Some of the memories of events in my life that others recall as exciting, happy or fun always seem to be recalled in my mind with at least a little bit of emptiness, sorrow or a “blue” feeling.
Not all of them, for sure, but enough for me to recognize a pattern as time passed. I’ve lived with depression for as far back into my childhood as I can remember, I just didn’t know it at the time. I wasn’t treated for it, and it was never mentioned, until I was in my late 20s.
Since then, I’ve tried therapy. I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried so many different types of antidepressants over the years that I felt like a study subject. SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, and MAOIs. If you can throw three or four letters together, I’ve probably taken an antidepressant in that category.
They all worked about the same. Great at first, with side effects following soon after with most of them, while others seemed to do nothing at all. In fact, I was even one of the unlucky seven percent of people who went through what is called “paroxetine withdrawal syndrome,” which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Months of tapering off a medication that had side effects during use, and sometimes worse side effects as I tried to stop using it.
I’m not saying paroxetine or any other kind of medication is bad. It just wasn’t good for me. I’ve known people who it has worked well for and had no side effects. I just wasn’t one of them.
I’m not a doctor, and I would never tell anyone what they should do regarding depression or anything else. I can only share my experience.
The “great at first” parts of medications or therapy, for me, surely could have been the placebo effect, as much as it could have been chemical changes in the brain made by a pill.
Webster’s dictionary defines the placebo effect as, “improvement in the condition of a patient that occurs in response to treatment but cannot be considered due to the specific treatment used.”
A few examples might be sugar pills for pain management, or to relieve anxiety.
Therapy was another avenue I tried, with mixed results. Sometimes I saw a therapist while prescribed antidepressant medication, and sometimes independent of it. Either way, seeing someone seemed to help while I was there, but I wasn’t able to take some of the things outside the appointment. Again, maybe it was the placebo effect. I was talking with a professional who was trained to help people and make them feel better. They were non threatening and most of their offices were comfy and cozy. It was a good environment in which to believe that things were going to be okay.
But that only lasted for so many hours after leaving the appointment.
To emphasize, this went on for years and coincided with a battle with addiction. My experience wasn’t a one-and-done conclusion. I saw many professionals who tried to help with my version of depression over a span of several years by all sorts of means. I’ve gathered real world data for the only case I have any experience with, and that’s my own.
I’ve read articles and studies. I’ve tried to break down research papers and collaborative works of groups of people with more sets of initials after their names than I could make sense of.
I tried self help books. At one point I had a pile of them. From Peele to Robbins, to Frankl and Covey. Religion, spirituality and meditation. Existentialism. CBT, REBT and all kinds of behavior modification.
They all worked, to some degree. But they only seemed to charge my battery, so to speak, while I was in the moment, reading or working hard at it.
What I realized after years of working to not feel depression and the anxiety that accompanies it, was that I was putting in so much effort without much return. Self help was tiring me out.
Ups and downs are natural in life. Good days and bad days string together due to foreseen and unforeseen events. But I was tired of the extreme lows and I was just as tired putting in all the work to prevent them.
I am grateful that through the years I have managed to live long enough to have had the exposure to the many sides of treatment for depression, even with the less than stellar results I gained from it all. I use some of the techniques and exercises I learned years ago to navigate the day. It’s been a little like a psychological and physiological salad bar. A lot of the stuff isn’t all that appealing, but there are a few things that are really good. I have learned how to use these weapons with practice, and a lot of trial and error.
Depression is a condition, I’ve often heard, where your brain works to destroy you. If nothing else, that makes for a complicated relationship with oneself.
I had become worn down over time from trying so regularly to change what always has been, and seemingly will always be, a large part of me. I got to a point where I wasn’t really sure who I was anymore, to an even greater degree than was the norm prior to all the work. I was tired of self help, positive thinking, buzz words and catch phrases. I was tired of smiling. I was sick of being grateful for what I had, when it didn’t feel like I had time to enjoy it all. I was tired of reading books from transformational gurus who were late on a rent payment one month, contemplated suicide due to that one hardship, and then were delivered from the abyss miraculously from a shift from the Universe. After all, suicidal ideation for a depressed brain is child’s play.
I apologize if it seems as though I am making fun of someone’s life-threatening ordeal, and, honestly, that last part was made up. There is a place for motivational people. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. But, again, learning how someone went from dead broke to living with power and influence, which could be guaranteed with $497 and a three hour seminar, just wasn’t for me.
I was completely sick and tired of things not working, and with the situation I was stuck in. So, frustrated by it all, I finally got angry. I developed an attitude. I was fed up. I wasn’t going to take another day of the same old dark, empty garbage.
I didn’t act out. It’s not like I became a bully with this change in attitude. I didn’t start going around giving people wedgies or throwing rocks through windows. The change was inside, and what I received from that experience has become my favorite weapon in the all out war I wage on depression.
That weapon is defiance.
It was incredible, that instant in my life. Defiance. Who would have thought? It was then that I went from reacting to acting. Instead of always trying, usually with the skill of a novice Whac-A-Mole player, to stop the downward cycles and ever changing pits of emptiness, I went on the offensive. Instead of defending the battered castle, waiting for the next attack, I went out and looked for the enemy, which was that part of my mind that controlled the constant, everyday shit show that is depression. I didn’t figure I had anything to lose.
Not in a thousand lifetimes, and not with a thousand armies.
In my practice, defiance is simple. I have a healthy respect for what depression can do, but I am not afraid of it. Under no circumstances will I bow down to it. Ever. I will use every weapon I can bring to the fight I will win, even on bad days. Period.
When I’ve shared this with the few people over the years I’ve talked to about it, they sometimes react as if my answer is the product of a previous psychotic break. I’ve had some supportive and inquisitive responses as well. I had a counselor tell me years ago that my idea of defiance may actually be hope masked as such. I’ve often thought about that, and it’s an interesting way to look at it. For what it’s worth, although I like hope, somehow defiance seems more assertive and battle-ready. Whatever it takes…
Defiance has been defined as open resistance and bold disobedience. After decades of playing defense and often being woefully unprepared for the next barrage, the mind shift of taking taking the fight to the enemy has been liberating. I follow the “open resistance” and “bold disobedience” parts of defiance in cooperation with the other weapons I have at my disposal in the battle against depression.
Self care, hope, resilience, gratitude and self awareness are some of the other things I practice and work at today, day in, day out. It’s a system that often works well in solving conflict, challenging thought patterns and checking reality with the information coming from my brain. When I use them. When they are working in unison, things seem to run more smoothly. When they don’t, defiance kicks in and I put on my armor and fight until I can get the system up and running again. I will use every weapon I can bring to the fight I will win, even on bad days. Period.