If anything was going to be a catalyst for my monster to come back it was losing one of my best friends. After the instinct just to get through the few days following Randy’s death wore away, I became increasingly worried about going into another depression. Sure I was still on medication, but the types and dosages were already being decreased and my stability was better than ever. Over the years, I’ve learned one of the worst curses of clinical depression. Constantly asking yourself, is this reaction normal? When it comes to something as terrifying as watching a friend die, I don’t think there are normal or abnormal reactions. There are as many ways of handling it as there are people in the world. But nevertheless, an internal line needed to be drawn as to when my recovery was starting to look abnormal.
I took two approaches to dealing with this without my depression getting the best of me. One was to look at all the progress I had made and the prospect of six years of recovery down the drain was as overwhelming as my grief. As a grad student with deadlines looming and my entire career on the line, I realized letting myself get pulled under by the current lapping at my heels literally wasn’t an option. I decided I had better fight this thing or I’d let myself and Dean down as well.
Randy had his own monsters which were ironically under control when he was diagnosed with leukemia. We talked about depression and mental illness a lot and both took solace in the fact that a disproportionate amount of intelligent tend to suffer from this disease. He knew better than anyone what it was like to struggle with this. The second approach I took to making sure I didn’t spiral after he died was knowing that it would upset him if I did. He wouldn’t have wanted that for me and I like to think he would be proud of the strength and perseverance I found within myself to convince myself that yes, this reaction is normal.
So why am I suddenly telling you all this? There are a few reasons. The biggest reason is that I am finally free of prescription medication though I still take dietary supplements, get plenty of mental and physical exercise, and constantly assess my environment to help regulate my moods. I’ve noticed a lot of changes since I weaned myself off of my medication, the biggest one being this sense of being alive that I haven’t felt in a very long time. If the deepest part of my depression was a coma, the medication was still a general grogginess. Today, I am awake. The moods are there, the highs and the lows. I didn’t realize I had given up the highs to get rid of the lows and it’s good to have them back. I know I needed to take them six years ago when I started but I know even more now that I don’t and that is the best feeling.
I’m not really writing this to increase awareness about depression. As a society we are advanced enough to know that it is out there and that there is help. We are aware that psychotherapy and medication in some combination will get it under control. People will disagree as to the causes, the catalysts, the treatments, nature versus nurture and so on and so forth. What I don’t think we as a society are advanced enough to know is that it’s not something to be ashamed of. If you have this disease, it isn’t your fault. You aren’t an alien from another planet. People have high cholesterol, high blood sugar, lactose intolerance, etc etc and they are not looked down upon for being unable to regulate these human functions. Nor should we look be looked down upon for being unable to control moods and emotions. It is all apart of the collective human condition.