If you had asked me in my teens or early twenties what depression was, I would have shrugged, and said, “When someone can’t get happy, or won’t choose to be happy, because they keep holding onto negative thoughts’. I am 47, and I can only remember ‘depression’ being classified as a physical ailment, not just a psychological one, after I turned 40! I am ashamed of my ignorance. I only began to understand more about what depression really is after having a husband who is very open and honest about his struggles, and who shared with me his experiences with it before we ever met.
It was after his divorce to his first wife. Sadness and anxiety persisted long after the initial pain and stress of the divorce itself had ended. He went to counseling and began a course of antidepressants. Two years later, he ended the pills in the step-down method his doctor prescribed, and seems to have beaten the disease. I found out that after a long period of this flood of chemicals into the body signaling stress and anxiety, the normal levels of serotonin in the brain can be reset to just not produce as they should, or once did. That’s when antidepressants can really help. Not everyone has success with every type of antidepressant, however, and some people beat it drug-free. Some are never diagnosed and just muddle on, wondering why they feel empty, drained, tired, and that life is meaningless. There are so many complex reasons for why we may feel that way, ranging from brain chemicals to unresolved issues, and current stress-such as being in an abusive relationship, or coping with ill family members, etc. However, the ability to cope with these crises in life can adversely be affected by a lack of the proper levels of the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in our brains. Counseling is often very important to go along with medication, or may even supplant the need for medication, in the event that we just need deeper insight and understanding on how our minds may be hindering us from making progress, due to unhealthy , unproductive thought processes.
That being said, the misconception many people have had, is that depression is ALL based on those unproductive, unhealthy thoughts, possibly arising from previous or current emotional trauma or circumstance. Some would cite the need for faith, positive thinking, and regular exercise. All these things are wonderful, but what an eye-opener to realize that a chemical imbalance could be the issue, and what a relief to know that at least some of our despair can be relieved with the right medication! Imagine being told your whole life that if you just squint, and focus really hard, you’ll be able to see better, when eyeglasses or contacts are what you really needed for better eyesight!
But can medicine alone solve all our problems? No. While depression can be like looking though dirty, dark glass at life, it still matters how we think about, and respond to, what life brings our way. It may be easier to see through clean, clear glass, but we also need to relearn how to talk to ourselves, and how to properly view setbacks in life. We can learn to respond to what we perceive as negative with productive thoughts and attitudes, as well. For example: Marti has been called into the office at work a few times this month for performance issues. She is trying very hard to get better, correct mistakes, and to be careful, but the office visits keep coming. Marti has gotten used to punishing herself and being very hard on herself whenever she feels she is ‘failing’. She complains to her husband that she is ‘just a stupid failure who never gets anything right”. Obviously, Marti has more going on than medication alone could address. So, issues like depression can be wrapped around a lot of other issues, like low self-esteem, fear of failure, fear of punishment, inability to accept oneself, and so on.
That’s me up there. “Marti.” I was feeling down after a series of family tragedies, and I couldn’t get back up. I went to my doctor, because my normal zest for life had really begun to wane. I just wanted to sleep my days away, hoping the next would be better. I had occasional thoughts that I was good for nothing, had no purpose since my kids were grown, and that my life was meaningless. I suspected I might have depression, due to what I have learned about it in the past few years. I felt like a failure and waste of oxygen.
Depression isn’t feeling blue for a bit- it is a real medical condition that can be treated. Depression can have many causes, but going to the doctor and being honest about how you feel is so important to do! Please, if you feel you may be suffering from depression- if no amount of exercise or positive thinking is solving your problems, and if you lack energy, motivation, or joy in life, or have any thoughts that you wish you had never been born, or want to die- PLEASE go see a doctor. It might be depression. It might be that you need counseling/therapy as well. But GO. Go and be well.
for help and resources, please check out the following websites:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255