Now that I’ve gone and gotten treatment, I’ll tell you the story of the Dark.
I’ve always been subject to black moods. Getting raped at 18 didn’t help, I’m sure. But those moods were always transient, usually correlated to known issues like severe stress, and predictable. They didn’t affect my day-to-day functioning all that much, and I could always find my way out. I just joined up with the part of my brain that was laughing into the darkness and walked out on it. I’d change up my routine, do whatever altered my mood toward happy, and the Dark would go.
So I wasn’t overly concerned when I began to slide in January. Vaguely and pervasively sad in Seattle in the middle of winter, during a time of high stress at work and home? Whee, SAD! Yay, environmental triggers! Time to take a break, then, watch some Agatha Christie, do busy work, wait for the Dark to go away.
But it started getting darker. Day-to-day stuff got harder. Little obstacles I’d normally hop over became insurmountable. Nothing I did worked; I lost the ability to enjoy things I loved, including the ability to talk to people I love. Sometimes, if it was short and simple and didn’t require lots of emotional energy, I could handle a quick reply to their emails. But generally not. Friendships have an emotional component, and it’s hard to handle emotions when yours are trying to kill you.
I could go to work, and do good work. I regained my ability to blog. I could manage some research. By the time those things were done, however, I was spent. Nothing left for anything else.
When February came, and no change, I decided, “Fuck this shit.” If the Dark wouldn’t go away on its own, I’d get someone to escort it out. Only, it had me backed into a corner. I literally could not pick up the phone to make an appointment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want treatment. I did, desperately. But I didn’t have the stamina to handle the phone call to a doctor I’d never seen, explaining the situation to someone, figuring out a time I could make it, getting in the car and driving there… Maybe tomorrow I’d have it. Always tomorrow.
Greta Christina wrote up a piece on her depression around then, and I recognized it. Standing in front of a mirror. That gave me courage, and a measure of peace. But still no strength. Maybe tomorrow.
Starspider and I talked about it. She monitored the situation, did exactly what I needed: gave me space until it became clear I couldn’t take care of my business, and then set a date to frog-march me into the doctor. Sometimes, you need a friend to do that, grab you and drag you out of the corner, run to get the bouncer so the Dark can be thrown out.
That week, things got bad at work. So bad I wanted to smoke. So bad I almost begged a cigarette. So bad that the craving, the sheer physical need, returned with a vengeance. And it was like an escape hatch had opened. What, other than Chantix, do they prescribe for smoking cessation down in our clinic? Wellbutrin! An anti-depressant. The Bouncer.
I could have my supervisor make an appointment for the clinic. So I did. Getting to a doctor’s office was a nearly-insurmountable obstacle, but downstairs I could do. So down the stairs I went. I kissed the prescription slip when I got it. Filled it that night, the instant I got off work. Waited for the drug to reach therapeutic levels.
The urge to smoke vanished first. Then, gradually, the Dark began backing off. The Bouncer now has it firmly by the scruff of the neck, and it’s on the way out the door, giving the occasional kick or scream. The insurmountable obstacles have shrunk to mountains; soon, they’ll be molehills. I’ll get to the proper doctor before this prescription runs out. I’ll have a professional monitoring the situation and ensuring a continuous supply of magic happy pills. (And these really are magic. I’m just two weeks in, not enough time for them to fully work, but I’ve got enormous energy and drive, like I haven’t had since November. And I’m writing fiction again for the first time in well over a year. Soon, probably, I’ll be able to handle all that and social obligations. Seriously amazing. That’s just a pill with no therapy. I bloody love science.)
Getting treatment for my SAD brain is no more bothersome than getting treatment for severe muscle spasms, say, or a chronic heart problem that didn’t require medication before, but does now. My mother saw herself as a failure when she was forced to go on medication. She’d been taught that mental illness was “all in her head.” We’re fortunate that she learned otherwise, because we learned together it’s okay to get help for a malfunctioning brain. I’m glad so many good people have shared their own stories, so that when it came time to get help getting rid of the Dark, I could do so without stigma.
There’s an answer to those who continue to insist it’s all in our heads. Sure is! My head is where I keep my brain, and it’s my brain that needs a medical assist to function properly. You know what else is “all in your head”? Brain tumors. I wouldn’t hesitate to treat one of those. I’m not hesitating to treat my brain disorder.
I want out of the dark. I’m getting there fast. (And so will Seattle, come spring, which is coming along with a quickness.)
I’m sharing this story so that there’s one more voice in the chorus saying that shit happens to the brain, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t control it any more than you can will away cancer. Sometimes, it’s just like a little cold, and passes on its own. But sometimes, it’s serious, and serious treatment is required.. So if you need help, go right ahead and get it. Even if it’s by slightly nefarious means. Even if you need help getting help. Do what you can to get yourself healthy, just like you would for any other ailment.
And you well folk? If you see a friend backed into a corner, help them out. Don’t nag them. Just ask what they need, and offer to help overcome some of those obstacles, and stand with them.
There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to stay in the Dark.
(Bonus video for those who prefer originals: the Falco version of “Out of the Dark.”)