock, take a deep breath, and commit my dreams or lack thereof, aches and pains, any mood change or any foreboding-type of gut feeling to memory or to a journal. That’s the scholar’s perspective, and yes, in a way, it does help. By detaching from the condition itself, by treating it as though it were someone, anyone else, I’m actually doing two things: one is that I’m doing a lot better at steering clear of the worst of the quagmire, and two is that I’m seeing just how human I am. I’m not SuperWoman, even though my ex-boss and a few of my friends will say to contrary. I’m good – oh, I’m very good at what I do – but I am not the best (which is okay), and I certainly do not have the energy for everything (which is also okay).
It also makes me feel like I’m on the outside of myself looking in, and what I’m seeing right now is someone who really needs to get some sleep. Not just a nice night, but spend a couple of days just drifting in and out of snooze mode. And yes, it’s in part because I work in a high-stress environment at peak deadline. But the other part is that there was once a big heavy coat on my shoulders, and my body remembers the weight of carrying it and shifting and bracing up to bear it again.
I won over it before. I will win again. Otherwise, I’m just not me. It may take a heating pad or two, though.