On Depression and Other Disabilities

I just this past weekend finally came out of a two week long major depressive phase. I’ve made no secret of my suffering from PTSD and depression in the past, and the thing is, a lot of LGBT people suffer from one or both of these as well. We suffer from a lot of discrimination, often from our own families, and this forces us to adapt as best we can. So I thought I would talk about these some today.

One of the contributing factors for my depression was the fact that I was working on a very unpleasant topic all semester for a research project, and we were finishing everything up with it. Dori, I, and two others worked together on researching sexual assault amongst the LGBT community, and one of the articles that both Dori and I found was one titled Victimization Over the Life Span: A Comparison of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Siblings by Kimberly F. Balsam, Esther D. Rothblum, and Theodore P. Beauchaine. In it, they interviewed siblings where one was queer and the other heterosexual, and what was clearly found was that even in cases where both siblings were abused, the queer sibling had the worst of it even before they had come to accept their own identity.

Dori and I were talking about this some the other day, about how even before we know it about ourselves, there are signs of our being queer, and we tend to make friends with others who will also grow up to be queer. Unfortunately, those signs are also visible to others, and leads to that increased abuse. When nowhere is safe, we tend to develop one of two psychological conditions that go hand-in-hand together but are not mutually inclusive. On the one hand, when not even home is safe, there develops a sense that it’s hopeless, that nowhere will ever be safe, and thus we sink into depression. The other direction we can go is hypervigilance, looking out for any sign of things being unsafe and doing our best to avoid them, causing us to also avoid things that remind us of our past suffering.

Eventually, those of us who survive into adulthood reach out to others and make friends. But many of our friends don’t understand what it’s like living with that kind of pain, with these disabilities. I’ve in the past had friends deny that I have PTSD because my time in combat was not as severe as that of others. Or I’ve had friends say that they just don’t know how to deal with someone who is always in pain, wondering how I can always be somewhat depressed and still go deeper into these major depressive phases like this past one. So we struggle to find ways to explain them to others, to let them see what our experience is like, if only for a moment.

Thankfully, someone else has already done so, and we can point to that. Christine Miserandino had a friend once ask her what it’s like living with Lupus, and after struggling to explain it, the Spoon Theory was born. Now, in her case, she was speaking of Lupus, but it applies equally well to other disabilities, as I’ve discussed with a friend of mine who has bipolar. Basically, one looks at the amount of energy and emotional investment required to accomplish a task as a spoon. Those who are healthy have an almost limitless supply of spoons, while those who are sick or disabled have fewer spoons to work with.

When one is depressed, it’s like you don’t have any spoons as is, that you have to struggle to pick one up off the floor to accomplish anything. Getting out of bed takes a great deal of effort, as do cooking, eating, bathing, cleaning, and many other daily chores and experiences most take for granted. Antidepressants can help, but they can also wear off, so it may be that in the morning, it’s a struggle to do anything until they kick in, and then you’re functional until the evening when they wear off and you’re non-functional any more. Having manic phases with bipolar is like having an abnormally large amount of spoons in your hands, so much so that you keep dropping them before completing tasks (and thanks to my friend Teri for confirming that suspicion of mine). With PTSD, it’s like constantly being on guard, looking out for your spoons, trying to avoid things that can cause them to be knocked out of your hands (which is what the panic attacks brought on by being reminded of the trauma is like).

This can be applied to other illnesses and disabilities, but these are just a few. It’s important that we learn to discuss these problems and how they are for us so that we can receive proper support, not just from therapists and the like, but from each other as well. As a community, we can’t afford to be struggling with one another when we face so many threats from other areas. Only by understanding our strengths and our weaknesses can we push on, and by turning our weaknesses into strengths. This ability to speak about it is also important so that those who would be our allies, those who don’t have that same experience of suffering and pain, can begin to comprehend just what it is we struggle with.

What about you all? Is there some way you use to describe to others your own struggles? How do you make others understand when they don’t share your experience?

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