It is curious that these topics keep on showing up: on my Facebook newsfeed, on TV, in the news. I have started writing about this, then abandoned the idea several ideas in the past few months. Among other excuses was the thought that expressing my opinions here might be considered “irresponsible.” I have been pondering this and reminded myself of my purpose in writing this blog and decided to go for it. With my very limited audience, I don’t think I have to worry that anyone will take my opinions as medical advice. The current atmosphere suggests that things should be out in the open, that we need to acknowledge things in order to accept them. This is also a step well outside my comfort zone.
There are some things in life that you just don’t understand until you experience them yourself. You may empathize with someone, you may think you know how it feels, but without the actual experience, you really don’t “get it.” Into this category, I would put childbirth, migraines and I would now add depression.
Everyone has heard (and many have seen) that childbirth is a painful process, and we have all heard about how you “forget” the pain (you don’t, you just decide that it was worth it). Given the nature of migraines, many people dismiss them as being a “bad headache.” (Nope, not even close.) And depression, well that is a big one and like many other things, experienced differently and to different degrees with influencing factors too numerous to list. Not only is there the stigma about anything related to “mental health,” there is also the idea that it is something that one can “snap out of” and that it is just being really sad.
“Really sad” is a fully inadequate term. It may describe some experiences of depression, but what I went through a few months ago was NOT really about being sad. Instead it was an overwhelming feeling of apathy, an emptiness, a hollowness that nothing could seem to penetrate. I would say it was more a lack of joy than an actual sadness. I knew what it was, I knew I was in a dark place, but didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. There were memory lapses that scared me (was I suffering early onset Alzheimer’s?) and I had frequent, debilitating headaches. It was the most unsocial holiday season of my life. After a few doctor visits and many tests, it has been determined that my brain is fine and the headaches were likely brought on by this depression.
Why did it start? Multiple factors were likely in play, with the loss of my dog probably a precipitating event (though it took well over a month after that happened to get to the lowest point). Why did it stop? That is even more of a mystery. While in this dark tunnel, I was convinced that there would be an end, that I would pull through and things would return to “normal.” (Normal is very much a changing state of being. Life events constantly bring on a new normal.) I knew I was depressed, but was not concerned that it needed any sort of intervention, that time would heal me. I have always been a firm believer that our bodies can overcome many ailments, if we let them (eating well, sleeping well – our bodies are designed to tell us what they need – we just need to listen).
That is where my fact-finding mission made me question things. When looking up major depression on medical websites (and yes, using their criteria, that is an accurate assessment of how I felt) all indications are that it cannot be “cured” without some sort of professional intervention. Knowing how serious this can be and possible repercussions of unrecognized/untreated depression, I wonder if that attitude is an instance of CYA in the medical community. I don’t doubt my “diagnosis” and know that I was not treated for it, it just went away on its own.
What I do know about depression is that is has given me a new outlook and appreciation for not having it. Over the next couple weeks, I felt stronger and more aware in general. It is almost as if I had forgotten what it feels like to be truly alive. Now, I feel energized, ready to take on challenges, dig deep, and get things accomplished. I also know that I would rather not go back into that dark place and will need to pay attention to early signs and make different decisions (like getting outside more and eating healthier, which I should be doing anyway).
It is an interesting coincidence that articles and blogs about depression and mindful living keep appearing. It may be that I am more in tune to them now or it may be that the climate is right for self-awareness in general. I think it is a very good thing that mental health issues are staying in the public eye. Every week I seem to see some new promising development addressing health issues relating to the brain.
Depression is frightening. It was to me and I am sure it was to my family who had to live through it with me. Like other brain issues, it varies widely from one individual to another. There is no one treatment that is right for everyone, nor is treatment always necessary. (The doctor referred to three months being “too soon” after my loss and explained that is why he held off on prescribing medication then. A month later, we determined that it was not needed.) It is possibly the only area in which doctors seem willing to admit they don’t know “why.” Treatment seems to be a “let’s try this” course of action. Web searches turn up more options than you can read through. As is true with many other ailments, exercise and a good diet can have positive results.
From my viewpoint, last year was a horrible year. Terrible things happened to people I love. There were many tests and trials and too many losses. I have felt that my loss is insignificant compared to that of others and that my reaction was disproportionate. An article I read recently hints that I am not alone in this feeling and that it is common among pet owners to not allow themselves to fully grieve, since it “was just a dog/cat/etc.” I have to say that I am a bit surprised, and very appreciative of the people in my life who have made a point to remind me that I did have a significant loss and need to go a little easier on myself.
I spent the last couple months of 2014 wishing it away and looking forward to 2015. The year is quickly approaching the halfway point (I am still wondering what happened to January) and so far it has been fairly uneventful, but very busy. I am trying to remember to slow things down; to notice and appreciate the little things; to find joy in the everyday. I am very good at reminding others to “Breathe.” I guess I need to remind myself too.