Yesterday, someone who is Facebook friends with my former therapist shared an insightful Huffington Post article from January 2018. The subject was depression and anxiety, and what really causes them. I was interested, since depression and anxiety have been a part of my life for a very long time… in fact, I’d venture to say they’ve affected me for almost my whole existence. I have a lot of photos from when I was younger, especially around puberty, where I look positively downtrodden.
The Huffington Post article, written by Johann Hari, is entitled “The Real Causes Of Depression Have Been Discovered, And They’re Not What You Think”. Hari writes that in the 1990s, when he was a teenager, a doctor told him that his depression was caused by a chemical imbalance. All he needed to do to feel better was to take some medication that fixed his “broken brain”. So Hari took the drugs, and they worked somewhat, although he was always having to up his dosage. The pain of depression would always come back. Hari thought something was wrong with him, since this “magic” drug cure wasn’t helping him the way the doctors had promised it would.
Some years later, Hari went to Cambridge University and spent three years studying depression and anxiety in an attempt to find out what really causes the condition. He discovered that conditions like depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders are often caused by trauma and a lack of a meaningful connection to other human beings. Do people sometimes have “chemical imbalances” that are helped by antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or other psychiatric drugs? Yes, sometimes they do, and psychiatric drugs can be very helpful even when a chemical imbalance is not solely to blame. But more often than not, mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are caused by something horrible that happened in the past.
Regular readers might remember that I recently binge watched a bunch of Intervention episodes. Intervention is a show that has been on the A&E channel for many years. One thing I’ve noticed in almost every episode is that almost every addict was affected by a traumatic event. It seems like an overwhelming majority of the females profiled on that show, and quite a few of the males, too, were victims of sexual assault or molestation of some kind. Those who were not sexually abused in some way usually suffered some other kind of childhood trauma that was never addressed. Divorce, physical abuse, death of a parent or other close family member, abandonment and even adoption have figured into the addict’s history.
I recently watched one episode about a guy named Gabe who was born on the streets of Calcutta and abandoned by his mother when he was three years old. He was later adopted by a very white bread Christian family, who brought him to the United States and tried to raise him among his very white, middle class siblings. Throughout the episode, Gabe kept talking about how different he felt, being this dark skinned Indian child in a culture that was so different from where he originally came. He felt like an outsider, which caused him to feel depressed and anxious. When he was in high school, the formerly happy boy began to resent his white, Christian upbringing. Gabe turned to marijuana, cocaine, and later heroin to help ease his psychic pain.
My husband’s ex wife was the product of an affair. Her biological mother was married to a man who didn’t want to raise another man’s child, so she was put up for adoption. The couple who adopted her split up when she was still very young. She didn’t know her adoptive father until she was about seven years old. Meanwhile, her mother married an abusive man who molested Ex, his wife’s adopted daughter, but left the biological daughter he’d had with Ex’s mother alone. The end result is a woman who is abusive and cruel to others, especially those closest to her. She also does destructive things to herself, perhaps in a bid to make herself feel better about her unresolved traumas and, perhaps, the feeling that she was never loved by anyone. That kind of trauma can be contagious. Passing it to others can cause them to perpetuate it in ripple effects. Bill and I are grateful, though, because it looks like at least one of Ex’s children has recognized the pattern of abuse and is taking steps not to repeat it.
It’s no secret that there is no love lost between Bill’s ex wife and me, though it may surprise some readers to know that there is a part of me who has great empathy for her situation. I’m sure she had a terrible, traumatic, abusive childhood, as a lot of people have. There are underlying reasons for the destructive ways she and other people behave, although being an abuse victim is not an excuse to abuse other people.
I can even look at myself and see this phenomenon at work. I come from a family of alcoholics and depressives. My father was abused by his father, and in turn, my dad was sometimes abusive and cruel to me. Add in my run ins with the neighborhood pervert, who used to show me pornography, pinch my ass, and make suggestive comments to me, and maybe you might see a cause for me to be depressed and anxious. When I finally addressed my longstanding depression back in 1998, I took antidepressants and got psychotherapy. Prozac wasn’t very helpful, and in fact, it eventually made things worse. But Wellbutrin was a lifesaver for me. After just four days, my attitude changed. I woke up one morning and decided I needed to make some big changes, and I proceeded to do just that.
