The Dark Side: A Brief Look At My Descent

Today, Andrew Koenig, a respected stand-up comedian and former “background” star in Growing Pains, was found dead, having committed suicide, and not too far from the happy Olympicky goings-on here in Vancouver.
Depression was known to plague Koenig. He got off his anti-depressants sometime last year, and clearly the rest is a story still developing.
I’ve been depressed. Very, very, very badly depressed. And I hate that so many of you probably don’t understand fully what all that means.
Honestly? I am almost guaranteed to face periods of depression for the rest of my life, when situational life gives me reason to do so, and at a greater depth than the average person will face it.
Not just “huh, I feel sad today” kind of depression, but the kind that affects my relationships and the goings-on of my day-to-day and even my job, immensely.
Right now? No, not really. I have ups and downs like anyone.
I’m lucky. I’ve discovered that much of my extreme depression steams from woeful diet and lacking exercise. I’m able to correct my chemistry through pretty natural means.
But when you can’t? Thanks to chemically fucking myself up on birth control pills back in ’06, I know what that’s like. And, oh, my god. Crippling. C-r-i-p-p-l-i-n-g.
It’s not like the “normal” depressions I’ve experienced. Normally I know, hey, if I’m pissed at the world, I can play any of a few songs and maybe remedy that, or I can ditch some plans and find some “me” time, or make a bike ride happen. Whatever. I know there’s a good chance one of those things will help me past the hump.
Chemical depression, when your body’s not on track?
Nothing helps. Nothing.
If you don’t know what it’s like to live under the darkness of an intense chemical depression, then pray you never learn.
William Styron probably wrote the single best reference about what depression feels like — and perhaps its links to artists & genius — and something I think anyone with a passing interest should definitely read. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness speaks to Styron’s experience descending into a suicidal depression as a result of the sleeping pill he was taking causing more intense depression and leading to his desire to end his life.

“In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come- not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying — or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity — but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes. And this results in a striking experience — one which I have called, borrowing military terminology, the situation of the walking wounded. For in virtually any other serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devistation would by lying flat in bed, possibly sedated and hooked up to the tubes and wires of life-support systems, but at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting. His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained. However, the sufferer from depression has no such option and therefore finds himself, like a walking casualty of war, thrust into the most intolerable social and family situations. There he must, despite the anguish devouring his brain, present a face approximating the one that is associated with ordinary events and companionship. He must try to utter small talk, and be responsive to questions, and knowingly nod and frown and, God help him, even smile. But it is a fierce trial attempting to speak a few simple words.”

-William Styron, Darkness Visible

The trouble with a chemical depression is the mental fog that comes with. The realization that something just isn’t right? Not necessarily even going to occur. It’s just utter hopelessness, like life has no point and every single fucking thing you do requires an effort similar to that dialed up by climbers at the Everest Base Camp the morning of making their daunting ascents.
Unfortunately for me, my chemical depression happened at a time when my relationship was crumbling, I was potentially about to lose my apartment, and pretty much zero areas of my life were going where I wanted them to go.
I had no reason to cheer up; with chemistry fucked, I had no hope of it, either.
For the second time in my life, after this breakdown, I went on anti-depressants.
That was August, 2006. By March, 2008, despite my DEEP depression lasting me 14 months straight, I had to get off the pills pronto — with diet and exercise I had regulated my chemistry and now the pills that had leveled my equilibrium were hurtling me BACK into depression.
I’m still a moody person. I’m very intelligent, acutely observant, perceptive, sensitive, and, as a writer, deeply introspective. These things make me prone to depression and moodiness. Fortunately, I’m nearly always funny, and I can think or act my way out of many of my moods. That’s “Normal” Steff.
Styron, in Darkness Visible, asserts that writers are probably the most prone group for when it comes to suicide and depression. Hemingway, Virginia Wolf, David Foster Wallace, Sylvia Plath, Spalding Gray, and the list goes on.
These aren’t stupid people.
They aren’t people who don’t understand society and the way we work within it.
They are brilliant writers most of us lowly bloggers would sell souls to acquire the skills of.
And yet. They left all too soon.

