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When a friend asked how I thought revealing my personal struggles might impact my freelance work, I had already somewhat considered the risk.  Of course, some people will judge.  But, smart buyers will remember that the struggles of van Gogh did not negatively impact the end value of his work.  And, as an artist, I think it is a little dishonest to present a work of art without also addressing at least some of what created and influences its creator.  Plus, as I have seen from responses to previous posts about this subject, there are many who struggle with depression.  If my experiences can help one person, then it is worth the risk.  I plan to someday leave this world a little better off than when I arrived, just in case the Hindus and Buddhists are right and we all have to come back.

And, I’m an artist.  What is the risk, really?  As an artist, there is more risk in being closed.  I don’t have skeletons in my closet; I paint them and put them on display.  Part of an artist’s duty is to feel, experience, and express.  There are so many parts of the human experience which have been demonized, many people are denied the basic, simple privilege of talking about it.  We have free speech, but if you are an air traffic controller who was just put on psychoactive drugs for something like depression, and you go into work and talk about the freaky side effects around the water cooler, you will probably soon end up with a lot of free time on your hands.  And, perhaps in extreme situations with lives at stake, that’s for the best.  Most of us are not in that position, though.  So, why do so many of us hide it (or at the very least, refuse to talk about it)?

One of the unpleasant side effects of giving one’s depression too much direct attention is that it can feed the depression.  One of the unpleasant side effects of ignoring it is that it goes unchecked, like that giant dust bunny in the corner you’ve been ignoring for months but it’s about to carjack you.  It can be a tricky balance, and perhaps many people hide their depression, due to fear of unintentionally feeding it.  But, there is probably more to it.

When I first started to open up about my depression here, I remembered a conversation several years ago with a friend, in which he was warning someone else against revealing their own struggles.  “People will turn on you and abuse that information. In. A. Heartbeat.”, he said.  Some might, especially in certain professions.  Politics comes to mind.  In my own experience, responses have been supportive, and there have been a lot of “Me, too!” responses– though mostly sent as private messages.  At least.. the responses have been supportive recently.  When I was younger, I was misunderstood more often and the responses were less supportive.  I ended up being stressed out from hiding the depression, stressed out from feeling like I couldn’t just be *me*, and stressed out from all the ugly things some people do when they don’t understand you.

And that was after surviving childhood trauma.  By the time I was a teen, I had learned to mostly dislike humans (though I am now partially cured of that).  Have I really been coping with depression and PTSD for this long?

When I was 6-ish, I was enrolled in the “gifted” school.  I studied viola, art, ornithology, and so on.  How many 6 year olds can tell you what “dendrology” is?  By the time I graduated high school, my grades and attendance were such that the principal, as he was handing me my diploma, told me he did not ever think I would graduate.  One has to ask one’s self… What the hell happened?  Yet, if anyone ever asked, they did not find the answer or a solution.  I asked for help every way I knew how, then I gave up, shut everyone out, and went into survival mode, which later nearly became self-destruct mode.  If I had not eventually somehow landed in college, I suspect the outcome would have been tragic.

I suppose it is a small miracle that there wasn’t enough money to medicate me when I was a minor, otherwise I might have been a “zombie kid”.  As an adult, every time I have sought help for my depression, the first “solution” was always to medicate.  I’m going to tell you all a secret… those magic pills don’t work for most people.  Even according to the makers’ own studies.

Oh, yeah.  Then there are the side effects.

Last time I was put on medication, I kept telling them.. “It’s damaging my memory and I don’t feel comfortable driving while taking this.”  The solution?  Increase the dosage, add another pill, and see what happens!  I finally ended up stopping the medication myself, “cold turkey”.  The warning labels said not to, but by that time, my stable but depressed life had been pretty much turned upside down anyway.  If the worst thing that could happen was sudden death, I was ready for it.  I still sometimes have “zaps” from that, though it’s been a while since the last one.  (One of the lesser known side effects of stopping some medications is “zaps”.. it feels a lot like brushing against an electric fence, and you never know when it might hit.  *ZAP!*  Out of the blue.  Just like that.  Good times.)

Speaking of zaps and depression, a friend in the medical profession recently told me there are studies showing that ECT, aka “shock therapy”, has been shown to help fight depression, possibly even curing it for some.  I suspect those patients are only saying they feel better so the doctors will stop shocking them, but my friend reassures me the patients are anesthetized for the procedure.  I have no intention of finding out.

But, with all this talk of openness about depression, I haven’t been entirely honest with my readers.  Although I have focused largely on the depression aspect, the diagnosis was leaning toward bipolar disorder, and PTSD.  The PTSD might have its own series of posts someday, but not today.

With bipolar disorder, there are also manic states.  And those are kinda fun.  Especially after coming out of a depression.

With more severe cases, the manic half of bipolar disorder can be as destructive as the depression, but I don’t have the “leaping off tall buildings and pretending to be Supergirl” kind of mania.  It’s more like the “she’s having so much fun, I wonder what she’s taking” kind of mania.  And, actually, that’s not always a good thing either, since people really have at times mistakenly thought it was because of drugs.  Seriously, folks, stop jumping to those kinds of conclusions.

A lot of people do turn to drugs to cope with depression, bipolar, and any number of other things.  But, like so many “quick fixes”, the relief only lasts a short time, and most drugs bring their own set of complications.  However, recent research suggests marijuana might be effective for some, in dealing with the symptoms of a number of disorders, including depression, bipolar, and PTSD.  The reports are sometimes conflicting, but that is almost always the case.  Hopefully, there will be more research to clarify, but it could certainly help many who suffer from sleep disturbances and lack of appetite, and has already been approved for such uses in some states.

Meanwhile, here are a few of the things that have helped get me through it:

Remember, not every thought that pops into your head is true or accurate.  They’re just thoughts.  Challenge them.

Remember, no matter how dire things might seem today, change is the only constant.  It may not seem to come fast enough sometimes, but it always comes.  Be patient with the circumstances and with yourself.

No matter how severe your depression is today, do something productive, even if it’s as simple as skewering that giant dust bunny before it grabs the car keys.  Or, give it a name, glue some big googly eyes on it, and teach it to do tricks.

And, the older I get, the fewer things are funny, but always, always keep a sense of humor.  Even if you’re the only one who “gets it”.

If you missed the first 4 parts of “depression from the inside”, check the past blog entries for those. ❤

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