*Note. This post was originally written in February of 2011, after almost 4 months of unemployment, with no hope for employment, and while waiting to hear back from graduate school and law school. Minor edits from original post.
The American Psychiatric Association is revising the DSM, and because of that, there are a lot of reexaminations of various mental illness in the media. Yesterday, on This American Life, they reaired the story of when homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973. With that, it talked about how external definitions help the individual define themselves. By having homosexuality removed from the DSM, it helped an entire social group redefine themselves.
But, what about those of us who have that definition, and it’s not a mistake. I fall out of the qualifications of mental disease because of my homosexuality, but reenter the status of the mentally ill, because I suffer from depression. Not seasonal depression, not situational depression, and fortunately, not chronic depression. I’m not bipolar. I don’t have manic episodes. I suffer from Good old fashioned “Melancholy” as defined by the 19th century scientific community.
Normally, I’m fine. But, when I’m going through a depressive episode, it’s difficult to talk about, or at first, even notice.When I think about my depression, I think about the devastating effects that it’s had on me. Where I have counted pills in the bathroom on a bathroom floor, so I don’t take them. I think of when I was so afraid of leaving my apartment, I would vomit if I left for an extended period. Completely debilitating. I’m not like this anymore, but, when I go through a depressive period, I think about where I’ve been, not where I’m going, and where I could wind up again. That’s terrifying.
Suffering from mental illness is alienating. I rarely talk to people about it, because, often, I’ve had well-meaning people tell me they understand. And I’m rarely convinced they do. Once, when I was going to the doctor’s office getting a refill on my anti-depressant, my NP asked me how I was doing. I responded, “I have my good days and my bad days.”
She responded back, “We all have bad days.”
I had to explain, “My bad days are when I think about killing myself.” The language of mental illness is completely different then the language of normality. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want others to define us as “Crazy” but we know they could and may. We need to work it out with people who love us, but we need to be free of judgment and assumptions. It is entirely probable that you have no idea what I’m going through. There’s this voice in my head sometimes that I can’t control that focuses on my failures and refuses to acknowledge my successes. That is the same voice that assumes people rarely like me and just put up with me.
When I’m fine, I’m still thinking about my mental health, and how what I’m doing affects my mental health. Whether or not it’s good for me psychologically and how I’m going to feel about it the next day. Because it can become a catalyst for a depressive episode.
This is how I think about my mental disorder. As people write articles about mental disorders, make policy decisions, debate about the nature of depression, remember they affect real people. People with depression are 1 in 4.