Category Archives: My Book

Chapter 10: Part II: A New Outlook

Moving On From Depression…

I will do all that I can to prevent it from returning. I will eat healthy (within reason… no need for all those chocolate chip cookies to go to waste), exercise within reason, do my best to focus on the present, and for the time-being, take my SSRI each day.

When you are not depressed it is almost impossible to imagine that you will ever feel that way again. Even on the good days that happened during my period of depression, I could not imagine that the feeling would ever come back. It did. My perception was that I had way more control over it than I actually did. The truth is that it can happen to anyone and it can have a devastating effect.

“Depression changed me. It was awful, but it ultimately changed me for the better.”

The good news is that for most people, depression is curable. The challenges lie in accepting what is wrong and then getting the necessary medical and therapeutic help. In many places, Mental Health Care is still grossly underfunded so the quality of help available to individuals varies considerably.

So, as I heal, what next?

I felt fragile for a many months as I recovered. I felt that something could easily make my depression come back. Thankfully, it didn’t and the feeling of fragility gradually faded. Twelve months later and there’s still a tiny bit of that feeling, but it only wakes up for a few minutes of each day. With it comes an appreciation. An appreciation for the life that I have. We take our health for granted? I believe that most of us do. But, in the aftermath of something like this, it is so wonderful to wake up and realize how fortunate I am to have the life that I have. There’s something special there when I see my family. It’s something that wasn’t there before. It’s a love of the simplicity of being alive and having each other. Am I saying that I’m glad that I went through my depression? No – I wouldn’t wish depression on anybody. I’m just saying that there is some good to have come out of it. I would not be who I am now without depression and in many ways I feel better than the person I was before. When I teach children, I am so much more aware of their brain/mental health. When I hear of others experiencing mental health issues, I am so much better equipped to be helpful and supportive. When I interact with those around me, I do so with a belief that my words and actions can affect the health of their brains. Depression changed me. It was awful, but it ultimately changed me for the better.

I don’t intend this book to be ground-breaking – I know that it isn’t. However, I do hope that it will help someone. I know that hearing about the experiences of others was a great help to me. The unfortunate thing was that people weren’t very willing to open up about the topic because of the stigma still attached to it. I had to go through all this to learn what I learned. Surely there is an easier way? Hopefully we can change this for our children.

If you’re out there and suffering, hang in there. If you’re out there and talking about your experiences then keep going. Together we can change the way things are. Together, we can make mental health stigma a thing of the past.

THE END.

FOR NOW.

Thanks for reading.

Justin

Chapter 10: A New Outlook

A NEW OUTLOOK AND CONTINUED DIAGNOSES.

Is this over for me? Did I have a terrible experience, get through it, and manage to learn something from it to help make me a better person? Yes, no, and maybe to all of the above. I did have a terrible experience. I think that I am through it. I do feel like I’m a somewhat better person for it. I have no idea if it’s completely over. My psychiatrist has talked of a potential bipolar type 3 diagnosis. From what I understand, bipolar type 1 is extreme mood swings in a very short amount of time. You wake up in the morning, feeling great, but arrive home at the end of the day feeling the exact opposite. Bipolar type 3 is similar swings, but they happen more slowly – over periods of years. Type 2 is somewhere in between. I’ve greatly over-simplified, and mostly due to my own lack of knowledge about Bipolar, but the idea is there. (Maybe one of my awesome Twitter friends will help me with this part.)  Bipolar type 3 is very difficult to diagnose, but if that is the best description of my issue then it means that there is a cycle to it and that I will likely go through the cycle again.

“Alas, the litmus test for depression and related disorders still eludes us and so I am left uncertain as to the reasons for my experience.”

The cycle can often be seen with periods of high productivity, either at home, at work, or both. These are followed by the periods of depression. As I mentioned earlier in the book, I was feeling very creative and being very productive leading up to this ‘crash’. I was writing, building, raising my family, being husband, working on my guitar skills, my swimming skills, and working out to a point where I was no longer enjoying any of this. I also remember this from ten years ago when this happened before. Through discussions with my psychiatrist I have also identified at least two other similar cycles between these two depressive episodes. In these ‘intermediate’ cycles, the highs and lows, were not as pronounced, but I can certainly identify them and link them to similar feelings, such as health anxiety.

Alternatively, maybe it was a reaction to the antibiotics. Perhaps that was the trigger. Perhaps it was also the trigger ten years ago when I went through something so similar.  I don’t remember being on anything back then, before it happened, but it is certainly possible. Maybe the cause was negative life experiences and stressors? Environmental? Dietary? Genetic? Developmental? Maybe it will never come back. Hopefully.

Alas, the litmus test for depression and related disorders still eludes us and so I am left uncertain as to the reasons for my experience. I’m left listening to the expert opinions of others and ultimately arriving my own conclusions. I wonder if, in years to come, we will have many more ‘names’ for what we currently describe as just a few related conditions? Maybe what has happened to me is an as yet undiscovered/named disorder with a specific cause and cure? Time will tell? Hopefully.

 

 

Chapter 9: Part II: Friends and Loved Ones

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.

Chapter 9: Friends and Loved Ones

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

Chapter 8: Part III: 10 Things That I Felt As I Recovered From Depression

10 Things That I Felt/Thought as I Recovered from Depression:

 

  1. I felt fragile, like I might relapse at any moment.
  2. I had been taking my health and happiness for granted for way too long… life is to be appreciated.
  3. Depression sucks more than I ever realized. I had my own misconceptions about depression, but they have been put firmly in their place.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Wouldn’t it be terrible if a child had to go through this… which lead very quickly to point #9.
  9. What is being done to help children that go through this?
  10. I was relieved that my suicidal thoughts had stayed passive and that I had never taken my own life.

Chapter 8: Part II: The Snow Globe Aftermath

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.

Chapter 8: The Snow Globe Aftermath

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…