The Major-Depressive’s Trinity of Suffering

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State 1: Volatility

The low-point of a depressive episode is a sensation that can’t be fully expressed by mere words. It’s not just a static overdose of melancholy, it’s a legion of emotions that weave in and out of the sufferer’s consciousness, like a moth’s frantic dance around a porch light. Waiting to strike, rabid anxiety lurks in the shadows of her emotional awareness. One minute she appears to be a catatonic vegetable and the next she’s exhibiting the symptoms of a cocaine-induced panic attack. She feels something writhing through her; the psychic variant of restless leg syndrome takes over her entire body and makes standing still impossible. A sense of adrenaline-spiked dread signals that the anxiety has been unleashed. The torturous feeling tells her what she must do to gain relief. This onslaught of crippling anxiety attacks her without warning on a daily basis. She successfully wards them off time after time, but finally, she can withstand the anguish no longer. There are many options. An oncoming car. A loaded gun. She has neither, but she does have an open window and a twelfth-story apartment building…

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State 2: Baptism

The depressive needs to atone for his sins. His impulse to wash away the filth in his soul goes hand in hand with his desire for punishment. Most of the time, he feels the need to atone for sins that he didn’t even commit. He needs a baptism, something to purify him, something to equalize the scales of cosmic justice so that he feels that he’s paid the necessary price for his sins. He fantasizes about being a Christ figure. Perhaps he’d throw himself in front a car to save a small child or commit some other selfless deed for the greater good of his fellow man. Until that opportunity materializes, he resorts to self-punishment, self-mutilation. With each pass of the blade, he ransoms a few moments of peace. As the blood flows down his skin, he feels a wave of relief, like a majestic waterfall that rids him of all his moral impurities. The baptism of self-harm is a perverse form of deification. He becomes his own Christ. He suffers for the sake of himself.

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State 3: Abyss

Their world is black and white. Their senses are dulled to the point of uselessness. Movement is a struggle. Powerful phantom weights bear down on their body. When they need rest, they’re not able to sleep. When life demands productivity, they’re not able to muster the strength. The ego becomes neutralized by the depression’s toxic dose of apathy. Their preferred action is that of least resistance. Whether or not it is in their best interest is irrelevant. Suicide is romanticized. Misanthropy is cultivated. Friends are forgotten and family is ostracized. They’ll abuse any substance available that will make them feel anything other than the perpetual apathy that clouds their mind. They’re in the abyss and they don’t know how to pull themselves out of it. The scariest part about the abyss within their soul is that the longer they lie in it, the more that they stop wanting to escape its paralyzing depths.

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Killing the Trinity

I have major depressive disorder and PTSD. I have battled these mental illnesses since I was a child. A brute fact of life is that the Trinity will never die. It cannot be killed. Prayers will do nothing to calm its savagery. Like ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’ in Stephen King’s classic novel IT, depression periodically comes out of hibernation to wreak havoc on its victim and then, after it has generated enough suffering, it goes back to sleep. But it will return. Always.

There is hope though. Every skill in life becomes refined with time and practice. Coping with depression is no different. Medication, counseling, exercise, diet and a healthy social network and support system are all absolute necessities for anyone struggling with mental illness. But don’t think that these things are a collective panacea for depression. They aren’t. Nothing is, and anyone who says differently is selling something (to borrow a line from The Princess Bride). Each person is uniquely wired and will need to figure out what coping mechanisms work best for them. I firmly believe that artistic expression is key to coping with depression. Art saves, literally. While creative outlets aren’t the only effective coping mechanisms, they’re a great place to start.

For those feeling like they’re losing the battle with depression, I do have a few non-bullshit words of encouragement. If you’re doing what you should be doing to fight the disease, it will get better. The key is that you must stick with the prescribed medical, social and physical plans of care. As time passes, you’ll learn the patterns and signals of your depression. The punches will come at you just as hard, but you’ll be better equipped to fight back.

There’s an old movie from the eighties starring Gene Hackman called Uncommon Valor. Hackman plays a retired army colonel who sets up a rogue mission to rescue his son, a Vietnam War POW, from a Vietnamese prison camp. In one scene, he’s describing the horrors of killing women and children in the Korean War. He talks about how he saw their faces in his dreams when he came back home to the states. A soldier asks the Colonel if the faces ever went away. He replies that they never did, but he learned to make friends with them. That’s a great analogy for fighting depression. Keep fighting.

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