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The Family Monster

This is difficult to talk about openly. But taking a cue from crapdaddy, I think maybe it's more dangerous if it festers in the dark.

If you're a future potential employer or mate, I hope that you understand that while this is very personal, it is also an issue which is simply not confronted publically, and thus is often allowed to persist long past when it should.

I inherited a genetic pre-disposition for depression. The most obvious example was my mother, who was clinically depressed before we even understood enough about depression to call it that. It was "burnout" when she finally saw a doctor about it, as if it was just some sort of syndrome for the overworked and careworn. "Burnout" ... what a terrible thing to call it! This implies that a more stoic, stronger person would never be afflicted, which is ridiculous. My mother raised three children without any help from her alcoholic, worthless ex-husband - not a dime in child support for most of our lives. She held down a full time job, took care of us, and still maintained friendships. She was active in her church - she was a strong woman. But she had the family monster.

I watched her decline for years. No one knew what to do. There was no prozack, no zoloft, no wellbutrin at the time. There were weak tricyclics, which it turns out my family is highly resistant to. There were MAO inhibitor, and there was lithium; both of which had terrible side-effects. From time to time she was committed to residential care - we weren't told so at the time, but now I realize it must have been because she was going to hurt herself. I was too young to understand anything other than that the woman who had laughed heartily at my sisters and my antics at the leaping fountains in Epcot Center had slipped away - gaining weight, becoming more withdrawn and sedentary. Her moods were variable but never good - she went from melancholic to angry to simply apathetic. I remember once looking for her in a bookstore, and walking right past her, because I no longer recognized her by sight. Eventually they even tried convulsive electro-shock therapy - and when they did, she lost her memories of the previous three years. Her condition didn't improve, but she was often confused, and panicked about her lack of memories.

Finally she died. She was about 45. There was nothing physically wrong with her, and her autopsy said, "Coronary Arrest" as cause of death. I do believe most people die of a stopped heart -it's what caused it to stop that I still don't know.

This is the family monster. Depression.

Depression is dangerous. It's got two vicious heads, this monster - the first head is a ravager, a destroyer. The first head only grows stronger - because the depression feeds itself. Once your past a normal state of blues, which anyone will go through for any of the thousands of reasons that we experience pain and grief, and once your stuck in the depression and it becomes your normal - the depression just keeps getting bigger. The farther down you are, the less power you have to fight it, the less you care, the less Will to go on you have. It's self-replicating, self-sustaining and difficult to fight. Depression feeds itself.

The monster's second head is insidious. The monster's second head is deceitful and treacherous - because depression makes you believe that you deserve to be sad. Depression's nastiest side-effect is that the worse you feel, the less you believe that you deserve to feel better. Depression makes you think the disease is a character flaw, a weakness. But it's not - anyone can be vulnerable, anyone can have it - and it's not a matter of willpower, stoicism, strength of character, or fortitude. But depression tells you that it is, and you believe it. Depression whispers in a silky voice in your ear, "This is your own fault, you know. If you were worth loving, if you were worth a thing at all, you wouldn't feel this way. But you're not, so this is what you deserve. Better people get to be happy, but this is what you are." Depression convinces you that you deserve to be depressed.

Anything can trigger it. In this case, ok - it was losing a girl. I took it hard. It could have been anything - a death in the family, job loss, anything...but this time it was a girl. An amazing girl with eyes just the color of a rain squall in the desert, and hair like wheatfields, and a glorious liquid laugh that would make even the dourest codger smile. A girl I loved quickly, but deeply. I took it hard. But really quickly, there was a part of me, an ever-receding rational voice that was saying to me, "C'mon, she was amazing, but she wasn't THAT amazing. It's not worht it like this, you need to get on with your life." My rational mind told me that a broken heart was a very reasonable thing to be feeling, but it shouldn't be the whole of what I was thinking about, experiencing, feeling. And unfortunately, I reasoned that if I could win her back, all the misery would just go away. Poof! But that's not a rational thought - the breakup was the trigger, but there's old stuff there, stuff I thought I'd left behind years ago. Turns out I have more work to do. And all along my rational mind is telling me to dust myself off and get back to work on figuring this out, and burying it for good. But ... the depression crept in. The depression tells me two things - I feel this bad because I lost her, and if I were a better person I wouldn't have lost her. The depression is lying, and I know it. It was very strange, hearing that rational part of my mind, but not being able to let it "drive". Strange and frightening - and that's when I realized this was more than just a broken heart. This was an irrational reaction, and try as I might, I coudn't shake it.

