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Depression is not Simply a “Chemical Imbalance” – A Personal Story about Dealing with Depression

Updated on February 13, 2010

The Start of my Battle to Deal with Depression

I have suffered from Clinical Depression; in fact my life was controlled by this mental illness for over two years.  Like many sufferers, I was told by my Doctor that it was down to a chemical imbalance in my brain and prescribed SSRI medication – the most well known is Prozac.

After almost two years of feeling worthless, unable to focus, lack of self esteem, lack of sleep, too much sleep, and thoughts of death, bouts of unexplained anger then tearfulness and more - I finally snapped. 

What happened to the strong independent woman I was? 

Why was I now an emotional wreck, afraid to leave my house and meet people?

Why didn’t I care about things I loved in the not so distant past?

So, I started my journey to recovery.  Like many depression sufferers, I was aware of things I needed to change in my life, but even the smallest of tasks seemed impossible.

But, start I did – first by reading.  What an eye opener that was!

Well meaning friends (before I pushed everyone away!) suggested positive affirmations to lift my mood and feel better about myself.  Needless to say, they did not work, in fact I felt worse – then felt worthless because I couldn’t even succeed at self help!

I discovered that Researchers at the University of Waterloo and the University of New Brunswick found that those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.

That small discovery was such a relief!  I really can’t explain the difference in how I felt about myself.  I now knew it wasn’t just me.

More reading around the subject was needed...

Depression is a Learned Behaviour

Say what? Surely you can't learn to be depressed!

I sat and thought on this for a while, then did more reading, particularly Dr. Yapko who has quite a few articles and books published on the subject.

I had lived with my husband for 16 years, who for most of that time suffered from depression. All his family – his parents, aunts etc had been on medication for depression for years. Was it possible I had “learned” my lack of emotional coping skills from this environment?

Well I could jolly well unlearn!

I set out a plan of action, small (very small at first!) daily goals and objectives. I learned some simple techniques to deal with my sudden anger, and quick stress relief relaxation methods.

I also set up my “journal of fail” where I wrote all my bad experiences, thoughts and feelings. Rather than sit feeling sorry for myself, I countered it with positive outcomes from those experiences. This worked much better than positive affirmations

Slowly, I began to see the light again. I stopped going to see the doctor. I started writing again. My mood swings evened out. But still there was something missing, some days were better than others. I still had terribly “down days”.

And then I had a “bingo!” moment.


Lack of sleep, insomnia, oversleeping, tiredness, lethargy – all symptoms of depression... Or are they?

I stumbled on an interview with Joe Griffin, a research psychologist.

It has been known for over 40 years that people suffering with depression dream much more than people who don’t suffer from depression. We have excessive REM sleep which is not restful.

Joe Griffin researches sleep and what he and his team discovered is that depression sufferers deal with their negative feelings while they sleep too – hence the dreams and lack of restful sleep.

When we feel emotionally charged, we need to release that emotion. Our brain has to close the cycle. Healthy people deal with their emotions – good or bad on a day to day basis.

What happens with people who are depressed is we don’t deal with or have an outlet for an excess of negative emotion. So when we sleep our brain discharges that emotion as dreams. Healthy people may dream then go on to true sleep. Depressed people dream a lot, often have their sleep disturbed by those dreams and have very little true restful sleep.

So a vicious cycle starts.

I needed a bigger outlet!

There are chemical imbalances. Stress hormones are higher in depressed people. That’s hardly surprising since we are stressing and in fight or flight mode even while we sleep! Serotonin and other neurotransmitters are lower, but this has been shown to be a symptom of the depression rather than the cause.

What really is scary though is not only are Doctors, the press, the drug companies still going on about “chemical imbalances” being the cause of depression rather than a symptom but that SSRI drugs are only effective for treating the symptoms in around 35% of depression sufferers.

35% that is just over a third! What sort of success rate is that?

So, the drug companies introduced SNRI drugs – guess what – they aren’t that effective either. Next will be TRI, being released around now. Shall we take a bet on their effectiveness?

There is still a lot of research being done on the causes of depression and other mental illnesses. Depression is the fastest growing illness worldwide. It affects people of all ages in most cultures.

Yet we are still fed half truths and spin.

The secret appears to be learning how to deal with your emotions and meeting your emotional needs not pill popping.

Further Reading

Some of Dr Yapkos recent articles are available for download on his website and make interesting reading about how depression can be a learned response.

