Five technical terms you should really know about depression

Depression itself is not a disease:  It's a complex emotion, one that mostly-healthy people can go through due to a variety of factors.  It's normal to be depressed for a day sometimes, or for longer in response to getting dumped or losing your job, or even for a really long shitty while after some major trauma in your life.  Depression sucks, but it's like having a cold:  to an extent, all or most of us know "what it's like"…

BUT.  Having a cold is WAY different from sneezing your ass off every day for years.  Think of having a cold versus having something like HIV, which makes cold-symptoms potentially uncurable or deadly:  The latter wears away at you in unexpected directions, gradually deforming and breaking other pieces of your health; we were never meant to suffer under depression (or rhinovirus) for months and years on end.  You sneeze for a week, your nose gets red; you sneeze for a year, you suddenly have to deal with bleeding and secondary infections and all kinds of things that would never be an issue with a normal cold.  Etcetera.

A normal, complex emotion like depression can become a chronic illness that will follow and fuck with you for life.  Or maybe end it.  And that's when we call it a "disorder", but of course, there are degrees and kinds of those too.  It can feel pretty confusing, but I think there are just a few terms that, if clarified, would really help us all talk about these things accurately and compassionately.

And while I think it'll help everyone to understand these terms, for their sake and their loved ones', this is also somewhat self-serving for me:  It's great that people hear "depression" and think "oh, right; that sucks and I've been there! I was depressed just last week!" — but sometimes that stops them from listening when you need to add yes but, for me a cold is not just a cold; this one has almost killed me three times and I've had it almost every day for the last two decades.  

So here's some clarification of what I think are the five most useful terms in depression-related clinical psychology.  I'm not good for much else this morning, because Reasons.  :P 

1.  Major Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, is when you feel depressed for weeks on end (more than 2 weeks is the current clinical limit) and can't shake it.  It's a sickness, but it's a fairly normal one in response to, say, losing a loved one or suffering any major stress.  Think of it as depression flu:  It probably won't kill you, though it can be dangerous to some people sometimes; and it sucks ass, but most of the time you'll be alright once you recover.

2.  Bipolar Disorder is not a kind of depression (which is why it was renamed from "Manic Depression") — it's a mood disorder that involves both periods of nasty depression and periods of equally-damaging mania, which are extreme and switch unpredictably.  While depression is a big negative part of bipolar disorder, the primary treatment focus in this case is on regulating the emotions so that they a) aren't turned to 11 all the time in ways that cause you to make bad decisions, and b) don't switch wildly at the drop of a hat.  The depression part of bipolar disorder can still be dangerous (all depression can be dangerous), but so can the manic part (ever seen someone leap into a car and tear off at 95 miles an hour and not be able to tell you later why they did?), and the disorder is in the body's failure to regulate either emotion's "when" or "how much".

3.  Atypical Depression is like the citrus flavor variety:  The term doesn't refer to a disorder, or to how long or often you have to deal with depression; it's a label for a common "alternative" set of depression symptoms that people can suffer.  Just like there's a respiratory flu and a stomach flu but they both suck and they're both flu, there's an atypical depression (which really isn't all that uncommon, so weird name) that involves insomnia rather than hypersomnia, restlessness rather than fatigue, and some other symptoms that don't strictly *seem* like depression, but totally are, just in a different formulation.  Before I knew this term, I called depressions "A-type" and "B-type" to try and differentiate the symptom-sets I was experiencing.  It's very weird to have different symptoms that you know are coming from the same thing, but I guess it's analogous to having a cold that makes you sneeze vs. one that makes you cough instead — not really uncommon behavior for an illness, and we understand pretty instinctively that both are "a cold".**

4.  Psychotic Depression is as scary as it sounds, but not as complicated:  It's really just what happens when you take depression (any depression, whether it's caused by a trauma, or just a bad day, or a lifelong disorder) and crank the gain as far as it'll go without (or with) breaking you.  The intrusive negative thoughts become full-blown hallucinations and delusions; the suicidal urges become sleepwalking to the medicine-cabinet; crying in bed all day becomes screaming until you lose consciousness; decision-paralysis becomes actual paralysis and going mute because you can't connect with your body anymore — that kind of thing.  It's sooooooo fun.  ::shudder::  As you'd expect, people who have depression longer and more chronically are more likely to have the psychotic kind; as are people who are psychotic in other ways.  When people freak out during depressive episodes and kill themselves suddenly or violently, they're often experiencing (or one could say, trying to escape) a psychotic depression.

