Holy smokes, you guys. Guess what this week is? That’s right. It’s National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week (May 5-11, 2013). Ah, how poetic! I was going through some old drafts in the blog files and found the following post, which I wrote a few years ago. (You’ll notice that I sound like a very Serious Sally. It’s not the subject matter — I just hadn’t found my voice yet, y’all. No worries.) I thought about rewriting to find the funny in it, but I wrote it from my heart, and I figure you might as well read it that way. And I didn’t want to take away from the truth of how difficult it can really be sometimes.
So, here it is, without any attempts at humor to hide the hurt. This is how I deal.
There are 15 million people in the United States who suffer depression. I am one of them. I was diagnosed when I was about 15-years old going through treatment for anorexia as the two often go hand-in-hand. I was an official member of the Prozac Generation, prescribed the popular anti-depressant of the 1990s, and stayed on it for about five years until I decided that I was tired of living with only neutral emotions. Yes, the anti-depressants certainly helped to alleviate the lows that I experienced, but they also took away any highs I might have had. After I emerged on the other side of my eating disorder, I assumed that my depression was behind me as well. But it wasn’t. I began to think that my anorexia had been a physical manifestation of my depression. Even now it’s hard to say which came first. However, I continued off and on in therapy for years until my last therapist in New York City suggested that I start coming multiple times a week at about $200+ a session. My Midwestern sensibility has always considered psychoanalysis a luxury; my therapist believed it a necessity. We parted due to irreconcilable differences.
For most of my adult life, I have felt unhappy more often than not. And with no good reason. I have a wonderful life: I am healthy, have an incredible family, and want for nothing. Because I recognized that I had no cause for unhappiness, I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I had some inherent personality flaw that caused me to never be satisfied with life no matter how good it was. Then I’d feel guilty for feeling dissatisfied because I am so fortunate, and that didn’t help me either. I legitimately believed that I was crazy.
Then last year I read this article. It’s an older article, but it was a revelation to me: dysthymia. Dysthymia is a long-term, mild depression that causes people to feel generally unsatisfied and discontent with life. The article was describing me. I cried when I realized that there was a name for what I was feeling, that I wasn’t actually crazy, and that I might finally be able to manage it. I then went on a Google frenzy, learning everything that I could about it. Many sources said that often times drugs and cognitive therapy are not effective, which I had found to be true, and that the onset often occurs during adolescence. Again, all true of my experience. I felt a glimmer of hope that long-term happiness was truly a possibility for me.
I prefer to try any and all alternatives before turning to medication, so when I noticed that the Mayo Clinic had tips for coping with dysthymia, I was determined to implement them all.
- Simplify your life. Cut back on obligations when possible, and set reasonable schedules for goals.
- Write in a journal to express your pain, anger, fear or other emotions.
- Read reputable self-help books and consider talking about them to your doctor or therapist.
- Don’t become isolated. Try to participate in normal activities and get together with family or friends regularly.
- Take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep.
- Join a support group for people with depression-related conditions so that you can connect to others facing similar challenges.
- Stay focused on your goals. Recovery from dysthymia is an ongoing process. Stay motivated by keeping your recovery goals in mind. Remind yourself that you’re responsible for managing your illness and working toward your goals.
- Learn relaxation and stress management. Try such stress-reduction techniques as meditation, yoga or tai chi.
- Structure your time. Plan your day and activities. Try to stay organized. You may find it helpful to make a list of daily tasks.
I was doing many of these suggestions already, but not with any routine or structure, so I set about creating a daily health maintenance routine. I accepted that my chronic, low-grade depression may never go away, that there isn’t a magic cure, but I could be happy if I committed to doing these things each and every day. And it’s worked very well. I’m happier than I’ve been in as long as I can remember. My family thinks so, too.
I am writing this because it’s hard to talk about depression. I think it’s the nature of the beast. When your depressed you say to yourself, “Why would anyone want to hear about how sad I am? It’s doesn’t matter that much. I should just get over it.” I spent so many years depressed that I stopped talking about it to my closest friends and family because I was convinced that they were sick of hearing about it. So, if you’re like me, you’d rather keep your struggle to yourself than reach out for help. But it does matter. You matter. Sometimes you can’t heal without help.
And that’s the truth.
And that’s where I ended this post when I published it earlier today.
For the last two hours, I’ve felt like I cheated. I felt like I conveniently avoided talking about what depression feels like, and I realize that maybe I’m a little too far over on the dark side right now to actually talk about it. I wish that I could, but I’m trying to keep it together. This blogger really gets it, so take a look at how she illustrates living with depression.
The good thing is that hysterical laughter is just a heave away from hysterical sobbing, so I should be funny again soon.
God, I hope so.
Love.photo credit: Brian