Written for the In Good Company Project.
It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last: curled up in front of the toilet, praying my stomach was empty, and mourning the loss of what had been a very tasty meal — when I wasn’t cursing whatever in it had given me such horrendous food poisoning. There isn’t much one can do in a situation like that. What I mostly do is wait it out and try to think about other things until my body is done being angry at whatever nasty bacterium I’ve accidentally ingested.
I realized a while back that my depressive episodes are the same way. There isn’t much I can do about them. I certainly can’t make them go away by wishing, or any of the other bootstrapping methods folks recommend. Even antidepressants don’t handle them entirely. Ultimately, I have to wait them out, like they’re food poisoning of the brain.
Depression has hounded me since middle school. In college, I finally got so tired of cycling through feeling fine and crying hysterically that I started therapy. In the decade since, I’ve done loads of therapy, tried a few drugs, and come a long way. But the depression is still there.
Sometimes it’s easy to see what’s set it off: drinking a little too much when I’m already feeling unstable, getting bad news, getting good news but being afraid of the other shoe dropping, and so on. Other times, there’s no obvious reason. It’s just there: the suicidal and self-harming ideation, the endless litany of All The Ways I Suck ™, the agonizing certainty that there’s no point in going on. Or worse, all the physical signs but none of the familiar thoughts. Crying and sadness and upset stomach, but no reason for it.
It always goes away eventually — the worst of it passes in a day or a week and I’m back on an even keel in a week or a month. I just have to wait it out.
I’ve worked through pretty much everything you can do with talk therapy. I’ve done EMDR. I have mental tools, and books, and all of that. But, I learned a few months ago, I also have either Bipolar NOS (the kid brother of Bipolar II) or cycling depression. A big chunk of the problem is brain chemistry, pure and simple.
Sure, I can use medication and my other tools to keep depression at bay, but every now and then I will just have to wait the fucker out. Some days it’s easier than others, and I am deeply grateful for the support network I have found and nurtured: my healthcare providers, friends, and boyfriend. But I don’t blame myself anymore, at least not most of the time. I wouldn’t blame myself for getting food poisoning, I wouldn’t curl around the toilet and think, “if I weren’t such a whiny baby I wouldn’t be vomiting like this!” Just the same way, I do my best not to think, “if I weren’t such a whiny baby I wouldn’t be struggling to get out of bed, to keep up with my responsibilities, to not hurt myself.”
It’s a good thing to take care of myself when I’m sick from eating something I shouldn’t have, and it’s a good thing to take care of myself when I’m sick from my mental illness.