First, I’d like to be clear that the following is addressing my own personal experiences with depression and isn’t meant to speak for anyone else. (I’d think this should be a given, as it’s written in a personal blog, but one never knows.)
The God I follow is, among other things, a God of Madness. This is appropriate, as I am mad.
Not the I’ve-got-a-hatchet-and-I’m-going-to-kill-my-family-in-their-sleep sort of mad, nor the shouting-on-the-street-corner-about-what-the-voices-told-me-last-night sort of mad. I’m definitely not the Hollywood-charming-Benny-and-Joon-isn’t-mental-illness-funny sort of mad. I’m not even Mad Hatter mad or running-through-the-wilderness-tearing-small-animals-to-bits-with-my-bare-hands mad. At least not all the time, anyway.
(I wish I was Hatter mad. I really like that phrase.)
My madness is the madness of Erigone. It can be a despair so total, so soul deep that it blots out all the beautiful things in life. Other times, it is the simple inability to feel joy, to feel much at all. Erigone knew the love of a God, and yet her father’s death made her despair so completely that she could not see any good in life. (Erigone has been on my mind lately, I’ll return to her in more detail in a later post.)
I like to think of my depression as a madness. Others might prefer the modern, clinical, less stigmatized, terms “mental illness” or “mood disorder.” I find comfort in the epic, mythicness of simple “madness.” It is a vast thing, not to be contained within something as mundane as the DSM. There is romance in the term. Depression is crippling and painful – not romantic in the same sense that war is not glorious – but its nature is, in my experience, better suited to this language than the coldly clinical.
Depression is a tricky madness. It can be patient. You’ll think you’re doing okay, getting along fine, and then suddenly – WHAM! Oh, yeah, I’m crazy. I forgot.
Like many other forms of madness, depression is insidious. It doesn’t just torment its host, but gets its hook into everyone near them. And, like a living organism, it has a remarkable instinct for self-preservation. Anything that would help rid the host of it – medication, therapy, reason, love, faith – is pushed aside as useless, irrelevant or – my favorite – selfish. (“I don’t have the right to ask my family for comfort. I’m too much of a burden already…”)
I never turn to my Gods less than when I need Them the most.
And yet my God is a God of Madness. He has suffered Himself, He understands.
One of the first things that Dionysos asked of me when we became acquainted was to stop taking my anti-depressants. (If that doesn’t set off alarm bells in your mind as you read this, you’ve never known a mad person. Or anyone with mental illness or a mood disorder. Just saying’.)
I did this with the full, if anxious, support of my partner. I’d been wanting to stop them for awhile, I’d been on the same meds for many years and had never been entirely happy with how they worked. When I stopped taking them, after the initial withdrawal period, everything was fine. I didn’t notice much of a difference at all.
I believed Dionysos encouraged my stopping the meds because I didn’t need them. Maybe I had been misdiagnosed all those years ago.
Everything was going along fine for several months, then slowly, insidiously, the depression started to awaken. The madness crept in. First, problems at work: I was unhappy there and was sure no one liked me. Then, a growing number of fights with my partner. Lying alone, crying in the back of a car because I knew I was making life a living hell for my loved ones and I didn’t want to hurt them anymore. Taint them with my madness.
And all this time, not turning to the Gods, not turning to Dionysos, though I kept Him in mind, knew He understood. Surely he didn’t want this? I wanted to be able to give him anything, but my family had no such agreement.
It was their pain, especially my husband’s (yes, I got married in the middle of all this,) that finally drove me to the therapist. And back to medication – the right medications this time.
(Every time I’d gone to a new doctor before and I’d tell them what I was taking, they’d ask me how it worked. “Well, OK I guess. I don’t feel like killing myself, anyway” was a good enough answer for them and they’d just prescribe more of the same. Anyone going through something similar – please, for the love of all that is holy, stand up for yourself! There are a lot of options out there, one of them will work for you.)
After a lot of work – and medication, therapy, reason, love, and faith – I’ve got a good handle on my madness. MY madness. As in it is mine, whether I want it or not, I am not its.
And there was Dionysos, on the other side, saying “Now you know what madness is. You know the power of it. And you know you’re bigger than it is. So enough with this helplessness, then. Let’s get started.”