The thing that bothers me about depression is that I fear I will be an easy murder target. Someone will just one day push me off a balcony or cliff, and the police will look at my medical history and assume, “Oh she was depressed, she must’ve committed suicide. LOL case closed.” and the murderer will get away without any investigation at all.
I used to believe that depression is something like an ulcer. You get it, it’s shitty, but it hopefully gets better and then you get back to being normal. Sure afterwards you should probably be careful not to get it again, but you’re not at any more risk than anyone else.
Apparently that’s not the case. I was diagnosed in university when I was 21, and then I got better and I thought that was that. Well, a couple years ago the military found this out and sent me to a military psychologist. I told her very logically and calmly about the cause of my depression (my eating disorder) and that because the root cause was fixed, the depression went away too.
Without trying to seem overly neurotic, I explained to her that I am very diligent about not getting another eating disorder. I don’t diet for extended periods of time, I don’t overly restrict calories, and at the same time I exercise regularly but not obsessively. See? No eating disorder, no depression, no problem.
“Unfortunately, because you’ve been diagnosed before. You are at a higher risk of reoccurance. The data shows that after you’ve had one round of depression, you are more likely to relapse in your lifetime.” Explained the military psychologist.
“Um. But to me because I’m really vigilant about not relapsing, I think I’m more prone to identifying its onset and how to prevent it than someone who’s never experienced it before.” I rationalized, “I make sure I get plenty of seratonin. Whenever I’m stressed I make sure to exercise.”
It wasn’t any use. “We can’t have you deploy with this kind of liability. Something could happen to you and you might not be able to handle it. So I have to flag you to be cleared by a psychologist before you go on any kind of assignment.”
I thought this was rather silly, I’m in the band and I haven’t even held a military rifle in over 10 years. What am I going to do, bludgeon myself to death on my saxophone? But reluctantly, I understood that it’s in the best interest for the other soldiers for people to disclose mental illnesses rather than to conceal them.
Even though the psychologist assured me that it wouldn’t really affect my duties, I left that meeting feeling like inferior goods. Because of something that happened to me in the past, I was now branded with this mark of ‘defect’. I would never be ‘healthy’ in the eyes of the military. I couldn’t help but worry about how else depression would come back to haunt me.
Depression affects 25% of women at least once in their life, and 10% of men.
The average age of onset is mid-20s, with most people experiencing their first bout between the age of 20 and 40.
50% of patients who have been depressed will relapse in their lifetime.
80% of patients who have two episodes will have another.
On average, individuals with a history of depression will have five to nine separate depressive episodes in their life.
According to the stats I found, I pretty much have a 50/50 chance of becoming depressed again, and once that second bout hits I will go on to have recurring episodes every decade.
I really wanted to prevent a relapse. I wanted to be one of the 50% that will never get depressed again. Those months were scary, and while I got out of it in under a year, it was a year of my life that I lost that I’ll never get back.
Being depressed was like being in an alternate universe. It wasn’t like I was particularly sad, but all of a sudden all my desire to do anything vanished. Nothing stimulated me. I became apathetic to everything. School. Friends. Relationships. Everything was a dull chore and it seemed so pointless.
The worst part for me was seeing others around me be happy. I couldn’t even muster the energy to fake happiness, and obviously this negativity was a downer to those around me. Other people would laugh, joke with each other, and I’d just be there with this dull look in my eyes – dampening the atmosphere. People either had to tip-toe around me or avoid me. I barely wanted to make conversation, and felt so useless when I was forced to socialize due to school events. I wish I was also less self-aware, but I wasn’t. I could tell that others were normal, happy, and enjoying life, and that I was the only one who was out of place.
I never had trouble falling asleep until I became depressed. All of a sudden I woke up at 6am every morning, regardless of when I fell asleep. It was such a curse to me, because all I wanted was to have less waking hours – yet I had to get up and do life. The only way to work around it was to go to bed earlier, so I started going to bed at 9 or 10pm when possible. It was the only moment in the day I felt somewhat positive about the fact that I could just not be there anymore.
I was only 21 at the time, and I slowly alienated myself from my friends. My parents lived halfway across the country, and I really didn’t have a clue that I was sinking further and further into depression. I just existed in this sullen state, becoming more apathetic as the days ticked by. I dreaded knocks on the door or phone calls. I could only do the bare minimum, which was to attend classes and work on group projects. All other times I did not want to be around other people. Being around others only highlighted what was so deeply wrong with me.
At the same time, my eating disorder was getting worse – this was the biggest frustration. I could not help myself from the compulsions that drove my ED – and finally this prompted me to look for help with the school counselor. Even though I couldn’t identify depression, I knew my eating habits were terribly unhealthy for me. I knew what bulimia and anorexia was from indulging in countless teen shows and YA fiction. EDs killed people, and I at least didn’t want to die.
Because I always thought my ED was the root issue, I never really considered depression a problem until the military psychologist flagged me medically unfit. When I realized that depression wasn’t something that only impacted me but could be a liability for others, it made me really think about the reality of relapsing – and what that would mean for me. Depression stripped away my entire identity. If anything, I’m prone to bouts of histrionics. But apathy? I’m not apathetic about anything! Everything matters to me, whether positively or negatively.
I started seeing a psychologist last fall on a regular basis. Figuring that, if I can pre-emptively talk to a professional, even if some trickle of depression sets in we could prevent it at the root. (And also to have my mental state on record by an expert, in case that unlikely homicide ever happens so no one calls it a suicide … )
All of this is self-management and a work in progress, but I remain very vigilant about keeping depression at bay. Recurring episodes are supposed to start within 5 years of the initial onset – so I might be overdue for a bout. My obsession with psychological processes and personality theories could in large be a form of control – to try to understand what problem areas reside in my brain.
Something that is scary to me is witnessing depression in others. It troubles me greatly to see people I’m close to exhibit the same signs of apathy that I once did. People who’ve been diagnosed with ED often have to avoid ‘triggers’ because they’re much more prone to be affected by opinions concerning their food intake or their weight. Well, being close to depression feels like a trigger to me. At once, I want very much to help and offer whatever support I can, and on the other hand, when I try to empathize with depression-like behaviour it reminds me too much of my own episode and can be paralyzing.
Yet I can’t shake the little nagging voice in the back of my head – that something sudden could always happen, like a major sickness, a death in the family, running out of money and being unemployed, or a natural disaster washing away all my possessions. (Ok apparently earthquake insurance is not included in standard tenant insurance.) If something like this happens, who knows what will happen then. Without my little routines, without my health to exercise, without money to pay my very expensive psychologist, will I really be ok?
I feel like I’m walking along this pretty narrow ledge, and as long as I concentrate really hard – I’ll make it out ok. But just a slight change in wind or a momentary lapse in concentration – and I could end up falling. Then what? What will happen to me after that?