Living with Depression

There’s no cure for depression. A combination of prescribed medication and therapy can variably lessen the impact the illness has from person to person, but this is by no means a permanent solution. Clinical depression, in a much less detailed nutshell, is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, particularly concerning serotonin and dopamine. Medication, as well as a healthy lifestyle and proper self-care, can help to regulate these chemicals, but that’s really all it can do. Now, it may feel like I’m starting this post off with a very direful mindset, but as my aim with this post is to address the realities of living with depression, I believe it’s important to be realistic and honest, as opposed to spouting motivational lies. But I promise, it isn’t as grim as it sounds.

Depression, like many other illnesses both physical and mental, is ever-present. Experts say it’s likely that at least 60 percent of those who’ve had a depressive episode will have a second, 70 percent of those who have had two episodes will have a third, and 90 percent of those who have had three will have a fourth. As the number of depressive episodes increases, so too does the likelihood of another. To clarify, depressive episodes are not the same as clinical depression as an illness – episodes refer to periods of time, lasting anywhere from days to months, in which one is suffering from depressive symptoms. In short, a multitude of depressive episodes are what make up clinical depression as a whole.

A statement from Thomas Franklin, M.D. speaks to me as being one of the most accurate representations of what depression is, anatomically speaking. He describes the illness as being biopsychosocialspiritual, meaning it oftentimes permeates every aspect of the life in one who’s suffering from it. Physical, mental, spiritual, social…depression can be informally considered an illness of any type. There is much we still don’t understand about it, and with time, research, and prayer, hopefully there will come a day where we can eradicate it altogether, but for now, we live with it as best we can.

In the Harry Potter series, according to author J.K. Rowling herself, dementors are a direct reference to clinical depression, mirroring her own experiences with it. For those who aren’t fans of Harry Potter (first off, why not?), dementors are ghostly, cloaked, disturbing creatures, who attempt to kill a person by literally sucking their soul out. Yikes. As morbid of a metaphor as this may seem, it is accurate, as those suffering from depression often have the joy “sucked out of them” by the illness, preventing them from enjoying life as much as they should. Whilst many who have depression may not claim that their soul is missing, it does seem important to note that life, the very thing that builds and strengthens our souls, is what’s being threatened by depression.

I would be remiss to sit here and claim that I know what depression is like for everyone. Every person is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually different, and the way depression affects each person is different in each of those ways as a result. For myself, depression is a creeping beast, ready to pounce when I least expect it. My depression is the almost eternal pessimistic attitude, and the devil on my one shoulder, though oftentimes it feels like it’s on both. My dementor ensures that only the happiest of moments can drive it away, and even so, it will oftentimes rear its ugly head after the euphoria has died down. My depression causes me to think about returning to my bed for a large chunk of the day, only to have me return to it at night, wide-eyed and worrisome for the next day.

bedtime
Credit: Jake Likes Onions

Accepting my depression is accepting that I will never be as comfortable in social situations as many others. Very rarely will I be the one to take initiative in much of anything, and logic will oftentimes fall to the wayside as my decisions are emotionally based on trying to lessen the impact of my depression in the present, as opposed to making decisions that will help me combat it in the future.

I’ve accepted my depression. I’ve come to (relative) peace with the fact that much of my life will be spent trying to live in harmony with it. The key is realizing that it doesn’t have to govern my life. Depression, by its very nature, is a condescending acceptance, a resigned sigh that things aren’t going to get better – if anything, it says that things will get worse. That’s what depression tells me, and all else who suffer from it. This is one of the plethora of lies it will heap on whoever unwillingly listens to it, another step forward in its job to make people’s lives worse.

Whether or not you believe medication makes things better, anatomically, it does help. From our very, VERY limited knowledge of depression, we can see prescribed medications make the numbers we want to go up, up, and the ones we want to see go down, go down. I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you if I knew what all of those numbers are, but from my own research and personal experience with psychiatrists, serotonin and dopamine are the two golden chemicals in this this regard. Our brains need certain amounts of each one of these to make us happy. Regulating these chemicals is key to combating clinical depression.

