Over the last few months, I’ve come in contact with people who are offering courses or guidance on curing depression. I haven’t taken up any of the offers. But I have been thinking about it.
Part of it is outright skepticism, which I’ll freely admit. I’ve been battling this (along with generalized anxiety disorder) for as long as I can remember. I have a vague hunch it started in Junior high – lets just say that’s between 25 to 30 years ago. I’m fairly certain that if there was a cure or treatment for depression that was even 75% effective for 75% of the sufferers, it would be all over the news and social media. I’m not talking about “thinking happy thoughts” or going for a walk. Those are good habits to build, and they definitely make a positive difference in the severity of many people’s symptoms. But they don’t actually cure it. Certainly, there are habits or lifestyle choices that can either help minimize the impact of mental illness, or amplify the suffering. Medication and therapy are very beneficial. But to my knowledge there is no highly successful treatments and none that actually cure it. One cocktail of medications that has been helpful for me might be the combination that makes the next person’s symptoms completely unmanageable.
But what if? What if there was a highly effective treatment that worked for most people? Heck, what if there actually was a cure – who wouldn’t jump on it?
Me. I wouldn’t. I’d definitely be intrigued and curious. I’d want to see case studies. I’d want to see the clinical trials. I’d want to hear testimonies – not just a week after, but months and even years after the fact. Does it hold up? Are there side effects? What is the cost? Is the cost (both financially and also any side effects) worth the possible improvement in my quality of life? I think these are all fairly valid questions, and I thing anyone who’s battled their own mind would understandably be skeptical and hesitant. How many treatments have been promised to “change everything” and fallen so short of expectations?
But for me – it goes deeper too. As much as I try not to let my illnesses define me, as hard as I try to have a normal life, as much as I don’t want to let my diagnosis define my identity or overrule my life… I’d be scared. Like a nervous puppy that wants so badly to make friends but keeps retreating in fear – I would too. Tentative approaches and hasty retreats. Why? I try to balance not letting it run my life with being honest and transparent about it. Many people have seen me having absolutely fantastic days and weeks – and have seen me desperately fighting back the darkness while waiting for a glimmer of hope. I’m sure they’d be ecstatic about the possibility of this illness becoming a non-issue for me and thousands of others.
But still I’d hesitate. Because sometimes I don’t even know who I am, and I don’t remember who I was before my mind turned against me. And if there really was a cure, affordable and low-risk, I would hang back and watch. Not for pity, not for fear of the treatment itself (although that might be part of it). No, I’d pause – because as much as I sometimes don’t know who I am, and don’t know how or why I’m acting or reacting the way I am – I also know it’s not really me but my mind acting out. But even though it’s kinda crazy to live life like this – I don’t know who I would be without it. I really don’t. I would miss the great communities I’ve connected with, and met some absolutely wonderful people – the type who are battling their own demons but still reach out a hand so you don’t have to face yours alone. The type who might be nearly drowning in darkness but still try to push you towards the light. I’d fear losing the creative, curious, and articulate mind that’s formed over the last several years – I’m sure that the creativity has grown as a direct result of my mind fighting against itself and seeking a defence or outlet for the chaos.
If depression and general anxiety disorders were cured – the need for mental health communities would drop significantly. Partly because those are the 2 most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses, with those 2 beaten, the number of people relying on the online communities for support and socializing would drop dramatically. As well, if they could unlock the secret to depression and anxiety, they keys and cure for so many of the other mental illnesses wouldn’t be too far out of reach. I’d lose connection with peope who understand all too well, people I’ve shared a journey and battle with for years would slowly fade away as we all settled into the normal life we all dreamed of so many times. Also,if my mind became at peace – I don’t know if the creative gifts I have would remain, or if they would fade as quickly as my depression. Losing my support, my friends, my safety net, and possibly gifts and abilities I’ve come to really enjoy would be quite the shock. And I don’t know if “normal life” would be worth the trade off.
I’m not my depression. I’m not anxiety. Those are my diagnoses. I’m not a writer, but I have a way with words. I’m not a photographer, but I’m getting better at capturing a moment, a scene – and not just the visual but also the emotion it evokes as well. I’m not a master coil builder – but I seem to have a knack for finesse and patience for a very niche product and consumer. I’m not a philosopher but I can usual find a way to explain an idea, or concept or train of thought to almost anyone. I’m not a deep thinker – but I can surprise people with ideas that to my mind seem nearly common sense. I’m not a ‘people person” (shy, awkward introverts unite!!!) but I’m always surprised when I hear I’ve made a lasting, positive impact on someone’s life. I’m not a musician, but when I was playing regularly – I’d get lost in the ‘feel’ of a song, and pour my heart and soul and sweat into trying to convey that through the notes and songs.
And to think – all these things that are a huge part of my life could potentially vanish – all because I’d be cured.
Most people with a chronic, treatable-but-not-curable illness would positively leap at the chance to be cured. They might be mid-leap before the thought of risks or side effects even occurred to them – but take the risk none the less. For me, I’m not sure I’d be willing to risk losing things I cherish and appreciate so much in return for a normal life, while re-learning who I really am – and possibly finding new hobbies to boot. One the one hand, I’d be cured – and never battle dark thoughts or crazy illogical (and nearly paralyzing) fears again. On the other, I’d be living with a stranger until I got reacquainted with myself . And if I’m honest, in this moment, that’s a trade off I’m not willing to make.
Epilogue: Everyone’s story is different. No one knows for certain if there is or every will be a cure, and how much it would actually change those who sought treatment. I might still be me – just without the crushing lows that cycle through my life a few times a year (and hopefully more focus and a better memory!) I might keep my creative side – and be able to capitalize on it even more. I might keep in contact with all my friends from the various support networks I’ve connected with, and find ways to connect with others who still need support and care. I might be able to make decisions without getting bogged down in countless possibilities and details and outcomes. Right now – this is just hypothetical, but even so… if I had to give up so much just to have what everyone calls a ‘normal’ life? There would have to be some compelling evidence that risking the loss of all these things I treasure would be worth the exchange.