by Adam Riske
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 17 years old. I’ve lived with it for a long time. I was depressed back when it wasn’t in fashion to be depressed. I was the Rosa Parks of depression at F This Movie!, but now everyone else seems to be depressed just as I got happy. Go figure. That makes me sad but not depressed. There’s a big difference between being sad and depressed. I still get sad all the time, but in the past year I have not fallen into depression despite having plentiful reasons. The “why” I haven’t is because I’ve learned over the past 18 years how to manage it. Depression can’t be cured, but it can be (in my experience) managed. It took me a long ass time to learn how to manage my depression, but nowadays I feel like I’m on the other side of my illness.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was a senior in high school. I was told it was a serotonin deficiency and was put on medication and in therapy. I knew something was wrong for many years but I finally hit a wall. Ever since I was a little kid, I always felt like I was doing something wrong (not morally, more like incorrectly) or that I was a “fuck up”. No one told me these things. I decided it for myself. When I would struggle, not even fail, I would become aggravated and ashamed, which would feed into me being sad and often crying. I cried a lot as a kid. Then I ran out of tears or something (is that possible?) and hardly ever cry anymore as an adult. That year in high school was when I knew I needed to get help. I was barely functional socially for about a month (I felt hollowed out), and when I would come home I would just sit in a room and cry for long stretches of time. The weird thing was that for the first time, I didn’t know why I was crying. I knew I needed help, so I told my parents about how I was feeling and asked if I could see someone to talk about it. The important thing is that I said something and acted on getting help.
Therapy and medication worked for a few years. I’ve joked on the podcast before that Prozac made me into an egotistical monster (I think it was the combination of the serotonin boost and normal high school hormones), but I felt better. I hit a wall in college due to side effects of the Prozac (there’s always a chance of that with any medicine) and had to switch to Zoloft, which didn’t work at all for me. Over the years I’ve mixed and matched this new prescribed depression med with that generic version of the med followed by this Abilify booster, etc., etc. They’re good for getting me up to functional but, with the exception of that first burst of Prozac back in the day, they never made me feel happy. Oh, yes, the elusive happy. The dragon I’m always chasing. It was always if I do this or I do that or join this class or get this promotion or date this person I would be happy. It usually didn’t work out as planned. You can’t plan happiness in a notebook or spreadsheet or calendar. All planning ever got me was just dwelling on deficiencies in my life. It wasn’t helpful. Note: I am not telling you to get off your medicine.
Therapy was ok. If you find a therapist (psychiatrist or psychologist) that works, then keep using them. I didn’t find it helpful in the long run. One psychiatrist told me my problem was that I was “too Jewish,” so I stopped seeing her because I’m not trying to be Schlomo the Quirky Kosher Boy; I want to be fucking happy. She was a quack. Then I went to a male psychologist (I thought a doctor of my own gender would help) who was around my own age and he was super nice, but I realized I was paying him more to hang out and stew than put a plan in place on how I can manage my depression. I challenged him that what we were doing wasn’t working and he didn’t have a good solution, so I stopped going to therapy with that doctor. Eventually I stopped going to doctors because I was in therapy so long I think I became therapy proof. So, for a while, I just waited and was depressed even more because if therapy and medicine weren’t doing it, then what the fuck are my options after that? Note: I am not telling you to stop seeing your therapist.
Star Trek Beyond. It was a movie I had low expectations for (it wasn’t screened for critics, so I figured it would be a dud), but I sat there and watched the first half and it made me feel absolute joy. The projection broke down halfway through, causing a five minute delay, but I sat there just in this heightened happiness I hadn’t felt in a while. The film started again and I watched the second half not wanting it to end. If I had to deduce what was happening (in retrospect), it was that I learned that wonderful things exist everywhere and come out of nowhere. Ever since then, I’ve been, on the whole, pretty happy despite a lot of things in my life or on the world stage that should make me feel otherwise. It’s not that those things don’t bother me and give me moments or hours or a day of sadness, but now they don’t send me into a spiral where I’m so depressed I can’t get out of bed for several days. I know that those things are usually temporary, so I find a coping mechanism and ride it out.
So what have I learned about my depression? It’s that I needed to be on the court for a long time to master the game (sorry for the sports analogy). For me it started as medicine and therapy, but then “the league” (i.e. my depression) figured me out and I couldn’t have success the same way that I did at the start. I had to adjust. I had to modify. Sometimes I was lucky and a life event (falling in love, a vacation, time with friends and family, F This Movie!) would put wind in my sails, and that’s a glorious thing because it not only helps you in the moment but you can put it in your memory bank to recall later on when you feel down. At other times, going crazy with exercising or dieting has helped (e.g. I lost a ton of weight one month when I arbitrarily decided not to eat fast food or drink soda for thirty days). Right now my thing is to Star Trek Beyond it. I don’t mean every time I’m sad, I watch that movie. What I mean is I find something that makes me happy (and happy quickly) and indulge in it. The good news is when you do that for an extended amount of time something great happens and more and more things begin to make you happy.
I hope this helps and if you don’t know where to start, start with these four words:
Go Easy on Yourself.
Thank you all for your support over the years and I wish you nothing but the best.