5.  Dysthemia I've saved for last, because it's mine and also it's the one I most hope people who read this article remember.  The word could use more exposure, for one thing; dysthemia often gets branded as "chronic major depression", but that string of words seems to invite people to use them as they seek to "up the ante" of their own experience — "I have depression", "Oh yeah, I have major depression", "Oh yeah, I have chronic major depression". This really doesn't do it justice.  

The clinical definition of dysthemia is having depression almost every day for two years or longer.  In other words, dysthemia is depression being damn near, or actually, your normal state.  Most people with dysthemia started getting diagnosed with major depression as a child or teenager (I was eleven).  Most of us don't make it to adulthood without at least one suicide attempt, and every one of "us" that I've ever spoken to lives in constant fear that something will trigger a particularly bad episode of depression that does us in for good — or fails to, and leaves us trying to rebuild from the ashes yet again.  Dysthemia is usually considered impossible to "cure", only manage; like all chronic conditions, once you've been dealing with it for decades, there's not a lot of hope that things can actually be changed on the ground-level*; only hope that your quality of life can be preserved or improved. Dysthemia is, in effect, the boy-in-the-bubble, broken-immune-system version of depressive disorder:  Like a cold that never goes away, that sticks around at a low level, deteriorating and stressing you in various papercut ways, and flares up, it can seem, every time you dare to think you're getting better.  

With dysthemia, your whole life is symptom-management and using all your sick days at work and being really flinchy around things that might trigger a flare-up; and no matter how good you get at all this stuff (I consider myself pretty awesome at it!), you still know that it's your glass jaw and always will be; and the chances of it being the thing that kills you eventually, one way or another, are pretty high.

There's a lottttt of evidence that dysthemia is caused by, or related to, suffering extreme isolation or ostracization, and/or existing in a cultural mileiu that one doesn't belong in.  Artists and inventors are famous for having it a lot.  Being exposed to a depressed parent in the psychological formative years has also been linked.  Some people consider dysthemia the symptomatic result of sensitive psychologies forced to exist in environments that damage them; cf. "Civilization and It's Discontents", and the many similar writings.  

…And maybe all that is wrong, and I could speculate endlessly, but really I just wanted to write enough that hopefully the word "dysthemia" will stick in your head, and the next time someone talks about depression, you'll have it there to work with, to sharpen and aim your compassion.

Peace!

**These metaphors are almost certainly influenced by the fact that I have a cold.  ;)

*I perhaps disagree with this, but only because I am convinced that spirituality points to the possibility of a psychological reconfiguration that could, I suspect, eliminate depression, even for dysthemics.  ….I may also be biased.  :P

Posted in better thinking, psychology | 6 Comments

Nap Graphic Generator!

Do we NEED a graphic of our napping schedules, really?  …Maybe not.  But man, when you've spent as much time compiling and testing and proving your schedule as I have, a graphic is really cool — sort of like a merit badge.  (ACHIEVEMENT: OBSESSIVE NAPPER!)

This site, which I had nothing to do with and am crazy grateful for having found, lets you make and save your own nap-chart graphic!  It's great for visualizing a new schedule or a change in schedule, as well as just for squeeing over the awesomeness of your nap-routine, like I did.  :D

Click here to see my Everyman 3 schedule, and make your own!

napschedule

Posted in polyphasic sleep | 2 Comments

Magic

Ever read VALIS? Philip K. Dick; highly recommended. There’s a great concept in there, that if you can know someone well enough, you can find ten words or less that will literally reprogram them — Words of Power. (Obviously that concept is present in many places — coughD&Dcough — which speaks to its truth.)

