Was, Is, Shall Ever Be

There’s a part of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that rings very true for anyone who’s ever struggled with mental illness. Jonathan Strange has just drunk a tincture intended to make him insane, and wonders if he’ll know when it has taken effect.

After a few minutes he looked out of the window and into the Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo. People were walking up and down. The backs of their heads were hollowed out; their faces were nothing but thin masks at the front. Within each hollow a candle was burning. This was so plain to him now, that he wondered he had never noticed it before. 

Mental illness mocks time, making it impossible to remember what things were like before, or understand how to make things different in the future. Mental illness can feel like epiphany – like you’re only just figuring out the truth. It’s worse when it feels like a truth that everyone else has known all along. “Why didn’t I notice this before? How could I have missed this?”

I’m at the beginning of another depressive episode, and I can tell, not because I’m sad, but because I just don’t care about anything. But the worst part is that I can’t remember why certain things should be important, or what it felt like when they were important. And yet, I know that’s a bad sign. One of those things I’m supposed to look out for. The kind of thinking that, unaddressed, could lead to much, much worse down the road.

My newest doctor asked me why, with my history of illness, I didn’t get help long before. The question surprised me, because it seems so obvious. When you’re depressed, you can barely summon the energy to get out of bed, shower and get dressed – how would you possibly gather the strength to research a doctor, make an appointment and then go? And when you’re not depressed…well, there’s nothing to cure, is there?

Time will tell how this new doctor chooses to tackle the challenges that my last doctor wasn’t exactly up to. Funny, it’s hard to remember how things were when I was seeing that other doctor.

One response

  1. I don’t know what type of depression you suffer from, but it can help to identify triggers that precede a depressive episode *before* it gets bad enough that you can’t do anything about it.

    I have ultra-rapid-cycling Type II bipolar disorder (no manic episodes, just repeated depressive cycles with occasional hypomania) and was managing it without medication for about two decades prior to being correctly diagnosed. I did it primarily by identifying behavioral and emotional cues that usually preceded a depressive episode, and taking action (meditation, exercise, talking to a friend) to prevent the episode from starting, *before* getting too deep into it to be able to do anything.

    These days I’m taking medication to control the bipolar disorder (and will for the rest of my life; it’s a genetic disorder), and don’t have to worry about it anymore. But I have a lot of experience in managing mental illness (mostly depression) without meds. Drop me a line sometime when you have the energy to talk, and we can chat more if you like.

    Oh, and I wrote an essay about my experience with bipolar disorder here: http://www.tienchiu.com/2009/10/living-with-bipolar-disorder/ If you’re really depressed, you might want to leave it for later, as it’s rather intense – but you may also find it helpful or inspiring. You’re definitely not alone.

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