Well, as you all know, it’s been a difficult few months. What with one thing and another, life has been a little fraught. There have been days, weeks actually, where life seemed like a long dark tunnel. But we’ve come through the other side, older, wiser, and with an extra awareness of, and gratitude for the sunshine.
I often debate on how much to share with readers of my blog. I don’t have a problem with talking about personal stuff, but I am aware that you don’t always want a dose of cold reality when you read blogs. After all, we all have enough reality of our own to deal with. But on the other hand, if my experiences can help someone else, even if it’s just to let them know that they are not alone in their struggles, then I feel it’s my responsibility (and my privilege) to share them. After all, one of the things that helped me through the darker days was the reassurances and advice of a good friend who is recovering from depression herself.
So, as the dark days get fewer, and the bright days get longer and lighter, here are my reflections on coming through depression. Please bear in mind that these are just my personal opinions, based on my particular experience. You may be quite different, so feel free to ignore me if you want!
First of all, I do wish that they would come up with a different label for this illness than depression. When you tell people that you are being treated for depression, they immediately think of their own blue days, and think they know just how you are feeling. Depression isn’t always about being depressed, which is perhaps why I didn’t realise that I was slipping into that dark pit myself. I was very irritated one day by a comment from someone, who said they were feeling a bit down themselves, and maybe they should go and get the pills that I’m on. Feeling a bit down is not the same as fullblown depression. Feeling depressed is not always the same as having depression. That’s not to minimise other people’s unhappiness, I quite understand that life can be hard, and that you can get a severe case of the blues. I have been there many times myself, and sometimes those blues lasted for quite a while. But depression is quite, quite different, and it’s only when you’ve experienced it that you realise that.
I think a good way to sum up the difference is this: when you are miserable, depressed, stressed, feeling blue, you are still in control of your brain. You can still make choices, live your life, have a conversation, read a book, be normal. You’re miserable, but you are still you. When you have depression, it’s like someone else has taken over. You can’t think, can’t concentrate. You can’t control your moods or your reactions. You feel like an alien being has taken over your brain, and you lose your identity. Perhaps that’s the most unpleasant aspect of depression, worse than the anxiety attacks, the insomnia, the lack of concentration, the crying spells, or whatever other symptoms you have to contend with. It’s frightening, not feeling like yourself. Like being locked up in a tiny room with an unpredictable stranger.
And it happens so insidiously. I can look back now and see the warning signs that I was getting ill, but I didn’t realise at the time. Perhaps that’s why family or friends sometimes realise you are ill before you do – they can see the changes objectively. If someone you love and trust tells you that they are worried, that you don’t seem yourself, that you need to see a doctor, listen. The earlier you can get some help, the easier it will be to get well.
And that’s the first piece of advice I would give: go to your doctor. Don’t try to treat yourself (which is what I did), or you may make things worse. I’m a firm believer in alternative remedies, but sometimes, traditional medicine is the only answer, and the longer you resist that for, the harder it will be. I was extremely lucky, in having a great GP, who really listens and has worked hard to find the right treatment for me. I was also very lucky in that there’s a good mental health system in our county, so I was visited regularly and closely monitored, during the worst part of my illness. That helped so much. And once you are on the road to recovery, however far you have to travel down that road, you can start to bring in alternative remedies (if you choose) to assist you in getting well. (Of course, talk to your doctor first, as medication can conflict with some remedies.)
One thing that has helped me tremendously is exercise. So many studies have been done on the part that exercise has to play in recovering from clinical depression, just Google it and you’ll see. Regular exercise also encourages you to eat properly, which can be difficult when you are ill. Nutrition plays such a vital role in mental health, and if you are interested in that side of things, I would recommend Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition for the Mind.
Finally, I can’t overstate the value of a good support network. Lean on your family and friends, talk when you can, accept any offers of help. I am doubly lucky, because as well as having a supportive family and some wonderful real life friends, I have a network of loving, supportive friends online as well. Meaning you. That made all the difference to me, so I thank you. I hope, with all my heart, that if you are reading this, and going through it yourself at the moment, that even a little bit of what I’ve said has helped. That tunnel may seem to stretch on for eternity, but you’ll come through it one day. And believe me, when you do, that blast of sunshine will seem even sweeter.
Stay well, my friends.