Why I decided to see a shrink

Okay, a psychiatrist. ;p

I know there will be many people who think I’m being nuts (lol, ironically) or dramatic. Plenty of people tell me I’m fine, or I’m thinking too much. But none of them can be me. Nobody will actually know (unless you go through the same) how much I struggle just to live. On a everyday basis.

I used to think it was because of my emotional or psychological issues. Low self-esteem, unable to withstand criticism, fear of confrontations, lack of support, being misunderstood, couldn’t find a purpose, life had no meaning, etc, etc.

I used to cry all the time, feel despair, thoughts that life is not worth living would cloud my head.

Now, ironically, I am living as well as I have ever been and I still feel like a piece of shit. I just cannot seem to feel joy. I feel perpetually down, even though there isn’t much to feel down about. Still I try. I wondered if it was my health, my work, my lack of exercise, my diet – that I am feeling like shit. It could be all of the above. But the truth is, I honestly don’t know. Maybe it is not one area but a holistic problem.

Two things are facts though. 1. I have a family history. 2. I have been experiencing low moods + energy for virtually all my life.

If that is the case, is there a huge possibility that this may really be a medical problem instead of a psychological one?

I am experiencing the time of my life and it annoys me endlessly that I can’t seem to sustain enough energy to actually do things. There is really a huge stash of stuff going through my head, tons of ideas spinning around but I can’t work for more than 2 hours at one go. My brain starts to feel unresponsive and if I overwork, I end up with a migraine.

I have been chronically depressed all my life but I think for the first time, I have been experiencing extreme fatigue for the past three years. I have had lifelong low energy as well but it is another thing all together when I am so tired that I cannot think. Maybe it is stress-induced burnout. I don’t have the luxury to stop everything and do nothing for as long as I want (I think not many people can anyway).

Last year, I took a total of 3 months off. Went to beautiful beaches, peaceful environments. Didn’t have to work much or cope with stressful deadlines. I felt nothing. No joy, no enthusiasm, no sharp intake of breath when I saw my favourite ocean. That was when I knew something was very wrong.

I hoped that I would get over it, but I didn’t. I have tons of exciting ideas and projects lined up. My life is great but somehow I really don’t feel great.

I’ve been doing a lot of self-initiated research about depression as a whole. Studies have shown that there is a genetic link and people are very likely to be predisposed to it. A lot about the human brain is still undiscovered. What they know is, when the brain is unable to transmit certain chemicals properly, brain function starts to break down and it creates a whole lot of problems. You don’t only get mental disorders, but a whole load of physical health issues because everything depends on chemistry.

So ultimately it comes down to this. If my brain is truly wired the wrong way since birth, and I am trying to ‘cure’ myself by resisting medication because the mainstream popular thinking is ‘mind over matter’, then I am just being an idiot, isn’t it?

I was quite worried that I’ll end up like David Foster Wallace, who was chronically depressed, took anti-depressants and his life become a lot better and more productive, he tried to stop, and the same medication wouldn’t work for him anymore. He killed himself.

If you read about his life, there is not much reason for him to kill himself. He had a loving wife, he was a critically acclaimed writer, he was able to do what he loved – write. Yet he couldn’t live with himself. Every single moment of his life he was in so much pain.

I’ll like to ask, where did the pain come from? Perhaps some self-inflicted. Very likely the brain just couldn’t process pain in a typical manner. If I can think happy and try my darnest to be happy, but yet I feel horribly melancholic, then maybe I can consider the possibility that something could be wrong somewhere. Just like how some people are born with a hole in the heart. How come it is so difficult to believe that people can be born with a dysfunctional brain?

If my brain cannot function normally, then no matter how much talent, how much heart or how much work I am willing to put in, I cannot be happy. Not because I don’t want to, but chemically it is impossible for me to feel happiness.

If popping a pill for the rest of my life can enable me to function, I will take that chance.

In the long-term, I hope to be able to raise awareness for mental disorders. It is definitely not ‘all-in-the-mind’ or not something people can just ‘pick themselves up with’. The lack of peer and family support can drive people to suicide. Or abuse. To be honest I am a little worried how my clients will think if they find out I am chronically depressed, but this is the kind of social stigma I want to help reduce. If someone like me can’t even be honest about my condition, what sort of hope is there for other people?

