When I was asked to become a regular contributor to [adjective][species], I couldn't have been more excited. I had been following the site for quite some time, and I thought its approach to discussing the furry fandom was something interesting, unique and long overdue. Thinking about this fandom as a society, a segment of the population the same as any other, elevates the way we think about ourselves, legitimizes our little section of the Internet, encourages us to take ourselves a bit more seriously than we do. I was excited to be a part of that conversation.
So I sat down and thought up a good post that would serve as an icebreaker between us. This was right around Thanksgiving, so I thought using an anecdote I had heard about the first time the Native Americans had encountered the Europeans would work. It would segue into a rumination on perspective, and how we only find the things in the world that we look for. There were some kinks to work out, but I thought it would be a good thing to open our relationship with. With you in mind, dear reader, I opened up a new document and started writing.
Over the days I was working on it, though, I could feel the gears in my brain running down. The act of focusing became difficult, and the effort required exhausted me quickly. I became frustrated with how quickly I tired, and that frustration used up even more energy. It took more and more time to do less and less, and with work and everything else on my plate just getting through the day took more out of me than I had. That "energy debt" accumulated became this weight on me that grew by the day, and exhaustion became normal. Sleep did nothing; my mood sunk and the daily stuff got to be more than I could handle. But I had to handle it.
I suffer from chronic depression. I've been living with it long enough to know that I was having a depressive episode, and that the thing to do was NOT struggle to get everything done. I knew I didn't have the energy for that. It was going to take most of what I had to just get through the day, so I focused on that instead. I delayed the posts on my blog for a month, tabled my first blog for [adjective][species], and focused on re-establishing my coping mechanisms. I take Prozac every day, though I can forget sometimes during really busy periods. I try to meditate every day, which trains my mind to be still and improves my focus. Exercise actually helps me out too; a good run makes me feel better about myself. And talking about it helps, though that's difficult to do. Discussing depression, especially when you're in the midst of it, can be uncomfortable. It's hard to make someone who's never had depression understand what it's like to be gripped by it. But trying to do so makes me step back from my own head, which helps me reason through it.
Depression is being suddenly trapped in a labyrinth with high walls with no idea how you got there. The walls are so close that just moving through them is work, and so high that it's impossible to know what the world is like outside. It takes a lot of work at first, but trying to describe your depression is like scaling one of those walls and taking a look at the labyrinth from on high. It might not help you get through it right away, but it at least helps you to see what you're dealing with.
In any given year, NIMH (the National Institute of Mental Health) reports that 26.2% of the population over 18 suffers from a mental disorder in any given year. This includes chronic major and mild depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and social phobias. For a bit of perspective, that meant that—according to averages—1,460 attendees at Anthrocon 2013 suffered from a mental disorder this year.
That's a huge number. And many of those people are going undiagnosed and untreated, unable to find a way to deal with the way their own minds are betraying them. We all know someone who acts a little weird online, says things that make you wonder what they're thinking, or expresses anger, boredom, sadness or confusion consistently. It's quite possible that these folks—our friends and fellows in the community—suffers from a mental disorder that for some reason hasn't been addressed.
The holiday season is an especially hard time for those of us who suffer. There are a wide variety of reasons for this—being with family can be an alienating experience, or being unable to be with family may dredge up a lot of painful memories. This time where so many people are focusing on the connections they have, the pain and loneliness we feel may be exacerbated. It's difficult to know what to do with that, especially if we have no idea how to talk about it.
I realize that there's no easy way to deal with someone struggling with a mental illness, especially if it's gone unaddressed. I know that when I was in the darkest of my depressions I would say and do things that were very difficult for those closest to me to deal with. Even now that I've seen a therapist, developed coping mechanisms, take medication to manage my depression—interacting with people while I'm having difficulty is fraught with anxiety. Still, I really appreciate it when people make the attempt. Even if someone isn't able to express gratitude at the time a gesture is made, trust me—it's noticed, and it helps. There are some people who helped me through the worst of my depression and never gave up on me, and today I would do absolutely anything for them.
If you're depressed or helping someone who is, know this—you are not alone, and this is something that happens to many, many people. Even if professional help (therapy and/or medication) isn't available, there are things we can do to help those around us who are suffering. Here's a link:
Depression is a serious issue that we haven't learned to discuss or understand properly, I feel. It's very important to know what's happening to us or our loved ones when they're in the grips of illness. It's as real as any other disease, and treatment requires patience and compassion. It's difficult, of course it is, but that connection can mean the difference between finding your way out of the labyrinth and being stuck there, suffering alone, far longer than you should.