Understanding and Living With Depression
I suffer from long-term depression. It first made itself known to me during my pregnancy, some twenty-two years ago, when I experienced twenty-four hour morning (are you kidding?) sickness for over six months, which slowly ate away at my mental well-being to the extent that I felt both dehumanized and trapped by the condition. I can describe the feeling now as being in a dark tunnel, seeking out the light at the end but not being able to see nor reach it.
I used to call out to God for help in my despair, to loved ones that had passed on, always hoping that they would somehow hear my cries and appear to me in my hour of need - somehow the spiritual world seemed kinder to me then than the mortal one. I'd look at the television and feel envious of the people on the screen - how could everything be so normal outside of me- myself and my ailment? It was as though the world had changed color, had lost its vibrancy and everything in it had somehow become tainted with my pain.
Feeling so ill during pregnancy was, of course, something I couldn’t have foreseen or done anything to prevent I'm told but, at the time, I felt as though I was being punished for some terrible sin I had committed earlier in life. What made it worse was the 'oh so kind' dismissal of “It’s only pregnancy”. Somehow that compounded things into an almost tangible package of misery that I felt I had to burden alone, albeit nicely wrapped up in my guilt! After all, there were people with real illnesses out there and, of course, mine would end in nine months wouldn’t it?
I tell this tale to you because none of us know if or when depression will happen to us and, when it does, we all too often feel that we are the only ones experiencing the depths of its intrusion. We find it hard to empathize with those close to us whose lives it also affects and, if we do, the realization simply adds to our own guilt-ridden misery. I’m aware that I’m not sugar coating this article, which may be construed as a mistake by some readers, but it’s one I’m prepared to take if it helps in understanding that, as a sufferer of depression, you are certainly not alone or, as a friend or loved one of someone who is suffering, then endeavoring to sweeten the situation with phrases such as "come on now, things aren’t that bad" or, even worse, "pull yourself together" in the hope of lightening their mood is prone to do more harm than good. It’s rather like telling someone in a wheelchair to “walk a few steps instead of just sitting there”. Just because we can’t see depression, doesn’t mean that it isn’t holding someone down.
There’s no easy way to cope with depression - I wish I could say that there was. I can only speak from my own experiences of the condition and of a routine that works for me and that, hopefully, may be of help to you, or someone you care for.
Firstly, and I say this wholeheartedly, do NOT be afraid to see a doctor. They may not always give you the listening time you feel you need but sometimes (controversial as this may be to write) a prescription can work wonders. In my case, Prozac was quite literally a life-saver, as I had reached rock bottom. Long term depression can have many deep troughs and I was definitely in one when I conceded to seek medical help. Within a few days, I began to feel better! By this I mean more in control and, surprisingly, more positive. It’s strange, but I just woke up one morning feeling mentally lighter and, suddenly, getting out of my bed wasn’t such a chore. I’m told, by the way, that Prozac and other similar serotonin promoting medications can take several weeks to work, so don’t expect overnight miracles if you’re prescribed them.
Another word of warning: please don’t try to take medical matters into your own hands by ordering prozac (or other antidepressants) online. It may not be the right medication for you and sometimes other interventions, such as counseling, are required to get you out of the slump, so make that appointment please!
Secondly, and this is so important: Allow yourself to feel miserable! This may sound absurd. After all, if we allow ourselves to concede to our condition then how can we beat it? The simple answer here is that sometimes we just can’t. If you’re a long-time sufferer then you’ll know that constantly fighting our depression is exhausting and can all too often intensify our feelings of worthlessness and despair. So, instead of battling, not only your depression but your guilt too, try this. Admit to yourself and to others that you feel depressed. Don’t struggle with it. Accept it as part of who you are right now. Don’t be afraid to indulge yourself with whatever might take the edge off ever so slightly. Think of all those things in life that have brought comfort and immerse yourself in them. For example, if rice pudding is something you associate with comfort and recovery then make a rice pudding for yourself to enjoy - the simple activity of making it will provide a therapy in itself. If watching a particular movie has always made you feel good then put it on whilst you eat your rice pudding, and so on. You are allowing yourself to be a patient and you are, in effect, nursing yourself back to health. You have just become your own best therapist by listening to your mind and your body and letting them lead the way to your recovery.
If you’re a friend or a loved one, then you can provide valuable support simply by not continually pushing, but by keeping a watchful and loving eye on the sufferer and letting them know that you are happy to help with their recovery in whatever way is best for them. This second stem of self-help, coupled with medical expertise (as mentioned above) can, over time, significantly diminish, if not completely remove, the symptoms of depression.
Thirdly, there eventually comes a time when you need to give yourself that push! The push that will get you back into the world again, little by little - bit by bit! For me it began with a stroll around the garden picking some flowers for the house. For a friend of mine it started with a walk down the lane to have her hair styled. It can be as big or as small as it needs to be, providing that it’s a definitive first step towards ‘getting back your life’. Regardless of size however, it has to be something that’s hard for you to do, or it simply won’t be worthwhile. After all, doing the easy thing would be to stay in with those movies and rice puddings but life goes on and, when the cobwebs have cleared a little, then it’s time to brush them away and walk forward.
Baby steps are to be commended. Try a trip to the corner shop as a first challenge, a short journey in the car or a walk around the block. Whatever you do, the most important thing of all is that you get washed and dressed and get out there. One of the biggest blocks to recovery in depression is its ability to separate us from society and to make us feel like hiding away from it. Face the world again and your depression will take yet another step backwards whilst you step further forwards.
Every day is a new challenge and should be treated as such. Remember to reward yourself for each new step you take and not to punish yourself for those that couldn’t be taken. After all, tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities. And, just knowing that you’re not alone in the darkness can make all the difference - the difference between being blinded by your depression and being able to see ahead once more as you walk towards the light with those who love you by your side.