TO THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: DEPRESSION AS I SEE IT
Vol 8 #11
by Jane Summers Robertson
“And sometimes it hits me out of nowhere, all of a sudden, this overwhelming sadness rushes over me. And I get discouraged and I get upset and I feel hopeless, sad, and hurt. And once again, I feel numb to the world.” …Henry David Thoreau
Depression leaves us with no hope, no future, no joy, no love, no peace, no reason – an empty shell with the only escape being sleep and the tiny glimmer that life will improve. It takes away our ability to make decisions. We feel not only our pain, but all the sad things that have happened in this world. The nightly news can be devastating – and yet, we are useless to improve anything.
Depression can creep up. You become very unhappy in your heart and not know why.
Depression steals our ability to appreciate things. Eventually, we stop being aware of beauty that is still there – nature, music, comedy, visual arts – we no longer see them.
You may question, as I did. I have a great life, a good husband, good kids, place to live, and food on the table. Why am I not happy? The guilt starts – I should be able to change how I feel! I must be so selfish to feel this way! It took me years to know that these feelings had nothing to do with my life and many more years to realize my idealistic life was not perfect.
Depression is Multi-faceted
From Black to White, there are too many Greys to count, and there lies the challenge of individuality. The blackest takes you completely. You can no longer function or cope with everyday life. Decisions are impossible. Thoughts of ending your life enter your head. There must be a way that I can stop this!
I have been in the black, three times, with good to great years in-between. Three additional episodes that didn’t debilitate but the length was challenging. There was no question that I was consumed by an illness that needed to be treated. There is no way that a person could willingly enter that realm.
Medication was necessary and the road back was long and painful. Once the medications started to work, I was then able to retrain my mind; work on the outside influences and thought processes to prevent further relapses.
When night fell and everyone else was safe and sleeping – the blackness would fold around me and the negative thoughts would begin to take over. All the pain, remorse, loss and despair would encompass me. I would smoke and think and sometimes write. How long could I go on feeling like this, should I ask for help again? Eventually tiredness set in and I could sleep for a fleeting time before morning.
Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.
One of the most important things I had to learn about depression is that my thoughts and feelings were not always true. For the first 30 years of my life I was extremely self-confident, an unbending optimist.
The brain can malfunction – because it is “our command centre”, thoughts are not necessarily true. The brain controls everything and it can do whatever it wants to your body, mind and soul. It can change feelings, perceptions – the very way you see the world.
I had to fully understand this – that my thoughts weren’t necessarily real. I had to learn to recognize certain thought patterns, are they real or not? Are they the direct result of my surrounding influences? What is the cause? Why am I feeling this way?
I learned how to recognize the symptoms. Usually, a sudden crash was a result of something hormone-related such as PMS; other chemicals such as antihistamines; sickness or injury in other parts of your body; trauma or extreme stress. During those times, I had to “go with it”, remove stresses from my life and take care of myself until it subsided.
The sudden reckoning that my thoughts may be misconstrued, not true, or misleading, was a Huge Step for me.
My upbringing taught me that I can think through all problems – there is a solution to everything. My Dad was a very strong personality and independent thinker. Unwavering in his self-assurance, his biggest influence taught me “to use my common sense.” I believed that without question! His philosophies have shaped my strength and the ability to solve most problems. My mind can sort things out and made sense of situations.
Imagine the wall that I hit when I discovered that wasn’t true!
My Mom taught me to love, laugh and look for rainbows. She was responsible for my optimistic outlook. She could turn anything around and make it a positive event. Life was full of wonderful people, adventures and beauty. Both of them promoted that all persons were equal and deserved respect.
Realizing my thoughts were not necessarily true and could actually be responsible for my feelings was the next step to recovery. It was a difficult one.
The basic theory of cognitive therapy is that your thoughts control your feelings; therefore, by changing thoughts and basic (core) beliefs we can change our feelings and our outlook on life. It enables you to work at discovering who you really are and how we are controlled by everything around us; everyone who have touched our lives in some way – good and bad.
