Depression – Learning to Live Again
An Invisible and Silent Disease
Depression is an invisible disease. The signs of depression are not noticeable to most people, including friends and family members who are close to the person suffering from this condition.
Depression is also a silent disease. People who have depression do not talk about what is happening. Many may not know or understand what is happening. People who do understand that they are suffering from depression may not talk about it because they view depression as a sign of weakness. They may feel ashamed because they feel helpless or worry that they might be a burden to other people.
Depression can affect people of any age, race, gender, and financial background. (That’s right, rich people can suffer from depression, too, just like the common folk!)
Symptoms: Did You Know?
Depression is more than feeling a little blue or sad for a day or two. Depression is when you experience extreme emotional distress for an extended period of time, usually a minimum of two weeks. Unless you have suffered from depression, you cannot understand what a person is going through. Depression symptoms are different for each person.
Sadness. Inability to cope with life. Feeling helpless. Lack of energy. Inability to function. Loss of focus. Being numb to all feelings. Extreme anger or guilt for no known reason. There are really no words to adequately describe the symptoms that a depressed person will feel. Some people will cry a lot . . . some people are not able to cry. Some symptoms are physical. Some people will shake like they are freezing, while other will sweat. Muscle cramps. Pain that radiates from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Blinding headaches. Nausea for no reason. Depression can cause strange rashes and acne breakouts. Some people will sleep a lot and have trouble staying awake. Others will not be able to sleep for several days at a time. Some people will not eat for days or even months at a time, and other people will eat nonstop as a way to cope with the feelings.
What Triggers Depression?
The most common cause for depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The chemical imbalance confuses the brain, which is why people can suffer from such extreme range of symptoms. The triggers for the chemical imbalance are as varied as the symptoms it causes. The most common triggers are stress and hormones. Stress triggers or stressful situations can include a change in the home life, illness or death of a loved one, a fight with family or friends, breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, loss of a job or starting a new job, and school issues. Basically any situation that will cause you to feel stressed can trigger depression. (That doesn’t mean it will trigger depression, just that it can.)
Hormone imbalance or changes are the other big trigger of depression. There are certain times in life when you hormone level will change, such as entering the teenage years, middle age, and entering the retirement age/elderly years. A pregnant lady has to deal with roller coaster hormone levels throughout the pregnancy and after the baby is born, which often causes depression. Medical issues can trigger depression, such as cancer, anything requiring surgery, problems with the thyroid, and problems with sleeping. Conditions that require long-term medications, such as high blood pressure, can trigger depression. Drug and alcohol abuse can also trigger depression but more often they are used as a way to cope with the feelings.
The Road to Recovery: Step by Step
The first step to recovery is to realize there is something wrong. The next step is to seek help. Having a friend that you can talk to about being depressed is a great place to start but it will take more than just talking. A chemical imbalance is not likely to correct itself, and it tends to get worse. The best thing you can do is go to a doctor. You have to be honest about what is going on in your life and the symptoms you are feeling. If you are not honest with your doctor, he/she cannot properly treat your depression. If you only tell the doctor about part of the symptoms, the doctor will only treat you for the symptoms you have told him/her rather than starting treatment for depression. There are a large number of prescription medications available to treat depression. You may have to try several different medications or combinations of the medications before finding the one that works for you. Please be aware that some medications may cause suicidal thoughts. Please seek help right way if you have any thoughts of harming yourself or others.
If you are the type of person who doesn’t like taking about medication, you can search the Internet for natural remedies and alternatives to the traditional medications. St John’s Wort extract is commonly used as a natural remedy for depression.
My Story: I Know How You Feel
I have suffered from depression for over 20 years. As a preteen, I started pulling away from family and friends. Being around a crowd would send me in to a panic – even if it was family or people I knew. My family did not understand what I was going through. I was told that I was lazy when I didn’t want to go do stuff. I was being anti-social when I would hide in my room during family get-togethers. I was “faking it” when I would feel sick to my stomach. My acne was caused from eating too much junk food. I was just being moody when I was having major mood swings from crying to anger to guilt. I was told that it was something I would grow out of. My depression was so severe that I was suicidal.
I was not able to talk to teachers or the school counselor about what I was going through because my mother worked at the school, and I would get in trouble for doing anything that would make her look bad. I learned to hide what I was going through. Some days it was harder to hide than other days. I learned to fake being happy. Many of the people I went to school with didn’t have any idea that I was suffering from major clinical depression. Most of my teachers never knew the thoughts that went through my mind.
The first time I was able to get help for the depression was after I graduated from high school. I went to the doctor for something else and mentioned the depression. At first I tried to hide it, to make it seem like it was not as bad as it really was. Luckily my doctor saw right through the act and started me on some medication. We ended up trying several different medications before we found the one that helped. My doctor also sent me to Ozark Guidance for therapy and to join a support group. Every couple of years I would have to try a different medication because my body had gotten used to the medication to the point that it wasn’t working anymore. I continued the medications and therapy when I could afford it.
Learning to Cope: Start With Baby Steps
The way I have learned to cope with the depression is to take one day at a time. I try my best to avoid situations that I know will be stressful for me. An example of this is going shopping in the early morning hours when the stores are not as crowded. If I do find myself in a situation where I start feeling stressed, I will do my best to remove myself from the situation. Simply walk away. If I am not able to leave the problem area, I will try to zone out and try breathing techniques to keep myself calm. My cats have been a big help in getting me through the bad days. I can pet and cuddle with them while I cry, and they will just purr and be content to lay in bed with me.
There are a lot of days where I have trouble just getting out of bed. There are a lot of days where making it to the couch in the living room is a great accomplishment. The problem is that life keeps going and you still have things that have to be done. My advice is . . . “Just Do It!” Start with small goals. You know that you have housework that has to be done . . . but you put it off because you don’t feel like doing it and can find more enjoyable things to do, such as playing on the computer. The longer you put off something like washing laundry or dishes . . . it is just going to get worse.
Start with small goals – make a list of things that need done on a daily basis. Tell yourself that when you get up in the morning, you will start a load of laundry. While the laundry is going, wash a sink full of dishes. By the time you are done with dishes, the laundry should be done. Transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Wow! You have gotten a lot accomplished today! Now you can sit in front of the TV or computer for several hours. The only way things are going to get done is if you force yourself to do it.
My Final Advice
Don’t map out your day hour by hour! If you do not get things accomplished in the time you have set, then you will get bummed out and not get anything done. It is understandable that you will have bad days where you don’t get anything done, but don’t let it be every day.
Unfortunately for me, I could not afford the medications during the most stressful time in my life. I had to find little ways to survive because life goes on even if I didn’t want to. Even after all the years that I have suffered from depression, my family still does not understand. I still have to deal with the comments of “you're just being lazy” or "moody." I am able to see the symptoms in other family member and friends, and I point it out so they can get help.