It’s time to fess up– I didn’t stop writing because of boredom or writer’s block. I’ve had a lot to say. It’s been my depression. Everything I’ve wanted to say has been about how low I felt and how hard I’ve been fighting.
If I’d had let myself, my blog my titles would have been:
- I’m depressed.
- Have you watched the news! I’m still depressed, why aren’t you?
- I haven’t taken a shower in three days and at least the flies like me.
- At last menopausal sleeplessness has passed but it’s been replaced by around the clock depressive sleeping.
- — you get the drift.
I did not go gently into my depression, I fought it with everything I could. I’ve never encountered such relentless despair and was angry that I felt it. I was bored with its constancy. I was overwhelmed by the way it overwhelmed every part of my life. And so I fought back.
I had never experienced real depression and have felt guilty about all the trite advice I had given to my friends who had. I clearly just didn’t understand, until I did.
I have since been diagnosed with a whoppingly severe case of SAD (seasonal affectiveness disorder). Not all SAD cases are as critical has mine became, but moving onto the mountain, isolated from old pals, our endless grey (it snowed until mid-May), my husband’s surgery, the tragic suicide of my friend, and being blind in one eye, left me an unsuspecting candidate for this. In a way, I’m very lucky because shortly after the sun reappeared my depression disappeared. My depression had a beginning, a middle, an end, and a clear reason.
So, here I am, able to write again about things other than my grey winter. However, I learned so much this spring that before I write about things other than my depression, I need to write a little about what I’ve learned about the battle.
Here’s what I learned about becoming and being a depression warrior:
- Stay away from things that make you sadder. This may seem obvious unless you are there fighting in the trenches. When you’re fighting depression you are like the scantily clad adolescent in a horror film – it seems wise to jump in a serpent filled lake at midnight. Sad films, Wagnerian music, Sylvia Plath poetry and Lifetime docudramas will call out to you. Fight that temptation. Make yourself read uplifting books. Watch comedies. And while they won’t make you feel better for long, in the long run, they might just save you from the serpent in the lake.
- Exercise. You have to. Get the blood flowing to your body and brain. At least walk. Walk and cry. Just move and keep moving. Thirty minutes every day. Oh, it will be hard. Your body will feel like a ten ton, brittle, rusted truck, but exercise is one of the essential antidotes to depression.
- Stay away or limit alcohol and sugar. Both are depressives. Both are addicting. Really. While the wine and/or chocolate cake will make life tolerable for a moment they will just make this worse later.
- Eat better. I’m not a nutritionist so I won’t tell you what to eat but we all know what not to eat. Food can be our worst enemy at the best of times but when we are down, down, down, food can be the weight (literally and figuratively) that might drown us. While we might begin to crave comfort foods like bread, cakes, pasta. and candy, these foods actually can do neurological harm. They feel good for a moment’s swallow but will affect our brain in a way to make the depression and anxiety that much worse. There are also supplements that help. Several OTC here are prescribed in Europe as anti-depressants. I won’t suggest them though. Find a nutritionist, a naturopath, or do some readings to get suggestions.
- Learn a short mindfulness meditation. Depression is jagged grief about the past and anxiety is hopeless fear of the future, being mindful pulls me back in the now. Learning or expecting myself to practice 20 minutes of any kind of meditation just was not possible, however being able to spend just 3 minutes experiencing my body and environment often stopped the beginnings of an anxiety attack or a downward spiral in its tracks.
- Don’t listen to people who just over-simplify what you are feeling- they don’t know. I heard lots of advice, very little by anyone who actually knew what it was like. I learned that I could only turn to experts; counsellors who specialised and friends who understood.
- You don’t have to do a gratitude list. I couldn’t do it. I tried. Everyone suggested it. It just made me mad that I had so much to be grateful for and was still so sad. Gratitude lists made me feel like an ungrateful slob. They actually made me more depressed. There will come a time when gratitude will help your recovery but if you can’t do one don’t force it and don’t feel guilty about it.
- I got the next two from Dr Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain Change Your Life. Weird though they are, boy did they help. Listen to Baroque Music. Baroque music (not just classical but Baroque in particular) has been proven to alter and calm our brain waves. We can learn new things best and re-pattern our thinking while listening to the meter and rhythms of Baroque. I began to listen in the car, on my phone, while cleaning and for that time my spirits felt lighter and even bearable. I swear that I could almost feel my brain healing.
- Our sense of smell is the only sense that goes right to the part of the brain that’s overworking and smell can either aggravate or calm immediately. So find a scent that you really like and keep it around. I found Frankincense so immediately soothing that I added it to my face cream, spritzed it on my pillow at night and put drops on a hanky to breath in. I was amazed how quickly uplifting and soothing it was. In case of emergency breathe in a pleasing scent.
REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT—-GET HELP. Adding talk therapy and medication will significantly reduce your suffering. The dragons in your brain will tell you that you are weak and need to fly alone. Don’t listen. The dragons will tell you that medication means that you are doomed to an insanity that will keep you from humans. Don’t listen. This is one time when you need to really be tough with yourself and fight for your life, because untreated depression is a life-threatening illness.
Just because I got lucky and the sun came out and my misery lifted almost over night, doesn’t mean I’m safe. I need to remember. I need to document whats’ been learned because once the brain has been wounded by depression, it’s likely to return.