Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Denying Zung

I have been asked by a friend to anonymously post something he'd written recently.
I suspect he has both a need to bring light to this deeply personal subject as well as test the waters for public consumption of his thoughts.

Here he is.

I took the pill out of the bottle. It was so easy, yet almost surreal. It was if my life depended on this pill. Everyday? I don't have any immune deficiency, I'm not cancerous, no strange virus or bacteria. Yet my life, at least the way I know it, could change. It was small. No, tiny. This is it? I can't split this in half. I took the large knife off my wall-mounted magnet that I'm so proud of, got out the cutting board and pulled off a feat akin to splitting the atom. I kept one eye shut, expecting one half to go zinging across the counter, ricochet and hit me in the eye. It didn't.

The last few months I've been feeling more and more run down, tired, weak. I figured with a relationship going in the tank and work going a million miles an hour it was all stress just bearing down on me. New apartment, finally some space! I tried to sleep more, but it was never enough. Appetite was waning. I'll take some vitamins, that will help. Work some more, nose to the grindstone... it's a war, don't you know. Ahh! Leave for Christmas! It wasn't enough. For the first time in almost ten years I wasn't clawing and scratching my way out of the house to get back to work, despite being more happy with my job than ever before. I was drained.

And so the last couple weeks I've been even more drained. Well, there IS a bug going around, maybe I have the flu. Thank goodness I had a flu shot, otherwise think of how much worse it could have been! You've been tired, too? Good, it's not just me. But it was me. Everyone kept getting better. I went home early one or two days last week just to sleep. Yesterday I gave in and went to see the doc.

I learned it could be anything wrong with me. I could have HIV, cancer, anemia, a virus, bacteria, it could even be mental. So he scheduled me for a long list of labwork to be done immediately, and gave me a questionnaire for evaluating depression.

At the lab I had twelve vials of blood drawn and gave a urine sample. I went back to work and stared at the questionnaire. "Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale". I think I knew the score before I answered the questions.

A little of the time, some of the time, good part of the time, or most of the time?

That night I went out with a friend of mine to Baltimore, and we talked about quite a bit. Girlfriends, traveling, the Navy, blogging, parenthood. Not once did I bring up the Zung test. It wasn't real.

I dismiss your reality and substitute my own.

This morning I took my paperwork in to see the doc. I wanted desperately for him to tell me he saw SOMETHING in my blood work. It was all relatively normal, save for my cholesterol levels being a touch too high. Then I handed him my Zung questionnaire. I knew the score, it was written plain as day on the attached scale sheet.

Moderate to marked depression. There was no escape, it's in the open now. That which tortures me now has a name and face.

Yet my salvation also has a name: Zoloft.

It all came with a bit of relief and anxiety all wrapped together. Immediately I think of everyone that is close to me. I've been hurting them left and right. Foolish decisions were made out of loneliness and fear, decisions I would not have made had I been well. Will I be able to repair anything? Will they believe me? Is it fair just to blame it on this mysterious illness, or should I just shoulder the responsibility of my actions and deal with the repercussion? I don't know, yet. I just wish I had to do it over again.

The past few months have been so dark. There is no other way to describe it. I was in denial. No matter how much I phoned, chatted and emailed friends and family it didn't help the loneliness. I sought relief in a number of ways, mostly unhealthy and always failing. Sometimes I would feel urges to cry, yet I didn't understand why. I wanted to be alone yet didn't. Rash decisions were made with others' feelings. Again I wonder if I'll be afforded the opportunity to mend things with everyone. As I reflect I realize probably not everyone. There are certain things in life for which we only have one, sometimes two shots. I may have spent both barrels.

One possible jewel of enlightenment came by way of a 220 pound Army Master Sergeant this afternoon. "There are three ways to handle these problems. The first is through medicine, which you are doing. The second is through talking to a professional. The third, is a spiritual outlet." I adjusted myself in the chair. I stopped talking to God a few years ago when I realized I was just going through the motions because everyone in my family was a Christian. I did not have faith. "Now, I know you're not religious, but we all tend to shoulder more responsibility than what we can handle. Our jobs, children, house, wife, everything adds up. It's very relieving to be able to admit to a higher power that we can't do it all, and have it shoulder that burden for us."

For once a spiritual argument made sense. I was immediately reminded of Gagdad Bob's blog "One Cosmos" when he refers to the spiritually horizontal and spiritually vertical. Perhaps I need to be more vertical. Who knows. I'll have to explore this, I tell myself.

And so I come home tonight and immediately pull the bottle out of the bag. I turn the cap and rip off the foil seal. Before me I see little pills. They don't seem like much, but cumulatively they are the portkey to a happier me. That's the promise.


Ashley said...

This was a beautiful piece that your friend wrote. Depression is something that affects so many people, its definitely important to let people see what one goes through to overcome it. I have many friends who have had it, and I've written on one friend who didnt survive it, including the post I posted today.

I hope your friend finds the peace he searches for :)

carrie m said...

beautifully written post. depression is a shitty thing, there are no two ways about it. but the fact that you (speaking to the guest writer, not justin) can identify the things you did and know what you're dealing with? That's half the battle. you will have dark times again, but i've always felt like knowing what the problem was and medication and the willingness to work on combined to form a flashlight. and it does get better, i promise. best of luck.

Slightly Disorganized said...

depression is not something that i have personally ahd to battle, except for a couple weeks of feeling blue. I think that if the drugs help that they are the best thing. screw being strong and doing it on your own. Sometimes you need help, even if it does come out of a bottle.

Bag Blog said...

That is a verey thought provoking post. I remember reading Oliver North’s autobio, where he talked about depression after several tours in Vietnam and nearly losing his wife. Yet, it is not something I understand. I do understand your friend’s feelings on the medication. A doctor prescribed medication for my baby sister without much diagnosis. She now has a doctor who has done more tests and wants her to get help rather than just medicating her. I think that is important – finding the cause, learning to deal with it, overcoming. Being a “religious” person myself, I would point to that, but I think most people’s religion is just a band-aide and they have little knowledge of faith or purpose. If your friend looks more deeply into God, which can be helpful, I hope he chooses wisely. On the other hand, if a band-aide is all it takes, why not?

Mood Indigo said...

Your friend needs to keep writing! He's touched on something that is as personal as it gets, and yet something that will resonate with many. Sounds like he's taking great steps to address what can be the scariest of afflictions - your own mind deciding, on its own, to affect the rest of your body and outlook. There are many (myself included), who've been at that very point, reluctant to recognize that this is not something so easily addressed as an illness that shows up in a blood test - but that there is hope! I hope he monitors the meds (Zoloft isn't for everyone - he'll need to find the right fit) and follows the great guidance his Sergeant offered. But most importantly, keep writing because it will help process things, and help to be o.k. with wherever he's at. Gradually, it will help him find the person he's been missing under the veil of depression. Kudos to you Justin for giving him a voice (and for him being willing to use it!).