(Note: This blog post also appears on The Huffington Post's blog site under the same title: "Depression Sucks.")
If I had a dollar for every time I thought that or said it out loud, I'd be sitting on my own private beach somewhere sipping ice cold root beer from a glass with an umbrella in it.
As I've told you before, depression runs in my family. Relatives and siblings have struggled with it. I've struggled with it. My boys have struggled with it.
Right now, my oldest son, whose depression was in remission for a good three years or so, is suffering again. His depression has been almost debilitating for the last couple of months. It's making it difficult for him to get up in the morning, let alone go to work and live any kind of normal life. His confidence and self-esteem are super low. And I'm incredibly worried about him.
My son's been on the same antidepressant (Cymbalta) for a few years, but my wife and I fear that it's just not working anymore. Some people can develop a tolerance to such medications, and when they do, it's like someone flips a switch. Goodbye, happiness...welcome back, depression.
Yesterday, my wife called the University of Michigan Depression Center, an esteemed facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that offers some of the most respected assessment and treatment options in the country. Their website offered a ray of hope when we perused it prior to calling about having our son evaluated there.
Unfortunately, getting quality treatment for depression seems to be just as challenging as getting treatment for addiction. The person my wife talked to told her that they weren't seeing any new patients until next year, and that appointments couldn't be scheduled until November. Hardly the kind of thing you want to hear when you have a loved one battling a mental illness that makes you wonder about their well-being. Oh, one more thing: Unless the patient's primary care physician is in the University of Michigan--our son's isn't--you can only meet with the Depression Center people once. And nothing can be done about medications in that one meeting.
Really? So much for the Depression Center idea.
And here's a thought: Getting help for a mental illness shouldn't be akin to winning a damn lottery.
Thankfully, I reached out to some people I know and got a recommendation for a top-notch psychiatrist. (Based at--ironically--the University of Michigan.) So today we wanted to call and get things in motion so our son could see this new doctor. But one thing prevented us from doing so: Our son wouldn't get on the phone and talk to the doctor's office. You see, along with depression, he's also frequently paralyzed by anxiety, which makes talking on the phone agonizing for him.
My wife and I talked to our son for a long time today. He was at our house, and we did our best to comfort him and tell him that we understand he has an illness. We also told him that he had to be the one to seek out help. That no matter how much we wanted him to get help, he was the only one who could actually do it. (Damn, depression and addiction are so similar, aren't they?)
I hope my son's anxiety will ease up a bit so he'll be able to call the doctor's office later today. Or at least early next week. With the way he's feeling, I don't think we can afford a lengthy delay. If for some reason he can't call the doctor, I'm not sure what my wife and I will do, because our hands are kind of tied.
The fact that I'm having trouble getting help for my own son isn't lost on me. Believe me, I think about it often. I'm allegedly some sort of plainclothes "expert" at helping people who are struggling with addiction or mental illness, but when faced with my own family crisis, I have to sit back and twiddle my thumbs while I wait for my son to take action.
What is wrong with that picture?
Of course, I do realize that even as a parent there's only so much I can do. (My mom actually reiterated that to me this morning, bless her heart.) Parenting isn't easy, and when you're dealing with a child who's combatting mental illness, it's exponentially tougher. The one thing we absolutely must remember is that depression is an illness.
When my son left our house a little while ago, he hugged me and, in tears, said, "I'm sorry." I told him he didn't have to apologize. "You're not a bad person," I told him. "You have an illness. If you had cancer or diabetes, you wouldn't be apologizing for it. So don't apologize because you have depression. But if you had cancer or diabetes, you would do everything you could to get it treated. So you have to do the same for your depression."
I'm hoping what I said got through to him.
I'm hoping he makes that phone call soon.
I'm hoping he can return to being happy.
Today, it's all about hope.
"Gravity and sadness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or to sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity." --Anne Lamott