As any good doctor will tell you, though, popping a few pills isn’t nearly enough to avoid recurring depressive episodes. Having good mental health is a full-time job, and it includes balancing all aspects of your life. Depression makes this even harder, though, as the very likelihood of its existence is based on inadequate mental health management. This is why I cannot stress enough: if you need help, ask for it. Although the stigma surrounding asking for help has been dying over the past few years, there is still a strong mindset out there that believes asking for help is a sign of weakness. We’ve all seen the movies where the stubborn husband on a road trip refuses to ask a local for help because “real men don’t ask for directions.” Don’t be that person. Real men and women aren’t afraid to admit their hindrances, because they realize everyone has their own.

Notice I didn’t say “admit their faults,” there, as depression isn’t a fault, just like it isn’t your fault it you’re suffering from chicken pox. You clearly didn’t pick your genes out and say, “Ooh, depression? That sounds fun!” It’s not your fault, nor is it a fault in character. It’s an unfortunate character trait to have, sure, but that doesn’t make you worth any less. It’s a part of your life, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can learn to live with it, if not harmoniously, at least tolerably.

As with many posts I don’t sit down and plan out beforehand, this was a little all over the place, and for that I apologize. If there’s any one thing I’m trying to get across here, it’s to show how those who have depression can view the world, and broadly explaining how I believe the illness can be dealt with. Sure, there’s no cure for depression, but there are ways to live with it, and decrease the chances of its return once it lessens. There’s help everywhere, all you have to do is ask.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Maintaining Mental Health

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!

Depression is one of those things that seemingly has no rhyme or reason as to when it decides to rear its ugly head. Sure, it’s always more or less prevalent in the lives of those who suffer from it, but there are times when it decides to take over every aspect of the way you think, feel, and view the world. It’s rather well-known by now that depression is largely based in the makeup of brain chemicals.

In short, depression (chemically) stems from a lack of dopamine and hypo sensitivity to serotonin in the brain. Dopamine, known as the “happy chemical,” is essential to keeping our motivation going. In other words, when you feel little to no excitement over doing things that once pleased you, there is a good chance this is related to a dopamine deficiency. The relationship between serotonin and the brain in someone who’s depressed is a bit more complex. More often than not, someone who suffers from depression is not deficient in serotonin, but rather the neurotransmitters in the brain are not accepting and absorbing the chemical. Serotonin is thought to regulate things such as a constant sleep schedule and appetite, which are two things that are often lacking in depression sufferers. If you’re interested, I wrote a post a while back on the more technical aspects of depression here: Clinical Depression, broken down.

Since depression is oftentimes so rooted in chemical imbalances, it rarely “goes away.” Medication can help to alleviate symptoms and bring some stability to the chemicals in the brain, and therapy can help with the more apparent effects of the depression, but to expect such a mentally crippling illness to simply disappear is uncommon, as nice as it would be. So why, then, does depression seem to hit us harder at some moments than others? Personally, I can go weeks without feeling like my depression is keeping me from doing things – I can hang out with friends and genuinely enjoy myself, get out of bed at a reasonable time, and eat all three meals in a day as opposed to just snacking far too much at one point in the day.

Of course, I’ve experienced the flip side of this more often than I can count. I’ve gone months without doing anything social with friends, had no discernible eating pattern, and my sleep schedule has been so out of whack that I was closer to nocturnal creature than human.

And whilst I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum of depression, far more often, I’m somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Not terribly depressed, not carefree, but simply feeling average. So again, I ask, what causes depression to go one way or another? For those who have it, it’s always there, but it seems to be a matter of chance whether it’ll get worse or lessen.

I’m far from an expert. I don’t have a degree in psychology or a doctorate; any opinions I state here are from talking to others with depression and my own experiences. From what I can tell, depression is affected by what goes on outside of the brain, in our lives, just as much as (if not more than) what chemical imbalances there are in our brains. Our social lives, our sleep schedule, our establishment of a somewhat consistent (at least) schedule…the list goes on. This may seem obvious to some, but for those whose lives can be overtaken at a moment’s notice by depression, it can be quite easy to lose grasp of this seemingly simple concept.

