DIARY OF A DEPRESSION FIGHTER: WHY?
Posted on 3 March 2011.
This idea has been haunting me for some time now. (If you are not yet aware of the link between my personal fight against depression and my love for Bruce’s music, do read about my journey at https://marilebetterdays.wordpress.com/these-are-better-days/ and https://marilebetterdays.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/out-of-the-badlands-into-the-promised-land/). I have started a diary about depression on my personal blog. (in Afrikaans my home language) afther having some success with my diary of a romance writer. My first post has created so much reaction that I decided to give it a try in English, too. So I hope the Springsteen fans who have no interest in depression will forgive me for using this platform to reach those of us who are familiar with the havoc this terrible thing can run in a person’s life. (If nothing else, it can be a good excercise to hone my translation skills!)
Hopefully my readers will not see it as let me show you how it must be done, but as travelling a road together and learning from one another. In this way it can be of great value for both writer and reader.
I have been battling with the insistant feeling that I must do something for people fighting depression for some time . The problem is that I really do not know where I will find the time. (But I also know that being busy can be very stimulating and invigorating – and that the busy person is usually the best one to ask to do something!) I would have loved to develop a course and present it for small groups. But that could be a completely new career. After much thought I have realised that there is no way in which I can do this AND still stay focused on my writing. (I am a writer of romantic fiction in my home language.) Eventually my thoughts led me to the idea of an online course. But two months of 2011 have passed – and I still have no idea where to start!
Which makes it time for serious action, because I do not want to be stuck with some unresolved resolutions – I have found that not achieving a goal (however small) is a sure way to pull yourself down into the mud …
Thus – my goal: To add a thought/chapter/idea to this diary-to-be each week.
Let’s see how it goes. (And yes, I already suspect that I will learn more than the readers.)
To everybody who reads this diary: These posts are my effort to document my own painfull path with the purpose of maybe helping somebody else to gain more insight/acception/knowledge about himself. This is NOT the alpha and the omega about handling depression. I do NOT claim that anybody who follows my path will be completely cured of depression. (I am still too scared to claim that I might be completely healed.) I believe no two people will walk this path in exactly the same way. These posts are simply an effort to maybe help somebody else to make their path a little bit easier – and also to gain more insight into my own process. Because, yes, I am not there yet. And maybe never will be. Whom of us can really say: I have arrived? I know everything about my topic there is to know?
I think everybody has his own darkness on the edge of town. For some of us it is depression, for others something else. Maybe this diary is just an effort to carry the spirit and hope and passion of Bruce Springsteen’s music into the lives of those who are trying to cope with this particular kind of darkness.
THE PARADIGM SHIFT:
The day when my doctor convinced me that depression really is a disease and not merely my own inability to cope, was an important event for me. I have a strong suspision that it is not only me who have often wondered if my depression was not merely a fault in my personality, a lack of selfdiscipline, unthankfulness or the lack of faith of a pathetic Christian. The diagnosis of depression as a real illness sets you free from (most of!) these stupid assumptions and gives you the right to be ill and to take medicine in order to become better. Which was a very necessary step for me.
But in this solution a great danger was lurking. When you are sick, you suffer from that disease. It is with the word suffer that I have the problem. When you suffer from a disease, there is a dimension of passiveness and helplessness involved. You are ill, you can take some medicine – and then you can (hopefully!) be cured. All that you must do, is swallow the pills and hope for the best.
You tend to think this is the whole story – you don’t realize there are a lot of things you can actually DO as well. (VERY IMPORTANT: I am NOT telling you that people with depression must not take medicine!!) For me medication alone was not enough. By putting my faith in the medicine alone, I handed the control over to medical science and I did not realize I could also do quite a lot.
For years I popped the pills (and hated it) and hoped for the best. (I also kept my problem strictly secret – but that’s another story.) Although I always kept functioning on the surface, things never got better permanently. My life only started to improve when I took controll and started looking for (and finding) things that I could do to help myself survive. (The many kilometers I have walked over the years was one of the things which helped me.) For years I unconsiously took a little control by just trying to cope as well as I could. Every time that I went back to the doctors, it was a small step in taking responsibility and not waiting for somebody else to make things better for me. But I saw it as a negative, because every time it meant that I have lost against the disease and had to take the medication again.
Things only started to change for me when I consciously made the paradigm shift from being a SUFFERER from depression to being a FIGHTER against depression. (The term depression fighter comes from the book Towards the light, by Jeanne Els, a South African journalist.) That was where the turning point came for me.
