By Jack Smith
William Styron called the term “depression” a wimp of a word for such a major illness.
In “Darkness Visible,” Styron says the word “has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.”
Put another way, depression is a hell of a lot worse than the word implies. Many have “felt depressed” at one time or another, usually from a negative event in life. Chronic clinical depression (called Major Depressive Disorder) is another matter, and a surprising number of people suffer from it. Most things I read suggest 1 in 10 battle depression.
Think about what that means. In a town of 50,000, some 5,000 people are suffering from depression. It breaks my heart to think of those who suffer in silence as I did for too long.
I am one of a fortunate few, though. I am currently seeking treatment at a place called The Menninger Clinic in Houston. It is one of the best places in the world for complicated mental illness cases.
My case is a bit complicated because I’ve had several different diagnoses and I’ve abused alcohol most of my life since high school. Shortly after my recent overdose, one doctor confidently declared that I’ve needlessly suffered for years because I’ve been misdiagnosed all this time. He diagnosed me with Bipolar II disorder (and the depression that goes with it) and put me on lithium.
The frustrating part came a week later when a second doctor declared with equal confidence and assurance that I was most certainly not bipolar. He said I suffer from major depressive disorder and anxiety issues that make it worse.
Already depressed and anxious for answers, I was now confused and frustrated. That’s what led me to Menninger.
Part of the process here at Menninger is spending many hours a week with my treatment team. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about my tortured history. This exhausting process has given me a chance to read through my journals spread out over a decade. While flipping through it, I found a description of what depression feels like. I hope sharing it helps others who suffer know they are not alone.
It is hard to explain how much depression hurts. I feel like I have descended into hell. I am mired in a pit of utter despair and hopelessness, and my body aches. My mental illness tortures my mind but it causes physical pain, too. My back aches, my stomach churns with anxiety and my head and face feel lifeless and heavy.
My disease lies to me. I don’t want to believe the lies, but my depression is cunning and ruthless. It waits until my body and spirit are weak because it is one cruel bastard. It tells me I can’t get out of the bed, shouldn’t bother going to work today and I may as well just shut the door and pull the covers over my head. It tells me there is no hope. Depression is misery.
That’s what one of my worst days felt like, but I don’t feel that way today. I awoke early, feeling rested, read from Romans and shed a happy tear after reading a stirring, quite remarkable letter of hope from my daughter. She and her brothers and their mom are my inspiration today.
I miss home but know this is where I need to be right now. God has put me here and I can feel his loving arms holding me up. His arms and the prayers, love and support of many who have reached out since I began sharing publicly for the first time the nature of my illness.
Thank you, family. Thank you, friends. And thank you, strangers who may not know me but do know my story all too well.
Regular access to my blog is not allowed, nor is access to Facebook, but I have conned the staff into letting me write this entry. Maybe I can share some more as my journey here progresses.
If not, I will share more when I return home.
Grace and peace.