I think of maintaining your mental health like maintaining a garden. You can go out and buy the highest quality seeds possible, and plant them in the most fertile, open land you can find. The setup is ripe with success. However, if you don’t water and cultivate those seeds, working to remove any weeds that spring up, those seeds won’t grow and bloom into something as beautiful as they have the potential to be. The land in which you plant those seeds are the environment you’re in, i.e. the people who support you in the form of healthy relationships. Maintaining your garden after it’s planted is taking the steps needed to keep yourself mentally healthy – keeping a consistent sleeping and eating schedule, making an effort to go out and be social at least occasionally, staying active, and attending therapy and taking medication prescribed to you, if you feel that’s what you need to keep yourself afloat. Picking weeds is removing any unhealthy habits and influences from your life, especially those that tend to make depression worse – smoking, drinking, and overeating. These habits are nothing but temporary relief, trading a moment of peace for tougher consequences later on down the line.

A mistake often made by those suffering from depression is thinking that because they may be in one of their moments of (for lack of a better term) not-so-apparent depression, they can fall off of their mentally healthy habits without any type of fallout. They begin to go to bed a bit later, eat a bit more, consume alcohol more often…and they fall back into a deep depression, because they let their “mental guard” down and allowed depression to reestablish control over them. It’s a vicious cycle – feel good because the depression isn’t acting up as much, fall back into unhealthy habits because it feels fine, deep depression creeps back in because of a lack of care, work to re-cultivate a healthy lifestyle, and the cycle begins anew. The key is to find the sweet spot, so that you find a way to re-cultivate a healthy lifestyle,and keep it that way.

I may make it sound easy here. It isn’t. I struggle with this every single day, as does nearly every individual who struggles with depression. If you know somebody who is so skilled at keeping their depression in check that it’s like they don’t have it at all, even in the privacy of their own home, kudos to them. You know one of the few. If mental health was so easy to maintain, I guarantee it wouldn’t get nearly as much attention as it does. A benefit to this is the amount of resources now made available to everyone, free of charge. At the end of this post, I’ll have a list of numbers available to those suffering from depression and things often tied to it.

If there’s any one point I’m trying to make with this post, it’s this: having a mentally healthy lifestyle is a balance of monitoring brain chemicals, mostly through medication, and maintaining a lifestyle which supports your intention to be happy. Being physical is as important for your mental health as it is physical health. Licensed therapists are such an underused resource for mental health, as many people attach a stigma to them; some people see them as a resource for those too weak to take care of themselves. This isn’t true in the slightest. I see a therapist every week, not because I can’t maintain a healthy lifestyle independently – I can. I see him because having him as resource, especially for those times my depression is acting up more than usual, is invaluable to me.

You deserve to be happy. Not just putting on a smile for those who see you, but genuinely happy. Depression doesn’t want you to be happy – it’s in the name. But by maintaining as many aspects of your life as you can, you can be stronger than the illness. As always, whether I know you or not, feel free to send me a message if you want to talk – I’m happy to do whatever I can to help lessen the burden of depression, if I can.

US Suicide Hotline —— 1-800-784-2433

NDMDA Depression Hotline – Support Group ————– 800-826-3632

Suicide Prevention Services Crisis Hotline ———- 800-784-2433

Suicide Prevention Services Depression Hotline ——– 630-482-9696

Parental Stress Hotline – Help for Parents ——— 800-632-8188

Suicide & Depression Hotline – Covenant House ——— 800-999-9999

National Youth Crisis Hotline ——– 800-448-4663

Source: Telephone Hotlines and Helplines

Note: All numbers listed above are U.S. numbers. A quick Google search can give any available hotlines for your country of residence. A few UK numbers are listed in the source link above.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Cultivating Authenticity

