Monday, August 25, 2008
Our First Depressive Episodes
I plan on spending this week talking about depression. For those of you who've read my blog for some time, you know that my first depressive episode occurred when I was an 18-year-old college freshman in 1968. I was the wrong girl at the wrong university at the wrong time. Kind of like Doris Day at a Janis Joplin concert. A fifties girl in a sixties world.
In retrospect, choosing the University of California at Berkeley in the sixties was just too big of a transition. And I didn't have the self-knowledge to admit I'd made a huge mistake, so I stuck it out for a year. By then I was truly depressed (albeit I had no idea that what I felt was clinical depression) and thought something had "broken inside." Had I sought help, and had it been the right kind of help, I think my problems could have been fairly easily resolved.
What's important about that first episode is that I thought about it over and over for the next two-and-a-half decades. During that period, I did seek help. In fact, I saw six psychologists (for very brief periods), and one psychiatrist for somewhere between six to nine months.
No one diagnosed the first episode as a clinical depression nor the subsequent ones. About ten years ago, I read that stressful life events can cause depressive episodes. It was a huge relief. By myself, I came to realize the significance of that first episode--so I could finally be done with it.
Most of the literature I've read doesn't suggest how important the first episode is. But I believe it's terribly significant. What I realized years later was that I didn't have experience dealing with disappointment so when I was so disappointed at Cal because it wasn't what I envisioned, I didn't know what to do. I was afraid to tell anyone at the Student Health Center because I didn't want it to go on my college record. I didn't discuss it with my parents because I thought they'd be disappointed in me. And I didn't talk about it with my friends because all of them seemed to love college.
While I told every psychologist and psychiatrist about this episode, none of them ever asked, "What do you think caused it? How did you deal with it? Did you confide in your parents or your friends? If you did, what did they say? If you didn't, why didn't you? How have you dealt with disappointment since then? What events cause you to feel disappointed?"
You get the drift. My point is that I now believe that if I had only realized that I didn't deal well with disappointment, I could have changed my pattern rather than repeating it. Without that knowledge, I continued to deal with disappointment the same way, and for most of my life that was the primary cause of my depressive episodes.
I have often wondered if other people feel the same about their first depressive episodes. Do you remember yours? Has it had a lasting effect on your life or were you able to resolve it? Do you agree about the significance of your first depression?