To summarize: For me medication was absolutely essentail. But medication alone was not enough. Only when I actively started fighting against this thing in myself, things started changing for the better. Permanently.
Right from the start I had a love/hate relationship with antidepressants. I knew it was necessary, but I hated to use it. Still do, but not as badly. Deep inside I still want to conquer this thing on my own. Rather strange that on the one hand I so badly wanted to do it on my own, while on the other hand I did not really understand how much I could DO about my situation (that is over and above taking the medication.)
This pride/stubbornness kept me trying to cope without medication far too long. I had been raised not to seek medical attention if it was not serious. And with an acute terror of being seen as a hypochondriac. One good thing was that the stigma still surrounding emotional sickness was not really a problem to me, because I had studied Psychology and understood that it was not something to be ashamed of. In theory, that is.
Of course the issue of side-effects was the first implication when I started taking medication at last. Unpleasant is a very mild word to use in this case, but I’ll stick to it. Through the years I handled some serious and some less serious side-effects. All of them unpleasant. But my point is that it was worth it. (And I try not to think too much about the pharmaceutical firms smiling all the way to the bank.) Of course the good three weeks you usually have to wait before the positive effects really kick in, only make things worse. And of course it is such a subjective issue – it is very difficult to be sure any improvement is really because of the medication and not about any of all the other factors in your life.
For years I took the medication reluctantly and diligently kept on hating it. Today I can see how I kept feeding myself a steady dose of negativity, instead of being grateful for what is available. And then there is the very real danger of not taking it regularly. I think it is crucial to take it as prescribed and NOT to change your dose without consulting your doctor. And NOT to stop taking the stuff every few months, just to see if you can’t maybe cope without it this time. Every time you put yourself through the whole painful cycle of stopping medication, then the gradual slide back into the stinking darkness if the pit of depression, the process of convincing yourself you do need help again, the feeling of defeat when you make that appointment once again, the process to become used to the new medication. And then there is the other great stupidity I also tried – to just stop the stuff because you are utterly and finally sick of it. This is nearly guaranteed to land you deeper in that slimy pit than any other trick you can try. Very much wiser to start gradually and to stop gradually, as your doctor has prescribed.
To sum up: The years have taught me that medication is essential. I still take it, although in a lower dose. My big mistake was to think that taking the medication was the only thing that I could do. Please do not make the same mistake! In my view medication is the starting point for the fight against depression, not the end.
Next week: More about therapy.
THE VALUE OF THERAPY:
Posted on 14/04/2011 by Marile Cloete
For years I reluctantly took expensive medication and tried my best to cope with life. And this while I actually was quite aware of how valuable theraphy can be in a situation like mine. But while I hated taking the pills, the idea of being in therapy was worse for me. That was a good twenty years ago. I have come a long way since then. But I still suspect that people (in my country at least) still find it easier to take medication than to go for counselling. We live in a society where there is a pill for every pain, and we have been conditioned to expect healing of every ailment by simply taking medication.
The result (remember, this is my personal opinion!) is lots op people living like I have done – take the pills, try to cope with life – without experiencing any emotional growth, without learning anything about their condition or about life.
When at last I saw a therapist, I went with my dear husband. Mistake. Not his fault in any way, but simply because I found it extremely difficult to talk freely in his presence. The second problem was that I did not connect with the therapist at all. From this I learnt two lessons. Firstly: Find out which way works for you – alone or with your spouse. Secondly: Search till you find a therapist with whom you have a connection. Somebody with whom you feel comfortable and who makes you feel accepted and understood. Personally I cannot connect with a male therapist. For you it might be different.
The big danger (in my opinion!) is that people often expect the therapist to make everything right, to tell you exactly what you must do to solve all your problems. In other words, people see therapy just as another quick fix. THERAPY DOES NOT WORK LIKE THIS. Therapists do not have solutions to all our problems. They have been trained to help you open up in an atmosphere of acceptance and the talking is which make you better. They are NOT trained to give you a quick fix. THERE IS NO QUICK FIX FOR MOST HUMAN PROBLEMS. A therapist can lead you to discovering what you can work at and how you can change your way of living. Later in the process they would maybe give you a few practical pointers, but the person who must do the hard work, is the client. This can only work once the client have realized what he himself can do to make his life (and thus the depression) better.
And this brings me to the point I keep hammering on: The taking of responsibility for yourself. Only when we recognoze the opportunities to learn and to grow, things can start getting better for us. And even then it will take time. The hard thing is that problems which have taken years and years to develop, cannot be fixed in a week or two.
