Depression sucks. There, I said it.
Depression is more than having a string of ‘bad days’. It’s waking up most days thinking “What’s the point?” It robs us of hope (what we need most) and tries to convince us there isn’t anything we can do to get out of it. It’s brutal.
I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing depression for more than forty years. It is exhausting to ride the emotional waves of sadness and sometimes even despair. It’s also lonely and shame-inducing to feel depressed and desperate to make sure no one sees that side of me.
Over the years I’ve taken just about every brand of depression medication on the market. But even on medication, I sometimes struggle. It is particularly frustrating to endure all the negative side effects of the drugs and yet still, at times, get dragged under the waves. The fact that the episodes don’t come as often or remain as long when I’m on medication doesn’t necessarily console me either.
A couple of years ago I even tried Ketamine infusions because research showed them to be an effective alternative for treatment-resistant depression. It wasn’t cheap and I’m not sure how helpful it was with my depression, but those supervised legal drug trips were interesting. My husband said I told him I was “walking through the music” on one particular trip. But I digress.
What Life with Depression Looks like
For most people who struggle with depression, life looks pretty normal. Until it doesn’t. Depressed people can be very joyful, energetic, and outgoing, but then something shifts in their brain and they start canceling plans and avoiding people. They may tell you they are tired or not feeling well. Or, they may not answer their phones at all. They call in sick, or they go to work but then come home and head straight to bed.
You may envision a depressed person as teary and sad, but often a depressed person is angry or irrationally irritable. It’s hard work living with a malfunctioning brain and that kind of exhaustion makes even the nicest people mean.
The worst part of living with an inconsistent and unreliable neuro network is the predictable unpredictability. It shows up at the worst possible times.
Imagine knowing you are going to get a really bad flu 2 to 3 times a year. Every year. This brain flu can last weeks. When you finally come out of the fog, you regret those lost days but still don’t have full control over when the next one comes.
Learning to Live with Depression
It’s taken me decades to learn how to manage my depression. I use the term ‘manage’ loosely. There are still times when it literally puts me on my ass before I even see it coming; but for the most part, staying healthy is about prevention.
Getting good sleep is critical. Eating healthy, nutritious food and getting regular exercise – preferably in the sunshine – keeps my brain firing those blessed chemicals in all the right places.
Another big help is when I stop feeling embarrassed and ashamed when my brain malfunctions. I tell my family I have the brain flu and I give myself space to rest and wait, because just as it comes quickly and unexpectedly, it also leaves me in the same sudden way.
Sometimes the best way to deal with depression is to simply take care of yourself emotionally and physically while you wait for the heaviness to subside.
One thing to remember is depression lives in – and loves – the darkness. It makes you want to hide from the world, and even the people closest to you. My hiding place was usually my bed. I’d escape to my bedroom and pull the covers over my head and wish the day, or the situation, or the world, away.
But when you shine a light on depression, it begins to loosen its stronghold. You realize you aren’t alone. You aren’t weird. Or strange. Or ‘crazy’. In fact, most of us have experienced, or will experience, depression at one time or another.
One of the ways I am proactive about taking care of myself emotionally (seeking the light), is through ongoing work with my therapist.
A good therapist is trained to walk this road with you, helping you with both prevention and management of your depression. As mom always said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care.”
If you think you or someone you love might be suffering with depression, here are some warning signs you could be seeing:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- “Brain fog” – trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson said it best, “I found that with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone.”
He’s right. You don’t have to do this alone. If you’re ready to break free from the strongholds of depression, we are ready to help you.