In my life I've heard stories from many, many humans existing in highly varied circumstances. Each is a unique combination of nature and nurture, resulting in a personality. Each interacts with others using a subset of that personality to filter behaviours.
Emission (July, 2011)
Psychological analysis models compare combinations of certain behaviours to a number of different diagnosis tools, identifying standard and deviant behaviour according to established norms. These diagnostic tools are based on observations by many earnest people over time. They help us to understand patterns of human behaviour and possibly shortcut desired behavioural modification through proven assisted learning techniques. When possible, pharmaceutical experimenters can modify a body's brain chemistry, causing it to fall within acceptable thresholds and make desired behaviours easier to achieve, or undesired easier to avoid. It has its important place, but is not the only way to address life. It is important to note that the accepted norms psychology has chosen are not necessarily inherent to the human animal.
In fact, human animals have always been prone to screaming out loud, having sex in public, attacking each other, picking their noses and eating it, and other behaviours that would get you locked up. It's only in recent centuries that population density has forced many different-thinking people to live in close proximity. World peace is a new concept for this species. People haven't been prone to consistent niceness for that long, in the evolution of things. To me, all these "disorders" are personality and body-chemistry makeup that falls outside what we have recently decided is acceptable.
Be that as it may, the thresholds exist and we must live within them. We want people to live within the thresholds of behaviour that allow for peaceful co-existence, and as rational creatures, we ourselves want to live in ways that make us easy to live with. People need various kinds of help with that at various times, and it should be ready, respectful and effective in response to those needs. That supports society.
So now you know how I see it, I want to share my experience with my own vague diagnosis.
Shadows in the Depth (July, 2013)
Five years ago, I had feelings associated with the diagnostic criteria for Depression (that's a big D, don't mistake it for just plain old depression!). I wasn't sure whether this was in addition to, or because of, my chronic inflammatory condition, or possibly my ongoing "battle" with Anxiety (big A). What I knew was that I wanted help.
I tried the doctor. He gave me a prescription and sent me to a therapist. The therapist explained about what psychology and psychiatry can offer - a recap of my Psych 101 class. But when we talked more deeply, the goals she described for my therapy didn't sound like my goals. When I described my goals, I never felt she understood what I meant. I tried her goals for awhile.
I also tried the drugs. They made me feel flatter and sick. There went five months, worse than before the drugs. Then a few months for detox. On the next drug, I found I didn't care about anything, lower than flat, detached. There went three months. Then a few months for detox. I decided No More Prescriptions for me. I felt more depressed about handling my Depression than I'd ever felt in my worst depressive bout.
Then I had a thought - Depression is not actually a thing, it's a construct. It doesn't have to be mine.
I am what I am. I feel what I feel. It's up to me to find ways to make sure those feelings can stay within my thresholds for behaviour and thought, the ones I choose because they matter most to me, the ones that keep me whole and approaching life from love. The ones that nurture my relationships and my creative spirit.
I started to change things.
I left my job and actively began trying to slow my pace to one my body could handle. I increased my sleep. I took what I learned from psychiatry and psychology, avidly read about many different spiritual practices. I took up meditation and began training in yoga and Kung Fu. I sought out wise women as mentors in critical moments. I contemplated and tried to change one thing at a time.
I blogged out loud through my worst and my angst. I wrote short stories, a novel, a screenplay (in progress!). I took up nature photography and painting. I engaged with an online community of seekers and began reaching out to people and groups in my community who share my values.
I started seeing a Chinese Medicine practitioner and Acupuncturist. I cut out gluten and lactose. I focused on presence, patience and compassion. I took deep breaths and tried to stay curious in the face of judgment. I invested time in friendships and made more time for fun with my kids. I tried to take a lighter note on life.
And a bunch of other things I'm forgetting. Over time. That's the key.
Three years in, I keep doing all that. Because it works for me. It's hard to stay with everything, I fall short more than I'd like, but that is my path. I have strong relationships with my husband, children and in my wider family circle. I am involved in my community and make connections for others whenever I can. I pursue active interests. I vent the sadness with music, movement and mini-cries when I'm alone. When I feel, I feel it, and allow myself to feel it, and accept that's part of me, too, not something to avoid or end fast. Feeling can feed my compassion and my creativity in ways that the flatness never did. I have places to put it. It doesn't hurt me.
I realize it's a rarefied set of circumstances that allows me to build my life this way, and one that might not last. If the drugs had worked without debilitating side effects (or worked at all), or if the therapist had been better, I might not have had to embark on it at all. But I feel richer for it.
I am happier with my life. I even have some ideas about paths forward to be paid for my work in the world, instead of just selling my time for money. I feel hope more than nihilism, and when I check in with myself through the day, every day, I find myself content and happy a lot of the time (with allowance for some bad days here and there). I feel now, as I did not a few years ago, that I have created expression in the world that I am proud of. I even dare to dream a few big dreams again.
I do what I can, every day, and try not to hate myself for what I can't do. I avoid people who hate me for my failings. I try to handle and roll with what comes at me, and when my impatience or the hopelessness barge through, I do my best to notice and quiet them. I get better at that over time, and that makes me smile.
Do I "have" Depression? Do I "battle" it? "Cope" with it? "Struggle" with it? "Manage" it? Have I "beaten" it, or failed to?
What does it matter? I have a life, and a self, and I find ways every day to live fully, to feed my relationships and create in the world. That is my way, for better or worse. And you, by reading this, are part of that life journey. Thank you.