On depression and Depression, part 3

Today I complete my discussion of depression and Depression.  Last time, I went into depth about what it was like for me to live with, and through, Depression.  Today I’m going to talk about what I did to get myself out of that place, and why I made those choices.  I warn you in advance, this topic may be highly triggering to some.  If you are worried it may trigger you, please consider leaving.

I would like to state that I am by no means an expert or a professional on this particular topic.  I am speaking from personal experience and opinion.  Please do not take my words as any kind of gospel – form your own opinions on these topics and take whatever steps you feel necessary to address them.  On the topic of Depression especially, I strongly encourage anyone who is severely depressed or suicidal to talk to others and seek council if they are suffering to that extent.

So what did I do to get myself out of depression?

The short answer is:  nothing.  I had no plan at all.  I did nothing special, and I made a lot of poor choices along my way out.  I had my reasons, and I got out alright in the end – but I also acknowledge that I may have had a better, smoother, or faster recovery had I made different choices.

So what choices did I make?  What options did I see that I did not pursue, and why did I decline to do so?  I’ve had a couple of years to take stock of my choices, and analyze which ones did and did not help me.  I’ve had time to think over what I could have done, and what I would recommend to someone else in my circumstances – or to someone who knows someone in such straits.

So here are the options as I see them.

Option 1:  Therapy, with or without medication
The big elephant in the room, the first obvious choice, is therapy.  Find a professional and talk to them about your problems.  Consider medication if they suggest it.

These people are professionals trained to diagnose and treat mental health issues.  They are doctors of the mind, and will be able to provide a level of experience and expertise that can be matched by few.  And medication can help balance out or alleviate the emotional distress of Depression.  For people who are suicidally depressed especially, the options of therapy and medication cannot be ignored.

But some people don’t feel comfortable pursuing this option.  They may feel uncomfortable talking with a shrink.  They may be opposed to taking medication.  And this resistance can range from discomfort or avoidance of the topic to full-blown shouting matches.  So how do you convince someone to see a therapist or take medication?

I have no clue – I was one of those who was staunchly against therapy, and even more opposed to medication.  For me, I did not want the social stigma of therapy.  I didn’t want to feel like I’d failed to take care of myself.  I wanted friends to listen to my problems and help me – I didn’t want to pay some stranger to listen to me.  I felt that taking medication would turn me into a different person, and that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to myself.  Additionally, I did not want a perceived “black mark” on my medical history.  I was afraid that seeing a therapist would get me classified as “damaged.”  And fear is (by nature) irrational, but my fears had a logical basis.

I live in the US, a country that spent the past few years debating changes about our healthcare system.  One of the aspects of these changes was how “preexisting conditions” were treated – and that was important to me.  I did not want to begin seeing a therapist, only to have the law change on me, and now my medical record contains information that I’d been treated for Depression.  I was worried that such a thing could happen, and if it did, that it would have severe and lasting repercussions on my life.  Like I said, irrational.  But there’s a logic behind that fear, and I don’t think my concerns were entirely unfounded.

But please consider this:  I, who was opposed to therapy for myself, am still listing and recommending it as an option for people.  I did not personally want to pursue it, but it may be the correct choice for someone else.  We’re all different; what did not work for me may work for someone else.  I want to present a balanced set of options to allow people to make an informed decision, as well as address any fears that someone may have that they’ve been unable to convey.

In the end, it’s still the choice of the person who is Depressed – provided they’re of sound mind to make the decision.  Someone suffering from severe suicidal or homicidal urges is not of sound mind to make this choice.  But if someone is opposed to any choice, do not treat it as gospel to be repeated until someone converts, because that could leave someone who’s already suffering feeling alienated.  They may shut people out, hide whatever they’re truly feeling, and the results of such repression could be disastrous as well.

So if someone does not wish for therapy and/or medication, what are the other options?

Option 2:  same kind of help, different source
So what does that mean?  That means looking at the benefits of what therapy and medication provide, and getting those benefits from different means.

A major part of therapy is talking – giving someone a safe place to open up about their problems in a non-judgemental environment.  People are social creatures by nature.  Isolation is bad, especially extended isolation.  So giving someone who’s suffering from Depression a place, person, or people where they can be safe and talk about what’s bothering them without fear of judgement is important.  This is critical for anyone choosing this option – that cannot be understated.

As for a medication substitute…well, I’m gonna burst a few peoples’ bubbles right now – no, I am not recommending you self-medicate with home remedies or recreational drugs.  I think that’s a rather bad idea in fact.  Don’t do it.  But I think medication treatments do two things at a very basic level:  they affect our body chemistry and they stabilize our moods.  What other activities also do that?

