I’m just finishing my book about mental illness (schizophrenia specifically), and we’ve been dealing with some hardcore issues of mental illness in my family the last few months (clinical depression), and all I can say is wow. Just…wow. I don’t understand how anyone can crawl out of that dark, depressive hole, and yet many people do, and the people I know who deal with depression and overcome it are some of my new heroes. The people who don’t, or can’t, are some of the most tragic figures I know.
Depression is one of the most insidious things I’ve ever encountered–your brain decides that its going to start interpreting good things as bad things, or to brush good things aside with the certainty that they don’t matter because life is all bad anyway. Depression is a disease that specifically combats its own treatment, because one of its core symptoms is the belief that nothing you do will matter, so why bother getting treated or taking medication? It’s like if cancer had the side effect of making you never want to get better. That’s not something most of us can even understand–a disease that changes not your body, but the way you see the world. It’s like catching a cold that makes you speak another language; it doesn’t make any sense at all. And yet it’s frighteningly common, and every single person reading this post probably has a friend or family member (or yourself) who struggles with it every day.
We see those commercials for depression medication all the time on TV, especially late at night (when, I suppose, depressed people are still watching TV), but how many times do we actually listen to them? One of the symptoms they list is “thoughts of suicide,” and that’s just about the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard–a disease that can make you want to kill yourself. How do you get out of that? How do you take that first step and say “even though I’m completely convinced that life is horrible and nothing I do will ever matter, I’m going to do something anyway”? Seriously–that’s one of the most heroic acts of will I can even imagine. It’s like climbing Mount Everest just to get out of bed in the morning. The people who fight back against depression and overcome it are absolutely amazing.
The family member who sparked this post has not made that decision. He has retreated from the world so thoroughly that sometimes I think he can’t possibly go any further, and then he does, and it’s just heartbreaking. He’s so cut off from life that he barely even eats anymore, and the doctor who most recently examined him said “when it gets this bad we can still treat him, but only if he wants to be treated, and the mortality rate is about 35%. He’d have a better chance of surviving Leukemia.” And as terrible as that sounds, that’s just par for the course in his inner landscape–every news he hears is that bad, because his brain convinces him that it is. When we brought him home from the hospital he walked away without a word, actively running away from every attempt to help him. I just don’t understand it.
I think it’s about the most horrifying thing in the world.