A History of Madness

When I was younger, my dad would tell me that I was sorta like him – I never got too sad, but also never experienced the highs of overwhelming happiness. My emotions, like his, were always somewhere in the middle. He would get happy, sure, but never elated. He might get upset (and anger was certainly in his emotional vocabulary) but he rarely got inconsolably distressed. Growing up, I thought this was a totally normal personality trait I inherited; I thought a lot of people were similar.

In high school I was diagnosed with a mild form of depression. It finally clicked; that’s what my dad was talking about when he talked about his lack of mood swings. It wasn’t necessarily common, which I started to pick up on as I met and even befriended people who were the exact opposite. One of my best friends experiences every conceivable emotion in a given day, and it continues to be a hard thing for me to grasp. So that’s a common misconception – depression isn’t always feeling “down” as the name would suggest, but rather a lack of feeling any emotion – the highs or the lows. I don’t think I ever would have known, had I not been diagnosed.

Even so, when I was first diagnosed I rejected the idea. I didn’t want to be on any medication, I didn’t want to have a name for what I probably always knew was there. Luckily the psychologist who diagnosed me never really mentioned medication – he was all about natural remedies and gave me the rundown on what depression means and how to deal with it, sans drugs. I have to make sure I exercise, get enough sleep (but not too much), eat well (but don’t overeat), be careful with alcohol. Basic human needs and maybe common sense, sure. Except that when you’re depressed, all you want to do is lay around the house and sleep as much as possible. For me, I know I’m in an episode when all I want to do is sleep and when I don’t laugh quite as loud.

I know I’m come out of the shadows, however, when I can laugh hysterically again. As a baby, my mom tells me I would giggle uncontrollably to the point where everyone else in the room couldn’t stop laughing. Infectious, she called it. I was a happy kid. Later on, I wouldn’t realize the lack of laughter until I became hysterical again, until I was in the sun and out of the shadow. I remember one time early in my teenage years, I was in the car and something weird happened or my dad said something funny and I could not stop laughing. I laughed so hard I cried; so hard my stomach hurt. When I finally caught my breathe, I realize I hadn’t laughed like that in months, maybe even a year. I now remember that as the first time I came out of an episode. It’s comforting, in a way, to know I dealt with this thing before I even knew it was there. What other enemy can you defeat before you know it’s there?

The really messed up part is that I don’t even consider it an enemy; more of a companion, though nothing like Dexter’s dark passenger. I’ve written about it before, but it’s a delicate balance. When I’m depressed, my writing is usually better. I don’t know why, really. Maybe all the time I’m not spending with people gives me time to write; maybe the lack of emotion gives me some kind of clarity. It could be a lot of things, but writing is the one thing that brings me to some kind of peace with it, with my shadow.

Which, at a glance, is pretty cool right? Ok so general apathy whatever, but then my writing is (on average) a little better! Yay! Except I can’t control this thing, this shadow. It also makes my writing a little darker than I would prefer to be, normally. When I’m not experiencing it, I do everything to avoid it. I exercise, I sleep, I eat. I don’t feel it coming until it’s too late. It’s not like the flu. But when it does take over, I just sort of ride it out. I catch up on sleep, I write as much as possible. Even so, I don’t always know it’s happening until it’s over, so I can’t really take advantage of it, I just…exist through it. I don’t even realize my writing is good when I’m dealing with it. There’s just nothing I can do about it. At least, that’s how it feels. It feels like it won’t ever end. Somewhere, in the farthest reaches of my memory, I know it’ll pass. But I can’t make myself believe it.


A few weekends ago, I learned my maternal great-grandmother was diagnosed with depression after her husband died. In her lifetime, she also lost a brother and her son, both much too soon. To me, she’s always seemed happy-go-lucky, and I never knew her any other way.

After I was diagnosed, I never really talked to my dad about whether or not he thinks he has the same thing. We’ve talked about my depression, but never his.

This thing is coming at me from both sides of the family tree. Even if sometimes it’s born out of trauma rather than inherited – it exists. It’s there. I’ve embraced it, in a sense. Maybe because mine is mild, usually, I have that luxury.

It’s still scary, though. How will this thing change as I get older? Is the worst of it over, post-puberty? Is the worst yet to come – in the postpartum or menopausal stages of life? Will it ever go away?

Do I want it to?

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