When I was diagnosed with postpartum depression back in 2009 I promised myself that no matter what I would try to give a “voice” to this often times shameful and silent disease. Before I go on though, I need to preface this by saying that I am on medication and while I know that you, the reader, may feel differently about anti-depressants I ask that you keep all anti-medication opinions to yourself. This post is not about medication, pros or cons; this post is about what depression is from the viewpoint of someone who is depressed. Yes, perhaps one day I will be off of medication but that’s up to me and the medical professional I see regarding this. I never want to go back to the scary place I was in before I was diagnosed; it was dangerous to myself and those I cared for the most. That being said…
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I’m a pretty open person. I don’t take myself too seriously and because of that I’m willing to put myself out there to anyone who will listen. I have to be honest;, this is not an easy post to write. It’s not easy to admit your shortcomings. Depression is something that we as a society like to keep private and behind closed doors. That hush hush attitude is what gives depression its stigma of shame. I am ashamed that I struggle with this. I am embarrassed of my thoughts and my behavior when I’m going through a depressive state. Unfortunately, those whom are closest to me suffer right along with me. I’m currently in a healthy place and because of that I can write about what depression feels like. It helps me to verbalize how crazy things were in my mind.
I anticipated that the added stress of having more children during a busy season at work for my husband would cause my depression to spike. I typically try to see my doctor at the beginning of this season so I can discuss everything. I thought I had a plan, well, looking back my plan was to just bear down and get through this period of time. Not a good idea. Sure, I functioned in the day to day routines, but as the end became more in sight, the more my husband, Ben, worked.
The more he worked, the farther away I slipped from reality.
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The mind can be a dangerous place for someone whose neurotransmitters aren’t working properly. When a normal functioning brain encounters a feeling of sadness or anxiety that chemical reaction moves on over to the reasoning side of the brain. From there that chemical reaction is dispersed and should be regulated and that’s where a depressed brain is different from a normal working brain. A normal working brain does regulate those emotions whereas a depressed brain doesn’t. Enough of this science talk…although it is really fascinating. If you want more information please visit this site.
Not feeling all the feels.
Out of touch and blank. Hopeless and apathetic. That’s how I felt from the first week that my depression set on until six weeks later when a loved one mentioned something to me. The depression started out slowly.
- Losing my temper here and there.
- Getting frustrated with my husband and his choice of career.
- Then I felt guilty for feeling so badly about my life. Other women have it worse than I do so why was I so sad?
That feeling of helplessness and hopelessness continued to build and build and build until everything came to a head over something stupid.
The incident was childish really. My thinking was so far from reasonable I don’t even recognize the person I was. I was acting like a teenager saying and doing without ever thinking ahead. Sure, those closest to me tried to talk me down but I just kept getting sucked in deeper and deeper into my thoughts. It was like I was being held prisoner in my own mind but I didn't even realize it.
I stopped enjoying the things I had enjoyed before like writing, spending time with my children, talking on the phone to my mom and sister and friends, coordinating various groups I was in charge of and even watching General Hospital. I hated my life and there was nothing stopping me from that thought.
I got up every morning and hoped that this dark feeling would disappear. It just didn’t. I didn’t know what to do because it all felt so real. I honestly thought that my life had gone from a wonderful one to a dark and lonely place overnight.
That’s the problem with depression: when you’re in the thick of it you cannot see it.
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At least I can’t see it and people I know who also struggle with it say the same thing. I didn’t want to see it either. My mom mentioned to me that she thought something was up when I went down to visit her and my dad. I brushed her concern off thinking that everything was fine. At that point I had come to the conclusion that I was losing all of my friends and I was going to be left out forever. After all, I reasoned with myself, who would ever want to be my friend? I thought I was a terrible person. I believed that there was no admirable trait that I had that would cause anyone to stay with me for very long.
Those thoughts are where I spent most of my days for six weeks. Reflecting back on that I see how truly sad I was but in the middle of it I honestly didn’t see it. Can you imagine living that way? Experiencing the joys of life only a few minutes of every day? Watching but not noticing that you’re slowly slipping away from the life you know you love. I lived it and it’s by God’s saving grace that I made it to the other side again.
So what can you do? Good question. Well, since I know that my husband's busy season comes every year I have decided that now, during the “off” season, I have to come up with better coping mechanisms. Part of that is writing this post. That way I can look back and read this again when I start to lose myself. I’m also assembling a “tool box.” A wise woman from my church whom I met with for coffee suggested that – a depression tool box. In it I’m going to put things in there that will help snap me out of whatever dark place I’m feeling that day. When I’ve gone through every tool in my box and I’m still feeling sad I will call her so at least I have someone who understands me.
I’m also going to look into buying a SAD light. Vitamin D is an awesome vitamin for warding off depression. It’s unfortunate that his busy season is during the winter months here in Minnesota. The sun’s rarely out and if it is often times it’s cold and windy. I don’t handle heat or cold well.
If you aren’t sure whether or not you are struggling with depression please seek out help. Any feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, anger, or loneliness that persist for more than a few days or even a week could be a sign of depression. Please don’t hide it from those who love you. Seek help.
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What can you do if someone you love struggles with depression? Watch for the early warning signs – lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy, irritability, pulling away and even that vacant stare. Be gentle in your approach and be lovingly persistent. Remember that a depressed person is living in a very dark and lonely world. It’s very real to them and give them a little grace. They can’t snap out of it. I know that when I’ve been told to just snap out of it that makes me want to retreat back inside of myself. That thought is completely out of character for me. I’m a people person. When I start losing interest in spending time with others that should be a warning sign to those around me that something’s up.
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Most importantly a little understanding of what depression is will really help you to better love someone who is depressed. It’s not her choice to feel this way or act the way she does. Like I said before, I am honestly ashamed of my behavior when I was depressed this last time. I don’t even know who that girl was! I would never choose to live in that dark place; no one would ever choose to live life that way.