Archive for the ‘mental health’ Category

Recognizing my experience of depression in the pages of the DSM-V

A few weeks ago, my assignment for my Abnormal Psychology class – choosing a disorder and writing about it from a specific therapeutic perspective – gave me a reason to look through the DSM-V, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I went to the local library, sat down with their reference copy, and flipped through the pages. I skimmed the criteria of different disorders, searching for one that might seem intriguing, but not too triggering or something that I have directly experienced.

Major Depressive Disorder did not meet my second requirement; nonetheless, I stopped skimming and read through the criteria. And as I read, I recognized that two and a half to three years ago, I met nearly every point of the criteria, line by line. Part of me suspected this, but I hadn’t looked it up, not even in my old copy of the DSM-IV that I’ve had for years. If the page had been a checklist, it would have been full of check marks.

On one hand, the realization was sobering: I was severely depressed. That’s scary and serious.

On the other hand, I can also say that it’s factual, it’s true, and that reading the criteria simply confirmed what I already knew. I had a depressive episode, the worst I’d ever had. I acknowledge that before I experienced that episode, I likely struggled with mild depression, or dysthymia, on and off for years, perhaps since I was a teenager.

Alternately, I can also look at it like this: I was severely depressed. I went back to my hometown. There, I got the help and support I needed. I don’t know if I can say that I am necessarily better off because of my depression, but the support I got helped me get to where I am today. I like and appreciate my life now.

There is also something validating in seeing what I experienced written in words on a page. It tells me that other people have experienced this, that people have researched it, that treatment continues to be looked at and further developed.

I do recognize that a diagnosis is primarily a measurement used for medical, prescriptive, and insurance reasons. It isn’t consistently a defining factor in my life; at this point, the main thing is that I take two pills each morning. I also keep better track of my moods and I regularly use skills to deal with challenging situations and emotions.

I remind myself that I don’t have to make too much meaning out of the pages of the DSM; it’s a reference manual used in certain contexts. I know that if I experience and recognize the symptoms of depression again, I am more equipped to deal with it. I am therefore less likely to experience another major depressive episode. And that’s what really matters to me.

Letter to self

Dear Self,

I want to tell you never have to go through that exact experience again.  You are brave for having lived through it. You faced severe depression and suicidal thoughts. You had a night where you didn’t care what you took or did. It’s been almost a year. You made it through.

Not everyone understood. They may have given you misguided advice and misinterpreted what you were experiencing. Trust that you know your own experience and your own truth. Others discouraged you from sharing about the one of the most significant health crises of your life with people you care about. That couldn’t have helped anyone, and contributed towards your silence and depression.  You made the courageous choice to leave, even though it was heartbreaking.  It was also the most powerful and supportive choices you could have made at the time.

I know that you want to hear that you will never be in another situation where someone asks you to do something that compromises your values. I can’t guarantee that. I can tell you that if it happens again, you now have the tools to stand up for yourself, to say no with strength and integrity.

You have grown a lot. You have gone from facing a life-sucking depression to embracing your passion. I love seeing you be creative. I know that art has always called to you. I’m glad you are listening. You have re-embraced the steadiness and compassion of a man who loves you for who you are. You are allowing yourself to fully love him in return, and you are dedicated to building and growing your relationship. You are finding community, even though you feared you’d never find one again. You are learning. You are healing.

I want to tell you that you are strong. You are learning how to cope in a society, in a world, that sometimes tells you to be something – someone – you are not. Be you. Trust in yourself. Find your own rhythm. You’ve got this.