Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Broken Bridge

Call this sort of a PSA if you like.  I've mentioned before that I have major depressive disorder.  I try to be pretty open about this and to be honest and public about how I deal with it and how it affects me because I feel like there's still such a stigma around mental illness (and such a belittling of depression in particular) that if I can do some small part by sharing my experience, I want to try.

So I'm passing along this study that I stumbled on tonight:
Crushing guilt is a common symptom of depression, an observation that dates back to Sigmund Freud. Now, a new study finds a communication breakdown between two guilt-associated brain regions in people who have had depression. This so-called "decoupling" of the regions may be why depressed people take small faux pas as evidence that they are complete failures.

Guilt plays a huge part in my depressive episodes.   I convince myself that the lives of those around me would be greatly improved by my absence, that every fight is my fault, that every mistake I make is a monumental failure.  And then I hate myself for being so narcissistic as to think I could have such an effect on the world around me.  I have my vicious cycle of self-loathing down to an art form.

The problem is figuring out scope:  everyone makes mistakes, hurts someone's feelings, scratches on the 8 ball.  But it's hard for me to figure out sometimes which setbacks are worth my anxiety, especially if someone is angry or disappointed with me over them.  So it's weirdly comforting to learn that there's a concrete reason for that.  It's even more comforting to see this:

"It's likely to be the sign of something that happened because of learned experiences, plus, of course, biology," Zahn said.
That means there is hope that people prone to depression could learn to overcome their guilty tendencies. Zahn and his colleagues are now collaborating with Jorge Moll, a scientist at the D'Or Institute for Research and Education in Rio de Janeiro, to try to train people's brains.

That's pretty amazing.  The brain, even when broken, is an astonishing thing. 

It's hard to explain depression to someone who doesn't have it.  It's hard to make someone with a functioning brain understand how much you're constantly fighting your own.  How no matter what you know rationally, there's always that nagging little voice that sows doubt.  How every failure is multiplied exponentially and every success is minimized.  How your own brain becomes your enemy. I told someone that it's almost like having an alter ego inside your brain who hates you.  A little tiny version of yourself, who knows your soft targets better than anyone, and has pinpoint precision when aiming for them. 

I've come so incredibly far and I'm fighting every single day.  I've seen concrete progress of which I'm incredibly proud, especially over the last year.  Yes, my brain is still disordered and sometimes I fall victim to it.  That will always be the case.  But most of the time I know how to compensate for it and/or bring in external help if I can't combat it on my own.  I've come to think of it like my bad knee:  I had to do PT to build up the muscles around my knee to compensate for what the joint can't do.  I've learned that I can deal with depression the same way.  When my brain starts to work against me, there are devices upon which I can call to pick up that slack.  It doesn't always work.  But as time goes on I find I'm able to make it work more and more. 

A few years ago the things that have happened to me over the last year would have killed me – psychologically if not literally. Now I feel like I'm much more able to handle things as they come.  I still have my meltdowns.  But I've come to accept that sometimes that's going to happen, and that if I let it in and let it pass, I won't waste energy trying to fight it off that I'll need later on. 

But it's hard to make someone who doesn't have my brain understand that progress.  It's hard to explain to my family what an accomplishment it is that I don't call out of work or cancel plans anymore just because I can't face the world.  It's hard to explain why I get so worked up over every little criticism or setback, even when I know it's irrational.

So when I see something like this, I spread it around.  Because every little bit of information helps.  Maybe it'll help someone who doesn't understand why they feel the way they do.  Maybe it'll just help the people around someone like me understand that we might not win every battle, but it doesn't mean we're not fighting. 

"I've come to embrace those parts of my mind that are peculiar and broken.  I understand now that's what makes my mind special."  -Walter Bishop, Fringe

Post title stolen from this song.


  1. Hope things work out for you. I've struggled some with depression and it's not pretty but you figure out how to deal with it a little more each day.

  2. My wife just linked me to this blog entry because we've been having a Talk tonight about my mental state, triggered by the fact that said mental state has been.... not great. Two months ago, I was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. But... the reverse kind, where summer makes me hate everything and want to nuke it all and die, instead of winter, which the majority of people with SAD have. I started being properly medicated for it almost exactly one month ago.

