Finally Finals 

I somehow managed to come out of my latest depression. I think getting back on a steady medication schedule, as well as being really busy with school for the last week, really helped me pull out of it. I almost did not finish my courses this term and was(am) still worried about both my ability to complete the school year, or hold a full-time job when I get out. The economy is so bad right now that finding work seems really difficult. But, finals are finally over and if I don't think about much of anything, I have at least a couple of weeks to relax and catch up on sleep.

The biggest event as of late was that my car died. I really wish it hadn't, but to be honest, it was a long time in coming. It was an elderly car, 20 years old, and had 300,000 miles on it. I guess cars aren't meant to last too much longer than that. The specific cause of the car's death was the broken timing belt. It threw the engine out of time, and that caused the engine to run poorly and bend a valve. Someone (who knows these things) said that the broken timing belt likely caused other problems that would not be discovered until they opened the engine and looked inside. It was becoming ever more clear that the problems my car had were going to cost a lot of money to fix, more money than it was worth to fix. I suppose I could have tried to get the repair shop to fix those problems, but the money I would have spent on repairs would be better allocated towards a new(er) car.

My friend from way back called me last night to see how things were going. It was interesting to hear about his life: a job, a family, a house. Three things I don't have yet, and now that I am reaching the center of middle-age, these things seem even more unlikely. I am at a point where those thoughts are not as depressing as they might seem. It is just a different set of realities.

The weather has been overwhelmingly cold lately, and tonight, the local stations were predicting a little snow, and a lot of freezing rain. If the power goes out, it will be very inconvenient. Life will get a lot slower and a lot colder. However, I have already chosen a book I am going to read as a way to entertain myself if that happens: Charles Dicken's "Hard Times." One of these days, I am going to go back to Bleak House and read that, but I found it a little hard to focus on it, especially when I was so busy with design work. I hope the power stays on and the temperatures get above freezing again, but in case it doesn't, I've got a flashlight, a few blankets, and a book to read.

11 December 2009

Magic Stop Watches 

If I had a magic stop-watch, I think I would probably use it every other day. Click!, and time would be frozen. Just for maybe a day or two, so I could get my bearings, sort some personal emotions out, steel myself for the inevitable unpleasantness that would await me when time began again. Living time out of synch would be more of an alignment for me, since as it is, time always seems to be marching ahead before I am ready for it.

There were only a thousand things that I should have done over the weekend, but by Monday, there were a million. And all I could do was lie in bed all day. I couldn't even muster enough courage to eat dinner. I will try and face the music tomorrow. I am contemplating a long discussion with both my instructors about the nature of my depression this time, but frankly, even though it might be necessary to do have these talks to salvage my grades and my term, I would rather do almost anything else: push a marble around with my nose for a few hours maybe.

Every day that I experience a struggle with my depression, I find myself trying to cope with the fact of its disabling reality. Depression, for me, is not merely a set of circumstances that come together in a poor or awkward way to make me feel bad. I feel bad because of a chemical imbalance in my brain that is akin to a broken bone in my leg. A broken bone is not a perception; it is a fact, an existent reality that is indifferent to all opinions. You do not say, "if I just pretended my leg was not broken, I could walk on it without a crutch or a cast." You would not tell other people with broken legs that, "it's all in your head, your leg is not really broken. You just don't have the proper strength of character to walk around like a 'normal' person."

Another one of the various things that I am finding about depression is this: in order to try and live a normal life I have to do a couple of things. The first is perhaps the easiest: take my medication every day. I used to be resistant to it thinking that I could "will" myself to be better, but having been on the right medication for the last couple of months, I am finding that the difference it makes is hard to deny. Taking medication, while the easiest of the various tasks depression demands of you, is not always easy. If you don't have money for medications, you have to scrounge money for it, get free samples, or pray you get on a patient assistance program. For instance, I ran out of the free samples of medication I got from my doctor the other day and did without for about a week. He gave me a prescription for the pill form of the medicine, but it took a day or so to fill it, and then it still cost nearly 40 bucks or so, even with a discount. In the mean time, I had "titrated" off the medicine. That sort of yo-yo'ing on and off medicine makes you more resistant to it, not something that I want or need to have happen.

Depression also seems to be requiring me to talk to people about it when it affects my life negatively, and not always the people I want to discuss it with, and the people I do discuss it with may not always understand. Depression has a stigma (even in 2009, even though it seems like the whole world has it these days). And, I find that among certain people, depression is equivalent to weakness. I can't change minds like those or expect much sympathy or understanding, even if the law, school attorneys, or anyone else for that matter, might require those in authority to have a sympathetic response. You can see the dissonance in their eyes as they look at you warily. In any event, the talk with my instructors that I am contemplating having might go something like this:

"Hello, Mr. H----? Yes, hi. I am just wanted to talk to about my school work. I haven't been able to complete our most recent project lately because I have been experiencing a heavy bout of depression, partially due to the illness I had last week, which in turn caused me to fall behind on things. I know I should have called yesterday to inform you about my absence, but it took all of my courage to eat breakfast and take a shower. I am so sorry if this causes any trouble. I am hoping to get things completed by the end of the term, especially for your classes. I know that there may not be much that you can do to help me out with my projects and their tardiness, but if there is something, I would appreciate it more than you can imagine. Once again, I apologise."

I would then try to explain how my depression affects me, or even what it is again in terms of brain chemistry. I might even go so far as to show him the medications that I am using. I had a letter from the disability office at school about my depression and perhaps need for my time, but it is largely a symbolic agreement of goodwill between the student and the instructor, a paper tiger. As far as I know, there is nothing where the instructor would be "required" to grant me more time without penalty.

I do happen to think that most of my instructors are sympathetic people, but I also worry that they don't understand. Maybe they see me as complaining too much, as an ineffectual weirdo who can't get his act together on any given day of the week. I have seen those internet post from instructors complaining about one difficult student or another. Having been a college instructor (okay, graduate teaching assistant), I know that a lot of students have problems. So, it would stand to reason, some instructors might be completely inured to lot of pleading from students. I've met a couple. I may say depression cripples my life sometimes, but I worry that all instructors actually hear is a feeble excuse along the lines of "the dog ate my homework."

I would write much more about all of this, but it is time for bed. I really, really, need to pull it together, face the music, take my lumps, and move on with school and the rest of this term. I hope that I can salvage some of it. Even if I can, I will still have a lot of work to do, and I am hoping that maybe when I get into the lab, and start making progress on my work, the thin and whispery tendrils of hope will creep in again and I will pull out of my emotional nose-dive.

01 December 2009