Living Out Loud

Talking About Mental Health


Depression Sucks. There is no doubt. People who are depressed need and deserve compassion and understanding. It's a medical condition, not a moral failing. It's usually treatable. According to the American Medical Association, the average time between seeking and treatment and achieving relief is nine months. That's good news. Yes, there are people with treatment resistant depression and thankfully therapies like ketamine infusion are being developed to help these folks. There are tragic cases where it's fatal and a very small percentage of people just live a sad and burdened life through no fault of their own. 

My experience with depression started in my late twenties, before the discovery of Prozac and other SSRI drugs when there were medical treatments but the family of anti-depressants in use, called tricyclics, had a lot of side effects. This instance started for me at the tail end of a terrible marriage when I was also stuck in high-stress job and partially alienated from the family to which I had always been close. I ended up in the hospital for a couple of weeks but eventually I recovered, helped not only by treatment but by a change in external circumstances, e.g., a new relationship and a new job.

For me, it's not healthy to give a blow by blow about exactly what depression was like. There's this thing in the recovery community called junkie pride. It's frowned upon. It's when two people try to outdo each other by competing to see who was the sickest, who resorted to the most depraved behavior. Recovery from substance abuse or mental health issues is not a competition. You don't get anything by coming the furthest from your bottom. Suffice to say, like the first two words of this post, depression sucked. I'll leave it at that.

A few years getting out of the hospital I was back in a doctor's office, bewildered by a relapse with alcohol but also with other compulsive issues. I was diagnosed with Type 2 bipolar disorder and started a treatment regimen that has continued in some form until this very day. It's been 28 years and for the most part the treatment has been very successful. As I've shared before, I am in long term recovery (15+ years) or recovery from alcoholism. Over the years I've had other depressive episodes, usually but not always triggered by some life event like a rough spell at work or unrelated medical issues. Living with arthritis pain got to me for a while but successful surgical treatment took care of that.

My so-called manic episodes have never been the talk to Jesus, spend all the money in the bank kind. Quite the contrary; they've been prolonged periods of hyper-productivity and accomplishment, going months on 4-hours of sleep, riding crazy miles on my bike, 700 days in a row of 10K steps, a yearlong streak of meditation, maybe writing 16 blog posts a week while working full time, LOL - that kind of stuff. Eventually I get tired, and life strikes a balance for a while. 

Sometimes it still sucks. When I have dark days or weeks seemingly unrelated to what's going on around me, I get a little angry. I have unreasonable anxiety from time to time which my wife is quick to recognize and to talk me down from. Today hasn't been a particularly good day for no specific reason. I'm experienced enough at self-talk to know that this too shall pass. 

As a bona fide, certified person living with a mental illness, I have led what I consider to be a successful life, all things considered. I had a career I retired from. I'm happily married. I have a good relationship with multiple generations of my family. If I can ever help a struggling person to know that there is hope. That mental health conditions are treatable, and that recovery is obtainable, then I am not the least bit embarrassed to tell my story.