Depression from the Inside

Many times I’ve wondered about how to explain the experience of depression to non-sufferers. It’s actually pretty hard to relate to until you’ve had it. We all of us sail in the uncertain sea of serotonin; but some of us sail in shallow waters.

Today I came across an excellent description by (what else?) a programmer. It sums up my experiences — including taking antidepressants — very well. I’ve reproduced it over the fold.

Depression is a sucky thing to deal with because it doesn’t have much to do with how you’re doing in life. I feel ungrateful every time I get sad, because in general my life really isn’t too hard. I can say to myself, “Look, you’ve proven that you don’t produce enough seratonin, you don’t have to feel guilty for the tricks your brain is playing on you,” but I still feel like a spoiled child.

My discovery is that everyone I meet is broken in some way. As I’ve gotten to know my friends and business associates and girlfriends, I’ve discovered they all have some kind of problem with their emotions. And they all compensate for it in different ways, so it’s hidden from other people most of the time.

A lot of people really resent even the implication that they could be “crazy.” They see taking drugs for it as the ultimate capitulation; that you’ve given in to your craziness and now you’ll be crazy forever. They think it’s a shortcut; you could just “snap out of it, soldier” and be better, but you’re too weak.

Depression isn’t like that, though. You don’t “snap out of it.” There’s a chemical missing in your brain, and your whole life is like those dreams where every action you try to take is hindered by a huge pile of invisible wet blankets.

I think antidepressants probably are over-prescribed in this country, but I also think they are under-prescribed. Which is to say, I think some people who aren’t really chemically depressed use anti-depressants as a replacement for therapy, which is what they need. But a lot of us weren’t abused as kids, we just have a chemical imbalance.

And I think a lot of people who have the chemical imbalance are afraid to go to the doctor because we’re taught to cover up our weaknesses and compensate for them, and we’re incredibly good at it. I founded Omni and ran it for eight years while suffering from a pretty bad obsessive/compulsive disorder and depression.

I used to be afraid of being caught in traffic, of being at a new restaurant, of going to the airport, of social situations, of going on any trip longer than an hour. I essentially became completely agoraphobic.

Two days after I got on selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors for the first time, I felt like the chains that had bound me for 30 years had dropped away. And that totally dropped away two days after starting on drugs. I felt like I’d been crippled all my life and suddenly I could walk. People ask me, “Are you going to be on drugs all your life,” and I say, “I sure hope so!”

From an interview with Will Shipley.

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9 Responses to Depression from the Inside

  1. Niall says:

    Bravely stated. Rest assured, Jacques, we’re not alone by a long chalk, Sadly it seems modern life is becoming a breeding ground for imbalances of brain chemistry.

  2. derrida derider says:

    I agree that depression is generally utterly beyond the control of the sufferer and that the immediate cause is always a chemical problem in the brain that can usually be helped, and sometimes even cured, by medication. And having had someone near and dear to me have their life ruined by it I know it can be utterly devastating.

    But given its increasing prevalence and the fact that it makes people really unfit in an evolutionary sense (and therefore is unlikely to be mainly genetic), I wonder about its genesis. Maybe there’s an unknown childhood infection that’s responsible (some scientists believe these cause many more problems in later life than they are given credit for – we didn’t see the effects as much in past centuries because they used to kill their hosts more often). Or maybe it’s something about our lifestyles. I dunno but it really is a puzzle – humans weren’t built to live or die this way.

  3. Jacques Chester says:

    But given its increasing prevalence and the fact that it makes people really unfit in an evolutionary sense

    Not necessarily. Selection pressure applies up to the point of reproduction only, after that it loses its punch. Depression comes and goes and so reproduction can take place anyhow, so the gene passes through.

    Genes being the spaghetti code they are, it may also be linked to some positively-selected trait. Lots of smart people seem to get depressed, for example. The neurochemistry of intelligence may work at cross-purposes with that of emotional stability.

    And so on. In evolution it is common to see genes which “should” be selected against surviving, simply because selection pressure is not strongly biased or because other benefits are conferred.

  4. Jacques Chester says:

    I also don’t think it’s increasing. I think it is being more widely diagnosed. There is a crucial difference.

  5. Vicki says:

    Some of you may find this post (by the developer of the StyleMaster CSS software) interesting and/or helpful:

  6. Jacques Chester says:


    That’s another good story and it squares with my experiences also. Depression is a rotten disease, but thank goodness it’s treatable. You would be amazed who has, who has had it and who can get it.

    He correctly identifies one of the really insidious things about depression: that it removes the will to be cured. I’ve been suicidally depressed, but it just crept up on me slowly. One by one the ways of getting out seemingly became impossible and suicide just seemed like the obvious way out.

    That’s pretty scary if you think about it. I am lucky to be alive in some ways. If you feel depressed, SEEK TREATMENT. You are not alone. You don’t have to cry or hate yourself or hate everyone else or just lie in bed or consider what, if anything, to write in a suicide note. Get help. Please.

  7. Jacques Chester says:

    My own experience is partly outlined at my little blog.

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  9. Vicki says:

    Jacques, as for it not increasing… I don’t know about adults but with teens… well… I recently met someone whose 17 year old daughter lost 2 friends to suicide in 6 months. Her whole group had a hard time dealing with the first – then the second happened. Then her friends started cutting themselves and she started too.

    This is stuff we (I’m in my late 30s) didn’t have to deal with at all as teens — how to react when your mates committed suicide or started cutting themselves. I asked my 18 year old daughter “But why?” And she said “Depression.” (Her 18 year old boyfriend suffers from depression, as does his mother, so it’s something she is familiar with.) I said (about the other girl and her friends) “What – all of them?” And my daughter looked at me very seriously and said “Yes.”

    Whether we understand it or not, kids today are living in a different world with different pressures to that in which we lived and I think as parents we will never really understand (because what teen is really open with their parent?) but it’s frightening. I think the more it’s brought into the open, definitely the better.

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