Sunday, March 27, 2011

Depressives don't get happy endings

This would be the perfect moment for the curtain to drop, but depressives don't get happy endings. They don't get endings at all, because depression never goes away. It may be forgotten; it may lay quietly for years; but it's still there. Depressives never know when it will strike again, and every new episode increases the likelihood of another.
--Christopher McDougall, The Long Road Back

I'm writing this on Friday morning, and the sun is shining through the window. It seems like a beautiful day outside. I should go outside and get some sunlight, but I need to get something off my chest first.

It would be nice if the events of the last few weeks allowed me to simply throw off all the depression and anxiety like an old blanket and suddenly become healthy, having been confronted with a disaster, having kept my head and got through it without freaking out and running away unnecessarily as many expats (and not a few Japanese) did.

But that would be a happy Hollywood ending. The reality is, the last few weeks have been tough. While I have little right to complain compared to those in Tohoku who have lost homes, businesses, or loved ones in the recent disaster, in the last few weeks I have had a number of factors come together that have brought my depression to the fore.

Firstly, I have been attempting to taper off medication, after a long time on it. I hate being on medication and I mentally equate taking medication with being depressed. I’m aware this is irrational, but can’t seem to help it. I also worry about the long term consequences of being medicated, and have been troubled about things I have read online.

Secondly, after the marathon a month ago I have had some leg problems which have greatly reduced my ability to run. They are getting better with time, and I’ve been to the doctor and had a few massages but am still not back to 100%. I had started going to a yoga class in December but slipped out of the habit after the marathon. Exercise is very important in managing mood, and for the last month I haven’t been doing that.

Thirdly came the earthquake off Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, followed by the radiation scare at the nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture. While what happened in Tokyo was very little compared to what the alarmist media reports said, and nothing at all compared to what those up north are enduring, it was a tense time. There are concerns about radioactive contamination in the water and in produce from near the reactor.

One might hope that this tense time would let me throw away my own petty concerns and depressions, but the three things above in combination were not much fun. I’ve been stressed, anxious, and had trouble concentrating. One of the most annoying things for me is the fact that I can’t seem to get my head around all these things about radiation, nuclear plants, etc. I read newspaper articles and it just does in one ear and out the other. Nothing seems to really stick, I can’t seem to hold on to it. The sober scientific reports indicated there was essentially no risk to Tokyo, but I can’t really grasp the details behind them. I just have to trust that the scientists know what they are talking about.

But I’m enduring as best I can. I’ve stopped tapering and increased the medication slightly. I’ve been starting to exercise again and hoping that helps lift my mood. I can’t do much about the larger disaster situation, but I’ve made small donations and am paying much less attention to the news. This all feels very selfish and self-centered, but you are no good to the world if you’re good to yourself. And I think I need to accept that I'm a depressive. That the depression will always be there. Denying that simple truth seems to be hurting me. And I'm pretty tired of self-inflicted pain at this point.

Depressives don't get happy endings. But food, shelter, another day above ground, and morning sunlight will have to do. I hope I'm turning a corner here - time will tell.


  1. It is hard in itself to tapper off medicine. Combine that with physical pain and social turmoil and there is a just cause for your depression. I think you should leave your meds at their prescribed dose for now. I am infamous for tampering with doses so I can understand why you are doing it. Well, I assume I understand.

    I do hope that your depression eases up with the increase of your medicine. There is no shame in taking medicine.

  2. You're correct about the 'no happy endings'. Not Hollywood-style, anyways. However, it may helpful (or at least somewhat interesting to consider) that there is no ending. There are waves, ebbs and flows and bloody terrible disasters, but like the doing laundry or making a meal or trying to improve one's psychological state - there is no ending.
    You'll turn many corners as long as you live and breath; it's good to be mindful of them and keeping a blog is an excellent way of doing it. One day at a time on this Mobius strip called 'life'...