I still believe being authentic is the way to empower oneself and truly heal.

The official diagnosis is Dysthymia, and when I have major depressive episodes (yup, that’s when I’m always weeping), they term it Double Depression. It is actually reassuring that the psychiatrist knew exactly what I was talking about. I looked healthy, happy, could make tons of jokes and laugh, but I simply cannot feel happy or have enough energy to accomplish things. I feel very comforted that he didn’t judge me based on my happy outlook and projected enthusiasm – I get very excited when I talk about my ideas but sorry, still feel like crap.

I don’t know how I can have so much desire to live and contribute to this world, yet still feel like a piece of shit. It is just a disconnect that is very frustrating.

I would like to re-iterate this for you kind souls who care enough to read. Depression is real. It cannot be judged from how a person behaves. The stereotype of those staring into air sorts is not conclusive for everyone. Tons of suicide cases do not exhibit signs at all. If some of us can be born with dysfunctional organs, then why not a dysfunctional brain? Just because it is part of the brain doesn’t mean you can just will it away. I don’t know why most people assume depression (and other mental disorders) can go away by a lifestyle change. The choices an individual make, his/her beliefs, perspectives are important to good mental health. The brain has to play its part as well.

I have this eternal question, is it genetic brain chemistry that causes mood disorders, or is it extreme stressful conditions that cause altered brain chemistry? Chicken and egg isn’t it?

I believe in holistic or alternative healing, I really do. I do believe if I can have the time and space, I have the power to heal myself simply through other healing methods like yoga, acupuncture, TCM, meditation, energy work, etc.

But I really don’t. Economic demands have dictated my choices in life. I try to make the best of it, but I do have tons of bills to pay, plenty of responsibilities to fulfill, expectations to meet. Despite my positive outlook and idealism, I do have a weak stress coping mechanism. Before I can even let my body heal naturally or learn yoga for example, I am already way too anxious to even have decent sleep. Many days I wake up with panic attacks and chest pains. Coupled with perpetual fatigue, this is like a time bomb waiting to explode. I cannot sustain the clarity of thought for my work, my work cannot even meet my own expectations, or sometimes I feel too ill to even work -> not working enough equates to financial instability -> mega-stress situation.

It is just a never-ending vicious cycle, because people with depression feels like shit, they can’t do anything, and the inability to accomplish only leads to more negative feelings. Sometimes it is a matter of giving the body time and space to heal – continued feelings of despair will not allow that.

I have come to a point whereby I really want to live, and by living means spending every second of my life meaningfully, not feeling ill or down. I have tried to will it away, I have. I have avoided taking medication for all my life.

If you look at material on dysthemia, most people don’t even know that they have this condition. That is so because they accept it as part of their life and personality.

That they will always feel gloomy. Always. They accept that they will never feel joy.

I do not want to accept this as my life.

Ironically, it is my desire to live that I am seeking help now. It is a gamble – anti-depressants are known to cause horrible side effects to some people. But I will take that chance. I have had enough of putting up with myself. Of blaming myself that I am the sole cause of my own unhappiness. Of feelings of self-perpetuated guilt that I am not strong enough to overcome this. Of feeling so much helplessness when I have major depressive episodes. Of my partner having to witness time and time again, my stream of never-ending tears while I crawl into a corner. Of all those moments I actually thought jumping off some roof seemed tempting.

I cannot be proud of anything much, but I am definitely proud that I want to live my life with purpose. I don’t wallow in self-pity anymore (I used to when I was younger) and I am hugely positive about life (you can read my previous blogposts). If I am full of ideals, hopes and dreams and yet I cannot control my feelings of jumping down some roof…

Then I think that gamble is worth it.

And I really rather spend all that time coping with this, on something more productive. I am intrigued actually, that intellectually I am really fine, but somehow my brain is constantly trying to sabotage me. I have read plenty of suicide notes or personal accounts of depression, it is always heartbreaking to know that there are just so many people constantly fighting with themselves and the amount of despair that they feel. That they can never win their brains. You would never wish that upon your worst enemy.

I know things can go horribly wrong. But well, plenty of decisions I have made in my life could go horribly wrong as well. A 50% chance of experiencing life as a proper human being, is better than none.

It’s so paradoxical, but the only chance to truly heal is to first accept the disease. The more you resist, the more it persists.

Akemi Gaines on twitter