May 16th 2010 01:43 pm

Depression

Depression

Is anyone’s life free of stains? Not mine; in reflection, I turn up the rug and all that’s been spilled over the years has dried in accusing layers. My house is dirty. I have not kept it well.

Of course, this is a conceit. My viewpoint is a choice and, like most depressives’, it evidences a strange sort of narcissism. Woe is me, etc. It is a viewpoint that feeds on itself too–that recognizes its own conceit as further evidence of the dirty house, of the general worthlessness of the beholder. Self-knowledge does not necessarily improve the depressive illness.

And illness it is. I take medication to improve the serotonin levels in my brain. Serotonin is a chemical that we know a lot about and nothing about at the same time. It has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome and regulates a variety of cardiovascular and endocrine functions, muscles, and breast milk production. According to WebMD, “Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior.” Clearly, if there’s something wrong with my serotonin, it would explain a lot.

Except, like most advances in science, the more we learn, the more we realize how little we know. There is no way to measure serotonin levels in the brain or even to be certain exactly how increasing serotonin levels affects mood. Scientists aren’t sure if reduced serotonin levels cause depression or the other way around. One theory holds that a suppression of brain cells from stress causes depression. The theory suggests that increased serotonin in the brain stimulates the growth of brain cells and that these new cells are what mitigate depression, not the medication itself.

It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. My current depressive illness has something to do with stress, which I don’t handle well, but also with shock. The triggering event itself is not important to this post, but I am in deep grief and shock and this has triggered a downward spiral of emotions. I must have killed off or suppressed quite a few cells to feel so uninspired by the world around me. Suddenly all the stains are visible: layers of them.

I’ve been here before. It will pass. I’m exercising more, practicing yoga breathing, distracting myself. It’s the AA way–fake it ’til you make it. Last night my son had some friends over and I busied myself driving for pizza, taking my stepdaughter to work and back, ferrying about. All their conversations were animated, excited. They barrel forward toward an uncertain future with their brain cell factories at full production and they are high on the serotonin of youth, the dance of friendship, the courtship of possibilities. I could learn something. My son, after dropping a pizza slice on his shirt, exclaimed to his friend, “That’s gonna stain!” And with that they took off laughing, grabbing a broom to sweep their treehouse.

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