Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sadness vs. Depression By Grant

     So I don't often garner a guest spot on the Blog but I have been thinking about this subject for sometime and this felt like a good medium to offer my thoughts on the subject.  First let me say that this is not going to be a clinical explanation of the subject but rather a very personal look into my journey through a tough and often misunderstood illness.  This post, I hope, will not be as long as it seems in my mind.  I hope you will stick with it and maybe receive some insight that may have eluded you in the past  I also ask for some care as these thoughts can be deeply personal to me and therefore very sensitive to my well being. 

      First let me say that I do not suffer from depression, I am Bipolar.  Why the distinction.  People that suffer from Bipolar often suffer depression, however the depression that a Bipolar person suffers and that of someone who is clinically depressed are very different.  While the depressive episodes can seem the same from the outside the reasons and triggers can be vastly different  Thus they are treated clinically in different ways.  So what is sadness and how does it relate to depression  or does it?

     Lets try an analogy of sorts.  Do you or someone you know suffer from migraines?  These are in their root a headache of sorts but the result can often be entirely debilitating to the one that suffers.  So with that in mind a person that suffers from chronic migraines is often faced with others who make the same claim.   In your heart you know that as they describe their "migraine"  that they really don't have any idea what a true migraine feels like.  They just like the use of the word for various reasons.(Maybe to get more sympathy?)  Anyway the term "migraine" becomes interchangeable in regards to just a bad headache.  So it is with sadness and depression. This needs to stop or we will never be able to grasp an understanding for those who suffer the greater "migraine" or "depression".

     Sadness: affected by unhappiness or grief; sorrowful or mournful:  This definition gives light to a feeling that we have all experienced at some point in our lives.  Some of the major influences may be things like the loss of a job or maybe the devastating tragic loss of a loved one to expected or unexpected death.  The key to understanding sadness verses depression is that sadness has a root cause with an eventual or gradual recovery from the cause.  At some point the sadness may feel overwhelming but there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Eventually we begin to return to a state of equilibrium, if you please, in which we can begin to experience normal life.  This gradual return is different for all and may vary due to the circumstance but it does come back eventually un aided.  We begin to get back to a normal routine of life.

     Depression:  sad and gloomy; dejected or downcast.  While this may be the definition in the dictionary is scarcely does it justice.  I guess the part that has to be defined and understood most is that there is no physical outward cause of clinical depression.  This concept becomes instrumental in our understanding of clinical depression or even Bipolar.  There is NO outward or environmental cause they just are.  This is due to a chemical inbalance in the brain.  The lack of production of certain chemicals with in the brain allow the brain to become "stuck"!  This is hard to describe for those that have not experienced it personally.  I will share some personal experience to help illustrate my point.

     First let me try to describe to you the three sensations that I experience as part of my depressive episodes.  They are Despair, Anxiety, and Pain.  To begin you must understand that these sensations and episodes come from a very illogical and unreasonable sense of ones self.  They can not be quantified or reasoned with through conventional understanding.

     So lets start with despair.  I will start by stating that I have never felt that there is or has ever been an adequate way to express this feeling in words, but I will try.  I will begin by describing some train of thought that I experience in dealing with the ups and downs of my Bipolar.  Remember though that although these thoughts are present they are not in themselves the cause of the illness they are in fact bi products of an illness, the chemical imbalance described earlier.  So it is with my depressive episodes it starts with a very irrational thought process that begins the fall into an irrational, overwhelming sense of despair.  Let me explain.  Imagine yourself lying on your back in the center of a great black abyss.  While you float effortlessly on your back you are turned upwards towards the sun and an ever apparent blue and beautiful blue sky.  You are content even happy.  But imagine that for no fault of your own you begin to sink back into that abyss.  You are helpless to stop it.  It just starts.  So you fall uncontrollably until the light at the top is but a pin point of light in some far off distant memory.  The fall is different each time, it may be quick and sudden or gradual.  Either way the feeling of falling becomes so intense a great anxiety starts to arise.  Even though you grope in the dark for a ledge or handle to stop yourself you can't.  The singular thought begins to surface, that if you should reach the bottom the abyss will suck away your very will to live.

