Conclusions on a Look Back

May 3, 2009

Dear Readers, please forgive my brief sabbatical from writing. A couple of nights ago, for reasons too personal to disclose, I became too depressed to write. Whatever is going on inside my mind and body exhibits very little rhyme or reason, and it often affects me in bizarre and strangely different ways. One day I feel like crying; the next day I'm on edge; a week later I come somewhat back to normal, except that I can't focus on anything or conjure up emotional responses to any sort of stimuli; and then I spend another week feeling about as energetic as a dishrag, struggling to roll out of bed before 11 a.m. Fortunately, I finally got through to the doctor's office and made an appointment for this Wednesday. I've hopefully taken the first step back to sanity.

The thought of taking pills to cope with any sort of mental or emotional problem used to disgust me. I knew a few people in high school and college who took Prozac and other such medication, and it seemed to me that they only used pills as a way to avoid dealing with their own issues.

Looking back, I believe some of them really did. The most memorable was a female college classmate of mine who sank into a mentally paralyzed state because she was doing poorly in class. Soon, she was using nearly all of her precious study time brooding and crying alone in her room, ignoring repeated invitations to join a study group another friend and I had formed. Finally, frustrated by her daily moaning and her refusal to study, I practically barged into her room one night and confronted her.

"I can't help it," she said. "I take medication for depression."

"So?" I said. "What's that got to do with anything?"

She gave me a bewildered look. "It means I just can't cope. I look at the material, and all I can think about is how I'm going to fail."

"Well, you're certainly not going to pass by not looking at the material," I said. "You don't need to let your depression control you like this. Instead, you take control. Make yourself do."

"That's possible?" she asked.

"Of course it is," I replied. "Right now, you're just trapping yourself in a bad cycle. If you don't study, you'll do worse in class, and if you do worse, you'll only feel worse about yourself and become more depressed. Soon, studying will seem even harder to do. Your only option is to crack open those books now and get busy."

Although my beloved friend resumed studying before I left her room that night, I realize now that I was probably wrong for saying what I did. My manner that night could only be described as completely insensitive. At the time, I didn't fully appreciate the debilitating effects depression can inflict upon a person. However, I will never forget the look on my friend's face as I spoke. It was one of epiphany. No one had ever told her that she could deal with some of her feelings on her own! How terrible!

I think the problem is that a fine line exists between the emotions generated by chemicals in the brain and the degree to which people immerse themselves in those emotions. One part can be controlled very little; the other, a great deal. But in the throes of intense feeling, how can anyone tell which is which? I think it comes down mostly to knowing one's self. I think I'm still learning.

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