Neurochemistry is a pain

(No, I am not in danger; yes, I am getting professional help. Either way, I still need friends.)

In one sense, I have every right to be depressed. It’s not all that long ago that I was assaulted, torn into by strangers, and misguidedly told how I could have, should have prevented it. It’s even more recent that Stephen and I got divorced. This week, I need to gather the paperwork for last year’s taxes. I could make a list a mile long of things that are stressing me out right now. But of course, none of that is the point. That’s not how it works.

Depression is not a logical thing. There’s no scale I can heap up with the good and the bad, and even if there were, the good would probably come out tops.

By any measure, my life is awesome. I live in a country that, while often infuriating, is stunningly beautiful. I have a job that’s the envy of friends and colleagues alike, and I have choices coming out my ears if I want a change. I’m solidly in the top 1% of rich people worldwide, and even on a more local scale, I have no debts or ongoing financial obligations–I could quite happily support myself for a year or more, even at Swiss prices. I successfully fed two lovely vegans yesterday, unexpectedly, using only the supplies I already had to hand (ok, they were pretty easygoing vegans, but still!).

I can list off a hundred people who are worse off than I am; a thousand reasons I have to be grateful. But does it change how I feel? Not one iota.

I spent today alternating between bawling crying, and curled up in bed wishing the whole world would wink out of existence. I completely failed to attend the BBQ I’d been looking forward to, because of a combination of paralysing apathy and hateful self-doubt. Promising myself fun, socialisation, probably good food, and beer, all failed to motivate me to do anything other than wish I lived in a remote Tibetan valley.

But I eventually managed to turn things around, to console myself, to climb out of that despair. And three things helped me do that.

One of them was realising that I am not the only person who feels this way; some of the most amazing people I know have arguments with the black dog on a regular basis. The next was reading someone else’s account of hitting rock bottom.

Two things stuck out from that: I’ve got to find a reason for someone to care and I call my wife and ask her to remind me why I’m worth keeping around

See, part of the problem is that when my brain wants to hurt me, it has all of the weapons. It knows where the soft spots are. It tells me no one has any reason to care about me, and because it’s in charge of the thinking, I believe it. Even when I know it’s being a lying toad, even when I can conclusively say it’s wrong and people do care, important people, people I love, it doesn’t shut up, and it’s very convincing. It tells me that all of the awesome things I do could be done just as well, and with less fuss, by someone else.

And the final thing that helped me turn today around was realising that there is help out there. There are people who care about me specifically and personally, and there are people who care about the things I’ve done, and there are people who care about me just as a plain ol’ human being.

The dog is gone home for today, but he’s not dead yet. And when he does come back, when he’s looming over me, sometimes it’s hard to remember that other people feel this way, that people care about me, and that there is help.

And so, I write this, as a reminder to myself, and as an offer, and as a request.

If you want to talk, let me know. If I can help you out, please, ask. I know it’s hard to do, but I care about you, and if I can, I’d like to help. If I can’t, phone or email the Samaritans (UK & Ireland), or phone the Samaritans (US).

And if you want to help me out, leave a comment, or send me an email. Share a cute animal picture, or a memory that makes you smile, or just tell me that you care. Chances are, I won’t want to talk about this much more, so if you’re open to talking about it, let me know, but don’t take it personally or hassle me if I don’t want to. (Mum, I love you, but I still don’t want to talk about this. Thanks.)

Comments are moderated–I generally publish any that aren’t obviously spam, but if you don’t want yours published, just say so.

Neurochemistry is a pain, but for now, mine is on my side :-)

14 comments to Neurochemistry is a pain

  • A couple of suggestions:

    (1) Cognitive therapy has the best record (AFAIK) for treating depression, and it’s quite geek-compatible: it’s like having a write-only directory with some bad binaries in it, and being taught how to put fixed versions of the same names in a writable directory earlier in your $PATH. It turned me into an ex-depressive!

    (2) Although it may now seem a bit old-fashioned, you may find the book “The Road Less Travelled” worth reading.

  • Charel Morris

    Hello Noirin,

    I haven’t read your blog for a few months. I have experienced my own dark night of the soul or rather nights!

    And I am grateful that the sun came up the next day or at some point. Time does heal a lot of things but talking is also a powerful healer.

    So I am hear. I a actually a very good listener without judgement. Let me know when you feel like talking. And if you need to talk and it is the middle of the night here no problem call. I wake up easy.

    Let me know how I can help. In the meantime I will be sending you love, hugs and lots of blue skies.