Suicide isn’t for the weak. Depression isn’t for losers.
I can probably mentally process just about any adversity that could befall me. I could tear it apart within the hour and tell you all the things I’ll learn from the troubles and whatever hurts it’ll cause, too. I’m a smart cookie. I accept adversity and trouble as a necessary ingredient to my life.
Yet I fell into a depression I couldn’t shake, then, as I was just beginning to emerge from it, I got a job working for the most negative and depressed person I’ve ever known.
And while my depression DID come back, this time it was situational. I was regulating my chemistry, you see, with pills.
So when the “natural” depression came on, I knew it wasn’t my chemistry. I began exercising and eating better. Next thing you know, I was down 30 pounds. I was still myself — funny, then intermittently Happy or Not — until one day my moods started going ENTIRELY wonky again. Speaking with my doctor, we chose to end the medication.
Poof. Normal Steff underwent life without Ze Meds.
Nowadays — like, say, now — I still volley with moods. Right now is a bad time — I need the Olympics to end because my ADHD self has never been so overwhelmed with the world around me. I can’t find the time to exercise or eat as well as I ought to be, and I know my chemistry and resiliency are on the downswing because of the neglect they’re receiving.
It’s not just the Olympics, it’s February, when 2 of the worst 3 Dead Mom Anniversaries fall. I expect yearly to hit a depression around this time. I don’t particularly sweat it. The Olympicky stuff is dealable and soon to end. The Dead Mom stuff passes too. It is what it is.
Long before my mother died, she attempted suicide with the same sleeping pills as William Styron. I walked in on the attempt.
I can’t explain to you what that’s like at 17, or how it affected me then. But I sure as shit learned about psychology and moods.
Even today, I’m stunned when I remember the days I spent under the black-as-fuck choke-hold of a full-on chemical depression. It culminated with a d-a-r-k full-on breakdown working alone in an office one day. I placed an emergency call to a shrink I’d seen once, and she called me back within the hour, me sitting on the middle of a big planked-wooden floor, tears rolling down my completely-unstrung face as I finalized the breakdown then and there, on that hour-long phonecall where she talked me back from the ledge and into hope.
I was a fucking nutcase that day. Inexplicably. If ever there was a day when I was close to suicide, it was that gorgeous sunny August afternoon.
Tonight, sitting here in my moody exhaustion, I can’t even fathom ever again being the woman I was that day. I can’t. So scared and hopeless and devastated and overcome with every physical manifestation of unease you could imagine — sweating, breathless, pain, tension, shaking.
I DON’T UNDERSTAND how someone as SMART as I am could become that lost! I don’t understand it at all.
Oh, sure, I can rattle off some science that sort of “explains” it. You can try, too. But I live in my head. I know how on top of it all I can be. I know how great I am at balancing perspective when it’s needed.
How could I have become that? So needy and lost, scared and shaken, hopeless and hurt?
Your science doesn’t mean fuck all to me. I know what I’ve overcome. There’s no reason aside from stupid hormone pills for birth control that I ever had to become that insanely depressed.
And yet I don’t doubt that it could, and might, happen to me again one day.
Still, I believe in medication.
I’m pretty sure it saved my life. So too with counselling on that fateful day.
In spite of all I am and what I bring to the world, I hate the stigma of admitting that I became that frayed and frazzled. But I think there’s nothing more important I can do tonight than announce it for you all to hear, if it means a discussion finally ensues.
No one should have to feel shame or alone because society doesn’t understand depression, they should never fail to seek help because they’re ashamed to do so.
If you’ve ever known a woman to go insane or horribly depressed from her period, then you know it’s possible that the body can become completely askew due to the simple problem of chemisty, and it doesn’t take either much or long for it to happen.
Read William Styron’s book. Listen to me — depression afflicts EVERYONE regardless of class, money, intelligence, or status.
The only way we’ll win the war against depression is by talking about the horrors it can weigh on us, because I KNOW I am NOT alone.
I am not my biochemistry. Neither are you.
So don’t be a victim.
Depression doesn’t end with the flick of a switch. Medication alone cannot, will not solve it. The successfully-fought battle involves diet, exercise, working on the self, dealing with emotions, setting goals, and valuing your desires, and not apologizing for feeling there’s urgency to improving your life.
Depression is easily the hardest war any person will ever have to wage, other than serious addictions — which one might argue also are commonly caused by depression — but at least addictions have a “real” cause. When it’s “all in your head,” there’s too little sympathy from others.
Here’s hoping we can make it so a few less parents have to find their suicided children’s bodies in parks.
We’re humans. Not machines. Let’s stop feeling like failures just because we feel.

