Q & A: How can I stop my depression from making my grades worse and making me less motivated to have success?

I feel your pain – that’s exactly the route I took, and it sucks. I’m sorry you’re going through this. My answer may get a little long. Bear with me, I’ll answer your question.

There are two types of “depression” – I really wish we’d rename one of them so people wouldn’t get confused. There’s being depressed – lower case “d”. That’s a case of the blues. Everyone gets it. Typically it’s caused because something happened – it’s situational. Someone close to you dies, you break up with your girlfriend, you blow a test, whatever. Especially around the holidays lots of people get depressed. If you’re depressed working out helps you feel better. Someone saying “Hey guy, look on the bright side. Tough this out, things are going to get better!” makes sense. You know in your heart that yeah, even though things suck now, eventually it’s going to swing the other way.

Then there’s the other type of depression. Capital D “Clinical Depression”. This isn’t caused by a situation, though something bad happening can certainly make it worse. Clinical Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. When I’m Depressed, if someone tells me to “look on the bright side” I really want to punch them. I get even more Depressed because I can’t. Working out is out of the question. When I’m Depressed I can barely move, and when I do it hurts. In fact it feels like a combination of lead and lava. I couldn’t go to school, and when I did I couldn’t concentrate. This followed me for years. It was easy for me to get jobs, but I lost every one of them because of this. I came very close to graduating college – I even got through my student teaching – but in the end I couldn’t make it because of the Depression.

If you’re dealing with Clinical Depression, I don’t need to tell you it’s complicated. You already know that. Do you have anyone around you who will actually listen to you? Any authority figure will do – a relative, a religious leader, a teacher, school counselor… anyone? You need a pro to help you figure out what’s going on, and that means getting to a psychiatrist.

Incidentally some people don’t know what the difference is between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. So just to explain – a psychologist is a therapist. They help identify your thought process and then try to give you tools to use when things get rough. A psychiatrist is an MD (among other things). Clinical Depression is caused by a physical problem, which just happens to affect the way you think. A psychiatrist can help identify what may be out of balance, and can prescribe meds that might help.

There’s a lot you can work out on your own, but it looks like you’ve gone that route already, and you’ve taken it as far as you can. Track down someone who will really listen to you, and see if you can get in to see a psychiatrist for an initial diagnosis. You may have to see your regular doctor first – it’s a tedious process. Be as patient as you can.

If you are diagnosed with Clinical Depression, hang on to that patience with both hands. You’ll need as much as you can get. The psychiatrist will start out with a combo of drugs, depending on what they think is wrong. It takes time for any psychiatric drug to take effect, and even then, the effect may not be what you wanted. This is a long, drawn-out process (did I mention this sucks?) before you get the specific combo that works best for you. Keep the lines of communication as open as you can, count to 10 as often as you have to. You’ll also need to work with a psychologist to mentally get to a better place – the two of them work together.

One other thing, and again I’m basing all this on a lot of “ifs”. If you can talk to a psychiatrist, if you are diagnosed with Clinical Depression and if you do start taking meds, be sure to ask what the side effects are of those meds. And try not to freak out. Most doctors are very reluctant to discuss the side effects of psych meds with patients, because they sound so bad that most patients refuse to take them. Almost all of them slow down your metabolism, and many of them lead to weight gain. I’m mentioning this up front because you talked about working out in your question. If you already have enough discipline to work out, really all you need to do is maintain that. The worst thing you can do on psych drugs is to slow down or stop moving. The weight will really pack on quick. If you stay as active as you can you’ll hopefully be that much ahead of the game.

If you’re able to get back on an even keel, hopefully your motivation will be restored and your grades will bounce back. Right now, stay focused on your health. Classes can be taken over if it comes down to that. (still sucks). What’s so cool about your question is that you’re asking it in the 10th grade. I wish to God I had your forethought! Catching it now means all your opportunities are still ahead of you. Focus on you, get this straightened out, consider this the finest investment in your future you’ll ever make.

I wish you all the best.


Q & A: Do you ever feel like you’re leading a double life by keeping your depression diagnosis from your friends?

GREAT question!! Totally fabulous.

I was initially diagnosed Bipolar I. And for a while I thought I’d keep it to myself. My neighbors already knew I was the lady with the hair-trigger temper. I’m the one they all talk about anyway. Why make it worse?

But then I thought hey! Why am I leading this double life? Aren’t we all adults? Why not tell them? Then they’d know that I’m ill. Maybe they’ll sympathize and we can start a constructive dialogue!

OMG, I totally crack myself up!

Yeah, I told them. In fact, I made it a policy for a while to tell everyone. Hell, I’d tell strangers in the street! I told my family, my friends, I posted it on Facebook, and certainly I told my neighbors.

Here’s what happened.

With my family it was almost immediate. I instantly transformed from “The Bitch” into “The Scapegoat”. No matter what the argument / problem was about, it was my fault. Why? I was DIAGNOSED! With a MENTAL ILLNESS! Case closed. It didn’t matter who started what, what they said, how they behaved or even what the point was. It all came down to me because I was officially crazy.  And if I wasn’t blamed, I was dismissed.  I could offer any suggestion, fact, theory.  You name it.  I might as well have been talking to myself.  What could I know about it?  I’m crazy!

