Editor At Large: As I See It- Depression and Me
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
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As of this writing I am clinically depressed. My life is a shambles. It consists of sleeping on and off around the clock, listening to my radio and writing in my journal. I do very little for myself. I go out once or sometimes twice a day to eat. I no longer shop, cook or clean. My concentration and memory are greatly impaired. Yet I'm optimistic. I'm not suicidal but hopeful a new combination of medicines will return me to my normal mood. Years ago I couldn't go on. Help at that point wasn't available. Slowly I sank into the depth of depression. It got worse with no end in sight.

I was fed up with life in general but mostly fed up with myself. I was in the revolving door of jobs and hospitalizations. The longest I held a job was for two and a half years. It was downhill from there. Usually I worked for less than a year. I saw no end to this pattern. At the time I didn't see any rhyme or reason to be fired, for quitting or getting hospitalized. With years of therapy I learned 'fear of success' was the problem. Knowing this at that time wouldn't have helped. With numerous years of therapy I have barely chipped away at the problem.

So many times I gave up. Years ago it was easy getting into a psychiatric hospital. I did it repeatedly. I felt the need to return to a safe place with a caring staff and be with other consumers. Sometimes my return was deliberate and other times it seemed instinctive. I see now I needed those hospitalizations. I needed the respite after losing a job. The stress I put myself under trying unsuccessfully to hold a job pulled me apart emotionally and at times physically.

I stopped going to the emergency room when I was sent to the men's shelter instead. I'm not sure what I did to meet the rest of my needs, as the shelter wasn't adequate. It only offered a place to get out of the cold and a bed to sleep.

Here I was in my old apartment in total despair. I had given up completely. I had lost my last of many jobs and my remaining friend. I had reached bottom by giving up on myself. I didn't want to face the future, so I wanted out.

I was on medicines, but it didn't seem to help. I saw my psychiatrist in an outpatient clinic once a month for a few minutes. I didn't let on how bad I felt. I thought I would work on my way out of it, but I couldn't. It seemed to become worse. I lay in bed almost continuously. I went to the bathroom and didn't even flush the toilet. My hygiene was non-existent. I didn't shower or shave.

My welfare check was stolen from my mailbox. I couldn't get myself to walk ten blocks to the Welfare Center for replacement. This was a turning point. I ate all the food I had leftover. For more than a week my menu was spaghetti and ketchup. I was so depressed it didn't faze me.

At some point I did give up. I took an overdose and was found by my mother. The state hospital I went to was another form of death, but I was resigned not to leave.

I could have left in a few months if I desired. However, I worked in the library and kitchen. Why did I leave? A fellow consumer was beaten to death. I feared I would be next. I left soon thereafter.

What did I learn with my suicide attempt? I had isolated myself. A day program would have helped. I wasn't aware of other medication possibilities. I was an uninformed psychiatric consumer. I wasn't totally honest with my psychiatrist because I never totally accepted the fact that I had a neurobiological disorder.

I will get better this time. It is a matter of patience. New medicines to be tried and I must work harder in therapy. I must do more for myself. Isolating myself would be extremely dangerous. As a result, I need to attend more activities at my OPD clinic and make calls to friends nightly. I need the human contact. I have learned from past experiences what I must do. This depression won't beat me.
Marvin Spieler has been a consumer advocate for many years. He is Chairperson for the Baltic Street Mental Health Board and directs the consumers' speaker's bureau for the Mental Health Association of NYC.
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