Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dead fish

If you've read this blog for a while, then you will already know that I am one of the 1-in-20 who live with depression.

Now, please don't panic: that statement seems bigger and scarier than it really is. Yes, I have had several intense episodes of clinical depression in the past; yes, I am now on a permanent low-dosage SSRI antidepressant; and yes, I do have occasional 'dips' were my Dr and I have to carefully manage my medication. However, most days I am perfectly 'normal', 'happy' and 'ordinary' - and barely suicidal at all...

(And, no - I really don't think that my depression is the product of either my sexuality or my fetish. It probably does, however, explain why I so dislike the 'fashion' for extreme and negative forms of humiliation and SS play that can be found on tumblr and elsewhere: I think we can all feel bad enough about ourselves as it is without the need to fetishize violence, pain and self-hate...)

So why the dead fish?

Allie maintains a brilliantly funny blog at Hyperbole and a half. Allie also lives with depression.

Allie recently blogged one of the wittiest, most insightful descriptions of depression that I have ever read. Her cartoon stick-figures perfectly express the weird sense of detachment from yourself and the world - and the discomfort in having to try to explain to others how you seem to have simply lost the ability to feel anything anymore.

Her description of suicidal feelings is also utterly honest, and completely undramatic - and whole-heartedly true.

As my Mum says in describing her own experiences with depression: 
"some days, it's just that there is no life left in you to even care; you know you should, it's just you can't seem to remember how..."

Talking about depression - or any mental illness - can be really hard; not least because so few people understand what mental illness is - and so don't know how to try to help you with it. Like Allie says - people often react oddly when they hear you are depressed, and try to 'cheer you up' or talk you out of it:
 "It's like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared. "

It's why I do talk about my depression - because the more that people understand depression, the easier it becomes for those who live with it.

Because, really, depression is just an illness - one that can be understood and treated, just like any other.

Whatever the trigger, long-term depression has a chemical effect within the brain: it literally suppresses (depresses) the production and uptake of key neurotransmitters like serotonin. Normally, these neurotransmitters help the brain to function: Serotonin in particular is the 'wake-up' transmitter that enables the brain to stay awake and alert, it's also one of the 'reward-system' hormones that help us to 'feel good' when we've done something positive.

With a suppressed serotonin level, the brain functions at a slower rate, and is less able to react to stimuli. It's that which creates the 'dead' feeling of depression: the inability to feel, and the sensation that life has become 'grey'.

In a way, depression is the brain's equivalent of diabetes in that both conditions are related to a simple imbalance of key hormones. And, in the same way that diabetes can be treated by giving insulin, so the worst effects of depression can be treated by helping the brain to hold onto what little serotonin it has. That's what the SSRI antidepressants do: they stop your brain from re-absorbing serotonin, which means that your levels gradually build up until there's enough of it about to make you feel 'normal' again; it then helps you to regulate those levels, giving you  much more stable brain-state.

No-one would try to talk a diabetic out of their condition - nor think bad of themselves for needing to take insulin. That's because we understand diabetes, and know that when it's managed correctly, it's a condition that can have a minimal effect on those living with it.

Depression should be treated the same. And honest descriptions like Allie's is a part of the process in getting there.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I'm on the SSRI train myself.

  2. Thank you for your post on this. I have struggled with it my whole life. Partly because I never really understood who I am. It helps me to know I am not alone.


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