So arguably “Know Thyself” are words of meta-power, because they’re the base instructions for how to be able to deliver to yourself your own Words of Power.

Do we have any greater superpower than the ability to type into our own terminals? To write in our own brains’ machine-language? I mean, if we do, please clue me in immediately; but in the meantime, I’m staying in school, because I can only see endless benefit in the post-post-post-doctoral program in Knowing Thyself.

Posted in better thinking | 5 Comments

Bread and Roses, Then and Now

So here’s a song:

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
a million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill-lofts grey
are blessed with all the radiance that the sudden sun discloses
for the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men
for they are women’s children, and together we can win
Our lives will not be sweated from birth until life closes:
hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
go crying through our singing their endless fight for bread
Small art and love and beauty their drudging lives they knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching, we bring the brighter day
for the rising of the women means the rising of the race
No more this drudge-and-idler, ten that toil while one reposes
A sharing of life’s glories: bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we go marching, marching, we drag our mothers’ fears,
the tortures they have all endured still ringing in our ears
This fight is far from over, as the tortured still must know
If we want our bread and roses, there’s a long way left to go.

There’s silence in the Congo; there’s stonings in Iran;
in America a woman’s worth three-quarters of a man
I refuse to teach my daughter how she looks is who she is
You can keep your bread and roses, Mom, I’m taking some of his.

It’s a marching-anthem of the old suffragette movement — you know, the ones who were vilified in the media, arrested and tortured attempting to secure women in this country the right to vote…just a hundred years ago.

Actually, I wrote the last two verses above, on top of the four originals. I feel weird about modifying something of historical value (though it’s not like I did the original any harm), but in this case I think it was important. That movement — the basic right to be a full citizen, to be treated better than a convicted criminal or undocumented immigrant — is a century old. That’s both a long time — long enough to forget the fire and the worst atrocities of the before-movement days, the things that gave us reasons and strength in the beginning — and a short time, because three generations is hardly long enough to undo a culture of slavery that’s existed for uncounted centuries.

One of these days I’ll get a recording of my singing this, because I kind of love how I’ve figured out to weave the last couple verses in; but the important thing is there it is, and I hope it serves as a good reminder, if nothing else than of a beautiful piece of still-relevant musical history.

Posted in better thinking, no more forced pregnancies | Leave a comment

Apropos of Everything

Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude and my aloofness;
You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
And sweeter to my heart than all worldglory.

Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,
Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot
And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
And in you I have found aloneness
And the joy of being shunned and scorned.

Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword and shield,
In your eyes I have read
That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
And to be understood is to be levelled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness
And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.

Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that dies in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.

NOTES
(1) It’s called “Defeat”, by Khalil Gibran. I’m looking to get the last stanza tattooed on me someday. Gibran’s work justifies every drop of sweat that went into the invention of language; if you haven’t read him, shut your laptop, call off work and go do it now. All of it, but start with “The Prophet”.
(2) You deliver that last line with a snarl. Go back and do this mentally if you forgot the first time. I’ll wait, dammit.
(3) I am brassy enough to make a tiny correction to the translation whenever I write this poem down. I made it here. Mwahaha.
(4) This poem is the answer the universe whispers back whenever I think “FML”, whenever I wonder if I’ll ever heal, whenever I struggle to find equanimity about my permanent and inevitable layers of isolation. Others — Rilke, Emerson, Borges to name a few — understood this feeling, but couldn’t do more than commiserate; Gibran feels special because he had an answer, not just an acknowledgement that yeah, things are like that for some of us and it sucks. Gibran saw the damnable psychophysics of human understanding and how it dropped a wall around sometimes exactly the people most desperate to make connections, AND he heard the whispers on the wires of why it has to be that way, AND he was able to write them down (and draw them; he was an artist too). The book this poem is published in is called The Madman, and it’s safe to say that without it, I’d (still) be one. -/@-

