What IS “Depression?”
This subject isn’t easy for most people to talk about.
But I’m willing.
If I talk about it, if more people talk about it, its mystery and stigma will lessen. Maybe then it won’t be so frightening, so laden with shame, secrecy…
A late night talk show host recently called depression “like being in an elevator when the bottom falls out; a “‘sinkhole.’” Something you believe you may never climb out of.
I call it The Deep Dark Well. I’ve only visited The Well once. It’s a monumental experience. Once endured, you pray you will never experience it again. Yet lessons learned from it you’d never trade.
What is a major “depression?” And why does it happen?
The following perspectives come from my own experience. This was my experience. I remind you that I’m not a doctor or medical professional.
There are many other perspectives on depression, but they seem to have some characteristics in common. I share my experience in the hope of helping others. And to let sufferers know that the darkness can abate, in time…
Serious depression is not a bad hair day, when you repeatedly look in the mirror, convinced that your good looks are behind you. It’s not how you feel after a fight with a friend. It is not a wedding cake that turns out wrong or jeans that are still too tight or having a sudden dislike for tennis. It’s not even a day when a huge boil develops on your nose two hours before you meet that special someone.
Those kinds of feelings are known as “the blues.” The Blues come and go.
Major depression is a static state, and unthinkable; you don’t think. You’re frozen, your body is unmoveable, solid ice. You’re living outside of your body, you are not you. You want to scream for help, from the rooftops, you are out of control, you need help now…but somehow you know no one is listening, because you are not of this world. You cry, there is no sound.
Lying in bed is the only comfort. I don’t remember why. Maybe because it’s dark and quiet and soft, and the one thing you do understand is that your body, separate from you, needs comfort, tenderness, darkness. Your body has been knocked senseless. Hit by a truck. You are bruised all over, but there are no marks.
This kind of depression can last a very long time. I can’t imagine the pain for those who endure depression for months, years. My depression was relatively short-lived.
I had one mission from the beginning, and one mission only: to come out of it. It was like being trapped in a room with a fire blazing, spreading, coming towards me, knowing I had to get out. I had to get out. It was the only clear thought in my head.
I called everyone I could think of for help: 1-800 distress numbers, 1-800 nurse information lines, mental health services to find out what the hell was happening to me. They all told me the same thing: “You will be okay.” Their words of consolation, at the time: opaque, intangible, not good enough. But in the end, true.
As the severe part of the depression drifted away, I dealt with a new wave: months of debilitating anxiety, draping over me, a heavy, freezing blanket. Depression “leftovers.”
Whereas with the depression I couldn’t eat, couldn’t think normally and had to rest, the anxiety was a stalemate of a different physical and mental sort. I was out of the deep dark well, into some form of light, yes, but it felt like electrified wires were coarsing through me day and night.
After several months enduring this new frozen agitation, clarity arrived. But very slowly. Then, one special day, the whole episode was over. Life as I knew it, never the same.
My depression had a clear source: a huge amount of over thinking about a singular difficult circumstance. I couldn’t shake the cycle of negative and catastrophic thinking that surrounded the circumstance, couldn’t move forward. I was embedded in a crisis of my own thoughts that boiled over. My body responded in kind. In words, it would have said: “You cannot handle this tension of the mind one more minute. Time for a Complete Body Breakdown.”
And shut down, it did.
I can only say to others: if this happens to you, seek help right away. The Deep Dark Well has no exit in its harshest moments; one’s thoughts can turn quickly and mercilessly to extreme and hopeless darkness. I can’t sugarcoat this; I would do a disservice if I did.
Call your family doctor or therapist right away. Label your need for a visit “Urgent.” You need a caring, gentle compassionate ear. You need support – immediately. If your doctor can’t see you, or is unable to offer you the help you need (and that ‘need’ is different for every person) find someone else. My doctor was wonderfully supportive and kind. It is the kind of compassion one never forgets.
You also have some personal work to do, even in this time of crisis. As discussed in an earlier blog http://stressbubbles.com/?p=2903 I forced myself, during the deepest moments of the depression, to exercise until I was utterly exhausted from the exertion, knowing, somehow, that working the body would distract and deplete me. It was a temporary release from my feeling of unconsciousness, it gave me hope. And ‘hope,’ during a depression, however small, is a lifeline.
Since that depressive episode, I don’t mess with stress. There will always be stress. I will often want to engage in it. But I’ve learned that engaging in drama regularly and relentlessly, and allowing the mind to run amok, is pure folly. One bout of serious depression teaches that. In spades.
Also, after a decade of searching, I finally found ‘right’ therapist. With her help, I began, slowly, to come to terms with The Truths of My Life. Coming to terms with one’s truth is very painful but surprisingly liberating.
In future posts, I’m going to talk about concrete ways to disengage from severe stress situations. There are proactive ways to halt the need for engagement, calm yourself down, and ultimately, avoid a total body shutdown.
In the meantime, back to laughing at stress, the best antidote of all.