When we accept these facts, we can take the first step on a wonderful road to emotional growth, a road to adulthood (yes, although we may not be young anymore), of learning to know and understand ourselves, of developing empathy and acceptance for yourself, getting to know our own strong and weak points.
For me the first visit to a therapist with whom I could connect, was the first (painful) step on the (very long) road to recovery. With time it became easier to go back when I had trouble in a specific situation or found it difficult to learn a new emotional skill. Of course now going for therapy is much more accepted than twenty years ago. Fewer people find it strange that you may want to consult a specialist when you have trouble in a certain area of your life.
Yes, of course therapist don’t come cheap. But for me it has been more than worth the money.
My fist session with a therapist was a breakthrough, the start of a new, positive road to a better life. It can be the same for you.
WHERE DOES DEPRESSION START?
Where does depression start? My answer is simple: I don’t know. But I do have a few ideas …
Firstly: Can it be inherited? I think so, yes. (Do remember that this is not a scientific paper, but a personal view.). I think however, it is not always inherited in the physical sense, but in the sense that it can be carried from generation to generation in other ways than the physical. The important thing for me was to realize I cannot simply blame my ancestors.
I think we often inherit depression in a more subtle way. And therefore a more dangerous way. I believe the danger lies in attitudes and ways of thinking which are (unconsciously) carried from generation to generation. It is important to remember that this happens unconsciously. Although most of us have some little (or bigger!) grievances towards our parents, we know that no parent is perfect and that every adult swear he will never make the same mistakes with his children. (And then we proceed to make our own – which makes me think of the Springsteen song A long way coming on the Devils and dust album, where the father expresses the desire that his kids will be free to make their own mistakes.)
Our parents are our first role models, and we know a small child automatically imitate his parents. Of course until the hormones of the teen years kick in, and then we try to be the exact opposite from our parents. But it is a fact that we follow their example. And if that example includes a lifestyle which is a good breeding-ground for depression, we also follow that. I think this is a given, we can’t help it.
Some offspring may realize the danger early, and make conscious choices to avoid the danger. Others’ basic personality may not make them susceptible to depression. But others may just have the personality where the seed of depression can germinate and grow into a large, toxic tree.
Of course we can do something about is. (And of course nobody has said it will be easy!) Firstly one can identify the problem. For example: “My father never spoke about his feelings and I have grown up with the idea that a man should not talk about emotions. Or, even better, that a man does not have emotions. But I have realized that this does not work for me. And from now on I am going to do things differently.”
No, I do not think we should all start a session of parent bashing here, because we know they loved us and did the very best they could. But we can firstly try to identify the patterns we have inherited which can be to our disadvantage. Secondly we can start working on forgiveness. (Which can of course be a long process.) And thirdly we can start changing those patterns. (Which can of course be a life-long process.)
This boils down to the fact that the blaming game helps nobody. I had take responsibility for myself before I could start making changes for the better.
Do I get this right all the time? Of course not!
Next: Should I tell everybody I suffer from depression? Or must I carry my burden alone?
TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL:
For many years I clung to my secret. My husband and my mother knew that I did nog always cope, and that was all. And only because it was impossible to keep it from them. I remember trying to explain to my husband. I will forever be thankful for his sincere efforts to understand. Years later he uttered these unforgettable words: “I believe in depression as I believe in God – I cannot see it, but I know it is there.” This shows me a man who really tries to understand. And I know there are many out there who are not even remotely interested in trying. With my dear mother I could never really talk about it. I knew she blamed herself (as parents do) and felt she probably carried it on to me. A little letter she wrote me after I landed in hospital is today one of my most precious possessions. How I wish today she could have had the opportunities for information, theraphy, support, knowledge and growth that I have now. In her days there was no choice – you just had to go on without complaining. Which she did as best she could. In the process she reared seven balanced children and a multitude of happy grandchildren. Salute, dear Mum! OK, then the crisis came and I landed in hospital. And my husband must phone my principal. And he must announce my sudden absence and its reason in the staffroom. Out in the open! Today I can smile about it – nobody really talked to me about it, because nobody knew what to say. But at least the hippo was out from under the table. It took a few years before I fully realized that was the beginning of a new road for me. A road where, among other things, it became increasingly easier to shed my masks and shields and show the world my weaknesses. A road where other people found it increasingly easier to show their weaknesses in front of me. A new road with a new freedom. I still do not talk to everybody about it. These writings I find very easy, but I will not easily just mention my depression in a social situation. And when I fall back (and yes, it still happens now and then) I still sit it out alone. Maybe that is the most difficult part, the darkest moment of depression – that utter loneliness. It pulls your focus so completely in on yourself that you find it impossible to reach out to another human being. I really think depression makes you a very selfish person. It is a selfish illness, wanting you for it itself only. I still do not want to wear the badge of being a depression sufferer. Yes, although it is socially much more acceptable, people still label you and judge you according to that label. And I want to be known as a good person, as mother and writer, not on the grounds of my problems. So for me personally keeping the secret was not a good thing. A problem shared (with the right people!) is simply a problem made lighter. But I do not believe in discussing it with just anybody. And I most definitely don’t believe in hiding behind it. As with everything in live, I believe here it is also important to find out what works for YOU. And probably the middle way is also the best one, as so often happens.