    You are someone I care about. It may not have felt that way to you and if that is the case I am sorry. I know your bright sparkling eyes will soon return and you will be dancing and laughing and the black dog will find a new home or run off to the night sky and be gone.

    Much love and hugs,


  • Bernie O'Callaghan

    Good Morning Darling,
    We love you. I love you.
    Just got home last night and so am only reading this now. So sorry not to be at your front door to administer a big hug and tell you how wonderful you are and have been all your life.
    Are you ok enough?
    You could hop on a flight home for the weekend…always know this.

  • Of all I have ever read about it, Jane Kenyon’s poem Having it Out with Melancholy captures the essence of depression breathtakingly well – literally…

  • Pashupati

    I hope you’ll go okay.
    Everybody can fall into depression, it’s true and there is nothing inherently bad about that.
    One time I tried posting a “life story” about that on a teenage-aiming forum, so others would know they were others and maybe they would have answered they were into it too. Sadly most answers were insulting, and they said they were so to “help” me.
    I thought I was going better for some months, but last few days I’ve had panic attacks again, and when I didn’t I just stayed in the bed being sad or worrying. And now I don’t know how, the thoughts that gave me panic attacks don’t!
    Sometimes I’m scared I’ll do panic attacks during almost-there exams, or be too sad to go and end up as a burden to my mother.
    Anyway, here are little bats:
    And a wet puppy:
    Aw, you asked only for an animal picture!
    A memory that makes me smile is when I managed to train my mouses to walk on a rule set between two boxes, to go from one box to another. :) It’s really funny to see! (maybe it’s a stupid memory, still)
    Sorry, I don’t know you either IRL nor online nor had I ever read your blog, I just stumbled upon this from LinuxChix Live and that’s the kind of posts that touches me.

  • Hey you – long time no speak :->. You matter, and I care that you’re around (for you are a marvellous human being :->). I suspect I was close to the comment limit, so I put all that stuff in a longer message and sent it via carrier pidgeon. Hopefully the Swiss air will be good for it. Feel free to send one back if you want to – it’d be great to catch up.

  • henna

    Running helps keep the chemistry working smoothly for me, unfortunately the mental processes regularly keep me from running.

    Afaik, it takes about 6 months to get over a depression ‘naturally'; I had more use of the (dumbed down) scientific literature on depression and how the brain works to keep itself functioning.

    If you want a weekend away, we have a spare bedroom in the Netherlands :)

  • It took me two years to find the strength and the self-assurance to quit my current job. Start therapy. Tell people that I have issues. I did a lot of first steps lately, and every single one felt unbelievably hard.

    A friend of mine went a different route: He got himself two cats – Janosh and Paprika. This is a Photo Janosh shot himself for his MySpace profile. Cats are good for the soul :)

  • Baby monkey!

    Good luck, and let me know if you want to talk.

  • *hug*
    If you want to talk I’ll be there for you. You know where to find me. We can talk about Indian monkeys playing with a network cable for example ;-) (they were adorable)

  • Hi Noirin,
    We’ve never met face-to-face, but I would still call you a friend. You’ve helped me when I was feeling down myself, talking to me via IRC, and your amicable breakup with Stephen showed me that the world is not all doom and gloom.

    Some of the things you write about are the things I’d like to do myself some day – travelling, barbecues, even feeding vegans! (I’m a vegetarian, and I’d still find it difficult to feed vegans!)

    As we all know, knowing the enemy is part of the way that we overcome it, so recognising the depression is a good start.

    I’ve read through your linked account (by Ben Pobjie) and I recognise myself in that. I am covered in scars. Every weekend for a few years, I’d grab some vodka, slice myself up a bit, and if I was still alive on Monday, I’d go back to work. I used to call it a “hobby”.

    It wasn’t until I had a bit of a breakdown and went to a doctor that I finally noticed that I was depressed.

    The /noticing/ part had a huge effect on me – I haven’t cut myself once since then.

    I still have depressive bouts, but if I recognise that I’m having one, it somehow makes it shorter, and I can get back to “normal” soon.

    Hmm… rambling. I guess what I’m saying, is that when you’re at the bottom, the only way is up.

    I have no idea how useful any of this is for you, but there you have it!

  • Winston Churchill would be proud, and I’d join him. You nicely expressed the idea of powerlessness some people feel when their brain is not being a helpful organ. How someone saying ‘just snap out of it’ just is not useful. How these issues are not a moral failing and require serious treatment. I hope to be reading your blog for a long time. I expect this one post will help many people.

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