Diseased

dis·ease

[dəˈzēz]

NOUN

  1. a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant

           Hello! As you may or may not have gathered, I am a diseased person.  My disease is not communicable, so fear not and read on! It is simply a disorder in the structure and function of my brain.  It can interfere with my ability to think, and certainly to write, but I am attempting this project anyway.  The stigma surrounding my illness is so pervasive and deeply ingrained in our society that it is rarely recognized, and I have become so frustrated that I feel the need to speak about it.  I am by no means the only one to do so, but I have decided that adding another voice to the chorus can do no harm.  Perhaps it will make us even a tiny bit louder, so that we may reach a larger audience.  A gal can dream.  

             If I were to accomplish one thing in battling the stigma, it would be to make a convincing case for Major Depressive Disorder to be renamed.  Names have power.  The name of my disease has, by power of association, greatly undermined popular understanding of its severity.  Major Depressive Disorder is a disabling illness that affects both the function and structure of the brain.  It is associated, for instance, with a shrinking of the hippocampus.  It affects memory, cognitive ability, and perception.  It is associated with changes in hormone levels and neurotransmitter levels, both of which are integral to the functioning of all aspects of the body. 

             Major Depressive Disorder is as physical as it is psychological.  Aside from the long-lasting effects of behavioral changes, studies have also demonstrated long-term physical ramifications for the body.  It was reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association, for instance, that depression is strongly linked with cardiovascular disease. Individuals with a history of depression had between a 50% and >100% increase in risk for heart disease.  Heart attack mortality risk was also increased by a history of depression. (JAHA 2014)

           Evidence abounds regarding the physical nature of Major Depressive Disorder, and yet its classification as a mental illness seems to separate it from other serious diseases. The classification system is problematic in and of itself, but this post will address only the issues with the name.  Major depression causes acute suffering in those afflicted, and it is often fatal.  Still, the name includes a common adjective for a passing mood state.  The word depression is often used interchangeably with sadness.  The psychological community has long understood the power of association, and yet it retains an antiquated name that is associated with a changeable mood.  This allows those who are uninformed to maintain the belief that the illness is merely a negative mindset. Even those with more information retain subconscious associations between depression and sadness. This encourages misperception of the illness, which in turn contributes to prejudice towards the depressed.  If, for instance, depression is like a bad mood, then the afflicted are simply not making enough of an effort to look at things differently.  The depressed are seen by many as simply weak, lazy, and even possessing poor moral character.  It is not widely understood that it is a physical disease. 

          Depression is not simple to treat.  No treatment is yet one hundred percent effective, and many people suffer from what is referred to as “treatment-resistant” depression. Just like with treatment-resistant bacteria, people afflicted find medication and behavioral therapies ineffective. Their bodies are simply at the mercy of the disease. 

        As devastating as it is to experience and as harmful as it is to the body, depression also has wide-ranging effects on a person’s life. The disease can impede a person’s ability to hold a job, have a family, and function in society. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for those aged 15 to 44. (World Health Organization, 2004)   It is not an illness that should be easily dismissed.  

        Major Depressive Disorder is a horrific, poorly understood illness. Though not often perceived as such, it is a disease, and it can be fatal.  Some have estimated the fatality rate to be as high as 15%.  For every homicide in this country, there are two suicides.(NIMH 2014) Sadly, this horrifying loss of life is viewed as personal choice rather than the outcome of a devastating disease.    

       Major depressive disorder has stolen many lives.  The name should not remind one of a passing mood.  It should be free from associations with anything that might detract from its perceived severity. A British doctor once suggested Cantophers Disease. I completely support him.  We desperately need a paradigm shift, and for that, we need a new name. 

          

 

Blind

       I try to function, but my time is running on a dysfunctional clock. The clock is ticking too slowly; my seconds are longer than everybody else’s. No matter how I try to stay in the moment with them, they seem to be in the next minute already. My facial expressions take too long to form. The words come too slowly. My reactions are delayed. The air is thick and heavy, and I cannot move through it.

        When I’m able to move, there is a part of me that is petrified to stop, for fear that I will not be able to get up again. My energy is so unpredictable. When I have it, it can be very difficult to decide what to do with it. I need to take care of the pets. There are so many bills to pay. Will I still have the energy to shower? Wash my face? Brush my teeth? Change my clothes? Take out the trash? Clean an area of my room? How long will the energy last? What task will give me the best chance of feeling better once completed? These questions plague me. Sometimes they paralyze me, and I do nothing before the energy evaporates. I then find myself collapsed on the bathroom floor for half an hour or more, struggling to find the energy that has gone. I will make it to the bedroom, and then lay on the bed for hours, still unable to find energy to move. I have studied countless ceilings, countless floors while laying prostrate on some surface. I find patterns. I count spots of uneven paint. My strings of thought are so frayed that I lose their ends constantly, and have to start from the beginning,

        I don’t know how to explain this life to people. I don’t know how to show the dull grey of everything. The leaden weight that presses me towards the ground. I tell people that it is hard, and they tell me to change my outlook. Fuck that. How do I talk the colors into changing? How do I talk my body into feeling weightless? I’ve felt that way. I know it is possible to exist in a way that isn’t so hard. I remember when walking felt easy. I remember when I could feel the energy in my body, the desire to move and do things. I remember when the color palette of a sunrise was a painting that I could stare at forever. Colors are bland and oppressive now. The sun is glaring and rude. The forest is cold, dark, and frightening where it once was inviting and vibrant. Everything that my healthy self finds beautiful is still the same, but I am colorblind.  I cannot talk myself into seeing it the way I used to. I do try.

        I do not like my story. It is not the life I would have written by choice, for myself or for anyone else. I once had my heart broken by a man who thought he loved me, only to find my depression too stressful. I feel guilty for being such a terrible person, but at the time, I did find myself wishing that he would experience this degree of depression for himself for a while. A few weeks, perhaps. I would even have wished a month of this illness upon him when I was feeling particularly vengeful. But years of a life like mine…it would be a literal form of wishing someone would go to hell.  Even in my darkest moments, I am not that evil. When I imagine my most feared hell, I picture one of two scenarios: either I would truly be burning in a pit of eternal fire, or I would simply be reliving this life repeatedly. Forever.

      I want to experience a less awful version of this life. I know it can feel a gift. I know there is beauty and opportunity everywhere, and if only my mind worked better, I would be able to see. But I cannot see now.  I am blind and broken. 

 

A Journey of Words

      I don’t like sad stories. Everyone carries enough sadness. My own sadness has been crippling, and I desperately want the pain to end. But I can’t stop trying. To end my life would be to relieve my own suffering by placing it on the shoulders of those who love me. I refuse to give my pain to anyone else.  I refuse to die without this struggle having been worth anything.  So I am determined to make this journey end happily. For you, but also for me. 

      My life’s journey has already felt too long. Too many miles of trudging through pain. Each day I walk the proverbial mile, and each day I think about sitting down.

But I have to find a way to keep walking, and to do so, I cannot feel that these miles are walked in place any more. There must be a point on the horizon.  There must be a goal, a destination to reach, a future in which I will be healthy.

      They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This post is the first step in a new journey of words. I am going to write myself well.