THINGS THAT PROMOTE DEPRESSION: PERFECTIONISM
In this country the children of my generation were raised to work hard and always do their best. Most of our parents came out of relative poverty by sheer perseverance and hard work. Even today our workers are sought after in many countries, because of their strong work ethics. Unfortunately the desire to do your work PERFECTLY often goes with this work ethics. Possibly some parents expected it, because we were the first generation to have the opportunity for tertiary studies. Some of us (nudge, nudge, wink, wink …) were raised without encouragement and positive motivation – not out of a lack of love, but out of the fear of raising children who think too much of themselves. Often parents had such a battle to feed and clothe the family that there was no energy, time or desire to work on a child’s self-image.
Today we know how easily this can lead to a child feeling that he is not really accepted in spite of his shortcomings, and often to a life-long quest for acceptance by working himself to the ground and expecting too much of himself.
These are only a few of the things that can lead to perfectionism. The problem is that a perfectionist sets himself up for failure. With our minds we know that nobody is perfect, but we still try to be. This often causes us to spend 90% of our time on that last 10% of the quality of a task. Often we find it impossible to stop working on a project, and we keep on and on making small changes using time that could have been used for other things. Other times it leads to the avoidance of a task, because we fear failure. Everything that is not perfect, feels like a failure. Coming second is the same as loosing. A single negative point cancels everything that is positive.
When all the time you feel that you are not good enough, it is the easiest thing in the world to poison yourself with negative self-talk: I am not good enough … I will never succeed … And before you know it, depression has caught hold of you.
THINGS THAT PROMOTE DEPRESSION: ALWAYS BEING QUIET AND STRONG
I suppose there are people who are just as strong as they appear to be. And who have no need to talk about their innner life. I am not one of them. Well, I have played the role for years. But it was not a great success. I was quite convincing – I even convinced myself! It took me years to realize I was making one hell of a mistake. This was not me.
Who am I? I am not really strong. (Except now and again in a real crisis – while the adrenaline lasts!) And when I’m quiet, there is trouble somewhere. So sad that I took so long to realize this. And still longer to accept it. But now I experience it as something very positive. No struggle to keep up appearences. No struggle to look strong. And suddenly other people find it easier to drop their pose when they are with me. Now not even the characters in my books try to appear wise and strong all the time. No, they struggle with their weaknesses and how to express it in an acceptable way just like the rest of us.
What happens when a sensitive, emotional person tries to convey an image of strength and control all the time? Easy – his life becomes a lie. And if you keep living a lie up for long enough, I think depression is virtually unavoidable.
Should we then talk about our fears and longings and skeletons in the cupboard all the time? No, I don’t think so. It can just be that your loved ones will find it very difficult to stand. A person who talks about himself all the time is a very tiring and boring thing. Especially if the talking is mostly about his troubles and woes. Whom of us do not have our own troubles (big or small)?
But I believe it is very necessary and healthy to have one or more special people with whom you can share your real feelings. Especially people who understand that you do not need advice all the time, but rather just somebody to listen and accept. And you definitely need somebody who knows how to keep private things private. If one of these people is your significant other, just the better. Grown-up children can also be wonderful for this. And special friends, of course.
I am really not for walking with your heart on your sleeve all the time. But we must know and understand and accept that talking about a problem usually brings at least some relief. And to show your weakness often brings relief for the listener, too, because he then realize that you will also have patience with his own weaknesses.
Someone recently said our society has a great need for merciful people. I think if you can show your own faults sometimes, you are one step closer to being a merciful person for somebody else. And he to becoming it for you.