Thoughts on Depression

I listened to a very interesting piece on Radio 4 yesterday about depression. Gwyneth Lewis, Wales’ first National poet, was talking about her experience with depression, in the segment “What Disability Means.” If you want to listen to it yourself, here’s a link.

It got me thinking about how my view of depression has shifted recently. Nowadays depression is considered as an illness, something far more complex than just a mood problem, something that has as much of a physical cause and effect as a mental one. In one way this is a good thing, since it treats depression with the seriousness that it deserves. But at the same time, it gives the impression that when you are suffering with depression, it is a transient problem, a disease that can be cured, something you will eventually shake off, like the flu. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. It seemed that one day I was feeling fine, and the next day, bam! I’d caught a nasty dose of depression. Pop along to the doctors and get a prescription for something to clear it up.

And of course, it’s not that simple. There is no magic pill, there is no therapeutic formula. Doctors talk about ‘remission’ from depression, rather than recovery, because once you have experienced a bout of major depression, your chances of suffering a recurrence are very, very high, even with correct treatment. Around 80% of people who have had clinical depression will experience a relapse at some point in the future.

(Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that this also means that 1 in 5 people who have a bout of depression will recover from it, and not experience a relapse.)

But this is not something you want to hear when you are undergoing treatment for depression. You want to believe that you will get better and stay better. You want to live without the fear that the big black cloud will descend upon you again. You want to be free, to live your life to the full, to be joyful and at peace, instead of watching yourself all the time for signs that you are backsliding. But I am beginning to realise that as long as you have that attitude towards depression, you are making everything much harder for yourself. You are placing far too high expectations on your treatment plan, whether that is medication, therapy, nutrition, herbal, or anything else. You are placing too much pressure on yourself too. Perhaps you do well for a while, feel really good, think you are cured. Then you hit a bad day/week/month. The bubble bursts. Your worst fears are realised. Nothing works! You’ll never be well, never be free. You plunge even further into the depths. Everything goes on hold, waiting for that day when you are finally ‘well’.

I’m coming to realise that, as with most difficulties in life, acceptance is the key to dealing with depression. Not a passive acceptance, because there is so much you can do to help yourself. But acceptance that this is now a part of who you are, and that you need to make room in your life for it. Acceptance that there will be good days and bad days, and that both will pass. Acceptance that bouts of depression may recur, and that there may be little you can do about it when they do, except to face them with courage and patience. Acceptance that this is your life right now, and recognition that you still have the choice to live it however you want to, despite the depression. I think that acceptance brings strength with it.  

And that strength, that courage, is the strongest tool we can fight depression with.

17 thoughts on “Thoughts on Depression

  1. Beautifully said, Dee. Your words mirror my experiences, but I had never thought it out. You are absolutely right.

    Wishing us all strength.

  2. I didn’t hear that particular programme but have heard Gwyneth Lewis speak on depression previously. I agree that she offers an interesting insight into the illness. On the programme I heard, she was speaking about knitting as therapy and it featured her poem Hypnosis Knitting .

    All the best.

  3. My father entered depression in July ’84… for one year he tried in every way to get out of it but after a year he was mostly lying on the bed , staring at the ceiling and crying . He committed suicide in July ’85. In January he had spent a week in hospital having all possible check ups and they dismissed him , saying that physically he was fit. When they did his autopsy they found that his heart would have held on for a maximum of one miore month! His depression had destroyed his heart… he was heart broken practically. Since then I have total respect of real depression and of doctors who don’t just give pills… they aren’t always the solution…
    William Styron (wrote Sophie’s choice) wrote a book on his own depression and his road to recovery, which I read and cried over soon after my father left us… excellent true story)
    My father didn’t accept, and I respect his decision, but I’m really glad that there is so much more awareness among people now, and it is not taken so lightly…
    Just wanted to share my experience… a big hug everyone who has lived depression in one way or another… you are not alone!

  4. Dee my ovrewhelming reaction to what you have written is to be immensly proud of your growth in this area, I have been an avid reader of your blog for a few months now and as I explained to a friend in answer to the question “what is so special about that blog”. My answer is the authentic voice with which you write.
    I know for sure that the novel which has been started will be finished and I will besigning up for a pre order copy.
    2 questions. Have you read the Velveteen Rabbit? A must for all American children (of any age) but lesser known here. I can see you as well on the road to “real”.
    Have you ever thought of collecting together your posts on this blog as a book? I would buy this one too as it would be about real life and how wonderful and how hard it can be on concecutive days.
    One of my theories I am currently wondering is whether the bad patch is much worse when we have not been looking after ourselves the eay we know to do. Because one of the ways I deal with it is to withdraw and look after me. I wonder whether If I had done that earlier (and I often knew I should be doing it) it wouldn’t be so severe or maybe have not occured.
    Jacqueline

  5. What a wonderful post! I suffered with depression for sixteen years – now I accept it as a part of me, rather than as something to suffer. I started to accept it in January 2007. My big black dog had come back the previous May and I’d been trying to shoo it away on my own and had reached breaking point. Instead of getting rid of me in 1 minute 38 seconds (as doctor appointments seem to last…) my doctor sat and talked with me for a good ten minutes. We looked at my past record and he helped me to accept depression as as much a part of me as my dyslexia or blue eyes or any other part of me. He also made me realise that taking my medication shouldn’t be a last resort and something I’m ashamed of – I take my iron pills to keep the anaemia away so why not take my happy pills at a lower dose continually to keep the black dog away. Have been so much more stabler than having to go on the pills, come off, hit another peak, hit another trough, etc etc.

