On Depression

Into the Woods © 2002 Jane Waterman
Into the Woods © 2002 Jane Waterman

Thoughts on depression

  • Respect the wisdom of others, but never at the expense of your own wisdom. When I first truly realized that I was experiencing an extreme mood disturbance, I talked to the GP about it. He referred me to a psychiatrist, who prescribed anti-depressants. I then visited my parents, who insisted that I didn’t need them and I stopped potentially life-saving treatment. On the other hand, I spent years with doctors who believed only in medication, even ECT (that’s shock therapy, which I managed to escape), or doctors who had a controlling “patient model” of their own. Because I had been taught to always respect the doctor as an authority, I suffered further trauma at their hands. Worst yet, I was frequently disbelieved when I spoke of my experiences. I began to “fire” these toxic doctors. In time, I found doctors and counsellors who not only believed my experience of my own changed health, but who welcomed me working with them to heal myself. To save yourself years of heartache, never be a passive participant in your own healing.
  • Depression manifests itself through many different mind-body symptoms and usually a combination of treatments will help you. Things I have found helpful: cognitive therapy; certain antidepressants; cuddling loved ones; playing with our pets; beach walks; being in nature; homeopathy; massage; eating better; aromatherapy; reiki; making other people laugh; listening to music with hopeful, inspiring or life-affirming lyrics; writing; reading biographies of other people who fought against challenges and won.
  • If something is making you feel more depressed, avoid it! Things I have found harmful: bad therapists; talking to people who have no understanding of depression; toxic relationships and “friendships”; certain antidepressants and certain prescribed medications; alcohol; listening to music with lyrics that promote self-destruction; staying in bed all day; eating lots of junk food; not working on my dreams and consequently feeling that life is passing me by.
  • You can’t “snap out of” depression. Societal attitudes can lead you to deny that you have depression, and you can end up suffering needlessly for months or even years. Untreated clinical depression rarely goes away on its own. It is a serious, potentially life-threatening illness. Because it affects brain chemistry and consequently the rational and emotive centres of functioning, you have to be active in doing things to improve your brain chemistry and overall well-being.
  • Seek professional help, especially if you find yourself thinking self-destructive thoughts. Depression saps your physical and emotional strength, preventing restful sleep, and interfering with your ability to care for yourself by eating nutritional food and staying active. You may think you are not worthy of help. You are! Men in particular have a harder time admitting they are having a problem due to societal expectations that they just “suck it up”, when it comes to their emotional lives. Talking to your general practitioner is not a sign of weakness. It means you are committed helping yourself lead a happier, healthier, more productive life. Good for you!
  • Challenge your own self-sabotaging thoughts. Whatever their origin, subconscious automatic thoughts – like old tapes playing on an endless loop – contribute to keeping you stuck. Cognitive therapy helps you to recognize these undermining thoughts and replace them with a more realistic and often kinder truth. Ask for a referral to a psychologist who specializes in cognitive therapy. If you don’t connect with this doctor, seek another. You are in charge! If therapy is not affordable, buy a good book, like “Feeling Good” by Dr David Burns. Don’t let the pithy title fool you. Burns will help give you an impressive set of tools to work on your depression in concert with antidepressants (if you need them) and other self-work. This book will only help you if you commit to working through it consistently. The exercises may seem forced at first, but I promise you, they will help you to feel better – both by empowering your role in your own healing and teaching you to be a friend to yourself – perhaps for the first time in your life!
  • Anti-depressants are not “happy pills”, nor are they “personality altering”. If they were, I would have been “fixed” 16 years ago and I wouldn’t bother writing this article. What they can do is prevent the worst dips, and that’s what I use them for: to improve my quality of life.
  • Be your own advocate and a healer to yourself. Don’t wait for someone else (doctors, healers, etc) to “fix you”. There is no quick fix for treatment-resistant clinical depression. You have to be active in your own healing if you truly want to get better. In some ways, it’s more difficult than most other illnesses because the functioning of the brain – the part of the body you use to make rational decisions about your health – is impaired. Ironically, you will get better faster if you feel you are involved in your healing, and are not a victim to what is ultimately, an invisible illness.