  3. I'm sorry you've been having such a hard time, D.R. I think it's wise that you would stay on your medication for now. There is plenty of time in your life to live without medication, and there is no shame in taking it when you need it. It is a tool, I think, that many of us simply need. Just like there is alarmist media about nuclear harm (*although I'm not sure what to believe on that front either), there is also alarmist media about taking psychotropic meds. I personally don't believe that books that say meds are always bad are based on any real science or logic. Death is bad. Many people end up dead by suicide when medication may have saved their lives. It's good to be aware of possible dangerous side effects, and I too worry about those, but I think depression is a nasty thing and you need all he help you can get to face it every day. I'm glad you're still writing because it can be helpful, not only to you, but to many people you'll never know who read your blog. My heart goes out to everyone in Japan, and I really hope there is some good news soon. I imagine for anybody living through such a scary disaster, if they have already experienced a mental illness, the symptoms would likely worsen after that. I hope you feel better soon.

  4. @In The Pink - I don't notice much difference so far, things are basically still a hard slog. But we will see, and it seems that this is necessary for now. Still, I don't know if meds really do terribly much.

    @Up The Mountain - That there is no ending seems to be a fact, but it is, well, bloody depressing! Enduring this lowness again and again with no sign it will ever go away really sucks. I can understand why people choose to believe in mystical magical answers, just to have some kind of hope that things will get better. But that isn't for me.

    @Jen - It is an obvious thing, but I haven't really thought about the people I'll never know who read the blog. Thanks for pointing that out. When I write I think of myself of course, and those who have commented on the blog. But you are right, there are people out there who have read the blog who will never comment, who might read it once or read it regularly, and who might take some solace in knowing that someone else is going through something similar. Once again, it comes back to what the late, great Harvey Pekar said: "It makes you feel good to know that there’s other people afflicted like you."

  5. You know I wrote a comment on this post today... and forgot to save it for some reason, sorry about that :( I have also seen in some of our comments that I have been calling you "D.P" instead of "D.R" - have no idea why I did that either :/ Sorry for that too.

    Anyway, I'm sorry that the ol' black dog is visiting again, from what I read in your recent post things are going better. It's going to be alright- all of this will pass. I also wanted to tell you not to rule out the possibility of being happy. You face a lot more challenges than the average person but you can be happy maybe not everyday but it is possible. You never know, you might find the perfect partner or go on an unexpected adventure or just one day be sitting around and you will suddenly realise you are happy.

    Also, I agree with everyone in that now might not be the time to tamper with your meds, with everything going on. I don't know about you but med tampering does very strange things to me and I have to make sure the environment I'm in is stable.

    I hope you have or find good friends over there who can support you :)

  6. DR - Happy you hung in there and didn't make a run for it like so many expats and some Japanese. It shows courage and logic, things you shouldn't devalue when compared to depression.

    Man, that first week after...unforgettable. There was a big fat adrenaline rush and shock, sustained for many days. And times will undoubtedly get worse in the next couple of years, in terms of economics. The farming and fishing industries are already having a very hard time of it.

    Up The Mountain makes a very good point - there is no beginning, middle, or end. We are all part of a historical process. Everything is always in a state of development, of movement. I totally support your desire to taper off meds, but I also wouldn't be reluctant to hop back on them if your depression gets too bad. A problem I've always had is not being able to replace something I've quit for another, which leads me right back to point A. Your athletics seems like a healthy and time-consuming choice and I hope it is effective.

    Unrelated, a quote someone shared with me to keep my spirits up during this crisis, "Pray for the dead, but fight like hell for the living." - Mother Jones

  7. @Stephi
    I don't know about being happy, and life is constantly up and down. More down than up, actually. But I am starting to accept myself a little more, and I am not quite as prone to self-loathing as I have been, and getting constantly worked up about every little fault or failing I have. It might just be that I'm too depressed to do that, but I'd prefer to think that I'm starting to just accept things a little better. Time will tell I suppose.

    I didn't really feel an adrenaline rush after the quake. I just got a lot more stress and worry pushing me down, and as noted above one of the major reasons for that was my inability to get my head around what was going on. I really wish I could retain things better, rather than things constantly going in one ear and out the other. But I can only do the best I can do I suppose.