And then it set in. No sleep. Can't eat much. Nothing is enjoyable or funny or delicious. I can't crack jokes anymore (I swear, sometimes I'm funny, really!) I don't want to exercise, or get out of the house, or be around people. I only want one thing, and of course, not only can I not have it -- but even wanting her is bad for me. This was frightening. I lay awake at night, and I just couldn't take it. This is the family monsterand it's got my squarely in its jaws. I can't shake it, and it's damn frightening. I ran into a burning building, fell off of a mountain, and jumped off of a 12 story building and never got scared - but this scares me. This is the bastard that killed my mother. I've seen my sister suffer from it, I'm pretty sure my grandmother was depresed for a long time after my mother died. Of all the family members, though, I am most like my mother. I am scared. I don't want this bastard to get me. I know how to fight men - the government, and my sensei taught me that. I know how to fight injustice - I am politically active, I volunteer, I keep informed and vote, and stand up for what's right. I know how to fight an argument - I've got a degree in rhetoric! I know how to fight, I think most of my life was training for it, or doing it. But this -- this monster tells me that I shouldn't fight it, that I deserve it, and then it gets stronger and stronger.

Depression is the family monster, and I've got it, like a curse handed down from generation to generation. I've got to fight it. It's just... I'm not sure I can do it alone. But, I'm going to figure it out, I'm going to gather the right tools, companions, and weapons, and I'm going to beat it. I will. Believe me.

But here's why I'm writing this. Don't think less of me because I have it. Depression is a disease. Would you think less of me if I had life-threatening illness? Would it be my fault if I had cancer? I can inherit a predisposition for cancer, just like anything else, and I can make decisions about lifestyle that will reduce the chance of cancer -- but if I get it, will you think less of me?

Don't think I'm weak because I have depression. I inherited this curse. I don't want it. I'd rather be with the rest of you, outside enjoying the incredible feast of beautiful things that is Southern California in the Spring. I'd rather be out in the sunshine laughing, running and living. I'd rather shrug off the little travails, and realize how fortunate I am. I'd like to be that guy, but I've got this thing to do first before I get to be him, again. Don't think less of me - just know that I'm fighting. And when you meet people in the course of your life who are fighting this monster, too, who have depression - understand, they just have a disease, and it's not a character flaw. I may seem whiny, or self-absorbed. Bear with me - I'm not, I'm just... dealing with this thing, this monster. Along with depression comes a case of the emo, and you know, that shit is tedious ... but I'll shake it as soon as I can, I swear!

Bear with me, while I fight this fight. There will be times when I can't be consoled. There will be times when I'm mad for no particular reason. There will be times when I'm withdrawn, or unhappy, or just ...exhausted. There will be times when I'll just be walking wounded. But I don't want to be that guy - I don't. And I won't. But bear with me, at least a little while. I don't deserve this; and I don't want it to feed itself.

This is the family monster. Bear with me, while I put it to rest.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 25th, 2006 03:03 am (UTC)
I wish you the best of luck, love.

It's a hard bit of inheritance... I understand it myself, unfortunately.

Let me know if you need anything.
May. 25th, 2006 03:34 am (UTC)
That was very well put. I wish you luck in your fight.

I watch my sister fight depression a lot. The hardest part is convincing her that she is worth fighting for, and staying close while she tries to drive everyone away with her negativity.