For body chemistry, exercise is the first choice that comes to mind.  Endorphins are a hell of a mood booster, and exercising outside exposes us to sunlight – a great source of vitamin D.  No, I don’t think it’s fun either, and you’ll get sweaty while you work out, but it’s still good advice.  There are plenty of options as well:  weightlifting, running, bicycling, dancing, yoga, Zumba…  If you’re unsure what would be a good fit, keep trying them until you find one that feels good.  And added benefits of exercise are weight loss and body toning – which could bolster someone’s confidence and feelings of self-worth.

The options for mood stabilizers are a little narrower, but things like exercise can still help.  Exercise and other physical activities provide an outlet for the restless energy that often accompanies mood spikes.  People could also take up activities like meditation to help ground that restlessness.  Other activities like painting, writing, and playing or listening to music can also serve as outlets and stabilizers.  So run, bike, jog – hell, just go for walks.  Get your zen on to some relaxing music.  Take up painting, drawing, or some other creative hobby.  Find something that makes you happy, that pulls you up instead of dragging you down.

Given the opinions I stated about therapy, it’s safe to say that I favor the second option in my life.  And I practiced and continue to practice many of the things I suggested.  I exercise as regularly as I can.  I go for walks when the weather is nice.  I go to yoga and meditation classes – and found some in my area that are either free or donation driven.  I listen to music that inspires me.  I write, and have been writing for several years.

But what I did not do – that I am recommending for those who are suffering – is that I did not find people to open up to about my problems.  I tried, but I did not find people who could give me the kind of support I was looking for.  Part of the problem was the high demands I was making on them for support.  Another part of the problem was that they had their priorities in different areas.  And it does not make them villains to say, “Sorry, but we have our own problems that we need to deal with.”  But I put all my eggs in one basket, and it cost me dearly when that bet did not pay dividends.

And it’s because of that lack of social support I still consider the choice of therapy, even now when my emotional and psychological state is far more stable than it used to be.  I never stopped considering it.  But I had people in my life who treated that choice like it was the only choice – and I shut them out because I felt that they could not or would not empathize with me and my situation.  I felt that to them it was “my way or the highway.”  And like many-a-fool before me, I told them, “Highway,” and I got hurt because of that choice.  I carry scars because of that choice.  But I made a choice I was comfortable with, did not listen to the advice of those who I felt did not listen to me, and I found my own way out.

And to me that meant everything.  It meant rebuilding my self-respect by not dismissing my thoughts and feelings simply because others believed strongly.  It means going on a healing journey, and knowing neither the path nor the destination.  I found a path and forged a strength all my own.  But it took time – it took a long, long time.  Which brings me to my closing option.

Option 3:  Time
I said earlier in my posts that people suffering from Depression cannot simply wait it out.  I described it as a season, but not like one on a calendar.  It had no set beginning or ending, or none it feels like publicly sharing.  But regardless of what choices someone who’s suffering makes, the reality is that it will take time to heal.  Waiting will not fix them, yet time must still pass for them to heal.  And that paradox is one that I got hung up upon myself.  Because I did not realize something.

It’s not how long it takes that is important.  What is important is how we fill our days.  The people we meet, the conversations we have, the things we do, and the things we share…  All of these are what helps to fill the void created by Depression.  So in the end, all we have is time – and each other.

So if you know someone who is suffering, please be kind.  Be considerate.  Listen to them.  Perhaps you may be the first, or only, person to do that.  And it will mean the world to them.

Make time for the people who are important to you.  Show them that they matter to you, especially when they most feel like they do not matter at all.

And if you yourself are suffering, dear reader – then I say to you:  Oh my brother, my sister, my friend – I know your pain.  I know it well.  You are not alone.  You have not been forgotten.  Don’t give up.  Be brave.  Stay strong.  Keep fighting.  It will get better.

I promise you:  it will get better.

On depression and Depression, part 2

Today I continue my discussion of depression and Depression.  Last time, I described and defined my distinction between the two terms.  Today I will go in depth about what it was like for me to live with, and through, Depression.  I warn you in advance, this post will get dark before the end and may be highly triggering to some.

I would like to state that I am by no means an expert or a professional on this particular topic.  I am speaking from personal experience and opinion.  Please do not take my words as any kind of gospel – form your own opinions on these topics and take whatever steps you feel necessary to address them.  On the topic of depression especially, I strongly encourage anyone who is severely depressed or suicidal to talk to others and seek council if they are suffering to that extent.