The Role of Dopamine and Norepinephrine in Depression

Is Clinical Depression Caused by a Serotonin Imbalance?

 I'm unable to find the original article from Joe Griffin regarding sleep patterns, but a copy of his interview is available here


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    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      So I commented over two years ago and I appreciate your story even more. Although I do believe medication is very important in many cases, if more people like you took the responsiblity for their recovery they might find a quality life. Not that one should always get off the meds, that is between the them and their doctor. There is a mindset in the world of mental illness, both on the part of clinicians and patients, that we are totally dependent on the clinicians to get us through. We often remain passive, take our meds, an continue in misery.

      My wellness now is based on discovering my options, choices I could make in furthering my quality of life, and following through on those options. I have made a choice to use the tools I have been given. Do I still get depressed? Yes. Do I go down hill into the abyss? No. I seem to bounce back rather quickly by doing the things that keep me heathly. Exercise, self-talk, spiritual disciplines, and much more. That is not to say that someone in the throes of a deep depression can do these things and find a quick fix. It takes a lot of time. But every goal you make only spurs you on. Good job on this hub.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great hub. This is just my opinion. Most depressions are reactionary i.e a response to something past that has not been dealt with adequately. In these circumstances it is wise to deal with the causing issue and that doesn't involve taking medications unless the depression is severe. There are those however that get the depression within bipolar to explain that? With a rapid cycling bipolar sufferer this can happen very frequently. This soon clears and makes way for the mania and in my opinion can only be explained by way of some chemical imbalance.

      All that said, drug companies have made depression big business as with anxiety and all so-called mental illness. I spent 25 years on medication for anxiety and depression and it got me through some scrapes but never cured me of the ability to become depressed or anxious.

      Self -help has got me where I am now and I am so free of these ailments that I am now able to help others.

      It's a tough call.

    • thebestyou profile image


      7 years ago

      This was a very good and insightful article. I suffer from clinical depression aslo. I will check out some of your books

    • profile image

      Marc Carillet 

      7 years ago

      I have been on prozac from almost 20yrs. This medication is great for people who worry excessively. It softens the blows in life. I am thankful that this medicine is available to treat depression and anxiety. I have taken 40 mg per day for years.

      I remember what my life was like before this drug was prescribed to me. I am much better now.

      I ordered it from and you know what I got discount also, it like double bonus .. "my code - 5530y". this code should work for other meds also on this website. If you are relucant to try this drug, know that it has helped many people. I hope you are one of them.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Depression: The Way Out by Dr. Neil Nedley

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Great Hub and much appreciated. While I was reading, I kept saying to myself "Oh yes, that is true for me." I have manic depressive (the dreaded word Bipolar)and struggle predominantly with the depressive side. I am right now, about 50 % more stable today than I was for 2 years (08 and 09). During those two years, I was dangerously depressed combined with overwhelming anxiety. Mixed and rapid cycling moods accelerated and life was a living nightmare. There were a number of factors that helped me get back to greater stability. Medication was very important, therapy and extra mental health support (coping skills group, anxiety class, weekly nurse visits for extra support and assistance), but it seem that one day I thought to myself, "you know, half my problem is the way I think." I read a couple of books on thoughts. One was Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus and Marie Chapian, and Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. That started me to taking charge of the way I think. It was by no means to the stretch of the imagination easy. I also studied the book of Job in the bible, which many would say, but that is so depressing, but if you read it in it's entirety and reach the end, you will get a better perspective of where Jobs thoughts (which were more than normal and understandable considering his situation) were wrong about God, himself, and their relationship. Not all people are interested in the spiritual side of the issues of depression, but I felt it a neccessity to deal with that part too. As I started trying to change my dismal thinking, and seek God, I started seeing that what my loved ones (who really cared and were supportive,) and my therapist and Dr. were telling me about how to heal and take charge of self-care, I began to see improvement. I started exercising (wow, what a difference it makes), having my nurse help me with medications, forcing myself to get up and get out, and use the various tools I had been given. This is not to say that I believe that there is no element of physiology to my problem, because truth be told, Bipolar is an oranic brain disorder. That does not mean though, that I was helpless to get stable or better. It was a long road to wellness. Lately, I have been slipping in my selfcare and the consequences are manifesting themselves as would and should be expected. It is neccesary to remind myself how awful the repercussions of not taking care of myself. Not taking care of myself starts in my thinking, "I just don't care," or "Oh, it won't get too bad this time, I am going to skip doing this or that today." Mental illness is tormenting, and nightmarish, and utterly debilitating. But we can take proactive steps to maintain stability and lead a reasonably quality and productive life if we use the skills we have been given, and make a concerted effort to watch over our thoughts and attitudes.Thanks for the great hub.