     The anxiety can only be described in this way to me.  Imagine yourself cave diving.  You know those crazy people that not only like to explore caves but they have to do it while underwater as well.  Crazy, I know.  But imagine yourself if you can being in one of these caves exploring.  You come upon a tunnel so tight that you have to remove you oxygen tanks and put them before you as you squeeze your body through the small opening.  If you are not experiencing an overwhelming sense of terror or panic just imagine then you are stuck.  There is no hope of freedom, there is only the sound of your breathing into a scuba regulator and the stark reality that soon you will run out of air and there is nothing you can do but breathe your last breath.  So imagine that feeling and then multiply it and you will get the sense of what it is like to fall from rational, reasonable thought into that abyss as described. Again knowing that the only exit that seems reasonable, as all the light in you life is snuffed out, is the very end of life itself.  Many that have been "touched" by the bottom bare the scares both physically and emotionally of both successful and unsuccessful suicide.

    Lets talk for a minute about the pain.. Many don't realize that there is a very physical manifestation of depression in the form of intense pain.  This is where words become inadequate to describe the intensity of such pain.  The only thing I can say is that it is all consuming.  It hurts deep down in the very marrow of the bone.  There is no escape.  There is no respite in pain killers or other forms of treatment.  It simply exists as if to torment both body and mind.  It is forever consuming that it serves to help in blocking out the light.

     Now remember there is no outward cause.  There is no logical explanation or reason for it, it just starts the fall.  It is to be said thought for those that have experienced this depth of despair, anxiety and pain, that they become more sensitive or even aware of some of the irrational thought patterns that are associated with the fall.  For me it is easy, however painfully obvious how it starts at times. 

     Disappointment.  As I often experience the ups and downs of my Bipolar, I become painfully aware of my weakness in the instability of the illness.  Remember there is no reasonable explanation.  These moments of instability are there due to the internal imbalance.  There is no cure just treatment.  So where does disappointment come from?  It begins in the deep recesses of my mind, as I become aware that things seem hopelessly out of my control.  For some seemingly rational reason to me I become disappointed in myself.  This is the seed of my fall.  This self deluding thought then lays seed to the idea that if disappointment comes from inside it must come from others as well.  I start to see in others their deep, disapproving disappointment in me.  It becomes all consuming.  I even begin to feel that there is no place for me in the lives of others, that there is nothing of worth to give or attribute.  So you reseed into the abyss willingly, that you become numb to the anxiety and pain of the fall that you even welcome it.  Thus you simple exist, somewhere in the depth you just are.

     So why has the reason for this post suddenly become important to me.  It is because I have felt a slip.  An ever apparent slip into the void of depression.  It was there and it terrifies me.  I become withdrawn and with out word to describe the feeling or even why I begin to feel as I do.  It is just there, drawing closer.  I don't know what will become of it.  How far will it go this time?  Is it just a moment that will pass or am I "stuck" in my hole breathing the last of my oxygen.  It is the unknown that terrifies me the most.

Grant Kramer


  1. Thank you for your candid sharing and soul bearing. In some ways I feel like I am a blind person who is being given a description of the color blue. I want to understand, but and in some ways think I might have a piece of it, but I am not sure I really do. So sorry you have to deal with this and I wish I could help you in some way. I do want you to know I love you and your family as my own.

  2. Thank you for this blog. I just wanted you to know that you do mean a whole lot to me and my family ( as does the rest of your family). You will always have a place here whenever you need it. You also have lots to give and we do appreciate it when you do. I have always admired your teaching ability when you have subbed for someone. You have a place and a worth in the lives of those who love and need you. Hang in there we're with you every step of the way.