The Project

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Over 400 hours at this point, over the last 2 years.  400 hours of research that I have been doing since I got back from my trip after my graduation.  Every week, once a week going out to the lab and sitting down in front of a computer to do some sort of work towards my project.  Over 10,000 miles driven to and from home to Lab, adding up to hundreds of hours in the car.  I’ve never really questioned why I was doing it, I just knew I had to for both myself and my future. Hours now for a better life later.

It started as a project in my senior year of college, having gotten a fellowship I was allotted money to help fund my endeavors. Truth be told, it was more of a validation than a necessity to get the project off the ground.  That year flew by as I worked 12 hours a week to get it done and I did finish the preliminary project.

The real journey began after I graduated.  Expanding the project was a hassle, multiplying the work from 3 participants to 56 was no small thing.  I got help though, got to share the burden of this project with others as I both learned and fooled around with the numbers.  I didn’t realize how much of a novice I was until I was sitting in front of a computer, looking at a bunch of figures I didn’t know what to do with with a bunch of results that didn’t make sense except that I knew that I had to do them.

Wrapping my mind around these things, doing all this work outside of school, I’ve never really thought about what I would be doing instead of research.  I just knew I had to do it and so I did. I learned to ask for help. To admit when I was stuck and to bounce ideas off of others.  To stay positive even when things look bleak.

There has been a lot of self-learning, growing in ways along with frustration from lack of understanding.  Delving into areas unknown. I know that I have learned a lot from just being there, and it’s kept me going forward towards my dream.

I am nearing the end soon, the end of my time in this lab.  4 years in totality, 3 on my own project.  It will feel weird when I have gone and left, it been such a staple in my life. I’ve gone through a whole breadth of emotions there, kept coming even through depression because it was something I knew I had to do.  It will be strange when it was gone, and it feels weird now that I am reaching the finale.  I hope I leave on a high note, but at the very least I want to leave knowing that I at least did something.

My last day I imagine will be a quiet one, nothing big going on, with groups of Research Assistants working quietly in the lab.  They won’t know a thing about who I am, my generation has passed, and I will simply walk out that door, walk to my car, and drive away and maybe be remembered for what I did there one day.

I don’t know what the future holds, I just know not to waste it.

Depression

A cacophony of chemical course through the cords connecting your mind at any one moment.  At a slight imbalance our mood, perceptions, and lifestyle can be irrevocably disrupted.   We find ourselves in an endemic epidemic of the first world.  More than ever are being diagnosed with the potentially fatal condition to which there is no consensus about the proper treatment and cure. This is depression, and it’s a problem.

What you need to know is that depression not fully understood.  The brain remains a large mystery that we are still working to uncover.  It is in some ways believed that depression is linked to certain brain chemicals such as serotonin reuptake in the brain. The lack of serotonin receptors in the hippocampus (the part of the brain which helps regulate mood) making it harder to control negative moods though this is just a working theory.   The question remains why this happens in the first place. It could be life stress, an unfortunate batch of genetics, medication, chronic pain, or chronic disease. There are many other reasons as well, but it’s said that everyone in the modern world is likely to have three bouts of major depression in their lifetime.
How can something that affects so many of us not be understood?

Mental illness such as depression has plagued humanity for as long as we’ve had the words to write about it.  The problem is, the science of psychology is under 150 years old making it a relatively young science, and the biological study of the brain, neuroscience, is even younger than that.  It’s only in the last 50 years that we started to develop the technology to map the living brain.  The ability to pinpoint depression is difficult and to find a singular cause is almost impossible with the knowledge and technology we have today. Each day people are pushing forward towards the understanding depression completely and curing it quickly.

One of the big issues with studying depression and other mental illnesses starts with the diagnosis. The symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in your activities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Trouble getting to sleep or feeling sleepy during the day
  • Feelings restless and agitated, or else very sluggish and slowed down physically or mentally
  • Being tired and without energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

One of the most telling signs I’ve heard is a loss of vibrancy in the world, everything is just clouded by some sort of fog that keeps you in this negative space. From the outset, these symptoms are hard to identify in passing, which makes it even harder for people to get help.   Mostly internal feelings that have to be spoken or they will go unnoticed. This leads to fewer people being diagnosed. You may ask yourself how do you solve a problem that stems from emotions and doesn’t have a common cause?

There are some widely used methods of managing depression.If going to see a Doctor, they may prescribe you antidepressants.  Antidepressants act on the brain to increase the amount of serotonin and other brain chemicals that are diminished during depression.  They do not work immediately but taking the over the course of many days and weeks they can lead to improvement and disappearance of symptoms.  These medicines don’t work forever and should be used in conjunction with other types of therapy.  In the cases of severe depression, they may attempt to use electroconvulsive therapy as a means to reset your brain and the chemical production within.

Other less invasive methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapies concentrate on relieving people of life stressors and working to reframe moods and life events.  They work by allowing people to redefine and re-engage with life in a different way and are useful to finding the linchpins that keep you in this depressed state of mind.  Each different type of therapy comes with a different approach to the problem and finding the method and tactic that works well for you is important because it’s you who has to follow through with the changes.

These types of therapies are by no means miracles cures, they take time and effort but are ultimately still the best way of curing depression over the long hall. Each person needs something different to manage their depression so it’s important to choose the method or methods that works best for them.

I’ve made it no secret that I have experienced some form of depression in my life.  For me it came it came in the guise of a constant feeling of tired and desire to sleep all the time, a feeling of a loss of control over my environment, and feeling negative emotions (sadness, anxiety, feeling numb to life events, and crushing self-doubt) almost continuously.  Depression is not something that happens overnight but is a well you fall into over the course of many days and weeks.  The problem with mental states like these are that they change so slowly we start to accept depression as the new norm without knowing any better.  By the time we realize something may be wrong we are might be in the middle of it. It’s like having flu-like symptoms and not going to the doctor, sure you still might suffer through the flu but if you get help earlier chances are it will be shorter and not as bad in the long run.  By the time I have my second bout with depression I knew the symptoms so it was easier to recognize and make an effort to avoid the worst of it. The problem with depression is at times it takes away the motivation to act upon your life.

Like with all mental illness, there is always a social and personal stigma that people associate with having the condition. A lot of misinformation and lack of understanding has fed that fire.  There are significant efforts to destigmatize, but there is a still a ways to go.   The way I see it, if something is preventing you from being all you can be, and every day you wake up and feel worse about life there may be a problem, and regardless of how you feel about it, you should seek help, because it’s not the ‘you’ of right now but the future ‘you’ who can finally live their life outside of the cloud of depression that will thank you.  It’s okay to ask for help, no one is perfect and that’s okay, your health is more important.

If you or someone you know might be suffering from depression, reach out, sometimes it can mean the difference between life and death.  If you don’t know where you can get help, start with the basics, go to a doctor or trained licensed psychologist for a consultation. If those options are not readily available, consider.
Talk Space or Better Help: These services offer online and mobile messaging of therapists allowing you to get in contact with help at any time of the day.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, thoughts of doing something drastic or know someone who does call the national or a local suicide hotline or visit their website.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line
National Suicide Prevention Website
International Suicide Prevention Website

Depression is not a life sentence, it can be helped, it can be managed, and it can be cured. You have the power, you can make that change, you can beat this. Good Luck.