Daniel P. Finney
Des Moines Register
Published 2:23 PM EDT Aug 7, 2019
I missed five weeks of work in late June and early July to undergo treatment for major depression.
I had been sick for some time and put off treatment in hopes that it would pass.
It didn’t and by midsummer, I was overwhelmed.
The thing people misunderstand about major depression is how relentless it is to those of us who live with it.
People expect it to pass the way a broken arm heals or cuts clot. Some depression works that way, short-term and remittance.
I live with the kind that lingers.
People associate major depression with sadness. That’s true; but often there isn’t a specific cause.
When you’re depressed, everything makes you feel low. Everything is irritating, even enraging.
Yet, at the same time, there is a numbness. I feel about a step-and-a-half behind reality.
Yet I also question my depression. Is this real? Am I sick enough to miss work?
I think of depression like wind chill in the coldest part of winter.
Sometimes the wind chill is intolerable and dangerous. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable.
But it’s always cold.
Depression hit again so I sought treatment
I was in the deep freeze in July when I finally took time out for treatment. I chose to undergo transcranial magnetic stimulation again.
TMS beams magnetic pulses into the brain that make nerve endings more receptive to the naturally occurring chemicals that regulate mood, such as serotonin.
A frustrating part of living with depression is how people talk about it. They use words like “darkness” and “demons.”
But depression is the malfunction of brain chemistry. It’s no different than high blood sugar or high cholesterol, and just like those conditions, depression and other mental health conditions can be life-threatening. The brain is no more magic than the heart or pancreas.
When we start to talk about mental health the way we do any other physical health issue, we begin to bring mental health out of the shadows of stigma and into the sunlight of wellness.
A previous recovery: From suicidal nights to looking forward to what’s next
The root cause of my depression started in childhood
Depression has lots of causes. Mine is rooted in adverse childhood experiences. My mom had erratic mood swings and behavior patterns.
A mild example: When I got a detention for a fight with a bully in middle school, my mom called the principal to tell yell at her and closed the conversation with, “I might just take a shotgun …”
Then she slammed the phone down. This was 1989. I was 13. I called the principal back and told her I was OK, that my mom just gets excited sometimes.
The principal wanted to send the sheriff. I talked her out of it. My mom berated me and said social services was going to take me away. It wasn’t until years later I understood this behavior was rooted in addiction to prescription painkillers, many of which are illegal today.
My dad was a kindly man, but he was dying of heart disease most of the time I knew him. He could defib at any moment.
Everything was always an emergency in my childhood.
And Parents 2.0. the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died, provided the calmest, most stable environment I could ask from the time I was 15 to present.
Even as adult, far removed from those terrible days, I fear judgment and punishment and struggle to develop trusting relationships.
I self-medicate. I’m not a drinker or into other drugs. My “highs” come from food and buying things. These things made me feel warm, safe and loved as a boy. So when I’m sad or afraid, I eat and buy. I’ve eaten myself into morbid obesity. I’ve bought myself into deep debt.
I hammer myself: When will I just get it together? When will I just get over it?
Answer: I won’t. I will always have good periods and bad periods. I will always work to mitigate the bad periods.
Expecting joy is unfair; accept complexity
Closure is a myth. We are the sum of our experiences, good, bad and those in the vast middle.
People use the word “moody” mostly with a negative connotation — as if anyone who isn’t glowing with happiness is somehow suffering a malady. This is terribly unfair to humans.
To pretend that being less than joyous is negative puts a lot of pressure on people to display artificially upbeat feelings that don’t represent their inner selves.
This can lead to people feeling as if there is something wrong with them simply because they’re not happy all or most of the time. The reality of human behavior is much more complex.
I share this not to engender sympathy for me, but to hopefully inspire empathy for others. Accept that people have moods other than joy and that’s normal.
Meet them where they are, not where you would wish them to be.
I’m not advocating accepting abusive behavior, but when you ask someone how they feel, actually listen to the answer.
Choose kindness. That’s a simple sentence but a difficult directive.
Kindness is work. It takes practice; it takes acceptance that you and everyone you know will sometimes fail.
The next time you want to angrily rant on social media or let loose a savage zinger, even if you’re just kidding or righteously upset, don’t.
You never know what someone is going through or where they are in life.
You can choose to accept people as they are and recognize everyone deserves love, dignity and respect.
How to get help for depression
There are several state and national resources for those contemplating suicide, as well as resources for family or friends who may be concerned about a loved one.
- Your Iowa Life — call 855-581-8111 or text 855-895-8398 for free, 24/7, confidential support. The lifeline is answered by Iowans. Other resources available online at yourlifeiowa.org. There is also a live chat function on the website.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800-273-TALK (8255). The lifeline is answered by someone at a crisis center closest to your location. Other resources available online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 crisis support.
- Central Iowa Crisis Line — Call 844-258-8858 for 24/7 help in Iowa’s 10 central Iowa counties. Information is also available online at www.cicsmhds.org.
Register Storyteller Daniel P. Finney grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. He wrote his first story for the Register in 1993 at age 17. He has stacked paragraphs ever since. Reach him at 515-284-8144 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsmanone or Facebook at @danielpfinney.
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