Continued from Part III:
It’s important to realize that the support network does not end at close friends and loved ones. Employers and work colleagues can be major players here. It was hard to tell my boss what was happening to me. We had a great relationship and I had much respect for him. The day that I told him what had happened, I was in a bad state. My body weight was down from 170lbs to a scrawny, sunken-eyed 150lbs. I was shivering from a coldness that felt like it stemmed from the inside of my body. Muscles in my arms were twitching uncontrollably. He showed complete compassion. He told me that he had been thinking that something was wrong but was unsure how to approach it. He helped me to organize the necessary accommodations that had to be put into place so that I could reduce my workload to half-days.
My immediate work colleagues were supportive beyond what I could have ever hoped for. Without hesitation, they picked up the slack that my half-days created. They listened to my attempts to verbalize what was happening to me. They shared their own experiences and insights in the kindest ways possible. They know who they are and I don’t know the words that will do justice to the amount to gratitude that I have for them. Their actions stand as an example to others and have bonded our friendships for the rest of time.
“Their actions stand as an example to others and have bonded our friendships for the rest of time.”
This support makes a huge difference and the facts apply to any illness, not just depression. Unfortunately, many people do not show this help and understanding for brain health issues (or many other ‘invisible’ sicknesses for that matter). They are often quick to dismiss them as fabricated, imaginary, or self-imposed problems. Yet the reality remains that depression is a cruel, potentially fatal, illness that can be as painful and torturous as any other.
A COMMENTARY ON THE ROLES AND PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS.
Whether or not we believe any of the inaccurate viewpoints about brain health issues, we still know that they are out there. It makes it hard to admit to others that this is happening to you. Heck, it even makes it hard for us to admit it to ourselves.
“We need our friends and loved ones to believe in us.”
We need our friends and loved ones to believe in us. We need them to do their absolute best to understand and help. We need them to believe that one of the organs in our body is having trouble right now. It’s the most complicated organ of them all. It’s the one that affects the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. They have to understand how authentic this is for us. They have to know that this is not something that we can think our way out of. They have to understand that this is more than merely feeling lousy. This is feeling like there is no point to anything. This is the feeling I’d feel if my entire family were killed before me in a gruesome car accident. I don’t want to go on living… I’m sure that everyone’s experience of this misery is a slightly different shade of grey, but in each case, it is real beyond real. And, in the absence of any external issue (such as the family car accident) our minds may turn on ourselves, destroying our self-perceptions, ripping open our souls, and possibly removing our will to live. We are in serious trouble. Depression is a potentially terminal illness.
A COMMENTARY OF THE ROLE AND PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS.
Boy oh boy, do us humans love to critique other humans. We make sweeping judgments about the actions and decisions of each other with only a superficial understanding of the reasons behind them. We arrive at arbitrary conclusions about other motorists based on a brief snapshot of their driving skills. Some people that have never felt depression love to make far-reaching appraisals of those with it. I used to be one of those people. I thought of sufferers as people who had let things get on top of them. “They have so much negative in their life that they have become very, very sad.” I thought it was something that could never happen to me. I was wrong. Either it can happen to anyone or we lack the science to figure out who it can happen to. One way or the other, no one knows if they are truly safe from it. Chemicals in your head, combined with electrical activity in certain areas of your brain can make you feel a sadness like never before. Trust me. Sad beyond the very pit of your stomach. Sad enough that you might consider killing yourself. Many do. It happens to celebrities and non-celebrities alike. Some are saved in time, while others succeed in taking their own life. Many never even ask for help.
“Some people that have never felt depression love to make far-reaching appraisals of those with it. I used to be one of those people.”
Friends and loved ones are real life savers in all of this. However, not all are created equal for this task. They may love you very much, but life experiences, beliefs and personality traits all affect how prepared and how well-equipped they truly are to help you through this.
Perhaps you used to have your own misconceptions about depression and other brain health issues. Perhaps you saw sufferers as weak? Perhaps you felt that they had brought this on themselves by making certain life choices? Perhaps you thought this only happened to the uneducated or those that pursued illegal drug use? Those with tough upbringings in which they were neglected or abused? Maybe you had none of these misconceptions. Either way, if this is happening, or has happened, to you then you know that it is gut-wrenchingly awful and that it does not discriminate.
Coming Soon… Chapter 9: Part II
10 Things That I Felt/Thought as I Recovered from Depression:
- I felt fragile, like I might relapse at any moment.
- I had been taking my health and happiness for granted for way too long… life is to be appreciated.
- Depression sucks more than I ever realized. I had my own misconceptions about depression, but they have been put firmly in their place.
- Many things that I did as I healed felt strange/different. Certain things felt like it was the first time I’d ever done them. Grocery shopping felt daunting and new.
- I spent a lot of time hoping that the depression would not come back. A fear that it would return lingered, but faded over time.
- I used to think that this could never happen to me. It can happen to anyone. I felt passionately about this point as I was recovering.
- I must use my experience to help others. I must share what happened and talk about it to those that were willing to listen. Of course, I still feel this way and hence I sit here typing away at night.
