Depression - My personal experience
Depression - A personal story
Years ago, on my personal blog, I wrote a piece called, "Depression - Reaching out from the dark". It was, more or less, a piece I wrote as I was coming out of a long, work and finance caused, depressive 'bout. And at that time, was the worst that I had ever been through.
Looking back on that story now, I decided to write a new piece about how I have come along since then. And I do think I have made some personal strides in the last five years. So I think that I will use this medium, this time, to share some of these revelations with you.
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What is Depression - To Me
Yes... I know the clinical meaning of depression. I am very familiar with it as I have lived with it for some time. But the personal meaning and what effect that has on me is something different entirely. I am sure that anyone reading this, who has suffered moderate to extreme depressive bouts will know what I am talking about. It is something personal that you feel.
As I wrote in my first piece, I have fought episodes of depression since I was in High School. Most of the time I fought them off pretty successfully. But there were moments that I could not get the upper hand. Back then, as a guy, you did not talk to people about these things. If you were to talk to someone, like say a coach, then you would be told something like, "Walk it off!", or "Go hit the weights for a while, you'll get over it!" and lastly, my personal favorite, "Go out and get yourself a girlfriend, she'll take your depression away!"
I will not say that their suggestions were bad, or entirely wrong. It was a case where, in the mid 1980s, people just were not looking at what depression was, how to work with non-adults that were suffering it and I do not think they were recognizing that this was something that someone, especially a student, in High School, should be suffering.
This is not to say that depression was not prevalent in school when I was in, it was most certainly there. In fact, I had two friends commit suicide while I was in school, and another shortly after graduation. Thinking about it now, some of their issues were not much worse that mine, so the fact that they took the suicide route hits that much closer to home, since that could have been me.
Through my life, I have learned to identify the markers that tell me that I have a bout starting, and I have learned to start building up the defenses in advance, to stage a battle with it when it arives.
You see, I have learned, over the years, to see Depression as an approaching enemy and I am here defending the gates to my mental Citadel. In that Citadel is everything that keeps me sane and who I am, and I will not allow that force to break through the walls. Does that sound a little "Lord of the Rings" to you? It should, because truth be told, that is where I originally got the idea. Thanks it large part to my mother.
Before we go further, this is where I need to stop for a moment and tell you that I am not a mental health professional. Any advice, suggestions or ideas that you get here should be discussed with a professional in this field. Every case of depression is unique, and what may work for me, might not work for you. Please discuss these things with your mental health professional or a doctor. If you are on medication, please do not read into any part of this that you should stop. Any and all medication that you are on was prescribed for a reason and most anti-depressants will have nasty side effects if you stop taking them without a doctor giving you a step-down program.
That being said... let's move on.
Why do we get depressed?
From my own experience, the cause of my depression is mostly me.
I know there are cases where the problem is more external and internal, but since I have no practical experience with those, I have to go with what I know. And that is my own personal experiences with Depression.
For me, a depressive bout starts with something that might get me down. For example, the fact that I try so hard to get my writing out there and known, yet after so many years, I really have a small readership (no, that is not a plea for readers.) This can, and has, acted as a catalyst to start the process for me.
From there, if I am already starting to go down, I will start dwelling on all the other bad in my life. Finances, Friends, etc... they all start to play a roll in the downward spiral and if I do nothing to get myself out of it at this point, then it will only get worse.
For other people, the problem can be any number of things, from an injury, to PTSD, to a romance gone awry. Whatever the cause, depression is something unique to each person. What causes you to have an episode may have no effect on me. You may get depressed from watching an episode of Little House on the Prairie because it reminds you of a time when you and your family used to sit on the floor on Sunday nights and watch it, and you long for those times. Or it may not have any reason to come on at all. Simple a set of emotions right out of the blue.
I have found that when I speak to doctors about this, it seems like each one will tell me something else about what they think the root cause of Depression is. The most common response, by far, tends to be that it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. I can agree with this in part, but I think that there is also a good portion that we, ourselves, have control over and is environmental. For example, when I am doing things that I know are good for my body and mind, like eating well, exercising and writing, I tend to feel more upbeat and less prone to having a Depressive bout.
