Let’s Talk Mental Health: Life after Depression, My Story

Today is #BellLetsTalk day in Canada. It’s an initiative by Bell Media to get Canadians talking about mental health. Use of the hashtag on Twitter results in 5 cents per tweet getting donated to mental health awareness by Bell, but the tweet needn’t be about mental health to count. Tweeting about a donut? Tag that.

This big-biz-sponsored day on mental health has prompted me to want to talk again about my own experiences with depression, because I know for a fact it has helped people in the past, something that fills me with great pride.

I consider myself major-depression-free for 5 years now. (Woohoo!)

Sure, I got pretty depressed at the end of my time in Vancouver, but that’s different. That’s what you call “situational depression,” in which you get depressed as a natural result of a situation in your life — whether it’s a death, a job loss, bankruptcy, or any other major stress that can result in anxiety and other disorders. You can medicate yourself to manage these situations, too, or you can just hang on tight, knowing that it’s related to something that’s going on and that it’ll pass. When I thought about the stress of moving, I was depressed.

When I thought of the life I expected after moving, I felt momentary glee and hope. That’s how I knew it was a situational depression and that it would subside.

So, I hung on for the ride, then I moved to Victoria. It passed.

And that’s life.

It’s a lie to try and convince anyone that once depression goes away it’s all sunshine and roses. It’s not. Some are prone to depression and moods. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m “prone” to it, but I know that I have been susceptible in difficult times. The safe thing is to assume that I might always have a hard time in some situations. I’m a passionate person. Maybe that’s part of the package.

I think occasional susceptability to deep moods is a pretty normal deal. The important thing is being able to recognize it.

When I suffered my major, major depression that was chemically induced by a bad birth control prescription that closed in on me fast and changed everything. It began early 2006 and lasted into the autumn. I had to ask for help. I had to place an emergency call to a shrink in August, and then I went and got meds, and things began to improve 3 weeks later, but it was a long struggle back to normalcy.

I took those meds until spring 2008, but had to rapidly get off them because I had changed my diet and exercise routine so dramatically (and would lose 80 pounds that year) that I was able to get my body chemistry back to normal. At that point, the “anti-depressants” began making me aggressive, and we knew what was going on: I was getting balanced through natural means and no longer needed the chemicals to regulate matters.

Since then, I need a combination of time alone, vitamins, quality exercise, and regular sleep to keep my moods regulated. And if I “go off balance,” it’s usually only a couple days before I’m back to where I need to be.

Depression, once you’ve had a REAL depression — not just sadness or stress or a down period, but clinical dark-as-fuck, will-I-survive-this depression — I think it’s always there. Like a mole on your leg or your social security number, that experience just becomes a part of you.

I don’t mean in a way that you’re always AWARE of it, or that you always feel it. I just mean that when a real wave of sadness or sorrow hits, you remember that time when you couldn’t escape that feeling.

It’s always a relevant thing. Any time those moods return, I think it’s when a formerly depressed individual has to ask themselves if the emotional response they’re having is suited to the situation they’re experiencing, or if their response is illogical and possibly a sign that something chemical is off in the body.

Last week, I had just that kind of a week. I was moody, depressed, not wanting to do anything, and after a few days I realized there wasn’t a causal reason that deserved the reaction I was having. Then I realized I’d not been taking my vitamins for over a week.

Boom. Took vitamins, slept better, and then next day I was back to a normal level of grumpy I-Hate-February self. And that’s okay, because I’ve always hated February, and then I’m like a little kid in March when sun comes and flowers bloom. That’s my “normal,” and it’s okay, as long as I know that’s what’s going on.

Eventually, being a survivor of depression is just like being a survivor of back-pain or the owner of a shifty knee. You’re aware it’s a weakness you’ve had, and when things go awry, it’s okay to ask if it’s a Big Picture situation, or just a fluctuating phase like everyone experiences.

And it’s still okay.

I survive grumpiness. I also experience a lot of joy. I smile a lot, even when I’m alone. I get angry, too, but then I tell people why, or I write about it.

Mental illness comes in many, many different levels of severity. Not all are debilitating. Not all are perceptible by others. But all of them have struck someone you know, someone who may not have had the courage to tell you or anyone else about it, and that’s the only thing shameful about mental illness I can think of. Please encourage people in your life to talk to you, to feel safe in admitting what they’re going through, because lives can depend on it.

When you’re in it, depression feels like forever.

When you survive it, it’s hard to believe you ever felt as bad you once did.

It can be survived. It’s the fight of a lifetime, and there are tools of all kinds you can wield against it. Talk to someone who knows.

If you’re depressed and you want to read an amazing account of what it felt like for Pulitzer-prize-winning author William Styron, read his Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. If you love someone who’s depressed and can’t understand how/why they’ve changed so much or why nothing you say seems to help, please read Styron’s book, and you’ll understand it for the first time. Here’s an excerpt in Vanity Fair.

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Don’t forget… you can read about my new, improved life I’m leading in Victoria on my new blog, VanIsleStyle.com, my take on a lifestyle blog.

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