So what happened to me?  I think several things served as the trigger for my bouts of Depression.  I have been in poor financial straits for the past five years.  I have had two six-month stints on unemployment – with only an eight-month period of employment separating them.  I have been living on my own during that time, without any roommates to reduce rent or any of the other costs associated with living.  I did not earn enough at my jobs in the past five years to add into my savings.  And I needed to tap my savings so aggressively while unemployed that I have effectively exhausted them.  I have only been able to continue living my current lifestyle because of significant financial assistance from my family over the past year.  And I am well aware that their assistance has an expiration date that is growing closer every day.

During the same period of five years, I have been involved in several bad or toxic relationships.  Some were romantic, some were friendships, but all of them were relationships that felt like they took more from me than they gave.  I will not play blame games here, however.  I myself was not innocent of being toxic as well.  I desperately looked to certain people for help, and was not kind when they were unable or unwilling to help me.  But dwelling on that also serves no useful point.  It is sufficient to say that there was love and friendship, loss and pain – and those things affected me.

I have also been unhappy at work during that span of years.  And while I’m hardly the only person who has worked a job they did not like, the addition of that feeling to the rest of the stressors cannot be ignored or excused.  Like I said previously, Depression makes some things that would ordinarily be easy to bear feel insurmountable.

And then there is my very nature.  I may favor hope, and even speak optimistically at times, but I am also a realist.  I have no fear of calling a spade a spade.  And when I am in a bad situation, I tend to fixate on it.  I see it as a problem, and I try to solve it.  That can be a very useful survival tool.  It can also mean that I spend entirely too long thinking about things that leave me in a very negative mindset.  And like a well-worn trail, it becomes easier for me to return to those roads – far too easy sometimes.

All these factors coalesced into a very severe season of Depression during my first term of unemployment (August 2012 through January 2013).  I was depressed and lethargic.  I stayed up late and rose later.   I played video games and binge-watched Netflix as often as I could just to take my mind off how awful I felt.  I did not date; I did not socialize.  I went nowhere, and I did as close to nothing as I could.

I was waiting to die.

I went to bed many nights hoping I would not wake up the next morning.  And every following morning I awoke to have my first thoughts be disappointment at having survived.  It was slow, passive suicide.  I was executing myself one day at a time, cutting into my heart and my confidence.  I did not believe I deserved to live.  I did not believe I deserved to be loved.  I did not want to live, but lacked the motivation to take a proactive solution to my Depression.

In retrospect, that was a good thing, but at the time I despaired at what I believed to be a weakness of resolve – and that despair further fueled my descent.

That period of Depression also included what I personally refer to as “The worst day of my life.”  It was the seventh day of a week in December that began with me discovering that I had not received any payments from the unemployment office for six weeks.  And while I did eventually resolve that dispute, it set the tone for the coming seven days.  And the first night of that week ended with me curled up on the couch, gripping my arm to force myself to sit still, and telling myself two things:

“I want to go in the kitchen and stuff myself stupid with ice cream, but it’s almost bedtime and I should not eat that way so close to bedtime.  Besides, the ice cream is close to the knife block.”

“I want to go into the kitchen and grab a knife from the block and kill myself.  But I should not do that, because it is a permanent solution to a short-term problem and things will get better.  Besides, the knife block is close to the ice cream.”

I’m sometimes grimly amused at my own, random humor.  Because no matter what has happened to me, I have at least not lost my laughter – then or now.

But thus began the week in which I had “The worse day of my life.”  I don’t have the heart to share the day itself – it is still something I cannot talk about.  However, I do feel comfortable sharing my feelings at the start of the week.  I think there’s value in sharing them, even two years later.

I’m sharing them for the sappy, Hallmark-card reason of telling people that it gets better.  I hit rock-bottom that week, and it got ugly.  But that was more than two years ago.  I’m stronger now – and far, FAR more stable.  I fell, to a great extent, and I survived.  I never hurt myself, I never hurt anyone else, and I got better.

But that is what Depression was like for me.  It was pain and rage.  It was weariness and longing for relief.  It was wishing death upon myself.  It was a terrible, horrible season of my life that I survived by the combination of a miracle and the fact that I am far stronger than I knew.  Because if I were a lesser man, I would not have lived through that.  Not that night, nor that season.

But how did I survive it?  What did I do to make it out?  What can we do to help a friend or loved one suffering through a similar situation?  I’ll discuss that in the third and final part of my discussion of depression and Depression.

On depression and Depression, part 1

Today I would like to talk about a topic that hits emotionally close to home:  depression and Depression.  I warn you in advance, these posts will get dark before the end and may be triggering to some.  If you are worried it may trigger you, please consider leaving.

