I have been diagnosed by my doctor as having “moderate depression”. My therapist and I think that I also suffer from anxiety problems that exacerbate the depression.
My depression manifests as periods of crippling “lows”. I’ll find myself feeling very upset or frustrated, and not wanting to face anything. On the worst days it feels like I have a noisy swarm of angry wasps in my brain that hate me and won’t leave me alone.
“It feels like I have a noisy swarm of angry wasps in my brain that hate me and won’t leave me alone.”
These periods can last for a few minutes or a few days, and tend to come in waves corresponding to stress levels or other external factors.
Looking back, I feel that I have suffered from many symptoms and behaviours related to depression for a long time, but it is only in the last few years that life has become “hard” enough.
For the last 5 or 6 months I have been taking Citalopram, which is an SSRI that is frequently used to treat depression. I have been lucky in that it is the first drug I tried and seems to be working, so I haven’t had to try multiple medications.
It’s hard for me to understand how significantly the meds have helped my depression, but I am certainly glad that I’ve been taking them. Placebo or otherwise, taking them gives me a lot more time and space in my head to handle depressive episodes as well as anxiety. There are a few areas (sex-drive in particular) where I think the meds have a slightly negative effect on my life. At the moment these downsides are still hugely outweighed by the benefits, but I think as I get better at handling the depression, I’ll get to the point where I’d like to come off the medication.
“To me it doesn’t feel like a cure though.”
To me it doesn’t feel like a cure though. It feels like a tool that has helped reset my brain chemistry to the point that I can start to tackle the underlying causes of my depression with therapy.
Believing that I even have a “problem” has taken a long time, and a lot of energy, to get used to. I am not ashamed of having a mental health illness, but I have spent a lot of time wondering if I am “making it all up” to use as an excuse or a crutch, and that maybe I am taking something away from people who need “real help” by seeking help. This hindered me going to the doctor, seeing a therapist, and talking about it with my family and my wife. I think I have now found a better point of view, which is that if I think it’s affecting my life—or the people around me—then there is an issue.
My depression sometimes stops me from being the best person that I can be, and that is very frustrating. It doesn’t help that I almost certainly set standards for myself which are too high, but the depression, anxiety, and feeling like a failure or impostor are a vicious cycle of emotions that can leave me paralysed to such an extent that I can’t do my best—or indeed any—work.
“I can’t do my best—or indeed any—work.”
In the past I have often found it hard to disentangle my depression from other feelings, which means it’s been relatively easy for a depressive episode to be triggered. A hard day at work, even if it’s been really productive, might mean I haven’t eaten as well as I should and I get a bit of a headache—which feels physically very similar to being in the depths of a slump, and can be enough to trigger one.
Counselling, specifically CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), has without a doubt been the most significant step in handling my depression. I have strongly negative beliefs about who I am, and I enlist very poor strategies to help me cope with my perceived deficiencies. I strongly believe that these feelings and behaviours are a significant cause of my depression. CBT has been amazing in helping me understand what I believe about myself, and to look at the strategies I am employing and spot where they are failing me.
I was initially pretty scared about getting a “therapist” and thought they would expose me as some kind of “fraud” inventing my depression for attention. I can now see how flawed that thinking was, and strongly feel that almost anybody, depressed or not would benefit significantly from talking to a counsellor. There is almost nothing in my life that hasn’t been improved as a result of my weekly counselling sessions.
I am also getting better at managing my energy levels—both in terms of making sure I am getting enough exercise throughout the week, as I find that really helps, as well as just making sure I am eating enough of the right things to keep my blood sugar levels stable, as peaks and slumps in my blood sugar can definitely trigger a low mood if I am not careful.
I have also been very open about sharing my experiences of depression and my treatment with other people in my community. This was a bit of a risky decision initially as I wasn’t sure that being so open would necessarily help my depression, but I am so glad I have done it now. It’s been really helpful for me to feel like something positive has come out of my illness, whether it’s seeing people discussing mental health more in my community, or hearing that someone else was able to seek treatment after my account of what I have been through helped to ease their fears.
I still feel like I have a long way to go with managing my depression better though. I don’t know that it will ever go away completely, but I’m confident that with the right strategies I will be able to manage it pretty well.