Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Fighting depression, some unhelpful tips and little musings.

For about eight months I had mild/moderate depression.

I have tried to write about this a little bit, but it is really hard to do so until you get out of it. At least, in my case, it has been.

Lots of people seek to know the cause of someone else's depression. Is it a chemical or situational reason? When you're depressed it's hard to address these questions, even if you need to.

For me, I am convinced, it was both chemical and situational. I have had depressive episodes before, but usually I could snap out of them after a few weeks... hence, an 'episode'. This one I just couldn't. It really wasn't a matter of choosing to be unhappy or happy, I just seemed completely stuck in a rut and aimless in many things.

It was really hard for me to talk with people in many ways. I was emotional and felt that the whole world really was against me. I wanted to be myself, but I also kept saying that I didn't really know who I was anymore, and that 'old Lisa' had gone away. Whoever 'new Lisa' was, she didn't seem like the person I wanted to be in any way, shape or form. I spent days on the couch, doing, well, nothing. I kept up a pretty good facade, and I was better if I was busy, though I was exhausted all the time too. I could have (and often did) stay in bed most of the morning. I made excuses. I slept during the day. I didn't read for a couple of months. I just wasn't myself.

I didn't need anyone to tell me that 'new Lisa' was a bad person. If she was anything, she was just a shell of whoever I was, and wasn't anything like whoever the real me was.

The interesting thing (if you want to call it that), was that although I was withdrawing from most of my every day activities - work, friendship, things I liked, I really only made priorities of things that were time commitments I felt I couldn't break, and didn't want to. I got myself to Guide meetings, to musical rehearsals and to derby. Lots of advice about depression is about doing things you enjoy. I enjoyed these things, but once I was home again, I wouldn't sit around thinking how awesome that previous experience had been, or waiting with eager anticipation. I enjoyed those things while I was part of it, and then that was it.

A lot of people say things like "happiness is a choice," or "this is a first world problem". Let's address these misconceptions:

Happiness is a choice.
I think this is both cliche and something people genuinely believe. I don't think it's true. I mean, if I could choose to be happy, don't you think I just would have been? Depression is not a nice place to visit and no one wants to stay too long.

When things go wrong for you, when you lose someone, when someone you love is hurting, you are responsible only for the way you feel, and at these times, happiness should not be shoved at you as a choice all of the time. It's okay to be sad and mad and angry. But, no. Everyone just says things like "You have so much, you should be happy!" "Remember the good times!" "You used to be so happy/fun to be around/skinny... etc." Or, and, most dreaded, "these are first world problems!"

Are we always happy though? Or just content? I think we are content much more often than happy, and happiness is a state which is rare to achieve in every ordinary day. Please see the fabulous movie The Pursuit of Happyness for more information.

I think that people who think or say this have either motivation: 1) they don't want to be the cause of your "unhappiness", or be seen to be supporting it in anyway or 2) they have had blessings beyond measure and can't see anyone else's pain or sorrow.

First world problems.
Depression is not just a first world problem.

"First world" countries have a higher rate of depression than developing nations (yes, I'm PC about that one). I believe this is because depression is not seen as an illness and probably doesn't top the chart when it is considered alongside countries who face a HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Just because it is a so called "first world problem", it doesn't mean that depression (or anything else for that matter) is a problem.

Okay, so this is probably the place where I'm meant to tell you about some kind of miracle cure for depression. Look.... there isn't one.

My healing process was very slow and stop-start, but here is my little depression timeline in general.

April 2013: I visited a GP and asked for some tablets to help with anxiety as I kept having chest pains and felt this was due to stress. He gave me a script for medication, but also told me that it could cause a whole heap of side effects, including unmasking schizophrenia. I didn't get that script filled.

June 2013: Back to the GP for stress leave.

July 2013: Back to the GP for stress leave and a depression questionnaire. I went onto the waiting list for counselling.

Started a four week contract teaching Upper Primary.

August 2013: Lots of relief work all through term three.

September 2013: Finally moved off the waiting list for counselling and had sessions fortnightly.
Started my internship. Yay!

October 2013: Start of my low lows times. Two and a half days of relief work for the entire Term 4.
November 2013: Still doing counselling, but found that it probably wasn't supporting me enough. Felt incredibly lonely and isolated, even though this wasn't truth. I made a few calls to Lifeline, some more helpful than others. I was incredibly sad to be leaving my internship in mid December, and this was weighing on my mind a lot.

Got accepted to go to India for Girl Guides.

December 2013: Finished up my internship. Started looking into different study pathways, realised I already had a lot on my plate and no money to do things.

Sent off my application for financial support for my trip. We got new furniture and started doing things like socialising and spending time with my family.

January 2014: Last counselling sessions. Felt like I could manage a lot better than I had a few months about, but I would still have bouts of crying and general sadness. Spent lots of time with my Mum who gave me a lot of pep talks. Got pepped up again. Received financial support for my trip and started my new job. Went on a cruise with my family. Was reminded, and needed to be, that I have an awesome family who love me and want the best for me.

February 2014: What depression?! I realised that my trip was getting closer, and I was staying up at night worrying about my personal safety on the trip. Lots of self education, thank you Mr Google.

March 2014: Trip to India with girl Guides. Felt as if I could do ANYTHING. (Still do, actually.)

June 2014: Finally being able to speak about all of this without a) crying and b) getting worried about where conversations were going. Felt strong enough to fight.

In fairness, some of my depression was due to my responses to situations. I knew that I felt my career was a reflection of who I was, but I didn't see this as a bad thing. Now I know otherwise. What you do doesn't mean you are that persona of what a teacher, or an employed worker, or whatever you do. I also felt that at this time I was seeking advice and taking all of it on board. I let other people's opinions, ideas and world view shape my own for far too long.

Depression is something you can't just snap out of. You won't want to talk to every Tom, Dick and Hars about your problems (or lack thereof), but everyone will want to talk to you because they want to be "helpful". Some people are much more helpful than others, and plenty push their own opinions onto you without you even realising! Simple solutions don't always fix every problem.

Like I said, part of the reason I "came good" again was because my circumstances changed. I started a full time job, which I didn't really enjoy, but it was much better than sitting at home, trying to coax myself into going to gym (at which I failed epically) or eating chocolate biscuits (which I am very good at doing). My trip away did cause a lot of stress before I left, and while I was away I connected with lots of new people who I could really be myself with. It wasn't that seeing a country like India put my life into perspective, as many people would claim. It was being with other like minded ladies, and having fun, and hearing other people's stories that changed a little about how I see the world.

I want to apologise for the length of this post, but part of me knows it deserves to be this long.

I have a great support network, and lots of people were supportive when they didn't even know I was depressed. I hear often that I am a "happy" or "bubbly" person, and this is true. I am an introverted extrovert. I do get a lot of energy from other people I love most, and from doing things I thoroughly enjoy. But I need a lot of downtime too, and my extroverted ways only last when I'm with certain groups of people and not others. I tire easily of intense social situations, even ones I thoroughly enjoy.

Anyway, the cat would dearly like to be in front of the heater and it is time for gym and mystery shopping. Thanks for reading, if you got this far that is.

Love from Lisa xx