Saturday, May 5, 2007

Reentering Life (Part 1)

I think that one of the most difficult aspects of surviving a depression is reentering life. Years ago, when I told a new psychiatrist how hard it is, he said, "Well, I tell all my patients that they should continue with their activities during a depression so that they don't feel so isolated when it's over."

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry in response to his pronouncement. We'd only seen each other a few times. I wondered if I needed to tell him how smart I am so that he wouldn't continue to make such ridiculous statements in the future--which ultimately would cause me to stop seeing him.

What I wanted to say to him was, "After all your experience with patients, is this the best advice you've got? If you had told me that you'd established a Bipolar or Depression Wellness Center where patients could go every day during their depression and receive a multitude of services, get massages, listen to music, work in a garden, remain silent among other people, or take classes, that would be different. But to say that 'you're encouraging them to continue activities'--as if this is newsworthy or insightful--is an insult to my intelligence."

However, I held my tongue because this was a new relationship for us and I didn't want to be perceived as hostile. But the bottom line is that it's quite difficult to "reengage with people" after a depressive episode and, for me, it gets more difficult each year.

Why? Maybe it's the sheer numbers of episodes I've had and the toll they have taken. When I was younger and had more energy, rebounding was no big deal. I'd immediately call all of my friends, say, "I'm back" and schedule a slew of lunches and dinners.

These days, I'm not inclined to do so. I've tried to figure out why. I think that part of the reason is because I've now experienced depressive episodes for almost 40 years--seriously difficult ones for about 20 years.

Over time, I have gotten used to the solitude. As a depression winds down, I don't feel despairing, sad, or lonely. During the final phase, I just have less energy and I feel more subdued than normal. It's easier to return to activities I enjoy than it is to reengage with people.

When I'm interested in spending time with people again--other than my husband, son, and mother--oddly enough, I'm less interested in seeing people I know than total strangers. Why? Because with strangers, I can enjoy the social interaction without explanation. I don't have to account for my period of hibernation. I don't have to apologize for what I've missed in their lives. I don't have to share what's been going on in my life for the last four to six months or ask what's going on in theirs.

While this may seem antisocial, I don't believe it is. The fact is that I have now survived 120 depressive episodes. Some have been so debilitating that words can't do them justice. During years past, I often felt that I knew what it was like to almost die--because of the severity of the depressions--and experience a rebirth of sorts when I came out them.

After months of such intense anguish that was indescribable, from experience I knew it didn't make me feel better to talk about it. During depressions I think about life, death, love, meaning, relationships, and God. Once the episodes end, I not only am uninterested in "sweating the small stuff," but I don't feel like talking about it.

While I enjoy being with people I like, I don't always enjoy talking to them. And it's not easy to say to someone I haven't seen in months, "I'm happy to spend time with you and I'd like to take a walk with you, play music with you, have a meal with you, sit in silence with you, or pray with you--but I don't feel like talking to you. "

Maybe that's why I'm genuinely enjoying the photography class I recently started at a local community college. Within the last three weeks, I've met 30 new people--some of whom I like very much. The teacher is intelligent, articulate, well-organized, and knowledgeable. And for the first time--ever--I'm learning how to express my feelings, interests, and passions--without saying a word.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for writing this. I feel the same way but I didn't know how to say it.


marja said...

We're all so different. I very much need my friends, especially a couple of them who are very special to me. When I'm depressed, I reach out to them, hating the loneliness. Sometimes I hate the stuff I dump on them - but then, I also do the reverse when I'm high. They have gone to the trouble of learning what my disorder is all about and are very understanding.

I guess there must be different kinds of depression as well - and different degrees.

I'm glad you're enjoying the photography. Will you post one of your pictures sometime? If you do, I will post one of my paintings. BTW, I'm playing around trying to photoshop photographs and then painting them. Fun!

BamaGal said...

painting and photography---how creative of you ladies...I just have my crafts---crocheting mainly---my dad says I use to keep people away---body language---you know...

Susan---this post is something else as usual---when I'm in a severe depression---I get ill---sometimes almost a catatonic phase where I don't even know I'm in the world---so I can relate---I suppose that's why I'm such an internet junkie---no face to face meetings with anyone...