My Story: Dealing with Clinical Depression


I have shared my origin story before. I was even called up to interview about it on Public Radio just as Portland was heading into the playoffs against the Rockets in 2009. And while the Blazers are why we're all here, each of our stories is far more than that. And our stories are ongoing. Just as the team changes over time, so do the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

Dealing with depression isn't new in my life. As I've mentioned previously, my family has dealt with it before. But like I said, sometimes things change for the worse. This summer, I've had to deal with a personal breakdown from depression. 


I understand the stigma depression has. The adjective "depressing" is very common in our society's usage. Even more so when it comes to sports. "That possession was depressing," "These refs are depressing," "The Blazers' injury woes are depressing." Even I use it. But what has been learned about clinical depression has really changed the meaning of the word. I think if they could go back and pick a different word for this malady, they would. But language being what it is, we have to live with it. 

But as a result of that language, depression isn't seen as a real disease. It's seen as some thing that's "all in your head." It's seen as a sign of mental weakness. As though it could be overcome by sheer willpower. Those trying to help say things like, "Snap out of it," or, "Smile more often," or any number of things that aren't the least bit helpful. Not because they're mean, but just because they have no idea what it really is. 

I didn't know what it really is until I was over my head in it. I should have known. Everyone should know what it is. It might just save the life of someone very close to you.

Clinical depression isn't about happiness or sadness. It's about brain chemistry and willpower. The serotonin blockage is a very real component. Serotonin is a chemical that the brain uses to create synapses. When the brain needs to send a signal, it takes in the serotonin, creates a synapse, fires the synapse, then reabsorbs it into the brain.

But under stressful situations, whether traumatic or joyful, the serotonin receptors close down in order to focus the brain on the issue at hand. Over prolonged stretches of stress, the receptors get accustomed to being closed, and are harder to open. What we consider to be "willpower" is what is needed. Sending the signal again and again until some of the receptors open to let the serotonin in. A person with clinical depression is already exerting far more willpower than the average person. Just to do the same things. And so to the one who is depressed, it takes a lot more work to do the same job than someone who is not depressed. Just like the person who has diabetes has to do a lot more work to keep their blood sugar under control than the one who doesn't have the disease. 


Left untreated, eventually those serotonin receptors get more and more used to being closed. Taking more and more willpower to do even basic tasks. But using that much willpower is in itself stressful. And so a downward spiral is created. Until a person just has no energy left with which to fight. And that's why depression is dangerous. After working so hard to get ahead, a person finds themselves further behind than ever, and to exhausted to bother trying anymore. That's why the suicide rate is so high for those who are depressed. After fighting that long, and that hard, seeing the top of the hill even further away is devastating. 


I was at a point where I was starting a downward spiral. Because my serotonin receptors had already been trained to be closed through 6 years of school, four kids, moving all around the country, and getting used to a new place nearly every year. And I had put it all on my shoulders. Tried to tough my way through it. Will my way to getting done everything that needed done. Training my serotonin receptors to be closed without realizing what I was doing. 


The want to do things was there. The need to do things was there. My willpower was fighting so hard. And yet the synapses could not fire. Getting out of bed in the morning was a monumentous struggle. I would work my backside off all week to get the bare minimum done. My family saw a zombie. What had started as "get through this week" had been whittled down. "Get through this day," "Get through this hour," "Get through this minute." Because the next has to be better. 


This is where I finally crashed. And a friend finally said, "do you need to see a doctor?" And they weren't going to take no for an answer. You see, there is no way out of a spiraling depression alone. You cannot will yourself out of the darkness, because it was the willpower being exerted over and over again that got you into the darkness in the first place. Someone has to help carry you out. Which is why friends and doctors and psychologists are so vital to this whole process. 



Now, through medication and talk therapy (training me to think in a way that opens serotonin receptors) I am learning to deal with this disease. I compared it to diabetes above. And the two things are remarkably similar. Once you have it, you have it. But you can learn to live a full life with it. It takes time. It takes learning how your body reacts to things. It takes some failures sometimes. But it can be done. And I am trying.


There are still bad days. There are still bad hours. But those days and hours are getting less. I very well may never get out from under this disease. But I have help. I have friends and family and doctors working with me to get the darkness under control. I have met with others who are also going through depression. And it has all helped. 


One thing I do miss is my Blazers. Up until now, they had been my out. My reason to stop closing my serotonin receptors and just enjoy something for a couple hours a night for two, three, four or five nights a week. I don't think the lockout was any kind of back-breaking straw, this would have happened with or without the lockout. But I do miss the rest my team gave me, and will give me again when this lockout is lifted. 


But I hope My Story will do more than just let you know about me. I hope it may help you, or a friend of yours or a loved one who may be dealing with depression. Whatever stage they're in. Whether they're trying to pull themselves out of it, or whether they are about ready to give up trying. Be there for them. Be willing to help them. Give them your time and effort. You're close to them for a reason. And the reason might just be this. 




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