    He also made me realise that acceptance is the key to a lot of things. He made me promise to take me time, to do things that I wanted to do – especially when going through a bad patch. Knitting is my solace in my darkest times. It soothes me and helps me. Now I think of it as if I didn’t have my depression I’d never get my knitting done!

    Keep the courage flowing xxx

  6. Very thoughtful words Dee. I am so sorry I never got to WWWales to meet you in person – a lot of family tibulations at present.
    I agree with all you have said and also concur with Jacqueline in that I have found that management helps in depression, just as it would if one were diabetic or had some other chronic difficulty. I no longer feel guilty and self-hating if I feel the grey-mist descending – I sleep more and socialise less and it passes. If I cannot rise to an occasion I let it go, no longer believe I am permanently doomed, or that every day will be the same. Today is just today. Tomorrow is usually rather nice.

  7. Thank you so much for putting to words what I feel/think. Really more a feeling most days as it is so hard to describe to someone who has never entered the darkness. I found it so hard to tell anyone, including a doctor, about where I was that I , along with my family, suffered much longer than necessary. We continue to “tweak” medications as we go along. I do not yet see an end to medication. I may never stop taking depression meds, and that is ok.

    I so appreciate having a very real person, you, write about this. Thanks!!!!!!!!

    Beth

  8. Very well said, and thank you for sharing this on your blog. I agree that acceptance is a good thing, and I’ve found that I have to continually assess parts of my life, past and present, situations/circumstances, and by accepting them for who/ what they are, it has made my life a lot easier. It’s only taken me until my 40’s to figure this out, but what the heck. Better late than never 🙂

  9. Simply, thank you. What you have written applies to so many things, not just depression, and as usual is so well thought through, and so gently said. So often these days, we expect perfection, and cannot learn to live with anything else – of course we should strive for the best, whatever that may mean for each of us, but unless we can “eat what’s on the plate” and accept the hand we’re dealt, it’s so difficult to enjoy the now.

  10. Such a sad, bitter-sweet, simple truth. I’m sorry that so many of us know this.

    Right now, I’m walking the tightrope of being one bad day, one catastrophe, away from another bout of depression following the birth of my youngest. Since I’ve been on that tightrope, I’ve had many many catastrophes but haven’t fallen yet. What I have got is a renewed appreciation for life, and for living, and for not being depressed. Each precious day with him is all the sweeter because I remember missing the babyhood of another child, and all the other days of my life I missed waiting to feel better. It helps me appreciate the need to live in the here and now, and to live each day to its fullest.

  11. I had postnatal depression with my eldest son, now 24, and then had a gap of 15/16 years with out. I’ve been on the pills for 8 years now. But in that time I’ve gone to art school for two years, and then University for 4, and got a BA Hons in Three Dimensional Design. And while I’m not doing anything directly connected to the degree I feel that it has all fed into where and what I’m doing now.

    I saw the depression as a catalyst to change what I was doing, and to move in a different direction.

    I think it’s about courage too, the courage to know yourself and to spot when you need help, or when you need to take extra care of yourself, and the courage to look gently at yourself when you need to.

    When I was first diognosed in 2000 a friend of mine said that I was a very strong woman. I really did not see that strength and depression go hand in hand, now I feel that they do.

  12. it is in this post that one can tell…you will be alright. you will start surfacing now.

    and if i may suggest a kitten name. one of them looks just like a Grace.

  13. My greatest comfort is that I’m not alone in feeling that way. It takes a very brave person to admit in public that they have depression. It is a lonely illness and you have been so encouraging by sharing how you feel.

  14. Thank you for speaking so openly and honestly about this subject. I am just seeing light at the end of a 2 year tunnel. Until recently, I felt that I just needed to “pull up my socks” and get on with it – I had no idea that I was suffering from depression., perhaps because it still isn’t discussed at great length. The stories of others who are coping and moving forward are a great comfort and motivation for me. “Susan” made a lovely comment above about strength and depression going hand in hand – I think it’s very true – something to write on a scrap and keep in my wallet.
    Take care, Karin

  15. Thanks for a beautifully written piece on depression. I am 55 years old and have suffered from depression since my mid-teens. In those days it didn’t have a name so I wasn’t formally diagnosed until my mid-twenties after my first child. I felt I had to keep it a secret and felt very shameful about it, that I should be able to “buck up” and conquer it on my own. Over the past few years (yes, it has taken that long!) I have finally accepted that this is a lifelong struggle and nothing to be ashamed of. By reading pieces such as yours and understanding that there are so many clever, creative and wonderful people out there with the same condition it has helped me to come out of my closet and let the world know what I’m dealing with. I can now handle the descending black cloud by telling myself that it is only temporary, ride it out and soon I will feel myself again. Oh, and I subscribe to the “better living through pharmaceuticals” point of view. I fought the idea of having to take medications but since being on anti-depressants for the past 2 years I have been able to better cope with the world at large and my down times have been much less severe and of shorter duration. Take care, Julie