Living with the Black Dog

I was going to write a post on Fat Heffalump about depression, but I’ve decided to broaden the topic a bit and post it here, because I’d like to talk to everyone about depression, not just my fellow fats.

One of the biggest challenges with dealing with depression is that in many cases, it is a taboo subject. Sufferers or the friends and family of sufferers just don’t talk about it. It’s demonised in the media as well, which makes it even more difficult to talk about. Ironically though, one of the most healing things you can do as a depression sufferer is to talk about it.
Talking about depression (both that I suffer and the experiences of others) has been one of the most healing activities for me, so I’m going to cast that onwards and talk about it some more here.
My name is Kath and I suffer depression. Some of you who know me may think that I am a confident, outgoing, bubbly woman. I am, sometimes. These days I am that woman a lot more than I used to be. However, I do suffer depression and anxiety, always have and always will. I am a lot healthier than I have ever been, but I have suffered severe depression and been suicidal in my past. I used to carry a lot of shame about my depression, but thanks to some really good cognitive behavioural therapy, I am not ashamed any more.
One of the hardest things to deal with when it comes to depression is the “Depression for no reason.” That’s when life’s fine, there are no dramas or serious problems, but you get sucked into a quagmire of depression that is just there for no apparent reason. In my case the reason is usually a flood of whatever brain chemicals it is that cause my depression, but outwardly there is no “reason”.
When you have depression, and are in the middle of a bout of it, your thinking is not rational. The judgements you make on yourself and the world around you are not clear and unbiased. Things that would normally not cause you to even think twice suddenly weigh heavy on your mind and your confidence, and affect your thinking more than they normally would. Then this feeds into a spiral, where your depression can get worse and worse, unless you do something to break the cycle. My rule, when I find myself in a bout of depression (which I have now learnt to recognise pretty quickly) is “Cast no judgement.” I do my best to not make any decisions other than the bare necessities of living, make no judgement on situations, people around me or myself and to put any critical thinking on hold until the depression has passed. I find that if I just put one foot in front of the other and do what I need to do to maintain my daily life and take care of myself, I prevent myself from getting into a depression spiral.
Sometimes the people around you don’t know how to deal when you are depressed. I see this a lot. People are frightened by depression. It’s hard to know what to do or how to act when someone is depressed and you don’t suffer it yourself. Some even worry that it’s catching! In my case, when I am depressed I look like I am physically ill. So people will often ask me if I am unwell. I used to just say I was feeling sick, but now days I tell people that I’m unwell with depression, because I used to get upset at hiding how unwell I was with it. But you need to be careful because sometimes the reaction people have is very hard to deal with. Some people try to “fix” you. Others avoid you. Many say “Cheer up.” as if you can actually just do that. Most people do mean well, but it’s difficult to live with people’s discomfort about your illness.
Depression is not imagined. It is real and it’s as physical as any other ailment. Of course it’s a little less easy to spot because you don’t get a rash or a cough or a sniffly nose. But it is an illness that hits you for whatever reason (there are many different types of depression) and I find the best way to initially approach it is as though you have “come down with depression”. When I am depressed, I am unwell, and I take care of myself in the same way I would if I had a flu or a virus or an injury. I take some time off work if I am unable to work, I rest, I eat foods that are good for me and drink lots of water (hydration helps everything, I am sure of it!), I see my doctor and I take care of myself as best I can. Sometimes depression is brought on for me by other illness. If I get a flu, depression is not far away. When I got shingles, depression came to visit too. Same as when I got a tummy bug of some kind. In fact, sometimes when I get depression, the first warning sign is a bout of sinusitis! I think for me, a low immune system brings on both sinus infection and depression.
Another thing I find really helps is to write a “cheat sheet”. I have one in the front of all my notebooks (I am a notebook keeper) and now in the notes application of my iPhone. Basically, it tells me what to do to function through a day. It’s as basic as:
  • Get up
  • Shower
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Dress (with makeup)
  • Wear sensible shoes.
  • Eat breakfast
  • Go to work, try to do repetitive “automatic” work (oh my databases and record keeping do well when I’m depressed, it’s easy, it’s formulaic and I can just get into it without having to tax my poor depressed brain.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Go outside at lunchtime.
  • Remember your tea (I keep peppermint and chamomile tea special for when I’m depressed, it does help)
  • DO NOT SKIP DINNER.
  • Read or watch DVD’s that make you feel good.
  • Go to bed by 9.30pm at the latest.
Pretty basic isn’t it? But it really does help me focus when I am depressed. I actually do have certain clothes and shoes that I make sure I wear when I am depressed. They are comfortable and I feel nice in them. I can cope with things more if I’m not in shoes that hurt or worried about my outfit.
Most of all, go easy on yourself. Be KIND to yourself. Treat yourself with the same kindness you would treat other people. We are usually far harder on ourselves than we are on people around us.
If you suffer depression, let us know in the comments any tips or tactics you have learned to help you cope.
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September 19, 2009. anxiety, depression, help, tips.

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