I took Wellbutrin for about five years before I weaned myself off of it. I had no problems getting off of the drug. The only thing that changed was my weight. I gained some in the wake of quitting antidepressants. I have noticed some other changes since then. For instance, I used to have meltdowns. I used to cry a lot over anything that upset me. Some of the things that bothered me were pretty insignificant, at least to other people. Now, I don’t cry very often at all. I sometimes get misty eyed when I’m moved, but I no longer get that painful, deeply hurt feeling I used to get in my throat in the futile attempt to fight back tears. I rarely cry anymore when I’m sad or angry. I only cry when I feel emotional. I don’t know if that’s a result of my use of antidepressants or the fact that I’m just getting older and my body chemistry has changed. It’s also been a long time since my last panic attack, although I used to have them fairly often.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d like to go back on antidepressants, but then I realize that would mean having to deal with doctors. I don’t like dealing with doctors unless I’m pretty damned sick. I’m sure a lot of other people are the same way. They’d rather turn to something else to ease their pain… like drugs or alcohol, compulsive shopping or porn, religion or abuse… or food. Writing and singing are two somewhat healthy activities I do to head off depression, although some people have told me that they don’t think what I write is “healthy”.
Personally, I think writing is a very healthy thing to do, especially if it’s all I do (as opposed to taking destructive actions toward others). I write for myself. I share what I write for others, since I know that there’s a good chance that someone out there can relate. Maybe some of the more personal posts I write are helpful to those people out there, even if I do seem “unhealthy”. Maybe I’m not interested in presenting an image of “health” to other people. Maybe my image to others isn’t all that important to me, although it is for many other people.
A couple of days ago, I shared with my mother-in-law a comment that I got from a reader who was upset about a post I wrote about my husband’s ex wife. The post is on my old blog, which is no longer public. The commenter took me to task for constantly “trashing” Bill’s ex wife, said my posts were way too negative and contained too much inappropriate information, and she advised me to “let it go”. She wrote that I came off as “bitter” and “petty”, which I thought was pretty funny. Obviously, not appearing to be “bitter” and “petty” to others is something that is important to the commenter. I wondered what made her think that was important to me. What made her think that I would care about how I “come off” to other people? What made her think that every other person sees me in the way she saw me that day, or that her impression of me was the correct one? And what made her think that her decision to chastise me would ultimately be productive?
I guess, in a way, her negative comment about “my negativity” was productive in that I’m now thinking about what she wrote and composing a blog post about it. But telling me to “let it go” didn’t result in my “letting it go”, did it? All it did was make me realize that she’s one of the many people who don’t get it and isn’t about to put forth the effort to get it. In fact, trying to impose your version of what is “the right image” on other people is bound to lead to depression and heartache, isn’t it? It’s ultimately a waste of time. Because every person is different, and not everyone sees things in the same way. For every person who thinks what I do is unproductive and unhealthy, there’s probably at least one person who understands and is maybe even helped. And honestly, trying to write for other people’s expectations is impossible, anyway. Trying to please everyone is truly a one way ticket to Crazyville, with stops in Depression Town, Anxiety City, and Self-sabotageburg.
Anyway… I think that mental illnesses like depression and anxiety frequently do have their roots in traumas, particularly during childhood and adolescence. I won’t say that’s always what causes those problems. Some people really do have chemical imbalances, and I’m sure for many, there’s a combination of causes that lead to depression, addiction, anxiety, and other conditions like eating disorders. On the other hand, if a simple chemical imbalance causes someone to be depressed and the depression causes that person to be mean, grumpy, controlling and abusive to another person, which then leads them to depression and anxiety, then you might have a true chicken and egg scenario, right? Sigh… well, it’s time to get on with the day. We’re still in France and will go home tomorrow. Maybe then, I can write something that rambles less.