I read “Descent: A Memoir of Madness” by David Guterson, for two reasons. The first being my love of his novel, “Snow Falling on Cedars” it remains to this day one of my favourite reads. The second reason was my very ‘oh so’ intimate knowledge with the subject of “Descent” that of Depression.
I spent five very painful years suffering from severe, deep depression, and while the origins and length of time were different, in many ways he expressed exactly, much of what I experienced. I rarely read books on depression now, while I devoured them for many years. His depression, of five or so months, was severe, and I recognized several of his copying strategies.
Initially the Psychiatrist I saw went the usual routes of medication and therapy. After several months he acknowledged that any past traumas in my life I had obviously dealt with, my marriage, while like most had its usual ups and downs, was not causing the problem so why, was I still depressed and getting worse as time went on? A chemical imbalance! so we sought to correct that with more, and different medication. Nothing made the slightest difference, over the next four years I tried every anti-depressant on the market, at times I was on several at the same time. I tried all the behavioral ‘in’ things that were out there.
In his book (really an essay, more than a novel) DG writes that the day he recognized, death was a consideration, he reached out for help, and for him, medication worked. For me when that day came, I finally agreed to ECT, something I had resisted agreeing to for the previous year.
It took time, and more treatments than I would have liked, but it worked. The cost to me, and my family though was high, I lost large, what I call, ‘chunks’ of memory, I now know I will never regain. My children will talk about something, and at times I have no memory of it, they fill in the blank, but rarely does the memory become mine again. Other times they talk, and though at first I don’t remember, it will come in flashes, yet other things are perfectly clear. To this day I will be told something, but lose that memory, while others again remain clear.
While my family and friends in real life know most of what happened to me in those five years, I rarely talk about it online. Not because of shame, I resolved that some years ago, and not because of a judgment made by another, and liberally passed around, but because this is a subject which needs to be talked about. Though more is known about depression, and gradually the ‘stigma’ is being lifted, it is still not completely accepted as an illness as one would accept cardiac disease for example.
More people are becoming open about their experiences, Clara is a name most Canadians will have heard about in the last few years, she is a remarkable young woman.
My story is not that unusual, I am one of the lucky ones. Today I take no anti-depressants, and though there are still days and periods where it gets darker, for the most part, I am able to deal with it. I recently found that acupuncture is of some help when the colour dims a bit.
So why am I making this post? I think reading the book is part of it. I also realized that over the years I have talked with a few people struggling with depression, and the very fact someone else was open helped them. I never experienced that myself, but I think it would have helped, just knowing someone else who was experiencing something similar to me. For each person depression is different, but there are many things we have in common.
Depression needs to be talked about, it needs the stigma removed, and to be looked upon as an illness like any other. Because we suffer from depression does not make us somehow ‘LESS’ we simply have a medical condition, in the same way as we may have a cardiac or any other medical condition. I don’t reveal a great deal of personal information online, but this is an open post, and to be honest, as I click the post button, I know I will hesitate. Some of you know I have a number of medical conditions, and yes! I know I am repeating the same words, but I think you understand why. This is simply my doing what I can, to bring one of my medical conditions…depression…out into the open.
I wrote this a few weeks ago, with the intention of posting it this week. In light of today’s news about Robin Williams, I hesitated. In some ways it seemed wrong to do so, but then I thought, why? Perhaps this is just the right time so here I go, about to click post...I hope.