    My life has gone in directions so different from anywhere it's ever been, that dealing with this with the knowledge of what it is is all new to me. So now my doctor and my wife have gotten me to where I can retrospectively understand a lot of my past behavior, but I can't usually cope with it now the same ways I did before.

    She showed me this blog entry, I think, to show me that there are a number of ways in which depression manifests itself, and this is an example of how it can be something that sits and simmers and affects everything you think and feel and do, all the time. With me, the primary thing is anger, not guilt. It's like.... every hour of every day, even when I'm basically happy and doing things I like to do, there's this constant underlying rage directed at everyone and everything and especially at myself. Not just like.... mild frustration or annoyance. Like... "Everything about the entire world makes me want to wage war on it, burn the shithole to the ground, send every human alive to be gassed and thrown into the sea, and sit there carving FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK into my skin with a boxcutter while I watch it all happen." THAT kind of rage. Not for any good reason. Just... it's ALWAYS THERE. I'd spare my family and my wife and kiddo but after that... there's a void of total apathy regarding the fate of anyone else on the planet. Which I feel guilty about, because I DO care very deeply about my friends and colleagues, but.... the thing that lives deeper than anything I consciously want, deeper than ethical choices or normal human compassion and sympathy and empathy.... that thing overrides feeling anything for other people's hypothetical suffering. Sometimes it overrides REAL people's suffering and makes me feel not sympathy or empathy, but just.... more anger. I can remember an incident about 8 years ago when my wife's 7-year-old sister went into a sobbing tantrum because she didn't want her parents to go away for an overnight date... and it made me so blind with rage I couldn't find any way to deal with it and ended up breaking down myself. Yeah.... a 7-year-old child wanting her mommy made me want to kill shit so badly it literally broke me.


    Point being... thank you for posting this. It actually did help me a lot to see the kinds of batfuckery depression turns your brain into. Seeing the same patterns with just a slightly different variation on emotional malfunction is helping me understand better what's wrong with me so I can figure out what things are caused by the brain-troll that lives in my skull and not actually proof that I am a horrible person.

  3. Ohh, thank you for sharing. Brain research generally makes me feel better.

    The worst thing for me is experiencing that crushing guilt in a professional sense. Earlier in the year, my teaching partner had some criticism about something I did, and while she kind of made a bad choice about how to handle it, it still turned me into a hysterical, blubbering wreck as the kids and their parents were coming in the door.

    I've gotten to the point when I can handle that shit in my personal life, but I hate it when it comes up professionally. At least now I have something I can tell myself, in line with my radical acceptance self-talk.

  4. I sort of, kind of self-diagnosed my own depression within the last year. It was something that I'd always suspected might be the case, but a failed relationship really kind of crystallized it for me. Whenever I'd tell people about the situation, I'd point out that, while there was a significant portion of me who saw what we will call a "dick move" that they did, I was more affected and concerned by the possibility that there was something wrong with me and the way I acted or the way I am...the things I like and don't like...that sort of thing. When I finally came to terms with it, everything kind of fell into place. Mine, at least in my very non-professional opinion, is very mild and only really became noticeable to the point of legitimately stopping me from doing work in the past year. I completely understand the idea of fighting with your own brain that you mention because, while I feel I may have always done it, it's only really become apparent to me in the last year. Much like you, I've found ways to control it both before and after I self-diagnosed. It's nice to see it explained through the physiology of the brain though.

    I know I'm not going through anywhere near the challenges and difficulties you are right now, but I hope everything improves for you soon. I know I, for one, don't think my life would be better without your internet presence in it (or general presence in it since one of the best memories of Comic Con i'll probably ever have (because I mostly didn't like the experience) was just how nice and kind you were at the party afterwards when my friend and I met and were talking with you, so thank you for that as well).

  5. How you deal with depression is very inspirational. Everyone deals with depression in their own way and I think you have the right idea. Research and the like is always important and you looking into it shows that you're willing to learn. That's important as there are many people who would be more than willing to give up. Keep fighting!

  6. You are an excellent example of the strength of a person who chooses to own their life, no matter how hard it is or what hand they were dealt, rather than let it own them. I'm proud to know you.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing, I'm kind of in the middle of this right now. So it's always nice to see that I'm not alone with this weirdness.