RIP, Andrew Koenig, 2010.

11 thoughts on “The Dark Side: A Brief Look At My Descent

  1. Lindsaydianne

    Great post, Steff.
    We’ve been following Andrew’s search party because of a mutual acquaintance. So upsetting to hear the news and to know his family has been worried sick, only to receive the worst kind of news.
    Mental illness of any kind carries a large stigma in our society, but we’re leaps and bounds ahead of the days that our grandmothers faced… A la Yellow Wallpaper and such.
    Why do so many of us suffer from these chemical or hormonal issues? Who knows. Pesticides? Chlorine? Flouride? Mercury?
    Exposure to both chemicals and pharmaceuticals has moved so fast…. How can we say for sure what effects they’re really having?
    Whatever the root cause, whatever the answer… Today I hope that one person suffering depression sees the outpouring of love and sadness for Andrew Koenig, and that one person uses this death as a beacon to find help.
    .-= Lindsaydianne ´s last blog ..Sexually Transmitted Infections =-.

  2. @lacouvee

    Thanks for sharing Steff for it’s only in being human, real, vulnerable and sometimes frail that we will end the stigma of mental illness, including depression.
    Not my personal story but my best friend’s. Thankfully therapy, meds, diet, exercise and family and friends were enough to bring her back.

  3. Cyndi in BC

    Thanks for sharing Steff, great post. I’m not sure I could ever put my depression journeys into words. I’ll have to read Darkness Visible one of these days. 🙂

  4. michael

    I’m one like you. For me I think I’ve been driving a submarine when everyone was flying, but you do get stronger. You’re on the money about the med’s and exercise should come first, first, first. The big D fades.

  5. yvonne

    Thank you for sharing. It means a lot to hear of your battle and experience with depression. I find tremendous courage in your post. Certainly hope for many who suffer from it. Your suggestions for overcoming depression are very helpful.
    .-= yvonne´s last blog ..The Element of Freedom =-.

  6. shepsil

    Good piece! I like your style of writing. Personally, I never get depressed. Angry, yes. But then they say depression is anger turned inwards.
    I find the dreariness of Vancouver this time of year very boring at times. So I tryed getting up closer to the sun by going up Mt. Seymour. We went snowshoeing. Which, while not the most exciting of physical activities, ended up being much brighter in that snowy white world and I got some exercise too.

  7. scoutfinch

    Styron’s book probably saved my life-I finally knew it wasn’t just me. I, like you, fight the battle against depression every day. I might not BE my chemistry, but it can, has, and will again without careful monitoring, absolutely own me. Exercise, diet, environment, meds, thoughts, therapy–it’s an ongoing, probably never-ending war. Those who haven’t been trailed by a Black Dog (Winston Churchill’s name for his depression) can’t imagine the sheer exhaustion of that pain-to-pain existence. The absolutely bleak, entirely barren wasteland that life becomes–a place where you can’t trust joy and fear sadness.

  8. @ladywondr

    Great post Steff. Thank you for sharing. It takes a lot of courage to talk about battles with depression.
    Many people don’t understand what it’s like or expect people to just ‘snap out of it’. But it’s more complicated than that. I believe genes play a part, traumas/experiences growing up, triggers of life events and stress, chemistry, physical health, etc. That is why I really appreciate your holistic approach. It’s never as simple as taking a pill or thinking positively.
    Mental health, like any other, is not a permanent state and requires ongoing care and attention.


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