some personal comments about depression

My experiences with depression
I have suffered from depression since I was a child. It got worse and worse over the years. When I was in grade school, I would have vague feelings of something being wrong, or something bad about to happen, and not know what; there was nothing terrible going on with people or events around me. By the time I was in my twenties, the depression was so intense I would even attempt suicide. The feelings would come and go; I'd slowly sink into deep despair and suddenly feel like a switch was flipped, or like I'd just awakened, and I'd feel OK (not great) for a while. At that time, it helped that I had many wonderful people around me, looking after me and trying to distract me. My life is, coincidentally, much lonelier now, but I've also noticed the depression getting stronger and more physical every year, especially in the spring and summer.

When I'm depressed, people have often told me to just snap out of it, or to think about something nice. They don't understand that it is not about conscious thought; it is about brain chemistry. "Chronic", "clinical", biochemically-based depression is not like what most people would call being depressed. It is not feeling down in the dumps, or feeling sad because it's raining on Saturday, or your team lost, or you can't find your wallet, or even the sadness you might feel if someone you love just died. Instead, it is an intense, overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness, a thick black cloud hovering menacingly, so strong that it overrides everything else and negates anything good that happens. It comes about for no reason, or may come and go cyclically, following the body's internal rhythms, or the seasons. It can suddenly descend and not let up for days or weeks or months at a time, no matter what. It can be a physical pain. It can feel like the air has turned into mucilage and it is difficult to move or breathe, and like a giant cold steel clamp on your brain and psyche; it can make your body hurt all over, similar to fever aches, and even your skin can hurt, a hot prickling soreness all over, that goes on for days or longer. The depression can be coupled with anxiety, which can bring tremors or serious shaking, feelings like jolts of electricity coursing through your limbs, dry mouth, dizziness, and a tight, hard, painful knot in your stomach. It can be accompanied by vague nameless fear; a creepy crawly feeling up your back and a strong sense of being watched or followed by some malevolent force; or an overwhelming sense of doom and dread. There can be anger, too; frustration and aggravation at being so incapacitated.

Sometimes you can become so overrun by destructive thoughts and so alienated and cut off that you can end up in the strange situation of watching your body do things you don't want, as if you were trapped inside a renegade robot. It's sort of like being in a cockpit of an airplane, being able to hear and see out, but none of the buttons or switches, or the radio, work. Your robot body could yell, "Leave me alone!" while you helplessly shout, unheard inside, "No, don't leave me alone!" Or, you might be watching, horrified, as your robot body smashes things or saws away at your wrists with razor blades, while you yell "Stop! Stop!" to no avail.

When you are depressed, nothing seems worth doing, nothing seems good or hopeful or happy. Life doesn't seem worth living, and sometimes the pain and despair are so intense that being dead looks like a good alternative. When depressed people become suicidal, it is often because both they can't bear it anymore, and because they feel that they have been such a burden to those around them that everyone would be much better off if they weren't around. It is not something that is easy to "snap out of" or to dispel by thinking nice thoughts.

In my case, going to psychiatrists for 30 years, talking on and on with friends, resorting to self medication, spiritual quests, artistic expression, changes in diet and exercise, falling in love, achieving goals such as earning a college degree or owning a house, attempted escape through sleep, or vacations, or recreational substances, were all to no avail. The despair and dread and doom were still there, not letting up. In the past few years there have been amazing advances in drugs, however. I take lithium and celexa now, and they work fairly well. It turns out I have a two week cycle of internal brain chemical caused depression, which the lithium helps ease. I am also affected by the quality of light, length of day, temperature and humidity of the changing seasons. I become insanely despairing in the early spring, and later sluggish and hopeless through the summer, on until the first snowfall, which elates me, and then I feel alert and fairly "normal" in the winter. Now I take celexa during the spring and summer and function fairly normally. I don't like the idea of having to take drugs all the time, but of all the things I've tried, this works for me. It's not perfect. It's somewhat like someone with a broken leg just taking pain killers for it. It's just masking the symptoms of the root cause, and so, the person's leg wouldn't hurt as much, but they still wouldn't be able to run or dance. I still have a residue of the old depression, but sometimes I also get little tickles of happiness. Fake drug-induced happiness, I guess, which goes away if I stop taking the drug, but happiness just the same.

If you feel depressed for no reason, or for long periods of time, talk to friends, family, see a doctor, talk to a psychiatrist or other counselors such as a minister or social worker. Do some research, too -- look up depression and related subjects at the library and on the web. It helps to keep track of how you feel on a calendar or in a diary, and make note about things going on around you -- stressful events, the weather, changes in diet, sleep, medication, exercise, etc. You might find some patterns, or even better, that it lets up sometimes. All this can give you insight into what is going on and how to deal with it.

Simply feeling down in the dumps can be relieved by exercise, a healthy diet, enough sleep, and activity -- not crazy fad diets, just sensible all-the-major-food-groups in moderation; and not strenuous, injurious exercise, just fun, comfortable activities. It can give you a sense of gratification to clean and tidy your living area -- dirty dishes, trash strewn about, bad smells, general disorder can make you feel worse, and the activities of cleaning can give you the momentum to go do other things. And get out and do something -- hobbies, volunteer work, going to school, work, spiritual expansion.

Long term depression can be caused by many things -- stress, traumatic occurances, sleep cycle disturbance, allergies, reactions to drugs or chemicals in the environment, brain chemistry, thyroid conditions, disease, physical injuries, seasonal changes, on and on, so I strongly recommend getting a checkup with a doctor, and seeing a psychiatrist, and not giving up. I recommend seeing a psychiatrist for long term "arbitrary" depression, as opposed to some other kind of counselor, because, with their medical training, they can recognize and refer you for treatment for physical causes of depression, not just the things one can talk out. It helps to talk to family and friends (several people being better than just one--then you get different views, and won't feel you're taking up one person's time as much), read self help books, join support groups, and so on, AND see a psychiatrist or a trained accredited counselor. They are trained to listen to people and guide them to ways of dealing with their problems, and, because they don't know the people and situations involved, they can give a different perspective, and you can speak more freely.

If you know someone who is moody or often sad, don't dismiss them or ridicule them or find fault with them. Try to be understanding, and be supportive. Talk with them, hug them, include them. Take talk of suicide seriously. Don't tell them that other people have much more reason to be depressed -- that won't help at all and can even make matters worse. If you know that certain people love them or need them or are counting on them, or if you know of things they've done that have helped people or made the world a better place, tell them of all that. It won't make them suddenly become happy again, but it will plant a little seed of positive thought in their mind. Do some research on the subject, on the web, at the library, talk to doctors, ministers, social workers, support groups. Don't give up on them.

There are links to a few sites about mental health, substance abuse and other subjects at the bottom of the Memorial to Dead Friends page

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