    • secretmemoir profile image


      8 years ago from Australia

      I do believe depression is an imbalance in brain chemistry. However, I agree that throwing pills at depression alone may be ineffective and can even make things worse. I have written a hub about my depression. Glad you found some things that helped.

    • LadySeren profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Specialk, thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment :) I hope your niece has success in finding a way to combat her depression too.

    • Specialk3749 profile image

      Karen Metz 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      This was a good hub for thought! I have a neice that suffers from depression and I will send her a link. Thanks for telling your story, I am sure it will help others!

    • LadySeren profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Lita, yes meeting the depression head on as it were has helped me a lot. I still have down days, but they are getting less and less. Hopefully one day I'll wake up and realise I haven't had one for weeks! Thanks for popping in and your kind words.

      Salt, interesting what you said about depression becoming an industry in some respects. It does seem that way sometimes. Thanks for your comments and advice :)

      Amitkhail, thanks for taking the time to read and comment

    • Amirkhail profile image


      8 years ago

      good, informatique

    • salt profile image


      8 years ago from australia

      depression is something not to be ignored, yet it is also something to be careful of when choosing who to help treat you. Some drs and psychologists are not that on the ball. Some medications can make life worse and if you have the time and energy to find out what the source of your depression is.. try to.. Clinical depression is where they say you have a deep depression with no real reason. So, if you are grieving, have a job loss or other cause .. you can dig a bit to find out what it is.

      I also know, when opening up psychically, you can tune into depression and that can be pretty scary. A learning curve to work with. I know, when I sense certain types of what I call dark, I send light or love or a colour that I like.

      Depression has also become an industry that has in some respects stopped people protesting or voicing their real feelings, ... and sometimes working through depression does open someones voice ... be patient with yourself. Exercise, breathing, understanding and working through things does work - and if you find the right practitioner, great healings can take place - so even when the tunnel seems endless, remember it isnt and question your thinking.. why should I be sad about this..? etc... challenge yourself. And if things are really that bad, do get good medical or psychological adivse and dont be afraid to reject what doesnt work for you.

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      Depression- and you are doing a great research about your dilemma and you seem to be doing fine meeting the problem head on. That is a good sign. I pray that you will totally be freed from your "down days" and come out clean and just fine.

    • LadySeren profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Sara, thanks for visiting :)

      I did not mean to give the impression that clinical depression is somehow a made up illness. It is very real.

      Perhaps I was mis-diagnosed. Who knows? I certainly met all the criteria for clinical depression. My ex suffered for years (it must be close to 20 years now) - still does, but he's trying other methods now and is making progress too. His family live on prescriptions and that will never change.

      Looking at it, that is what is scary - how many thousands of others are brushed off with the "take this pill" attitude only to find they don't work for them, or that the side effects can be worse than the illness?

      That said, I respect your opinion, you speak from your experience :) I do wish you well for the future.

    • Sara Tonyn profile image

      Sara Tonyn 

      8 years ago from Ohio, the Buckeye State

      Interesting hub but I can't agree with it. I've had this debate a million times (okay, maybe not quite a million :) ) and it always comes down to the same thing: I think it's more likely you didn't really suffer from clinical depression as you were diagnosed. It may have been depression, but maybe it was situational or dysthymia or it could have been any number of mood altering illnesses that have a genetic basis. I'll let it go at that; there are tons of other hubs about this. But just as you speak from your own experience, so do I. And I know clinical depression is real and that if I didn't take medication I wouldn't be alive today.

    • LadySeren profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks for visiting nadp :)

      Depression and mental illness has such a stigma, I think that many people won't openly talk about what they went or are still going through. It's handy having a pen name to do that!

      It's a huge issue and so misunderstood. I know from my personal experience with depression, that of my ex husband and his family, the answer from Doctors is just to "take this pill". We all have different Doctors and in various parts of the UK, so it's not specific to one surgery.

      Pill popping didn't work for any of us and discovering a success rate of 35% goes towards explaining why.

    • nadp profile image


      8 years ago from WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

      What you say sounds plausible. But either side of this debate can sound plausible. I admire your courage - in fighting your depression, and in talking about it. It is certainly food for thought.


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