My intent for this blog was not for it to become a confessional. I actually wasn’t quite sure what this would become. But that said, my life has been moving in the direction of me being more open about myself. I have been dealing with depression since I was 19. I grasp for the words that feel right in describing my situation. Saying that I “struggle” with depression feels too melodramatic. Saying that I have “issues” with depression feels too much like pop psychology. Saying I “have” depression feels more direct and appropriate but also seems to imply that I am always depressed, which is not the case. I will settle on the verb “have” as the best of several less than ideal. There are only a few people I have ever talked with about my depression and most of those only in the last year. I was never exactly ashamed of it, but it just felt like one of those things that you didn’t talk about. That attitude is changing. Each person should choose for his or herself whether or not or in what way they are comfortable talking about their own mental health, but I appreciate seeing that the acceptance of talking about it is gaining ground.
I didn’t do anything to address my depression until near the end of my time in college. I was lucky to have made it as far as I did without dealing with the problem. Looking back I wish that I had done something much sooner. I eventually went to a counselor who referred me to a doctor who prescribed me an anti-depressant. The medication took the edge off the worst of the symptoms but it also left me feeling not like myself. I felt numb in a different way than the depression made me feel. The sadness was gone but the lack of any other feeling at all was almost as bad. I had very little medical supervision while taking the medication. A few cursory meetings with a doctor were the extent of it. I didn’t have the knowledge to ask the right questions at the time. After a year I stopped the medication. Then my situation got gradually worse again until a few years later when I started to see a counselor who suggested cognitive behavioral therapy. In particular I was recommended The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns. I found it immensely helpful. It gave me a practical, goal-oriented way to deal with my depression. I’m in favor of using almost any means that is helpful in dealing with the problem as long as it’s not harmful to anyone. If medication works for you great, go with that. If talk therapy works, do that. The point is to explore the available options and find the one that will help you to feel like yourself. This was the means that worked for me. Using CBT, exercise, and meditation among other things I’ve been able to deal with my depression relatively effectively for about seven years now.
The last few months have been some of the hardest I’ve had to deal with in a long time, but so far I’ve made it through them. As a result of what I’ve been going through I have recently started to make an analysis of how my own depression manifests itself. Stress in particular is one of the main things that triggers depression in me. I have experienced an above average level of stress recently. As a result I have had bouts of depression, especially the last few months with especially intense moments the last few weeks. I have attempted to record what my depression looks like from as much of an objective viewpoint as I am able. I started cataloging my behaviors when I feel depressed that are out of character for me. Things such as getting into bad eating habits, isolating myself, putting off projects, and reinforcing negative thoughts. Then I started noting things that would give some relief such as talking to people about the stresses triggering the depression, and accomplishing small tasks that I had planned. The positive habits I realized are almost directly in conflict with the negative ones. This makes reinforcing them especially hard. I am left with the task of not doing the things that are bad for me. The obvious solutions are often the most difficult. I am trying to be analytical enough that the confirmation of effectiveness is able to push me in the direction of the positive habits even when my depression is making me resist them. It’s better than taking a stab in the dark hoping something random will work. Pointing out the good habits gives me the power of acknowledging their benefit so that the next time I need them I can look at my list and know these have worked before, therefore they can work again. It’s probably always going to be an uphill battle but any advantage I can gain is useful. The best thing I can suggest to anyone going through depression is to talk to someone. It can be very psychologically isolating. Talking with someone about what you’re feeling can help lessen that isolation. For anyone who is in the situation of knowing someone with depression and wants to help just listen and be sympathetic. No one expects you to be a doctor or therapist. Just be available and understanding.
I appreciate any feedback about the blog so I’ve now got an email address for anyone that wants to send me a message directly rather than posting in the comments. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.