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

If you’ve read or seen even a shred of motivational work in your lifetime, you’ve certainly heard the phrase “be yourself.” When I hear this, my mind goes back to the quote by E.E. Cummings I mentioned in my last post (“To be yourself in a world….is the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”). Simply “being yourself” can seem to lead to societal pushback, the whispers and murmurs behind our backs. It isn’t so much the act of authenticity that rubs some people the wrong way, it’s more so the guile of it. On one hand, we’re expected to be ourselves. On the other, we’re expected to be people-pleasers, expected to find the balance between honesty and keeping others comfortable. Tell the truth, but don’t say anything to make others too uncomfortable. Have the courage to disagree with the majority, but don’t say anything controversial. Do your best to sound informed, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

Some may argue that it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and people-pleasing, but I disagree. When we have to courage to be ourselves and nothing but, there will be some resistance, both from others and our own minds. We may fear that others may not like us as much when they see what we truly are and believe. So much of society is expected to put on the chameleon facade, adapting to the situations as they come, even if that means altering our personality and mask we put on for others. But, if life is about connections, then the only way we can cultivate and nurture those connections is to, and I quote, “be ourselves.”

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Many individuals already have problems with maintaining a healthy self-esteem, so to be asked to shed their safety blankets and show their true, imperfect selves can be incredibly daunting. But putting on a mask for everyone has its own risks. When we refuse to put our true ideas, talents, and opinions out into the world, they eat away at us. They fester in our minds and eat away at our worthiness. You can trade in your authenticity, but in return you may experience anxiety, depression, rage, resentment…the list goes on.

Think of authenticity not as a personality quirk, but as an active lifestyle choice. To quote Brené Brown, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” To quote her again, “Stand on your sacred ground.” Your sacred ground is your true self. Your morals, ideas, opinions, talents, all uniquely yours. Don’t let any disapproving glances or sneers from society throw you off your foundation, your “sacred ground.”

Mrs. Brown also has another invaluable piece of advice on the subject –

“I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

You were made specifically to be uniquely you. Don’t let fear of disapproval from others get in the way of what you’re meant to share with the world.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Romantic relationships and Depression

It’s no secret that depression can negatively impact a great many relationships, and in my experience, romantic relationships can take a large brunt of the heat. Romantic relationships are built on mutual affection – “if you love and accept me for who I am, then I’ll do the same for you.” But what happens if, instead of not being able to accept your partner, you can’t accept yourself?

This goes without saying, but one of the biggest impacts that depression has on us psychologically is an overarching feeling of self-doubt. It makes us question whether or not we’re smart enough, or generous enough, or, quite simply good enough. As such, it only makes sense that these feelings find a way to interfere in relationships. Those suffering from depression tell themselves: “If I’m not [insert positive adjective here] enough, why should my partner spend any time with me?” Depression makes us question whether or not we’re actually deserving of a romantic relationship. If we can’t love and accept ourselves, how can we ask somebody else to love and accept us?

Then there’s the blow to communication. Ask any couples counselor and they’ll tell you that communication is one of the most important aspects in any relationship. However, communicate is one of the many things people with depression are least inclined to do. Generally, when people are in the depths of depression, the last thing they want to do is talk about it. Psychologically, there’s a plethora of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is because they’re convinced nobody else will know how they feel. Despite the facts showing that more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from the illness, depression has the uncanny ability to make people believe that their problems and way of looking at things are theirs along to deal with.

As a result, depressive thoughts and emotions are a subject not often brought up, even between partners. This often causes the one in the relationship not suffering from depression to interpret this as keeping secrets, or feeling like they aren’t trusted. Obviously, trust is a major component in any relationship, so for one person to feel like they don’t have it can damage that relationship immensely.

Building off of that, this lack of communication can lead to unneeded drama. If one person in a relationship is not communicating with the other due to depression, the other may decide to take matters in to their own hands. Quite frankly, it’s hard to stay mature and level-headed when it seems your partner has no desire to communicate to you what they’re feeling.

If you’re dating or married to someone with depression, please don’t take any of these actions (or inactions) to heart. Understand that any lack of communication or presumptions is not out of spite for you, but instead a natural part of the mental illness that is clinical depression.

One of my favorite things to say is “understand that you will never fully understand.” Without trying to sound pompous, if you don’t have depression, you will never understand how someone with depression feels. Those who have depression know that fact, and only want for you to acknowledge it too. Even if they don’t show it, people are incredibly appreciative when you make an effort to try and “work with them,” even when you don’t completely understand the way their mind works.

