How I Survived A Major Depression
This subject isn’t easy to write about.
But I’m willing.
If I share what I know… if more people could… would the mystery about depression lessen?
A well known talk show host recently admitted that his depressive episode was akin to “being in an elevator when the bottom falls out; a ‘sinkhole.’”
I call it The Deep Dark Well.
Once you endure a serious depression you pray that you will never experience it again.
What is serious depression? Here’s what it is not:
- It’s not a bad hair day, when you repeatedly glance in the mirror, convinced that your attractive days 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, jeans that are still too tight, or feeling sluggish because the weather is lousy.
These feelings are known as “the blues.” The blues come. Then they go.
Major depression is very different from the blues. From my own experience, it looks, sounds and feels like this:
A static state, unthinkable. You don’t think, but you know something is terribly wrong. You are frozen, your body is not moveable, you feel like 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, but you’re not conscious of being out of control, you don’t know who you are, or where you are, or what you’re supposed to be doing, you are on auto pilot, not sure what steps to take next, you need help urgently, but it seems that no one is listening. You are not of this world. You cry, there is no sound. The body, separate from you, seems to call for comfort, tenderness, darkness. The body has been knocked senseless, but you don’t feel anything. Hit by a truck, bruised all over, but there are no marks.
Trapped in a reality with a blazing fire in my midst, spreading, flaring, sparking towards me, I was determined to escape depression. The only clear thought in my head was: I have to get out.
I frantically called distress numbers, medical hotlines, mental health services, my need for answers being urgent. I was told the same thing, over and over again: “You will be okay.” The words of consolation, at that time: opaque, intangible, incomprehensible.
The depression did ebb away, in time. It was replaced by depression “fall-out,” weeks of debilitating anxiety, which covered me in a heavy, freezing blanket.
During the depression I couldn’t eat, couldn’t think, had to rest, could not function, had to disappear. The anxiety which came later was a stalemate of an entirely different physical and mental kind. I was out of the deep dark well, back into the light; yes. But I was debilitated in a new way.
Several weeks later, the symptoms disappeared. All of them.
Medication was the answer, although it took quite some time to work properly, and involved trials of many different kinds.
But my major depression did end.
I now have clarity about how it all unfolded.
My depression had a clear genesis. A major health crisis (of another kind) had befallen my family weeks earlier. As a result of that trauma, I went on a high alert in the brain: ruminating, catastrophizing, dwelling on an onslaught of relentless negative thoughts I couldn’t shake.
I didn’t know how to arrest the dark cycling feelings, I could not control them, and I also believed that a certain intensity of mind was necessary at the time, even appropriate, to figure out why the crisis had occurred, in order to find answers.
My body responded to my inner turmoil. It shut down. There was no warning. I was trying to avert further crisis of one kind, I invited another.
The body notices.
Depression offers no exit in its harshest moments. It sweeps in, it takes over. One’s thoughts can turn quickly and mercilessly to extreme and hopeless black hell.
But there are strategies for survival.
How To Cope
- Get On The Phone. If you experience genuine depressive symptoms, call your family doctor or a medical professional immediately.
- Don’t Brush It Off. Your need for a medical visit is “urgent.”
- Find Support. You will require a caring, gentle compassionate ear. A hand to hold.
- Get Help. If your doctor can’t see you, or is unable to offer you the help you need, find someone else. Find answers – even if you don’t feel you have the energy to do so. Have a trusted friend or family member assist you.
- Read whatever you can on the subject of depression to gain insight, if you can.
- Fight Back. Do not allow the depression to steal your spirit.
- Eat. (I could only stomach a handful of almonds at one time. But at least they were a healthy choice.)
- Exercise. As discussed in another post, I forced myself, during my blackest moments, to swim laps in my pool to the point of exhaustion. I also took long walks with my husband. Working the body distracted and depleted me. It was a temporary escape, but it offered hope. ‘Hope,’ during a depression, is a lifeline.
- Ignore the (Unintended) Nonsense of Others. You cannot snap out of serious depression. You may not be able to get out of bed. A funny movie, a warm bath, a bar of chocolate or a pint of ice cream will not cure you. Remember that others do not understand. With luck, a kind doctor will inform your loved ones that this is serious, and possibly, not quickly remedied.
Then there are the lessons learned.
I’ve learned that it is pure folly, in fact, downright dangerous, to willingly engage in relentless unnecessary drama, nonsense and chaos of daily life. Stress buffers are essential. Meaningful self-care techniques and stress management tools are critical. Dwelling on worries and fears to the point of obsession can truly harm you.
And depression can take over and rule you. If you let it.
When my life was upside down, when the dark weight of madness stole my life, I did not expect I would ever see the world right side up again.
I did. I learned to care for myself. I continue to use and benefit from stress management strategies on a daily basis; these techniques truly have meaning for me now, and, they genuinely work.
Once you have endured a serious depression, you must live life differently. You must learn to love yourself.