The sadness will last forever.
—Vincent van Gogh
I sometimes struggle with depression, which is, in fact, depressing.
And by sometimes I mean I have MDD (major depressive disorder) not to be confused with MDDD Must Devour Donut Disorder.
I have that too. Comorbidity, it’s a thing, google it.
Depression has a way of tricking even the happiest of people into thinking that life isn’t worth experiencing. Their energy is evaporated, their ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life is compromised.
I’ve been battling depression on and off for most of my life. In fact, I remember my mother coming home from my 8th grade parent teacher conference and spilling the news that my typing teacher thought I was depressed!
I was confused, and a little embarrassed. I was the parent teacher conference headliner!? ME!? My brothers always beat me to the punch by doing something innocuous, like skipping school to steal the Taco Bell flag and then trading it with the school’s American flag.
Like we are going to pledge allegiance to tacos Mrs. Ellis!!!
The reality of my alleged depression being more headline worthy news than Jake jumping out of the second story science classroom window, set off warning bells inside my head, leading my 13 year old self to assume depression was something to be ashamed of, something you hide.
Please note, this is also my 46 year old knee jerk reaction I have to fight back like a lion tamer holding a chair to the roaring beast Still, I come from a long line of women who passed down the family recipe for coping with depression from one generation to another. Something wise and sage like “put butter on a burn” or in “case of female hysteria, bleed liberally with leaches.”
I imagine my grandmas perfect handwriting on a recipe card stuffed in with jello surprise and grilled pork chops.
Depression Cocktail Mix one part ‘This is all your fault’ with equal parts ‘You will never be enough’ add a splash of soda and serve shaken, not stirred. Garnish with a wedge of pineapple and a cherry. Serve in a spotless flute with your best and widest smile.
Directions: If you are a good host, then you make sure everyone is served, and happy. If anything threatens your success like an allergic reaction to pineapple, you never let on! No reason to interrupt the party with your silly problems, just stab an Epipen into your leg with your right hand, while offering a plate of horderves with your left, all while smiling broadly.
I have a rich heritage of honor, industry, integrity, creativity, loyalty and deep rooted faith, love and mental illness running through the limbs of my family tree. If we had a coat of arms It would be woven into our band of colors. The lion of courage, represents royal blood, fearless leadership and strength. The shackled dove represents how mental illness keeps us from flying. The harp represents our rich musical heritage.
I’m the daughter of Ruth D. who is the daughter of Louise, my namesake. We are fighters, and we’ve fought the dark like well trained Navy Seals.
Still, the weight of sorrow is not immune to gravity, and time and time again it flattens me like an ACME anvil.
I do my best to work through it, I watch a lot of Wylie Coyote for some tips.
And if that doesn’t work, I try eating sugar, or salt, or sugar and salt, deepfried.
And occasionally I even do something positive like journaling. The other day, I paused in my writing, considering the different metaphors for sorrow, and decided to go with sadness as a ticking time bomb I curled around; an assassin inside me. It was dark and fitting. I typed, “The assassin inside me” but autocorrect changed it to “The Asian inside me.” And I laughed out loud, the fog of despair lifting.
The fog continued to dissipate as laughing, I channelled my inner Asian! Finally I could access that tiger mother to whip my kids into 5 star shape! Embrace the origami skills of folding fitted sheets, and master the art of tidying up!
Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Major depressive disorder is more prevalent in women than in men.1.9 million children, 3 – 17, have diagnosed depression.Adults with a depressive disorder or symptoms have a 64 percent greater risk of developing coronary artery disease Major depressive disorder affects approximately 17.3 million American adults, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population which means there’s a good chance you know somebody who is depressed, or you are somebody who is depressed. Whatever the reason, statistically, we seem to perpetuate it in similar ways by maintaining the depressive cycle.
Maintenance is just a fancy way of saying, you do nothing, you stay on the same trajectory. The best way to do nothing is through rumination and avoidance Rumination is the mental habit of indulging or getting stuck on persistent negative judgments about oneself, especially perceived past failings and mistakes. Rummanation is not fighting against an outside attacker but fighting against ourselves. I have some mad skills in this area. Avoidance takes on the form of the classic fight or flight.
I come from a long line of overachievers, which is why the Asian inside me mimics the likes of Sammuramat the legendary queen of Assyria. In case you missed the 8th century history lesson, Sumu, as I like to call her, was a woman warrior ended up essentially bypassing her commander husband and leading the soldiers in a flanking attack against the enemy, winning the battle which is to say, when I ruminate I do like a warrior. I am fierce, pointed and unforgiving.
As a side note, after Sammuramat won the war, the king was so impressed with that he stole her from her husband, who subsequently committed suicide. Naturally. I mean, think about it! This was the 800’s, male and female roles were VERY defined. I can only imagine the heckling he endured; “Scared Menos?Why don’t you just call your wife? Oh, sorry. I forgot. She’s with the King.” And I thought I had shame issues.
In addition to rumination, I’m a huge fan of avoidance; you know, putting off something that seems difficult, for something easy like mindless phone games, scrolling through facebook, or canceling on friends to zone out with a twelve hour long Netflix binge. We do it for the temporary dopamine spike, but the buzz never last long enough, and ultimately ends up robbing us of meaningful tangible experiences.
Like connecting with meaningful, tangible, humans.
The challenge, then, is to stop the cycle of depression maintenance and re-engage with life. Be warned, the Asian inside you will try to distract you with Kung Pao chicken and photo ops of Geisha girls! Which is why we have to be determined, persistent and steady in our quest for change; we have to be the tortoise, not the hare. Our best shot at achieving change comes by practicing incrementalism or breaking things down into smaller steps so it’s not so overwhelming.
You cut off one bite of steak, you fold one crease in an origami swan, and chip away at the belief that because I don’t feel motivated, I can’t do anything. And once you manage to eat one piece, fold one crease, you cut another, you fold another, you make slow, snail like progress, but progress.
I have an Asian inside me. I like to think she makes me a little more graceful, and boosts my IQ. I am trying to make peace with that cunning warrior inside me, so that together we can break the cycle of depressive maintenance.
And if making peace doesn’t work, plan B is to bribe her with chocolate. Lots, and lots of chocolate. #feedthebeast
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.