When I sprained my knee recently, I knew that I would be vulnerable to depression in my recovery because exercise has been my most effective tool in coping with this mood disorder. I had major depression for seventeen years and tried many treatment strategies, including multiple medications, many therapists and even a short spell with inpatient treatment. Back then, I knew that moderate exercise was a good treatment for depression, but I lacked the energy to stick with exercising for long enough to see results. These attempts at getting active reminded me much of the dilemma posed by Will Farrell when he played a nude artist’s model on a SNL skit, “A guy can’t sell his blood cause he’s got hepatitis, but he can’t afford hepatitis medicine unless he sells his blood.”
I believe that depression and shame are bedfellows, but I do not feel shame about many of the errors and embarrassments of my past, so I suppose that shame in the present tense is part of depression’s arsenal. The things that provoke shame during depression are often mistakes that would be judged as trivial or laughable if committed by a person who was not depressed. For instance, I never learned to use a microfilm reader because I was too ashamed to admit to any librarian that I didn’t know how to use one. Once the shame belongs to the past, I can readily admit what I did or failed to do. I figure these admissions are the least I can do for humanity, to show that I too have failed but survived. Like Whitman, I am not afraid to admit, “What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me.”
With that aside, I will admit what caused me to break free from the cycle of being too depressed to maintain an exercise regimen that would fight my depression. I had been on welfare for six years and was able to climb from severe to moderate depression because I was treated for depression with medication and therapy during that entire time. I had been denied for disability because, according to the powers that be, it was not impossible for me to find employment through the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (BVR). The BVR judged that it was unlikely that I could keep a job without accomodations made for my depression. Next my welfare ran out before my case could be fully worked by the BVR, and I was stuck in the twilight of being disabled enough to qualify for BVR services but not disabled enough to stay on welfare. I had little choice but to apply for jobs in earnest despite the potential for failure and the dim likelihood that anyone would want to hire me with a six year gap in my employment record.
Six months later, I found a job during the pit of the Recession, and it required that I walk several miles during each shift. I also weighed 260 pounds and had no car. With my daughter’s future depending on me, I went to work and incidentally did the walking I needed to keep my depression at bay. I bought a $100 car with my first paycheck, and I am still grateful to have that job.
I hope that my knee heals soon so I can get back to the amount of exercise I need to keep from slipping back into the abyss. In the eight years that have passed since I recovered from the era of the worst of my depression, I hope that more effective medications and treatments have been developed to treat this disease.