Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others. We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.from Henri J.M. Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey.
For most of my life, I did not know what it meant to be depressed. I’ve always been shy, reserved, and moody – some even went so far as to call me melancholy.
In 2002, I had been home with my three young kids (a one year old, a three, and a four-year old) for about a year when everything I had known all came crashing down. There are a number of things that converged to make this happen — some too personal to mention here — others, are so obvious; postpartum issues, leaving “work” after a thirteen year career with no healthy closure, and I was not handling being a stay-at-home mom very well. I wasn’t sure that I liked it.
It came on gradually. And not knowing what to look for, I got deeply depressed before I knew what was happening to me. For about five weeks, I went from an unhappy stay-at-home mom to completely nonfunctional. I was sleeping on the couch during the day with TV on for my three kids. They wandered around, played, watched TV and I was aware of them but barely. I know that was irresponsible but all I can say is that it came on slowly, over time, and before I knew it I was seriously ill. I thank God for protecting them. I couldn’t do anything: grocery shop (too many decisions and choices), I couldn’t sleep (at night), I couldn’t cook though no one starved. After over a month of this, I finally told Tom something was wrong with me and I was scared. A key for my slowing recovery was that Tom was supportive.
Depression isn’t anything one seeks and unless you fight it tooth and nail it overtakes your life. It overcomes your heart, mind, and soul.
It is critical that the family surrounding the depressed person are encouraging and supportive and never judge. I got a therapist who helped immensely. You see usually someone become depressed when they are stuffing feelings or memory or when they are not dealing with things in a healthy way. I began to work on my issues with my parents and childhood. The details aren’t that interesting and only muddy the waters, plus I’ve written many poems about those years. Working on my stuff was critical. Being willing to work on your stuff is the only way you can begin the journey to recovery.
I did get to a point when I thought I was losing my mind. I felt severe anger and violence that was very unlike me. I finally called my therapist requesting medication when I had a thought of hurting one of my children. No, I never touched anyone in anger but I had the thoughts and they scared me sufficiently. My therapist was old school and wanted me to work not take pills. I tried it for a while but got to a point when I knew I needed more.
My memories are foggy at this point. But over the years, as I have worked things through (five or six different psychiatrists and psychologists not because I’m difficult mind you! really. I have a HMO and the Residents are always moving on you! It actually stinks, when you have intimacy and trust issues to have your therapist change every few years but that’s life. And I finally landed on a non-student who has done some brilliant work with me. Sometimes I see him quite often, and then at others I go for months without. I have episodes of reoccurring depression and then I get in with him quickly and he clears the fog in my brain. He’s a salt of the earth kind of doctor and he is practical and clear. Access to this has been another key to my return to normalcy.
Lastly at a certain point I found writing to be healing and cethartic. I began to write poems and found all this crap inside that I couldn’t express in any other way. Many times I know I shocked people with how I said things or what I said, but for me this has been a key to healing.
Right now, I am depressed. How do I know? Monday on the way home from a field trip I started to feel anxious, and glum, and kind of frantic. The grocery story was overwhelming, when I went to get things for dinner. Gardening, which I usually find pleasing just made me frustrated. Nothing seemed to help. No nicotine any more. Man I miss it sometimes. And then the feeling lingered, was there when I woke the next day. I was listless and unproductive. I couldn’t focus on anything. My eating became irregular. I craved sugar. Yes, in some ways it could be that time of the month but this feeling is still here, a pit in my stomach, … it lingers. It makes my chest feel heavy. It’s not serious – yet. But you bet I’m gonna keep an eye on it because if it doesn’t go I’ll have to start fighting. This week I’ve been very unproductive except for yard work. That can’t continue.
Since my episode of major depression I have had nine or ten minor episodes and as many serious setbacks that required intervening by the doctor. Over the course of eight years I have learned a lot. I have become more empathetic to others: when someone asks me how I’m doing I never lie. “Good, and you,” will never come out of my mouth. I have learned to tell the truth. Good and bad. I see people now, I can usually see if someone is depressed. No, I don’t say anything usually but sometimes I reach out a bit more intentionally.
You never know what is going on with people. I walked around for more than five weeks a zombie, and not even my husband knew what was going on. A depressed person isolates (which is another thing I watch for when I feel like I do right now.). A depressed person has a terrible self-esteem believing all sorts of lies about themselves and others. They can’t sleep well (which is very important to recovery.) They should not drink alcohol as it is a depressant and will only increase the poor mood. I believe my alcoholism contributed to the depth of my depression over the last eight years. Now that I’m sober it is much easier to get out of a slump.
To sum it up, fairly incoherently I might add, a depressed person needs:
- to eat healthy even if they are “not hungry.”
- to get some form of exercise every day even if it is a walk around the block.
- to not sleep during the day.
- to sleep at night even if that means taking something (with a doctor’s supervision) and not for more than a few weeks.
- to see a Psychiatrist for possible medications and a Psychologist for therapy. You must be in therapy to work on the reasons for your depression. They will not go away. And you cannot heal without dealing with your shit. You do not have to take an antidepressant and I don’t recommend doing that unless strongly encouraged by a doctor. They are difficult to come off for some people.
- should not drink alcohol.
- needs to be with people even if it means someone who loves them makes it happen. They cannot be allowed to isolate. This was truthfully a key to my healing. Getting together and telling friends and knowing they cared.
- requires the support, care, trust and love from family.
- And at a certain point, a depressed person needs to fight. So a kick in the pants might be required. You really do have to fight it, once you are strong enough to do so. If you can eat, walk, talk, then you can fight.
I’ve walked this journey and would be willing to meet with anyone who just wants to talk. Or to listen, if that seems too hard. Whatever your experience, whether it is loving someone who is depressed or being that person yourself, you have a story. From my experience, the healing comes in the telling.
Yikes, even as I write this I hesitate to push PUBLISH because it’s just scratching the surface. But it is a beginning and well, I can’t be a perfectionist here. These are a very sketchy thoughts. I hope they help even just one someone. There is so much more to be said! I have read so many books! And done so much thinking on this that this hardly reflects or represents it. I haven’t touched on faith & depression at all. But it is all I have tonight. Here are a few links.
Mayo Clinic Depression self-test.
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