Most of my friends vanished, as well as my extended family. Of the few who remain I can trust three of them. The rest (especially my cousins!) treat me with pity and only deal with me because it’s their “Christian Duty”. Is that worse than being The Bitch? Arg.

And then there’s my neighbors. Their idea of a constructive dialogue is to avoid me completely. To the point where if they see me coming they’ll actually turn and go the other direction. I went from being the loudmouth with the temper to a complete social pariah.

I STRONGLY recommend the double life.

Q & A: What is it like to take a semester off college because of depression?

The way I was raised, college was a given. The only person who wasn’t convinced was me. I mean, yeah, it made sense, but I wasn’t sure I really wanted this. But my parents just thought it was Freshman jitters, and off I went. This resulted in my first suicide attempt. I should have put my foot down and stayed home until I was emotionally ready to do this.  Isn’t hindsight wonderful?

That being said, when I did finally take time off, going back was much harder than I thought it would be. My heart just wasn’t in it the second time ‘round, and my grades reflected that. I knew something was really REALLY wrong, but I had no idea what, so I couldn’t communicate it to anyone else in a way that made sense. I didn’t try to kill myself this time, but I didn’t go back after my second year either. Of course, I wasn’t diagnosed at that time, so my family couldn’t figure out if I was just that lazy, or just a loser. I think they settled for “she’s a bit of both”.

Emotional limbo

I feel SO weird. Maybe this is “normal” depression? I dunno – probably wouldn’t recognize anything normal if it bit my bum. But yesterday was certainly a day to tell the grandkids about.

Anyone following these silly notes knows that Denver, the Queen City of the Plains, has apparently moved several hundred miles to the east. Without telling anyone. Our June weather cycle would be perfectly normal if we were in the center of tornado alley. But we’re not. Denver is the absolute westernmost edge of the alley, and since moving here 30 OMG years ago, I can only recall one tornado ever hitting metro. It was an exciting day – it took out a Blockbuster! I’m very fond of that tornado.

Anyway, it’s been 25 days now, and Denver has a permanent crick in the neck from gazing anxiously into the sky. Hail, tornados, pelting rain, driving wind, we’ve had it in spades. I’m not sure what’s worse – the day 5 tornados hit, pelting us with hail during the People’s Fair, or yesterday. No, I tell a lie. Yesterday was worse. We got about an inch and a half of rain in about 20 minutes. That caused a local flood of about 3 feet, and somehow my house was dead center of all that. In about a 3 mile radius we were completely submerged. Streets buckled, houses flooded, cars turned into islands, hail piled up in drifts measured in feet (my stairs had hail drifts half way to my knees).

Today? Day 25 of more of the same.

That would be funky enough, though I’ve seen weather like that before. But it’s coupled with a really odd, weird and somewhat incomprehensible piece of news. Michael Jackson died yesterday. So, for that matter, did Farrah Fawcett. Farrah I’m almost relieved for. The poor thing was eaten up with cancer and it had to be hell being her. But Michael Jackson? THE Michael Jackson?

Let me tell you about Michael Jackson, and how he saved my life.

When I was 17 I joined Amigos de las Americas. Bad move. I barely knew Spanish, and yet I decided I was going to go to Mexico for a few months in the summer and dig latrines. No, seriously. The best thing that came out of that trip is that I learned I’m really hard to kill. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I lived in a teeny tiny village called Sous de Guzman. No electricity. No running water. No pavement. Very little hope. But incredibly sweet people. Our alcalde was 19 years old and just about the oldest guy in the village. Which is why we were there – they kept dying off because of the dreadful living conditions. We were trying to help.



Twice, while I was there, we went into the nearest city to buy supplies and whatnot. And while I was there I saw Thriller. We didn’t have a record player, of course. But it was so cheap it was nearly free – I snatched it up and carried it home like a prize diamond.

Then, I started to get sick. Really sick. Except there was no doctor, and no way out. So to keep myself distracted, I focused on my new album. I looked at each track and sang what I remembered in my head. The sicker I got the more the music mattered. There was one in particular, a song called “Human Nature”. I don’t know why that one made such a big impression, but I put it on a mental loop and sang it over and over in my head.

Of course I had typhoid. I made it to a Mexican hospital where they put me in isolation. I don’t know how long I was there, but it seemed a very long time. To keep myself amused, I sang the songs from Thriller. Did it save my life? I don’t know. Maybe. It made an unberable situation slightly better. That music was my only companion through the whole thing.

Now Michael’s dead. And I’m far more upset that I thought I’d be, which is pretty selfish. His life was such a bizarre thing, this is probably the first peace he’s known in perphaps decades. Thing is, I just can’t imagine a world without him. I remember where I was when Elvis died, but I didn’t care. I remember where I was when Lennon died. I was upset, but I didn’t understand. But this? This sucks.

Anyway, the emotions are decidedly bizarre today. And once again Denver is looking to the sky, and waiting.