Posted in aesthetica, better thinking | Leave a comment

#YesAllBigotry

Apropos of nothing, I swear, here's yet another defense of my intolerance of intolerance.  Feel free to play this song in the background while reading; I know it makes *me* feel better.  :)

It happens a lot during the holidays, but elsewhen too:  You find yourself in close quarters with people who were taught some kind of bigotry that's now gone "out of fashion":  Your racist great-aunt, homophobic grandpa, or otherwise-sweet-and-lovely friend of the family who just can't seem to resist looking disgusted when they realize someone is trans, nonbinary or likes to dress differently than society would dictate based on the junk in their trunk.

We give these people a lot of slack.  And sometimes overlooking each other's flaws is appropriate and necessary, for instance when what grandpa said is never going to reach the ears of the passing stranger he said it about (or any impressionable youngsters), and fighting with him will only hurt and upset your family, yeah, sometimes you have to just let it go.  But there's a difference between acknowledging that there's no tactically-advantageous move you can make right now to fight this injustice, and letting yourself be convinced that maybe it isn't really their fault, isn't really that unjust, or gods forbid, that maybe when you're older you'll face the same issues and want forgiveness.

NO YOU WON'T.  Because the problem is not conformity to a societal fashion that went out of style:  We're not making fun of grandma for her love of disco here.  We're talking about bigotry, and bigotry, no matter the particular form it takes, is the (DEAD WRONG AND AWFUL AND STUPID) assumption that some people are just better than others.  It's that assumption, whatever its content, that makes you wrong, and undeserving of forgiveness until you earn it.  It's not "loving the gays" or "admitting blacks aren't inferior" that your older relatives need to learn:  It's that treating other humans — or sentient creatures of any kind, really — like shit because the numbers game currently makes it easy to get away with doing so is an awful thing to do and doing it makes you a bad person.  Full stop.  Go home.

So yeah, if you (or I) grow old and changes in society bring to light the fact that you've been assuming all this time that you were better than other people because of some accident of fate, then FUCK YOU; CHANGE.  There's no excuse for mistreating other beings that way, no matter what your criteria are or were.  Grandpa's problem, great-aunt's problem, family-friend's problem, is that they're bigots, and bigots do NOT deserve coddling, respect, or understanding because they somehow don't know better.  They're adults:  They know better.  They've seen discrimination, unjustice, ostracization and probably violence; they know what it does in the moment and in its long, horrible fallout; and for contributing to it, the very best they deserve is a middle finger and the disdain of everyone around them.  

Yes, more people used to be homophobic (etc.); it used to be easier to get away with.  So what?  All that means is that there are a lot of people like our hypothetical grandpa; it doesn't do a shred of anything to make them right.  Sometimes we have to pass on an opportunity to point this out, out of respect for the rest of our friends and family and becuase it's not the right place or time — but don't confuse that with backing down, or letting up on them, or on yourself.  Bigotry is wrong and stupid, in any society, in any generation.

Merry Christmas to all, dammit.  :)

Posted in better thinking | 2 Comments

Sleeping Over

Being polyphasic has made me a pain in the arse of a person to have sleep over.

I will try to put my alarm where I can get to it quickly but sorry it's going to go off when you're right in the middle of sleeping and then I will get up and there will be rustling and movement and lights though I will try to keep these all minimal thank you sorry

Yeah I brought some coffee because I'm going to be up and hanging around your place for like four hours before you guys wake up so if you don't mind I'll make some coffee while I do that and I promise I won't mess with your stuff

But where can I plug in my laptop and hang out please

Sorry

Oops, that was me

Sssh, go back to sleep, sorry

::grumbles:: hibernators

Anyway, I REALLY like the company and it's super nice to stay over somewhere sometimes and get that change of scenery and thank you for inviting me

…and for, I guess, even though you didn't have to try or anything, staying the f out of my way for a few hours while I work on my novella.  :D

Posted in polyphasic sleep, writing | Leave a comment