Depression is hard enough on its own – adding another person to the mix can make it even trickier. But this isn’t a reason to avoid relationships. Having another support figure in life who not only loves you, but accepts you and makes an active effort to be compassionate and stick with you to the bitter end can do wonders for a mind suffering from depression. It isn’t easy, I know. But few things in life worth doing ever are.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Why Mental Health is so Important

Just for a moment, I want you to imagine being trapped inside your own mind.

Imagine that, despite any evidence to the contrary, your mind constantly takes situations and turns them into disasters. Imagine being so incredibly paralyzed by fear, anguish, guilt, jealousy, and every other terrible emotion under the sun, that it’s almost all you can bear just to pull yourself out of bed in the morning. Imagine believing, with barely a sliver of doubt, that the most worthless, undeserving person you know…is yourself.

Imagine yourself dealing with nearly every situation with the knife of anxiety at your throat, giving you the choice of either suffering from panic attacks, or coping with those situations in unsavory ways. Imagine feeling inferior to everyone else, because you can’t deal with simple, everyday situations. Imagine feeling like no one else could possibly get why you think the way you do.

Imagine being so wrought in despair, self-loathing, and guilt, you seriously consider taking your own life.

Society puts so much time, money, and effort into researching a great number of physical diseases and illnesses…cancer, HIV/AIDS, cerebral palsy, leukemia, and countless others. All of this attention directed at these physical afflictions is completely, 100% needed and deserved. In my opinion, the researchers who have made it their life goal to find a cure for, as of now, incurable diseases, are the best types of people. It goes without saying, but a wife shouldn’t have to lose her husband of many years to cancer. A child shouldn’t have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair simply because she was fated to. Attention to physical illnesses and diseases is absolutely warranted.

Then, there’s mental illness. Individuals who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, PTSD, and dementia (and that’s a small list of the illnesses we know about) often suffer from symptoms just as bad (and sometimes worse) as those who suffer from physical debilitation. There are some who argue that we put so much effort into researching physical diseases because there are many that are terminal – being “overly anxious” never hurt anyone, right?

Wrong. Statistics show that more than 1,000,000 people commit suicide per year. One million people, gone from the Earth, no more life to live, simply because they decided life wasn’t worth it. Granted, not all suicide stems from mental illnesses, but a great deal of it does. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24 worldwide. That is tragically incredible. For such a young age range, for so many people to be convinced that life isn’t worth living, even with so much life laid out in front of them…it’s heartbreaking.

just cancer

Oftentimes we can see the effects of physical diseases: a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy may lose his hair, or a woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease may have shaking hands. For mental diseases, it’s so much harder for the unwary eye to see. A man can put on a smile, make it through a work day, and laugh with his friends, but the next morning his depression threatens to have him stay in bed all day. A small girl may be seen as simply shy and quiet, but in secret she wants to communicate so many things, it’s simply her autism preventing her from doing so.

For those unaware of how many ways mental illnesses can affect people, symptoms are often misunderstood. Depression is seen as being “down in the dumps.” Anorexia is seen as someone having a skinny celebrity as a role model and wanting to look like them. Anxiety is seen as being a “worrywart” or “cowardly.” There is stigma attached to mental illness because so many people are unequipped to deal with it, and, quite simply, because many people don’t realize it’s a serious, attention-worthy problem in many people’s lives.

You see, that’s just it. People don’t realize. They’re unequippedUnaware. How are we supposed to help mental illness sufferers deal with their problems if they don’t speak about them?

To start with, many individuals suffering from mental illnesses aren’t speaking about their problems not because they don’t want help, but because they don’t think they’re worth it, or fear of being judged or, all too often, not even the one suffering from the mental illness realizes it’s an actual, medical problem. We live in an era where more and more light is being brought to mental illnesses every day, and as a result, more of society is becoming aware of the debilitating effect these “invisible” diseases have on people’s lives. But, as a worldwide community, we aren’t quite where we need to be yet.