There is a time to break the silence. It is a crucial step to surviving.
I have been extremely fortunate to have a Psychiatrist to take care of me. He was an extremely busy person. He was a great doctor and a wonderful person; very knowledgeable in psychiatric medications and highly trained. I saw him on a regular basis for 15 years. I still sometimes hear his voice in my head with advice he gave me.
Whenever I reached a point of despair, I would call the clinic and immediately get help. If he couldn’t talk to me at that time, there was always someone available. Once I commented on how grateful I was that he would see me on such short notice. His answer with a smile was “In our business, we can’t afford to wait.” A few times I went to the clinic and sat in the waiting room because I didn’t know what else to do – just being there was a safe haven. Sometimes simply making an appointment gave me great relief. Then I could tell myself to wait, there will be help and that would carry me through.
When my Psychiatrist moved to another city my care was transferred to my family doctor, Dr. Roach, who has an obvious knowledge of mental issues along with great understanding and empathy. My everyday issues are handled with care. If he doesn’t know something he finds out. He refers me to specialists if needed. I have absolute trust in him and feel that I could talk to him about anything.
I remember sitting in that new waiting room, holding my husband Peter’s hand, with tears rolling down my face. I knew then that I had a new place to come to, if I needed it.
Creating a safety net is what I consider to be a vital aspect of dealing with depression. It is necessary to be able to pick up the phone and contact someone trained in mental health and say, “I am not doing very well, I think I need help (again).”
Absolute trust in someone with medical training is crucial. Mistakes will be made. We need to accept that our Doctors and Professionals are human. Often the toll of time that they can give you is very small. Remember… that person has studied the brain and how it works – their knowledge of mental illness is what saves people. Knowing that they care is important; but knowing that they know the best way to help, is paramount – you need to trust that knowledge above all else.
Psychiatric medications are usually necessary. Unfortunately, there is no “magic pill”. The process can be long and difficult. We need to see that trembling light so far off to begin learning to live again. Once again, we need someone else to steer us the right way.
“Quick fix” doesn’t happen. Recovering from Depression is painfully slow.
Medications can be extremely frustrating. Trial and error is often needed. Sometimes they take 6 to 8 weeks before we see an improvement. During that time, side effects can add to our problems.
I think there is a shortcoming in our medical system regarding psychiatric drugs. The patient is often not educated on the possible side effects, or the probable length of time before any satisfactory results are felt. Imagine the frustration of a person asking for help; then being prescribed a medication that not only increases the symptoms but shows no improvement for several weeks? To add to this there is a possibility that it won’t be effective and a change might be necessary.
It is no wonder to me that people try antidepressant medication that are not being educated of its use and possibilities, stop taking it – never try again, and live their lives in chronic depression – or worse.
In my case, I will be on medication for the rest of my life. I had far too many crashes when coming off meds. It is peaceful and comforting to know that my body chemistry was finally balanced. It took me awhile to think “why would I not take medication if I am so much better with it?” People are more than willing to take prescription drugs for other life-threatening illnesses; it doesn’t make any sense.
The Stigma of Mental Illness
The struggle is to remove the blinders and open minds to receive acceptance, understanding, and acknowledgement. That’s a pretty big order when we are facing one of the most complicated and difficult health issues of our times.
“When you tell people you suffer from depression, don’t say it like you have something to be ashamed of. You have to say it with strength and conviction and a certain measure of confidence which you would say if you had something else”. …Michael Landsberg
Often, asking for help is perplexing to the individual. The stigma related to mental illness is still there. Yes, most people attach a negative label to anything mentally related. Yes, it is improving and we must make the difference.
These are all the things that say to me – this is an illness, this is not brought upon by my own volition. There is something wrong and it needs to be fixed: Someone must take care of me, when I can’t myself. I also needed to understand that this is often a genetic predisposition. It is not something I have caused or created in any way. There is no way in hell that anyone “does” this to themselves.
Extracted from “To the Beat of a Different Drummer” by Jane Summers Robertson. Unpublished manuscript 2020.