What Are They Thinking? (I’m Thinking)

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Eric’s been reading the recent discussions by David and Jan regarding depression and diabetes. This week, he’s decided that he wants to add his own entry on the topic.

I am quite healthy these days. Mentally. (Physically, too, diabetes notwithstanding…although I have been somewhat lazy this past month.) My emotional health has held steady for several years, and these days, life is good. But throughout my 20’s, my mental health didn’t always run so smoothly. There were months and, arguably, years during which I was clinically depressed, where it was all I could do to simply go through the motions—several times finding I was unable to do even that.

Throughout much of the last decade, I’ve managed my depression with a low dose of a generic SSRI as well as with recurring (twice-a-month) discussions with a therapist. The medicine’s changed a few times, and the therapists have changed several times. At present, I’ve got the combination dialed in, and so with a good brain chemical balance and helpful perspective on my perspective from my therapist, whose approach works wonderfully for me, I have the ability to handle many of the normal everyday issues and circumstances that, without treatment, could/would send me into a tailspin.

What issues? Friends, there isn’t enough space here to provide a comprehensive picture. But two out-of-context snapshots should suffice (though don’t think you know me by these two examples alone!). We’re talking here about a time in my life when I wanted everything perfect—body, mind, apartment, etc. Yet what was perfect? I didn’t know; it was just always something better than whatever it was at present. And this desire for perfection seeped into all aspects of my existence. The self-consciousness it caused could, when things weren’t going well, make commonplace interactions incredibly complicated and fraught with pending disaster.

Want a “for example”? I had to script in my head exactly what to say when ordering at a fast-food restaurant, sort of as if I were memorizing lines for a performance. I was afraid I’d get the order of the order wrong, or that I’d say something incorrectly and be laughed at, or that someone listening in would question my choice. Always there was this pervasive fear that I might be denied my order, go away hungry. What’s the worst that could have happened? I’m not sure, but it was horrible, whatever it was—a looming, nebulous fear, something black and roiling on the horizon headed straight for me.

I also had any number of responses catalogued and ready for whatever confrontations I might have (but never did) just in case someone called me out for doing something that I had every right to do—such as walk across the campus quad on the (ohmygod!) grass instead of on the sidewalk. Other people walked on the grass, but more walked on the sidewalk. But I liked to walk on the grass. Yet maybe I really shouldn’t walk on the grass. Oh crap, what if someone tells me to get off the grass? What if a facilities worker confronts me and asks me why I’m breaking the rules? “Why are you on the grass?” “Sir, allow me to explain…”

So, yeah, I lived afraid most of the time. Life wasn’t utterly miserable, but it sure could have been better.

Clinical depression preceded my diabetes, and I’m glad it did. I mean, if I had to deal with depression at some point in my life, I feel I’m fortunate that I encountered it BD (“before diabetes,” familiar if you’ve read some of my previous posts). I used to worry way too much about how I might appear to people or what they’d think of me (my wife would say I still do, although we’d both agree that it’s so much better than it used to be). Most of the time, 99% of the time, the people I thought were thinking about me didn’t care at all. And yet it didn’t prevent me from spending inordinate amounts of mental energy stressing out over how I thought they were going to see me.

And so I often wonder if diabetes would have helped me with some of these depression-related issues by refocusing my mental energies on something more important than the insignificant trifles I brooded over. Or, would the depression-related issues have oozed their constrictive blobby mass around “diabetes” in my brain, thus causing all sorts of neuroses to spring up around it as well?

It’s a question I’ll never know the answer to. When people see me checking my blood glucose in public, or when they see me entering the bolus into the insulin pump, see the tubing, my kit, the indicators that I have a disease—or, actually, when I think other people are watching me do these things (because we never really fix everything in our heads, do we?)—I often reflect that my self-consciousness in these situations is a mere fraction of what it once was, and for that I’m grateful.

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