To be turned against by your own body is a terrible thing. To be turned against by your own mind is just as bad. This is why I write on these topics. These dark, depressing, and oftentimes uncomfortable topics are real things that real people deal with, on a daily basis. The uncomfortable conversations are the ones we need to be having, if we’re to get anywhere in making those affected by mental illnesses have lives not plagued by uncertainty.

The next time someone entrusts in you that they suffer from any sort of mental illness, don’t think about how they may not be in any significant physical pain. Instead, remember that they’re in mental pain, whether it be self-loathing, anxiety, hallucinations, memory loss…they deal with this on a daily basis. But do not let this change your opinion of them for the worse. Instead, respect them for having the strength and fortitude to deal with whatever their mind heaps upon them. Understand that you will never fully understand the way their mind works, but have compassion for them regardless. And, most importantly, love them for who they are, not for whoever their illness is so desperately trying to make them be. Do this simple thing, and the world is one step closer to combating mental illness.

not okay

Stay strong.

– Ryan

 

I think I’m a mean person, and it’s incredibly discouraging

Hoo, boy, this one’s gonna be a doozy…

I’ve said many times over that I believe in the inherent good of all people, myself included. Regardless of our individual approaches, we’re all working towards some sort of happiness. It’s a whole ‘nother conversation about what methods are “acceptable” and whatnot, but I digress…

Inherently, I’m good, like I believe everyone on this earth is. As I’ve gone through these past few weeks, though, I’ve gotten to wondering: “is my inherent good making me outwardly good?” I’ve had proof the last few weeks to argue against that point. And I hate it. I’m sorry, but I do. There’s no getting around that fact.

I have clinical depression and anxiety, which means my mind and the conclusions it comes to are a bit different from those people who don’t have either illness. Long ago I accepted the fact that these mental illnesses will not only change the way I view myself, but also change the way I view others and their actions and words towards me. I dwell on things, I take things personally, I analyze every little detail of every little action, and, nine times out of 10, I come to bad conclusions. Whether they’re simply flawed in logic or straight-up insane conclusions to jump to, my mind tells me to, regardless.

So, in response to these terrible things my mind is telling me might happen, or in response to things I take personally and then WAY out of proportion, my wonky mind, despite being the reason I reached these conclusions in the first place, tries to pat me on the back and say “Don’t worry, Ryan, I’ll help you deal with this!”

“No!” my logical mind says. “Absolutely not, your ridiculous overthinking and fear-mongering is what got me to this mental state in the first place! I’ll deal with this logically, calmly, and with a level-head.”

Then my emotionally-overridden mind takes over. It pins me to a wall with nails. “I don’t think so, logic. We’re dealing with this MY way. Over-emotionally, overthinking, fearfully dealing with it.” And so it begins.

I’m mean to people.

I snap at them, I ignore them out of spite, I assume every little action is something in spite against me, I try to make my problems their problems, I scowl at them behind their backs, cut and dry, I’m a straight-up jerk to them, all to cope with my own messed-up way of thinking. So, I suppose that makes me selfish, as well. Great.

I won’t hide behind my depression and anxiety for all of this here – maybe this is just part of my personality, as well. I’d like to think not, because before either one of these illnesses manifested itself in me, I was actually a very pleasant person to be around. Regardless, even if I can attribute all of my “meanness” to my depression and anxiety, that isn’t an excuse.

I’m being 100% honest when I say it feels like these illnesses are pinning me against a wall with nails, telling my to deal with personal problems in unsavory ways. There are things I could do to deal with that, but even if there weren’t, what does it matter? I can certainly talk the talk –  I can tell you to be good to others, love yourself, understand you’re only human. But if I can’t walk the walk, what really matters, what good is it? I’ll say you should to be nice to an individual, and maybe the next day I go and snap at someone else for something that isn’t even their fault. I’ll say you should always be accepting of someone regardless of personal differences, but then later on put down someone’s viewpoint simply because it doesn’t line up with my own.

My point is this – I don’t think I’m a nice person. I can spout nice things left and right, and I can passionately believe them in my head and heart, but if I can’t apply what I “passionately believe” to my actions and attitude towards others, what good is it? It isn’t any good, I’ve found.

