Author: Goddess of Biscuits
Leaving Behind the Daisy Chain of Pain
I believe the worst of my depression is behind me. At least, I sure hope it is. I suffered a great deal throughout my adolescence. This is probably largely because I was an adolescent. Science has practically proven that adolescence makes every emotion feel approximately one billion times more intense – hormones and stuff, you know?
Roughly five years ago things started to get better. I mostly returned to a stable mood. Still, there is a low-level hum of depression usually present in my mind. I face periods when it is harder to fight off the feelings of despair and sometimes it is even difficult to function adequately. But I am not trapped in the same thinking, the same levels of self-loathing, or the desire to harm myself.
I’m most fortunate that I’ve never had a substance abuse problem. A lot of people with mood disorders turn in their desperation to self-medication through substance abuse. Somehow, it wasn’t ever a temptation for me. But I was hospitalized several times for being severely depressed, and many of the other people on the units had dual diagnoses of mood disorders and substance abuse problems. So I learned a lot about 12-step programs and other approaches to treatment of substance abuse. Unsurprisingly, many concepts in treating substance abuse can apply when trying to change other behaviors, such as the thinking that might perpetuate or worsen mood disorders.
One such concept is the idea that when one is trying to work her way out of the mire of addiction, it is infinitely more difficult (okay, probably not infinitely, but I don’t have any handy data, so let’s go with ‘infinitely’, shall we?) to kick a habit when all her friends are still engaged in the behavior. It is hard to resist drinking if you are hanging out in bars all the time.
Much has been written about the nature vs. nurture debate in mental illness. I have yet to encounter anyone who claims that mental illness is ever a product purely of one or the other. Certainly, the balance is different for different people, too. But the implications are important both in understanding the origins of a mood disorder and in the approach to treating it. I think it is very, very important to stress that approaching thought as a changeable behavior in mood disorders is a double-edged sword. It is difficult to treat something like depression successfully without considering the thoughts one has and how they affect mood. But to reduce the illness to something completely under one’s conscious control is both dangerous and inaccurate.
When I was at my most depressed, I was an angsty teen. I don’t say this to denigrate my feelings—they were real and important. But as much as I fought it, I knew even then that the changes my brain was undergoing magnified my emotions. I could feel it. So as a depressed, angsty teen, I didn’t find it terribly difficult to find other depressed, angsty teens. We flocked to one another as though emitting some sort of depressive pheromone. This was a comfort to me — although I still felt alone (depression usually has an isolating effect) it felt good to be around other people who were feeling something similar.
A group of depressed teenagers hanging out has a lot in common with some medical forums on the Internet. While I encourage everyone to seek support and to understand more about his illness, there is a reason many doctors hate WebMD. The brain is a powerful thing and even people who are trained to pick through to find what is worthwhile on the interwebs, are susceptible to “Med Student Syndrome”. Consumers of such information often think they see in themselves the symptoms they are reading about.
Medical forums are worse than the articles for bad information. They might bring some comfort. Participants might share valuable information. But healthcare professionals rarely moderate them and they are sometimes just a place to complain. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it isn’t a means of healing, usually. When it came to a group of depressed teenagers hanging out together, the effect was worse. We fed off of each other’s pain. It wasn’t something we intended, really, but it happened a great deal. When we were trying to support one another (though sometimes we were trying to out-depress one another), we were not equipped to encourage healthy behavior instead of reinforcing what was unhealthy.
When I began to emerge from the most profound parts of my illness, I found that many of my relationships were built around the problem. We all want to be understood. It makes sense that many of the people I became close to over the years struggled in similar ways to mine. But those who were ill did not get better when I did. Adults can feed one another’s depression just as easily as teens, regardless of the best intentions. It was difficult to make the decision to change my scenery when I started to get better. It felt wrong to abandon those who had tried so hard to be supportive of me. But I came to realize that I must be careful about how I interact with people who are struggling. I also try to be careful what I read about depression and mood disorders, as much as I appreciate those who write well about the perils therein.
If someone had told my adolescent self that someday I would try to “keep on the sunny side of life”, I’d have gagged. “Let’s play the glad game!” But watching the input I give my stupid depressive self really makes a difference. I can validate my pain and seek understanding without wallowing in others’ pain. I can even be supportive of others without jumping on in to the Daisy Chain of Pain. It is an important skill to have learned, and one I must continue to develop. Because Science Help me, living alone with such intense feelings sure can be isolating.
It’s a manic world.