So really. Good for you being self-aware enough to see this happening, and take action.

I'm not sure that there's much else I can offer but words and good thoughts, but you have those.
May. 25th, 2006 04:09 am (UTC)
I know what you are dealing with and I know you can beat it. I am finally coming to terms with my panic disorder and understanding that it's a disease and not a character flaw. It's hard to admit because we consider ourselves strong people...so why can't we just will these problems away? Because they are diseases--I can't will away my arthritis any more than I can will away the dizziness and sweats and rapid heart beat when an attack starts. But we do recognize what the disease is and that is the first step in battling it. You've got it licked.
May. 25th, 2006 04:52 am (UTC)
(poke poke)

I know that I haven't posted anything in your journal as of late... With depression being the family monster I can understand. My family and I have this. Its nothing pleasent or something to even take lightly. I'm kinda going through it now since I left southern califonia.. *HUGS* I wish I could give you a hug and a blanket of comfort. You're a strong man, and I know, well I would hope I'd know (because I think you're really neat) that you'll get through this patch. One foot infront of the other, step by step and no snowballs filled with batteries...because those hurt (being silly on that last part)

*HUGS* loves to you man. loves
May. 25th, 2006 05:13 am (UTC)
Wow, David. That *really* spoke to me. I am so moved. I really needed to hear all of that now. The way you described it with the two heads is incredible.

You are an amazing writer (and an amazing person - I am blessed to be a LJ "friend" of yours). Your huge amount of personal insight staggers my mind. I know of few people who have even a small fraction of that insight (it has taken me many years of therapy and much thought).

Many a time I have screamed inside my head, "you wouldn't treat me this way if I had cancer!" The only people who *really* seem to understand that sentiment are my therapist and my friends who have a major mental illness or anxiety d/o. People who have the empathy, brains, and insight to put themselves in my shoes and dismiss the common "wisdom" about mental illness are so precious.

Be well. :: hugs ::
May. 25th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC)
I've been there. I was there quite recently in fact.

Exercise is the only thing that has worked for me in the past... but getting out there to do it is the hardest part.

Be well, man. I'm thinking about you.

May. 25th, 2006 07:09 am (UTC)
Think less of you? David, you are so not alone in this it's not even funny. Yet everybody always thinks they are... I remember the day my boyfriend in high school told me; he basically handed me the pill bottle and turned away, as if he were ashamed to talk about it. He never would; I could always tell when he'd stopped taking his meds or when it got too strong for the meds to deal with, but he'd never tell me. We dated for two years and he'd never tell me. Two close friends of mine both confessed, with hushed voices and averted eyes, that they'd tried to commit suicide in the past... Not knowing because I'd never mentioned that fear was the main thing that had kept me from it, in the past. It's not as bad now as it used to be - but it doesn't have triggers, either. It's the most frustrating thing in the world, sitting there, knowing, because the little narrator sitting on your shoulder is telling you so, that there is absolutely no reason in the world for this, yet unable to sit around the campfire and join in the general revelry, because you're too close to the edge of tears.

You are not alone. And there is no shame in reaching out for help.
May. 25th, 2006 08:35 am (UTC)

It's my family monster, too.

You'll survive.
May. 25th, 2006 01:46 pm (UTC)
Yup, its a bear to deal with. I really like the way you laid it down on paper tho. Very edumacational. Now, when you're in that frame of mind, would reading this entry help?
May. 25th, 2006 04:41 pm (UTC)
Best wishes to you. I hope you conquer this monster, or at least find a way to live with it that lets you be the boss of you.
May. 25th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
I think that its a little more common than you think sweety. Its not an easy fight to win, and I know that its my family monster as well, and thats not easy either. My dad is just now doing something about it at 60 years old, my mom just recently did something about it, the list just goes on and on. We are all here for you, and we all love you. Dont hesitate to call okay? Any time, day or night. Love you!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )