As I've been writing my series on how to achieve positive change, a number of topics have kept cropping up as obstacles. One of them is depression. Obviously we're not just talking "got the blues" depression, but real energy sapping clinical depression. The type that pretty much sucks away your life. And that's what this post is going to be all about.
It's Always Been There
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was in my early twenties. But that didn't happen until I had an episode so bad it screwed up my life enough that I quit my job. Well... I just stopped going actually. Looking back it's pretty clear to me now that my first major episode actually occurred while I was at University and just fell under the radar.
Even before that many of the elements that trigger my occasional relapses were already presents. My brain, unfortunately, seems to be wired in a way that doesn't handle stress so well and the pressure from anxiety and stress can get too much if I don't keep an eye open for the warning signs.
It's never going to go away either. With the most recent relapse (over a year ago) my wife pretty much flat out told me that I needed to go and see the doctor and get back on my medication again. I can be stable and entirely self sufficient for years at a time. But as soon as something knocks me off balance, I am unable to right myself without some assistance.
It's very hard to describe depression to someone who hasn't experienced it. And even for those who have I think it can be quite an individual thing. For me it is a constant bouncing from one emotion to another. Anger, fear, misery. My brain won't slow down or switch off. It keeps re-hashing every thing I did wrong again and again, until sometimes I need to dig my nails into my arm as hard as I can to distract myself.
There's also an exhaustion to it. Everything is so much effort. Waking up in the morning is almost painful for the immediate panic that I would feel on realizing I had to go to work. My foot would start twitching and I would lay there for some time, trying to calm myself enough to just get up and get dressed. There are few things more challenging that battling with your own mind. I frequently find myself spinning in mental circles when faced with decisions.
I am fortunate in that I have never experienced thoughts of suicide. My personal low point was when I simply stayed home from work and refused to answer the phone for long enough that the police were called to check up on me. But I can understand how people end up committing suicide and I don't see it as an act of cowardice.
What are the Triggers?
How long is a piece of string? There many many elements to depression and I'm certainly not qualified to provide a good answer to a question like that. I know that I have a number of triggers like stress and anxiety. And I know that there are things about the way my brain is wired that make me particularly sensitive to certain activities. Inevitably then I've gone to some effort to insulate myself from them.
One of the ways I have attempted to reduce stress in my life in the past is to eliminate surprises. I have a lot of routine in my life. I know what to expect and I know how to deal with it. Strong emotions are also something I tend to see as the enemy, capable of sending me spinning out of control one more time. Sometimes this can make me a bit of a control freak, but sometimes that's what I need.
Most people who know me would say I have a strong personality. I tend to be very confident of my opinions and can be extremely stubborn, but none of that is any use when suffering from depression. Then my own mind is working against me, warping my perceptions and making me question my judgment all the time.
There is no doubt that depression has had a major impact in how my life is shaped. It's not something I can just casually ignore. As much as I plan to try and embrace some change, I have to keep in mind my own limits. Stress, anxiety, strong emotions, these all have the potential to send me completely off the rails. Any plans I make have to include methods to handle stress and anxiety and give me time to adjust to new things.
- Treating children for anxiety 'would cut risk of mental illness' (independent.co.uk)
- Do Antidepressants Raise Risk of Depression Relapse? (bodandbeyond.com)
- Common Causes of Depression (earlsview.com)
- For depression, relapsers go to the front of the brain (esciencenews.com)
- About Anxiety Depression (usefulposts.wordpress.com)
- Does dad's stress affect his kids? (news.bioscholar.com)
- Depression and Insomnia (webmd.com)
- Coming to Terms With Depression (webmd.com)