Monday, February 29, 2016

The Big Misconception

When I was deeply suicidal, the one question people asked me the most was why would you kill yourself for someone you dated for only 4 weeks? They tried to talk me out of my depression by saying “oh get over him”, or “this girl got dumped after being with this guy for 7 years, she moved on, you should too.” People thought that I wanted to die because of “love”, which in my case was a very petty reason. In fact, when someone just committed suicide, the biggest question is why, it seems like they need to have a reason to end their life, the reason has to be huge in order to be understandable, such as the death of a child or a bankruptcy. Well, this is a big misconception.

I am pretty sure many of you have felt depressed before. But would you say, your depression was caused by situational factors? And once the external problems have been dealt with, you would feel better right away. In such case depression is a mental state. It is temporary. It’s relatively easy to treat, or for some people, they go away on a vacation and come back being happy again.  Depression of such nature is like a cold; our body is able to recover from it spontaneously. On the other hand, Depression with a strong genetic predisposition, like the one I have, is a mental illness. It is an illness that has a name, Major Depression (Unipolar Disorder) or Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder).  It is a permanent condition that cannot be cured but can only be treated by medication. 

There are many differences between the two.
1)      Trigger of Depression. For common depression, people usually have a good reason to be depressed, whereas for a Depression Disorder, people do not need to have a reason to commit suicide. Some person would feel suicidal simply because they do not have a healthy lifestyle. They smoke and drink excessively, they lack sleep on a regular basis and party all the time. If there is a genetic predisposition, their Depression will be easily triggered when a trivial obstacle comes their way.

2)      Differences in the severity of symptoms. For common depression, the symptoms are emotional and psychological; it has to do with people’s feelings being hurt. People want to die, but they have a choice, they could choose to end their life or carry on living. That was the case in my second episode of Depression. The reason of my Depression was mainly about my physical disability, though the symptoms were severe, I still had control over them, and thankfully, I did not hurt myself again. Whereas for a depression disorder, the symptoms are much more physical and medical in nature, the symptoms are impossible to be conquered by will powers. During my first episode of Depression, I didn’t just want to die, I need to die. My body was shutting down after not being able to sleep at all for over 2 months.

3)      Family History. A depression disorder usually has a family history of mental illness, any type of mental illness. In my case, everyone on my father’s side is perfectly healthy. They are happy and optimistic people. The person that has a problem is my mom’s mom. My maternal grandma suffers from anxiety disorder, her thoughts are always irrational and she doesn’t sleep very much, averagely 3 or 4 hours a day.

4)      Age of onset. Common depression really depends on the onset of a stressor. But for mental illnesses, the typical age of onset of a full-blown episode is between 18 to 24 years old, the ages when hormones are going viral; though more and more kids as young as 8 or 9 years old have reported of feeling suicidal. Depression is also prevalent among women who have just given birth or during menopause. It always happens when our body is going through changes. Mental health is part of a person’s physical health. When the rest of our body is healthy, we sleep well, eat well and do exercise; our mental health will also improve.

5)      Treatment. To treat a common depression, a person might be temporarily placed on anti-depressant or receive psychotherapy or consulting. For some people “time is the best remedy”. Whereas in my case, I personally think that medication is the only effective treatment. Because it is a medical condition, it is not a psychological condition. It’s like someone who is born with type 1 diabetes and they have to rely on insulin for life. People like me, we are born with a deficient, and therefore we need to rely on psychotropic medication to restore our mental health.

The Case

When I was an infant, I was one of those babies that cry all the time. It was really hard to put me to sleep. I was an evil baby. When I was a kid, I was described as very shy, neurotic and introverted. I had a lot of phobias, I was afraid of spiders, bugs, rodents, darkness and ironically, death. I am still very sensitive to caffeine. I would not be able to sleep if I drink coffee or tea. I did not think I was different from everyone else, I never knew what it was like to be someone else. 

When I turned 13, we came to Canada. It was very difficult as a newcomer; I had to face discrimination and prejudice. I could sense that my mental health was getting worse and worse. However, my experience was only typical as a newcomer, but because I was very sensitive and weak, it would take me forever to get over a negative encounter whereas someone else in the same shoes as I was might not care at all. I remembered between 17 to 18, the year prior to my depression, I would stay awake throughout the entire night for countless nights. Falling asleep was always difficult. I was thinking all the time. The pace of my thoughts was always very fast. I had this enormous amount of mental energy. I also became increasingly negative, always thought of people and things in their worst. When I turned 18, I started dating. At the time, it was very special. I was extremely obsessed and manic. When the relationship ended after just four weeks, that’s when the insomnia started and the clinical symptoms of depression began to unfold. 

Two weeks of not being able to sleep completely. I started to have suicidal desires. Four weeks of not getting any sleep, I had impulses of running in front of every car that drove towards me or jumping off a subway platform. I tried to overdose on medication, but failed.  Two months of not getting any sleep, I was completely insane. And finally, I made my ultimate attempt by jumping off a building. I landed on my back and broke my spinal cord as a result. 

When I was in acute care, my psychiatrist prescribed me with anti-depressant medication. Three weeks later, I started to feel drowsy and sleepy. I was able to sleep again. As my sleep was restored, my symptoms were dramatically better. Three years after my injury, I was yet again admitted to the psychiatric ward. This time, I received my actual diagnose, which was bipolar disorder. Immediately, I was switched to Lithium Carbonate. This medication gave me a lot of side effects, my mental health continued to be horrible. Until 2007, when my doctor switched me to Epival, I woke up one day and felt like I was refreshed. I began to recover as the result of being on the right medication. And today, my mental health is probably better than 90% of the population. 

This blog chronicles my story in more details.