The New Old Depression

It was a Friday afternoon, the day before my son’s eighteenth birthday. The weather was cold or warm, overcast or sunny, but not raining. Too early for rain; it wasn’t even spring yet. We pulled into the underground parkade as if leaving civilization behind. It felt like hospital. Somehow every parkade felt the same, even the new ones where the zones have sweet names like “forest” and “prairie”.

We checked in and I sat down, glad to not be back in the triage zone having to explain the unexplainable to a nurse trying to make my unexplainable fit into a drop-down menu category. We were placed in one of the “mental health” rooms in Urgent Care, and told to sit on one of the vinyl chairs. Me, in the farthest corner from the door, my husband four feet away but beside me. Opposite him stood a bedside table with a phone. I wondered how old the phone was and if anyone ever used it. “Is that a real window?” my husband asked, knowing the answer before I looked through the blinds at the mirror behind it. Why had we chosen these two chairs, I wondered? The third chair sat empty, waiting for the psychiatrist. I stared at it, waiting, trying to imagine what the psychiatrist would be like. Old, probably.

She walked in, and she was breathtakingly beautiful, with a smile that warmed up the room. Not what I expected, and I almost forgot where I was. She asked me dozens of questions about my life growing up and my life as an adult and then asked if we wanted to know her diagnosis.

“Please,” we both pleaded.

“It’s depression,” she replied, in the same tone she would use if I were being diagnosed with a cold.

We were both surprised. I’d never had any problems getting out of bed. I never wondered if I should be alive. I never felt alone or unloved.

“But I never feel worthless or guilty,” I said, confused by her diagnosis.

“You need cognitive behavioural therapy,” she replied. “You’ve been ill for a very long time,” she added, “and you’re going to need medication and therapy to get better.”

She gave me a prescription for Seroquel and Cipralex and wished us luck. She promised to see me in a month, and we came back, dutifully returning to the parkade and the vinyl chairs.

10 things you might not know about chronic pain or illness

1. It’s not the same every day. Some days my pain is so low that I forget it exists for part of the day. I’m active and engaged with other people, looking to the future, and not revolving my life around rest and appointments. Other days I have no idea what a pain-free life would look like and I can’t get out of bed long enough to think about it.

2. It really does co-exist with depression. I’ve always hated the depression-chronic pain connection mentioned in every piece of literature about chronic pain, having felt that it somehow reduces the awfulness of the physical pain. But it’s impossible to lose the ability to do everything you enjoy without getting depressed. How do you get out of depression when you can’t go for a walk, can’t relate to others, and have no appetite for food you used to love? I don’t know. The physical pain has to go down for the brain to begin recovery.

3. Some doctors suck, and a few are awesome. I know there are some amazing doctors around but for the most part, they do a poor job of dealing with chronic nonsense. My family doctor ranges from ‘suck it up’ to ‘that sounds awful’ with little in the way of actual help. I have to pick what I complain about in order to get what I need, and that gets harder the longer it drags on.

4. When my life is busy with appointments, I can’t do any more small talk. Between physio, the lab, the x-ray, and doctors, I have no ability to small talk with a cashier or the other parents picking up their kids. It’s not like this all the time, but any time I have two or more appointments in a week, I’m unable to socialize. I hate that I can make people feel like I don’t want to talk to them when I really do.

5. Pain can make you selfish. Not on purpose of course, but when your brain is busy trying to make it up the stairs without falling, it’s impossible to think about making cookies for the kids or helping your spouse deal with difficulties at work.

6. Kids are awesome. My teens are a huge help by bringing in groceries, bringing me ice or water, or whatever I need when I’m too tired to get up. They will gladly help with chores in the morning so that I’ll have the energy to do something fun with them in the afternoon. They don’t pretend to know how to ‘fix’ me. It’s my job to make sure they become more and more independent so they can create a great life that doesn’t revolve around me.

7. “What would you give your pain out of 10?” makes me bat-shit crazy. Don’t ask me to rate my pain on a stupid scale and don’t pretend if it’s less today than last week that it’s because of you. I overheard another patient last week tear a strip off her physiotherapist when asked that question. We all hate it. Pain sucks, all the time. A smart doctor or physio can tell by how you react to movement how much pain you’re in.

8. TV is awesome. Chronic pain can suck your brains out as well as your body, leaving you unable to read, write, or do anything creative or meaningful. I’ve had periods of weeks at a time where showering is the most I can do in a day. TV saves me from going insane, especially if it’s watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Parks and Recreation with my kids. We have to laugh.

9. If there is a silver lining, it’s that I’ve learned that my time and energy are my most important commodities. Yes, I miss running. Yes, I miss my career. Yes, yes, yes. No, I don’t like having a nap almost every day. But if I spend time with you, know you must be very important to me.

10. It doesn’t get better with time. Being sick, in pain, having surgery, or being in the hospital get continuously harder to deal with. “I could never deal with that” or “I don’t know how you do it” is never helpful. I don’t have a choice but to deal with it, yet I’m grateful for every day I get to be on this fabulous planet of ours. Every day I know it could be worse and every day I’m glad that it isn’t.

These are my ten, I’d love to hear yours!