Since it’s the Thanksgiving holidays, most of us are with our families or friends. For some, though, the holidays are hard. There you are, surrounded by joyful family and/or friends, and yet, you’re still depressed. What’s wrong with you? You wonder. The answer is… absolutely nothing is wrong with you!
Depression Doesn’t Discriminate.
Depression has no preferences as to race, religion, sex, ethnicity or how much money you have hidden away in (ahem) offshore accounts. It does not pick and choose. It just is. Sometimes depression is simply an imbalance in a certain chemical that is affecting your mood.
Imagine a pitching neurotransmitter in your brain is responsible for throwing a certain chemical across a synapse (the space between two neurotransmitters) to a catching neurotransmitter on the other side, but the pitching neurotransmitter doesn’t wait for the catcher’s signal. Then it’s all bobbly fingers on the catcher’s end because he wasn’t ready for the pitch.
Magnify that by a couple thousand, thousand, thousand or so. Now imagine a whole stadium full of catchers trying desperately to hold onto their pitched chemicals, but the pitched chemicals are slippery little devils, and don’t stay in the catcher’s gloves, and you’ve got your scenario. All hell’s breaking loose up in there, chemicals are just flying around. Neurotransmitters are bonking each other in the head, and going the wrong way down one way synapses – and you’re feeling it all in the pit of your stomach.
The ball got away from the catcher.
To break it down, here’s what happens: the chemical serotonin, a “feel good” chemical, gets “thrown” from one neurotransmitter in your brain across a synapse to another neurotransmitter, and that second neurotransmitter is supposed to catch the serotonin and enclose it in much the same way a catchers mitt closes around a pitcher’s ball when he pitches it. The serotonin is supposed to stay in the “catcher’s mitt” for a certain amount of time for you to get the benefit of the good feeling it’s there to provide. But sometimes, the serotonin pops out of the “catcher’s mitt” much too soon because the neurotransmitter that’s supposed to have caught the serotonin couldn’t quite hold on to it because he wasn’t prepared. Next thing you know, Pop! goes the weasel, and the serotonin pops up. Quick as a flash, the brain re-uptakes the serotonin and takes it away to somewhere in a land far, far away – or to your GI (gastrointestinal) tract as that is where, oddly enough, 90% of your serotonin is. It’s the other 10% that’s peeing in your cornflakes and making you all weepy.
Anyway, as a result, you’re left feeling depressed because you didn’t get the full benefit of your serotonin bath. Many anti-depressant medications are called SSRIs, which stands for “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.” SSRIs prevent the brain from snatching the serotonin out of the “catcher’s mitt” too soon. They slow down the process of re-uptake by the brain so we feel better because now the chemical, is staying where it’s supposed to, and for the amount of time it’s supposed to in order to make you feel good.
Pass the drumstick, please.
This chemical baseball game is not something you have control over. And guess what else? According to Wikipedia, serotonin is biochemically derived from tryptophan, and isn’t turkey supposed to be chock full of tryptophan? So fill up your plate with Grandma’s deep fried turkey, and hope some of the 90% of serotonin that’s in your gut gets filled up with turkey tryptophan and overflows, and the rest gets pushed right back up into your brain. Don’t quote me on that because just between me and you, I don’t think that’s how it works – but who knows? To paraphrase Shakespeare: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of than turkey in your brain.
Give yourself a pat on the back.
You’re not a bad person for feeling down amidst all the celebration and camaraderie. You just happen to have the bad luck of having a screwed up chemical stew in your brain. Or maybe you’re just having a bad day and there’s nothing screwy about your stewy. Either way, give yourself a break.
You are a good person. You have to be if you’re putting up with all the extended family members and not throwing Aunt Martha’s cornbread stuffing at cousin Elbert while screaming “I hate you, I hate you all!” (You didn’t do that, did you?) Ahh well, even if you did, what’s a few bread crumbs amongst family.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone,
I am not a mental health professional. I just happen to suffer from mental illness myself. My advice and stories are not meant to be used in a professional capacity. If you feel you are going to harm yourself or others, please call 911 or go to the emergency room for immediate help. I care.