Conversely, when I let myself go and do not keep up on my writing or eat crappy food, then I tend to notice that it is harder for me to stay positive and happy, and so it is easier to start going down into that funk again.
While you will hear me tell you, the reader, time and again that no matter what you read here, consult your doctor before you do anything, one thing I will tell you to do that I am sure all doctors will agree with, is to eat healthy. There is something about eating a good meal, that is good for you, that does seem to help the mind. I know it does for me, and from what I have read, it seems to be the same for others.
No... You are not crazy
When I was first diagnosed with Depression, one of the first things I worried about was my sanity. I had somehow convinced myself that by suffering from depression, I was not on some secret list that marked me as a crazy person, or as someone that could not be trusted to operate firearms or heavy machinery.
While I am certain that there are people out there that suffer from chronic depression and that ARE classified, in some way, shape or form, as "Crazy", simply by being Depressed does not by itself qualify you. It just means that there are times you should not try to be a motivational speaker or work at the crisis hotline to help others.
There is also a stigma that seems to be attached to people that suffer Depression. From my personal experience it has been the people that feel sorry for you and take the attitude of, "Oh... poor baby." And while I am sure that those people have all the best of intentions, I have to tell you... you are no help. I will talk about this more later.
But the main point here is that if you suffer from this, you are not abnormal. You, like me, need to find something that inspires you or guides you out of the bout.
Things that do not help me...
People misunderstand Depression and think it is just a case of being down, or in a bad mood, or just blue. Because of these misunderstandings, people try to offer the wrong responses or help to make us feel better. As I said early, when I was in high school, the general attitude was to tell me to "suck it up and move on." This is fine advice if you, say, botch the winning touchdown at the homecoming game. But not so much when you are in a Depressive Funk.
For me, here are a list of things that just do not work for me and are likely to cause me to lash out at you or a loved one:
"Cheer up, it will get better."
"Get over it."
"It could always be worse."
"I know how you are feeling."
"I've been there before."
"When you're down and out, lift up your head and shout..."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
For the sake of time, I am stopping there, but you get the point. For me, and I am sure for others, it is not a matter of being in a state that you just need to "get over". There is a place that you go, in my case, that needs a process to get out of. And people that say these things are not helping, even though their intentions are, in large part, good... they tend to yield the opposite results.
For those of you that know a person that suffers depression, the very best thing you can do is just BE there for them. Tell them something like, "Hey, if you need me, I am here for you." Many times that is all we need. To know that there is someone that will be there when we emerge from these bouts. And if you do tell us something like, "If you need to talk, I am here." For G-d's sake, be there when they do start talking and then shut up. Unless we ASK you a question, just listen. Many times that is all we need.
In my case, if I start talking to you, and you just listen, you have already done the most you can... now just shut up and listen. Even if I am boring you to tears, if you are a friend, you will bear it.
This does not work for everyone, each person has their one way out. You have to find yours, but I have told you how it works for me.
Finding the way out...
I cannot tell you how to get over Depression. I am not in any way qualified to offer a professional explanation or to tell you that there is some magic bullet that will cause you to come up from what may feel like a drowning feeling when you are at your worst. These are things that you should get help with.
I will tell you that, at least in my case, keep your family and friends close and do share with them. It is important that you express yourself to those that love you. They may not always understand, but they can still be there for you and that is sometimes enough.
You see... in my case, I sometimes lose the sight of things in my life that mean something. I forget the important things because I am so wrapped up in whatever has me down. Friends and family can provide something like a lifeline back to those important things. Think of them as rescue buoys in a foggy bay, you may not be able to see the shore, but as long as you have those friends to lock onto and to help guide you, then the chances of going under get smaller and smaller as you move towards them.
I know that the analogy is not perfect, but I think there are aspects of it that point out what I am trying to say. And that is that you cannot fight depression alone. I know that it is easy to think that you are alone, and to think that that is where you belong, but nothing is further from the truth.
As I have said a couple times here, and I cannot stress enough. Please temper the advice I have given you with the advice of a doctor who is trained in this field. What I have told you is what I have learned over the years that helps me, if it works for you, then great, but make sure that you consult someone first.