The Weight of Depression

“Hemingway has his classic moment in ‘The Sun Also Rises’ when someone asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt. All he can say is, ‘Gradually, then suddenly.’ That’s how depression hits. You wake up one morning, afraid that you’re gonna live.”
—Elizabeth Wurtzel, “Prozac Nation”

Right now, I’m reading Prozac Nation, a memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel. The subtitle of the book is, “Young and Depressed in America: A Memoir.” I can relate because, a) I have a prescription for Prozac (which I don’t take); and b) I’m certainly depressed in America (though I’m not as young as I used to be). But what really drew me to this book was the foundation of the book: A writer struggling with depression, trying to make sense out of life, fighting self-destruction, and all the while, trying to be a writer.

Continued one-on-one therapy has helped me realize how and why I become self-destructive when I experience the depths of depression, how depression has related to my sexual addiction, and how to cope with depression when it hits.

But still, there are parts of this book I understand perfectly. For example, she talks about not wanting to get out of bed, and while she doesn’t describe why, I understand exactly why; I struggle, every day, to get out of bed. And here’s why: If I don’t get out of bed — if I stay nestled underneath by warm bedspread as early morning becomes late morning, then lunchtime, then early afternoon, then evening — if I never get out of bed, there’s no possible way I can fuck anything else up or hurt anymore people. If I stay in bed, I can’t get my hopes up for anything and I can’t be disappointed by anything. If I stay in bed, I don’t have to talk to anyone, no one has to suffer through the experience of talking to me, and I won’t have to show my face to anyone outside my own house.

If there was one word I could use to describe depression, it would be “Heavy.” Not in the sense that Michael J. Fox used it in Back to the Future, but in an emotionally-literal sense of feeling weighed-down by emotion, unable to speak, move, or even breathe.

Technically, I suffer from “Melancholic Depression” and “High-Functioning Anxiety” (which differes from Wurtzel, who suffers from “Atypical Depression”). And they are manageable with medication . . . if I took it. I’ve been prescribed Prozac for my depression and Clonazepam for my anxiety. But either condition has to be pretty bad for me to crack open that bottle. The pills make me hazy and whenever I write after taking one of them, my writing is just garbage. And honestly, I value my writing above my mental health (or myself in general, for that matter), so I would rather deal with the depression and continue working on my books than to simply dope-up on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications and be a zombie all day.

As I’ve written before, I absolutely hate it when someone says, “Well what do you have to be depressed about?” That’s not how it fucking works. I’m not just “made sad” or some bullshit like that. Of course, depression has triggers, but it’s far beyond simply being “sad.” Clinical depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain (in my case, a trauma-induced imbalance), and depending on the type of depression, certain medications can balance-out those chemicals and ease the depression. But one of the major side-effects of those medications is something I can only describe as the deadening of the soul. Other side-effects include: sleep problems (insomnia), strange dreams, headache, dizziness, vision changes, tremors or shaking, feeling anxious or nervous, pain, weakness, yawning, tired feeling, upset stomach, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dry mouth, sweating, hot flashes, changes in weight or appetite, stuffy nose, sinus pain, sore throat, flu symptoms, decreased sex drive, and difficulty having an orgasm.

And some point or another, I experienced every single one of those side-effects. So yeah, fuck Prozac.

I don’t want to be depressed — I loathe every aspect of the bottomless depths of depression. I wish I could just be normal, if normal even exists. I know I put entirely too much weight onto the shoulders of my family, but they stand strong all-the-same, keeping me on my feet and helping me push through every single day, be it an easy day or a “tough head-space” day. Conquering depression without medication may not be the “right” way or the “easy” way to deal with it, but it’s my way. I’m not as much against taking my anxiety medication — as needed — but even though I suffer greatly and struggle significantly with depression, I have made the conscious decision to not take any medication.

It’s better for my writing to stay off the medication; my writing is the only thing in my life (other than my family) that really means anything. It’s all I have; the medication took it away.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, while taking Prozac, literally said, “I don’t know who I am anymore. I have this personality and it’s fucked up, but it’s me. And, I see myself becoming someone who does the right thing and says the right thing, but that’s not me.” I completely agree. She felt like she couldn’t be the “right” or “good” person without taking Prozac. Well, I want to be the “right” and “good” person without the pills. I want to be who I am supposed to be — “good” and “right” — while maintaining who I am; not the manufactured drug-induced ghost-of-a-man, medicated into a numb trance of fake happiness.

Elizabeth Wurtzel found it within herself to write while taking Prozac — she is a far-superior writer than I could ever be, and I admire that about her. After reading her book, maybe I’ll try it again. She said the pills gave her “breathing space” and allowed her to write. I don’t know; maybe I didn’t give the pills a chance. Maybe her brain chemistry is far-different from mine. But I felt like the pills took away my ability to write, to write creatively, and to write effectively. And that scared me, so I quit taking them.

Sometimes, alone in my office, behind my computer, writing is all I have. Writing is my escape. Some people escape with booze or drugs or porn or sex — but I can’t be that guy anymore, so I escape into my writing. I felt like the pills took that away too, and it petrified me.

Depression is also humiliating, denigrating, emasculating, demeaning, and disparaging. It makes me look (and feel) weak, useless, and fragile. I hate feeling depressed. I hate being depressed.

Fighting depression is a battle — a war — so all I can do is suit up and choose my weapon carefully.

One day at a time.

“You wake up morning, afraid that you’re gonna live.”