Maybe I’m inherently good. But I’m not good. I’m not sure I can convince myself otherwise.

– Ryan

 

Clinical Depression, broken down

Depression is known for its unfortunate ability to “override” any good thought that decides to come our way. Even if there is evidence in our lives supporting the fact that we shouldn’t be having depressive thoughts, our minds still find a way to push that logic to the side. With major depression affecting so many aspects of our lives from sleeping all day, to being reclusive, to suicidal thoughts, it’s almost hard to believe that all of these symptoms stem from a simple glitch in brain chemistry.

Unlike some mental illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease, clinical depression affects multiple areas of the brain as opposed to just one. In a nutshell, depression stems from abnormalities in the interactions between hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, such as the ones controlling serotonin and dopamine regulation. In order to understand why brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine are important in the diagnosis of clinical depression, it’s important to understand what they actually do.

Serotonin is thought to regulate sleep, pain sensitivity, sexual function, and appetite. Looking at some of the symptoms of depression, including sleeping for long periods of time (or not at all), overeating, or loss of ability to perform sexually, it’s no surprise that serotonin plays a big role in regulating depression. However, depression symptoms are not caused by a serotonin deficiency, but rather by the neurotransmitters in the brain being hypo responsive (under-responsive) to the serotonin provided to them.

Dopamine is known as being the “happy” chemical. It’s responsible for regulating motor function, reward and motivation centers, memory, and attention. Even more symptoms of depression include loss of motivation, loss of interest in things that once excited you, and a feeling of sluggishness. On the flipside of serotonin receptors, the neurotransmitters responsible for receiving dopamine are hyper responsive, basically overreacting to stress and fear stimuli.

neurotransmitters depressionThese hypo and hyper reactive receptors can be caused by a multitude of reasons, from excess stress to overeating. While genetics can certainly play a role in the risk of developing depression, it’s only about half that of the risk stemming from individual lifestyle factors. Of course, depression can stem from a combination of the two as well.

anatomy of depressionThis is another fact that makes clinical depression unique among many illnesses. While many diseases are purely genetic (you have to be born with the right makeup of genes, chemicals, etc.), depression affects us physiologically even if we aren’t born with it. Regardless of the cause, chemicals in the brain are put all out of whack.

So…why does any of this even matter? If you’re sad, you’re sad, who cares about the brain chemistry, right? It matters, because understanding the brain chemistry has played a big part in recent years in our understanding and treatment of depression. If you were to go back in time 50 years and tell someone that you’re depressed, chances are you’d get a response somewhere along the lines of “you’ll get over it soon.” 50 years ago, most people weren’t worried about the causes of depression, simply because most people weren’t worried about depression. Depression has been “diagnosed” in many individuals since the time of Mesopotamia (its original name is melancholia), but understanding it as an actual medical problem didn’t come until much later. If an individual was feeling depressed, it was considered nothing more than “being in a funk.” Everyone feels sad sometimes, why should we pay any more attention to people who feel sad a bit more often? Now, knowing what we know about brain chemistry and physiology, we’ve finally come to the realization that depression is an actual, medical problem, and it is worthy of our time and attention. Through our new understanding, we are more equipped than ever to deal with it.

depression wheel
A small correction to this graph: under Situations, as aforementioned, a bullet point should say “genetics.”

For me, nothing says it better: “Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character.” Flaw is such a key word here, as depression has the ability to make anybody dealing with it feel like a flaw of life. I’m dumb, I’m ugly, I’m sad, I’m flawed. No, you are not flawed. You are as much of a person as anyone else, worthy of feeling happiness, joy, and love; a slight mix-up of brain chemicals doesn’t change that simple (yet irrefutable) fact.

We live in a time where we’re lucky enough to have, at the very least, a rudimentary understanding of clinical depression and its causes. By understanding the root of depression, we’re that much closer to finding a way to cut the stem before it sprouts. If we do nothing with the information we’ve learned, combating depression (and mental health in general) will be at a standstill for far too long. As someone who suffers from clinical depression, I feel a responsibility to use what power I have to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Stay strong.

– Ryan