- Wouldn’t it be terrible if a child had to go through this… which lead very quickly to point #9.
- What is being done to help children that go through this?
- I was relieved that my suicidal thoughts had stayed passive and that I had never taken my own life.
WILL THOSE FLAKES EVER SETTLE?
So, my counsellor suggested a gratitude journal each night before bed. I would climb into bed, pick up my journal and write down three things that I was grateful for or happy about that day. Eventually, this became a habit and the moment I walked into my bedroom at night I began thinking about things I was grateful for.
“I had become nervous about going outside.”
I had become nervous about going outside. This happens to many people when they have been depressed or suffering anxiety. So my counsellor gave me weekly homework. This included things like going for a family hike in nature, getting groceries, or going on a date night with my wife.
“One by one, the flakes settled. It took a couple of months, but eventually most of the flakes were back on the ground. I could see clearly again.”
One by one, the flakes slowly settled. It took a couple of months, but eventually most of the flakes were back on the ground. I could see clearly again. One or two snowflakes still hovered around, but that is a normal human state. One of the problems with depression is that you spend a lot of time scrutinizing your moods and feelings. As you recover, this continual analyzing carries on. The reality is that everyone has good and bad days. We don’t experience a consistently happy and care-free mood 24/7 for the whole of our lives. If you’ve never experienced depression, then it is easy to dismiss the bad days as just that and wake up the next day ready to start again. After depression, you will question those bad days. Is my depression coming back? Is this a sign that I am not ‘cured’? You want to feel 10/10 everyday, but this is not realistic. Remind yourself that ‘normal’ involves good and bad days. It involves being able to deal with the highs and the lows that life throws at us.
If this is you, notice this point in your recovery and congratulate yourself. These feelings mean that you are getting better. You are travelling along the road back to health and you have made it far. You will never quite be the same again, but in many ways you will be better than before. You will have a new found appreciation for your own feelings and for the feelings of others. You understand brain health in a way that you never could have without going through it yourself. You are now better equipped to help friends and loved ones who may go through their own similar illnesses. Welcome to the club. We are glad to have you. Let’s change the future of mental health stigma.
WILL THOSE FLAKES EVER SETTLE?
So for me, my cure came in the form of a daily SSRI medication (Prozac). It took about four months to really get me back to anything resembling normal. I also took a non-addictive sleep pill to help get my sleep routine back on track. I went for weekly counselling to correct negative thinking patterns and I saw my amazing psychiatrist once every 2-3 weeks.
“Everything negative that I’d ever done or felt about myself had been stirred up, chewed over, added to, and digested as facts.”
In the months of January and February, when my depression was at its most severe, counselling had a very minor impact on me. However, I’m still glad that I started it at this point. It helped a little and I would recommend that a depressed person goes to counselling ASAP. When I say ASAP remember that you may need to shop around because the relationship between you and your counsellor is extremely important and a good match for one person may not be a good match for someone else. In my experience, counselling had its biggest impact in the third and fourth months of my depression.
“For at least two months I had gone to bed thinking terrible thoughts and woken up thinking even worse ones.”
By this point, my medication was starting to work. It was a surreal and confusing time. The anxiety attacks had stopped completely. My mood was generally pretty good. But in the two months that I’d been severely depressed, I had developed some very undesirable patterns of thinking. Everything negative that I’d ever done or felt about myself had been stirred up, chewed over, added to, and digested as facts. It was as if all these negativities were the snowflakes in a festive snow globe. For years, they had sat motionless on the floor of the globe. They were there, but largely ignored by my conscious self. During January and February, the globe had been shaken violently, causing the flakes to swirl uncontrollably in my head. Now, the globe was no longer being shaken, but the flakes were still floating around. Counselling helped the flakes to settle back down. It helped to correct the bad thinking habits that I had acquired. For at least two months I had gone to bed thinking terrible thoughts and woken up thinking even worse ones. This had become habitual. Thanks to the medication, I was now at a stage where I could begin to correct these patterns.
Coming Soon… Chapter 8: Part II…
TEN HELPFUL THINGS THAT FRIENDS DID WHEN I WAS DEPRESSED:
- Assumed that I was generally feeling worse than I was letting on (this was nearly always correct).
- Checked in on me frequently.
- Answered messages from me the moment they got them – their response was more important to me than I cared to admit.
- Reassured me that the feeling was being caused by biological problems. It was real, not imagined. Many people experience it. It can be cured and it will pass. They told me that one day I would feel like myself again (they were right)
- Reduced my stress. Stress sapped my brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals. My friends picked up groceries, helped cook meals, and even tidied the house. I’m not saying a friend should do it all, just that they can help out and reduce your ‘load’.
- Ensured that I was not left alone any more than was absolutely necessary. This was especially true of going to bed at night and of getting up in the morning.
- One friend became my ‘Interweb Buddy’ (the helped research symptoms etc. while protecting me from too much negative information which my mind would have totally focused on while ignoring anything positive).
- Helped organize medical appointments and counselling sessions.
- Helped get me to my appointments and kept me company when necessary.
- Did their best to understand how I was feeling.