Monday, May 11, 2009


Free-lance journalist Mari Sasano has done a great public service. She wrote about her depression at a time when she was not fully in its crushing grip (Why I'm Glad I'm Depressed, The Edmonton Journal, May 4, 2009). I believe there are many people who will find hope in her optimism about the future, set boldly alongside her admission that depression might some day pay her an unwelcome visit.
Writes Mari, “”I've been through this enough times to know that it's just something to get through. And I've always gotten better. Depression is like winter; it's, well, depressing, but every day you're in it, you're closer to spring. It's part of a process, and may in fact be necessary for flowers to bloom.””
Of the bad days Mari writes, “”I used to wish I was stable and able to get along in life like everyone else -- the neural-normatives, I call them. Depression has kept me from holding down a normal job: try telling an employer that you have to stay home because you're despondent. It doesn't fly. I am often so tired I need to sleep in the middle of the day. Or I can't stop crying. I need proper diet, sleep and exercise if I'm going to be in top condition. And then there are the relationships that have crumbled under depression's weight. It's not easy for me to live with, but at least to me it's familiar and I know what's going on. It's not always pretty, that's for sure.””
There are two kinds of people who need to read writing like Mari’s, people who are depressed and people who care for them. Both kinds of people struggle to keep hope alive on the worst days, the days when cheering up seems impossible. We need evidence that there is reason to hope on the bad days, even if a cure remains elusive.
People who struggle with depression need to read this kind of writing because there’s nothing so satisfying as hearing about the experience of somebody who’s been there. Professional opinions are valuable, but only to a point, the point as which the professional runs out of good, fast-working solutions. That is the point at which sufferers find hope in noticing that others have suffered and struggled and still been all right somehow.
People who treat depression need to read this kind of writing because we so seldom hear from people when they are feeling okay. They come to us at their worst and leave us when they start feeling better. After all, why do they need to bother coming when they feel better?
All of us need to be reminded about the things that work. Of the quirkiness that often helps, Mari writes, “”I would say that depression makes me a happier person, because I don't take being not-depressed for granted. I know that there are things that can make me happy; I study them and try to find other ways to keep myself sane. I know to monitor my moods and to appreciate every one of them, because they are all precious. Even the crappy ones.”” Easy for her to say. If I say it, it sounds trite, even condescending. Only somebody who’s been there can get away with saying such a thing.
And there’s the sticky issue of mental health meds. When I feel particularly discouraged about depression, I cheer myself up by thinking how my view of mental health medications has changed over the years. As a young social worker I firmly believed that any life problem worth its salt could be solved without adding chemicals to the mix. In those days I thought good counselling could fix anything. If I couldn’t fix things I assumed one of two things. Either I wasn’t smart enough yet, or the client was simply not trying hard enough. That’s the kind of thinking that kept my hope going in those days. These days I appreciate a broader perspective. I take seriously the remarkable power of medications to improve situations, and I also respect the fear of being dependent on medication and the shame of needing it, not to mention the side effects of being on it. I find myself offering hope that you don’t have to be on meds forever, and then offering the notion that there still is hope if you do have to stay on them in order to keep your life functioning reasonably well.
Of medication Mari writes: “”once I was diagnosed and put on antidepressants, I could tell the difference between the brain's mighty chemistry and real problems. I could sense the nuances, brush off what's just a bad mood and concentrate on, say, developing closer friendships and working on being better. Now that I'm off my meds, it's amazing. The range of emotions I used to have is back, and I can still tell the difference between a bad neurotransmitter day and true life crises. You have to respect the brain; those with no mental-health issues will never know how tenuous is the balance of brain chemistry we rely on, just to understand our world.””
Well said, Mari. I couldn’t have said it better.

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