I would like to state, as I will be wont to do with topics such as this, that I am by no means an expert or a professional on this particular topic.  I am speaking from personal experience and opinion.  Please do not take my words as any kind of gospel – form your own opinions on these topics and take whatever steps you feel necessary to address them.  On the topic of depression especially, I strongly encourage anyone who is severely depressed or suicidal to talk to others and seek council if they are suffering to that extent.

Firstly, why am I listing two words with the only difference being the capitalization of the first letter?  I do this to distinguish between moments, even prolonged ones, of emotional sorrow – and a serious condition with long-lasting ramifications.  If that’s not clear, perhaps think of it as the difference between telling someone, “I love you,” and telling someone, “I Love you.”  The capitalization of “Depression” is meant to illustrate a difference of magnitude between the two.

So, what do I mean by “depression” then?  By example, depression is feeling sad all day because you received a notice informing you that you didn’t get the job.  And depression is being grumpy and moody for a few days because you found out your crush is seeing someone, or just does not like you.  It’s like a storm – it blows in and casts a pall over your life for a “relatively” brief period of time.  That could be a few hours, a few days, or perhaps even a few weeks, depending on the cause.  The important point is that “depression” has both a cause and an ending – you’re sad or upset because ‘X’, ‘Y’, or ‘Z’ happened, you process it, and eventually recover.

Depression is a whole ‘nother beast, in both intensity and duration.  Unlike “depression”, “Depression” may not have a clear or singular cause.  There may be many causes that trigger the feeling. Additionally, its impact on your life is further-reaching than depression.  In depression, you may be upset about your love life and question if you’ll ever find someone who will make you happy.  In many ways, that’s a natural and healthy reaction to rejection.  Depression, however, is more like feeling that you will never find love, or question if you deserve to be loved.

To take an aside for a moment…if that thought resonates strongly with you – yes, I do think you deserve to be loved. And no, you don’t have to do anything special to deserve love.  I wanted to say that before moving on.

But to go back to the topic at hand, I described depression as a storm – it blows through and affects your life for a time.  By comparison, Depression is a season – it is longer-lasting and sets the tone for all the storms that descend upon your life.  An event that would be manageable under normal circumstances becomes unbearable during Depression.  And unlike a calendar season, a season of Depression does not have a definite ending.  We do not have a date for when everything will get better.  We cannot merely weather the worst until spring returns.  The storm, and the season, must be challenged and overcome.  But the methods on how to do that are something I will discuss in detail in a later post.

I would like to give one final explanation of “Depression”, one that was given to me at one point as an example of what it feels like to cope with any severe or chronic mental (or physical) illness.  It is called the Spoon Theory.  (No, I’m not making that up – it’s really called that).

So what is it?  Rather than attempt to redefine it myself, I will quote the Wikipedia article on the topic, with one small spelling correction, below:

The spoon theory is a model used by some disabled people and people with chronic illness to describe their everyday living experience when their disability or illness results in a reduced amount of energy available for productive tasks. Spoons are an intangible unit of measurement used to track how much energy a person has throughout a given day. Each activity “costs” a certain number of spoons, which might not be replaced until the next day. A person who runs out of spoons loses the ability to do anything other than rest. One of the tenets of the spoon theory is that disabled or ill people must plan their activities to ensure that every day is manageable, while healthy people have a “never-ending supply of spoons” and thus never need to worry about running out. Because healthy people do not feel the impact of spending spoons, they may not realize that chronically ill or disabled people’s considerations include mundane tasks such as bathing and getting dressed.

I’m a fan of using this as a description of what it’s like to live with Depression, or any chronic illness.  It illustrates the heavy toll of living with such a condition, as well as the weariness that accompanies managing it.  And it does so in clear, tangible terms.  A healthy person might have a hundred spoons work with in a day, or perhaps a thousand.  Someone who is afflicted may only have half that, or even less.  It serves to show that people who are Depressed are not simply wallowing in negativity – they may just not have enough energy to do everything that’s needed to get themselves out of that situation.

So why spend so much time defining and describing “depression” and “Depression”?  In part, I wanted to share my thoughts on a subject I view of high importance.  I feel that discussing topics such as these builds knowledge and encourages compassion in our interactions with those personally involved.  And the world can always use more compassion.  But I also wanted to talk about this because I have a personal story to tell.

I have been Depressed.  I have been, at times, severely and suicidally Depressed.  And I wanted to share my story, rather than hide it for fear of being judged or misunderstood.  Because I think it’s important to share my story – because I think when sorrow is shared, when stories are told, the pain becomes easier to manage.  I want to share it because I believe that my story could serve as a lesson to others, a chance to learn.  And it would please me greatly if you would continue to read and hear my story.  Please check in next time for part two of my discussion of depression and Depression.