I know that any writing should open with a profound statement or at least one that grabs your attention. I am not sure what that would look like, maybe….Depression, the brain disease that robs you of feeling normal.
I decided it was time for me to share my journey and experience with depression. I hope this will help others get the help they need and help me feel more like myself. I have always been drawn to helping people but since my “breakdown” I do not have the energy to do anything, let alone help others.
So come along as I share what I’ve learned about depression.
The past few months have been busy and have put me in a position of being surrounded by people. Some I know and some were acquaintances. It caused my brain to over think again. I began to evaluate my relationship with these people. In my mind they have changed and I have to accept that our relationship is different now. It made me sad to realize that there are some people in my life I cannot have a close relationship with. I was feeling sorry for myself and venting. Then the other day my husband said to me that so and so has always behaved that way and this other person has always been self centred and our relationship has always been on their terms. Maybe it was I who had changed? This got me thinking. Had I changed? By learning to take care of myself was I different? By being more relaxed and not feeling so responsible for others and for situations was I reacting differently towards people and situations? The thinking led me to understand that Yes, I was different. I had changed. Depression had taught me that I was important and that I had to take care of myself. I cannot keep everyone happy and I cannot be responsible for everyone getting along. Depression has taught me to be happy with who I am and to protect myself from those who bring me down.
Someone asked me if I found writing about depression helpful. I had to think about it and then I realized that initially when I was diagnosed it was very helpful. Now I wonder if people are getting overwhelmed with mental illness talk and feeling that everyone is using it as an excuse. An excuse to be lazy, to not have to work or to get sympathy. When you feel this way you have to remember there are also people who fake having cancer, pretend to have back problems and so on and so on. Also remember that just because there is no blood test to confirm the diagnosis doesn’t mean it is not a real disease. We know so much more about depression now and there are tests to help properly diagnose someone. We should no longer make assumptions about depression and the sufferer should be able to share their diagnosis without feeling ashamed.
I think most people feel that antidepressants are not a good option for someone suffering from depression. The old idea that antidepressants make you foggy and sluggish and “zombie” like is not true. There are many new medications that can be taken to help find your way. Depression is not always cured by talking because it is not always caused by trauma. What I find hard to understand is why we tell someone with diabetes or heart disease to take the medication but if you have depression then no don’t take the medication. It is a brain disease.
I thought I would share this article and hopefully it will help you understand.
I hope that so far I have made it clear that having depression is an illness. I guess the issue is that people can’t see depression and we tend to think of the brain as our being and not an organ so this makes it difficult for others to truly understand. Also because there is not a one size fits all solution, people have a hard time understanding that it is truly a disease. Think of depression like a cold. There are many different types of cold viruses and they are not all treated the same.
I also want to make it clear that I have shared my journey. It did not happen for me all at once. It was a process. I sometimes wonder if I had realized sooner that I suffered from depression or that it was in my family would I have avoided a “breakdown”. All I can say to anyone who is suffering or wonders if they have a mental illness, get help. It will save your life. There is help but I know it can be difficult and hard to find. But do try. I have come across a wonderful support community called #sicknotweak. Go to your doctor, get to a psychologist, most Health units have a mental illness section where you can get help, find out what your work provides and use the resources. Tell a friend. Oh yeah and begin Mindfulness. This is an very helpful program. It’s really about retraining your brain. I know that at a time when one is ill fighting to get help can be exhausting. I have experienced this both with a physical illness and now a mental illness but I can also tell you that in both cases it is worth the fight. When you get the help you need you can live a more positive life. For those of you who do not suffer from depression please listen when someone comes to you. Please do not be judgmental. It is extremely difficult for us to ask for help and if we are asking you that means we trust you and are feeling hopeless and lost. Don’t be afraid. We will not ask too much of you, we are not clueless or unaware of your feelings. We are not “crazy” and will not hurt you and will not expect you to take on our burden. We are just looking for help and not sure where to turn. To someone suffering from depression I say there is hope. As my daughter told me “Think of this as your new normal.” I can do that.
Now began the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. I began to recognize the fact that my brain was “firing on all cylinders” as is said and that most people are able to control this or make it stop. I could not. I learned10. that people react with varying degrees. Some colleagues and friends are very understanding and listen when you want to talk, help you leave the house and support you as much as they can. Then there are those who stop talking to you, ignore you and feel uncomfortable around you. The hard thing for anyone to realize is that family can also react the same way. For me the family members closest to me were and still are very supportive. Then there are those who feel that you are just weak and need to toughen up, those that don’t even try to understand and then so many who never ask about what you are going through or how you feel. I have learned 11. that this is not about me and it is okay to feel whatever I am feeling and that it is okay to take care of myself. I am sick and like any other illness I should do what needs to be done to get well.
I have always known that depression is a family’s dirty little secret. It is something people don’t talk about. It’s a shameful thing to have in your family. And now, I was my family’s dirty, little secret. I forced myself to talk about it but I was very cautious about who I was willing to tell. Again, I know how lucky I am. My husband is from a culture where mental illness is not shameful or an embarrassment to a family. In his culture people accept mental illness as just that, an illness that one has no control over. It is as “normal” as cancer or any other disease. He encouraged me to talk about what I was feeling and to take the help I was being offered. To try my best to heal. Through all this I began to realize depression was in my family. I began to think about the stories I had heard over the years and started to put together information and found that I could go back 3 generations and find family members who had suffered from depression. No, it was not talked about, for obvious reason in the early days but not even now. So many people feel that someone with depression is weak, needs to toughen up, just move on, are craving attention, are unpredictable, scary, or just plain “crazy”.
There are two people who had a huge influence on my recovery. One is a nurse who helped me see I was okay and that I should be gentle with myself. She reminded me that people use to whisper about breast cancer. Now, we talk loud, don’t think of it as an embarrassment and even run for the cure. There is no shame in mental illness. The second person is Andrew Solomon. I listened to his story about his struggle with depression and it sounded so much like mine. It encouraged me and made me feel that I would be able to move forward into a new life. “The opposite of depression is not happiness. The opposite of depression is vitality.”
Let me say again: Depression is not ordinary sadness. Most people go through a sadness or depression when something big happens in their life. A death, a divorce, an accident etc and then usually within a few months they feel better. Are ready to resume life and be themselves again. Some of these people get help, use medication or just naturally work through the issue. Experts say that on average someone with this kind of depression will get better within three months. Let me share what the experts describe as the symptoms of depression.
Feeling sad or down most of the time.
The person looses interest in the activities they enjoy.
The person feels tired most of the time.
The person has trouble concentrating and staying focused.
They seem to enjoy life less and less.
They feel worthless and hopeless.
The person feels this way everyday, all day for at least two weeks.
I had everyone of these symptoms. For me it was very gradual and with each new symptom I told myself it was my surroundings that were changing. I never thought mental illness was a possibility. In some ways I am sure I didn’t want it to be a mental illness. I knew it was in my family. I knew it could be hereditary. But I assumed I was not at risk. It would never be me.