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Depression: More Than Just Sadness

Posted originally on MegaHealth at Work on August 22, 2014

Hello There.

My name is Robyn and I’m a physiotherapy student, fitness instructor, wife, daughter, climber, and occasional health blogger! I’ve been asked to write an article on depression by a friend who is very involved in the mental health field. To be honest, at first I was hesitant to write a post on depression due to fear of judgment from others or potential harm to my future career prospects. Upon further reflection, I feel that by not offering my insight on this disorder to others that I am contributing to the overall stigma that currently surrounds mental illness. I’m also a firm believer that if I can help another human being in anyway possible that I should. So hopefully this helps someone.

**I want to say before beginning that this post is based on my own personal experiences battling depression, which I believe is experienced differently based on the individual in a crisis. No one has the same story, brain chemistry, or support system, so keep that in mind.**

In my opinion, no one suffers from “just depression”. To this end, labeling what I consider someone’s predisposition to experience deep emotional crises in one word is somewhat myopic. When I think of the word depression and what it represents in society, it is often characterized as an inability to get out of bed and function, general disinterest, suicidal thoughts, and one being just tired of life.

Yes, these are potential symptoms of what we call “depression”, but they only depict a very superficial understanding of what it is like to be a person that goes through these periods of hopelessness and definitely does not tell the whole picture.

First, I think to start to understand what someone is going through in terms of an emotional crisis, you need to deeply know that individual person’s life story (yes whole life story), what may have contributed to their current situation (if anything), what triggers their depressive states (if anything), and what you can do to support them.

Notice that I didn’t use the term “what you can do to help”. I think this is the most frequently misunderstood aspect regarding those experiencing a deep depressive state… that they can be helped or fixed somehow. From my general experience with this disorder, when I am triggered and finding what I call my “bad brain” taking over, there is nothing (and I mean nothing) anyone can say or do that can lift that black cloud off my shoulders. Trying to lift someone’s depression when they are in the middle of an episode is like trying to tell an asthmatic experiencing an attack to just “breathe better”. Without the right tools (an inhaler or in regards to mental illness: medication and coping mechanisms) the person simply cannot just “get better”.

This leads me to a second point regarding depression that I believe is of utmost importance when dealing with this condition from both the point of the person experiencing depression and those people making up their support system: Ultimately it is the individual experiencing depression that needs to learn to deal with it, not their loved ones.

I know this sounds harsh, but it is the truth. As an individual that has a predisposition to have bouts of depression, I realized that the only person responsible for tackling my bad brain was me. That’s because I am the only person that really knows how my brain works and what it likes to tell me. Sure those around me see the symptoms of my bad brain at work (withdrawing from friendships, not wanting to be involved in things I love, being irritable and uninvolved, fatigue… etc).

However, it is not the duty of my support system to make ways for me to cope, it’s mine. Actually, I think that is impossible for other people, even therapists, to find ways to help depression suffers cope. The best therapists I’ve dealt with are those who have guided me to an ultimate way to deal with my bad thoughts that are self generated and not pre-fabricated. That is because depression is a deeply individual experience, as is most things in life! It is also my job to help my supporters understand what I need for them to do when the dark dog checks in for a stay.

This doesn’t mean that if there is someone in your life that you think may be susceptible to depression that you should say, “well, Robyn said that’s not my responsibility, so they’re on their own”. It means that in order for someone to find ways to deal with their disorder it first begins with them. This takes a great deal of individual insight and support from loved ones, which is sometimes unfortunately only realized after several depressive episodes over a period of time. As someone that has been dealing with this disorder, well, since I was 12, I can tell you that this is a marathon, not a race. I was in the dark (get what I did there) about my depression really until probably the age of 23. Do not despair though as there are some things you can do to help yourself/loved one have your/their “a ha” moment.

1. Talk to them about their tendency to have emotional crises when they are not in one: I feel that often we want to fix people when there is an immediate problem. As previously mentioned, this is simply not effective. One of the awesome things about depression is your bad brain tells you terrible terrible lies. Therefore, if you urge someone to get help while they are depressed they are likely to completely misinterpret your intentions and somehow twist it into something it’s not.

For example:

Husband: “I’m worried about you hun, you haven’t been yourself lately.”

Robyn’s bad brain: “My husband hates me, he’s finding excuses to leave me, I don’t blame him really… look at how pathetic I am. I hate this, I hate myself, god why can’t I just disappear. I’m not good at anything really, life is just a waste. Why wont this stop”.

Robyn: “I’m fine, I’m just tired”.

See what I mean? When someone’s brain can so easily turn a general expression of concern and love into that rant of self-hatred not much can be done in that time.

2. Wait it out: Something that you as a loved one, or one experiencing depression should learn to do is to wait it out. Generally, from my experience, depressive episodes last 2-4 weeks. I have become almost a ninja at knowing when I’m having a depressive onset. This has taken 4 years of learning my triggers or feelings before this happens. It takes a lot of hard work. Sometimes the tools that my love ones and I have learned can stop it, sometimes they can’t. However, when they can’t it’s important not to fight the depression and it let it run its course. This may be a hard concept for those who haven’t experienced depression to understand, but for those that do this makes complete sense. This was definitely one of my “a ha” moments. It’s kinda like getting the flu…. In your brain.

3. Fill your toolbox: This one takes time and a lot of soul searching. Filling your toolbox with ways to avoid depressive episodes and deal with them when they do happen (and they will, this is a marathon condition not a sprint). It takes trial and error and a lot of patients from family and friends, but once you get into the swing of things it makes life a lot easier. For some people this includes medications. Unfortunately, so little is understood regarding medications to treat depression that dosages are often not right, side effects can be nasty, and on top of all that they take about 6 weeks to work. Not fun. But with time and patients most people can find meds that work for them. This allows them to get out of the constant cycle of depression and begin to do the hard work to discover why this is happening to them and what they can do psychologically to prevent it and deal with it when it does happen.
I know a lot of people who eventually can slowly go off of medications once they discover what their triggers are and develop solid coping mechanisms for themselves and their family and friends. For myself, I’m not quite there yet, but it’s still in the works.

So I think I’ll leave it there. Hopefully this has given someone some insight into depression/the black cloud/the storm/dark dog etc. I also find giving it a name other then depression helps those around you deal with it better. One thing I have learned is that once you tell people you are predisposed to depressive episodes they think they need to keep you on suicide watch. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t. However, for those souls that let the bad brain take over, I feel they have simply not come to terms to what is happening to them or have not developed the tools to do so. I also believe that sometimes the disease does win. We don’t like to think of that, but that’s life, that’s the truth for some people. That doesn’t mean that we can’t try like hell to avoid that from happening though.

For more cheery readings from myself, feel free to check out my life, fitness, and health blog at http://www.bynstrainingblog.blogspot.ca/ Also, if you are finding yourself or a loved one in a crisis and want to chat feel free to e-mail me at robynbertram@gmail.com

Stay Strong

~Byn

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