Depression runs in my family. My mother was undiagnosed all during my childhood. Of course I didn't know that at the time. I just knew that mom liked to sleep, a lot, and often felt "tired", and cried sometimes. I guess I thought that given our family story (I'll post about that some other time), this was just normal. I never really thought too much about it. And, I certainly didn't register that I had those same symptoms, although, from about age 13 on I did.
I first began to realize something was wrong with me when one day, with tears and much stopping and starting, I told my mom what I had been thinking for about a week: that my life sucked and that I often thought it might be easier to just step in front of a moving bus than to deal with it. She put me in therapy immediately.
But I didn't stay in therapy; therapy has never really helped me. I share easily enough without needing a therapist to do so (as you are reading) and truthfully I never found one I really trusted. Plus there was the whole money thing. At the time mom's insurance didn't really provide good coverage for mental health (ironic given that she worked for the Michigan Department of Mental Health at the time we're talking about). So, staying in therapy meant finding a way to pay for more than the 10 sessions a year our insurance covered.
The symptoms of Clinical Depression vary from person to person and can even vary for the same person over time. My Depression symptoms have indeed varied over time. In fact, they have varied greatly in scale and type over my lifetime. As I said earlier, my depression hit me in my early teens. It manifested first with constant feelings of being "down" or sad and with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. For a kid with self esteem issues to begin with those last two became such a part of my life that I gave them a name: the "Green Meanies" (named after the Blue Meanies from the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine). I often had problems sleeping as well. These varied from not being able to get to sleep to waking up several times during the night. Also common were long jags of sleepiness where my body "caught up" with it's need for down time. It was not uncommon for me to sleep for 12-14 hours at a time. I have in fact slept more than an entire day away in the past. I also had trouble concentrating or staying focused on a task which lead to problems in school - couple that with a high intelligence (as immodest as that sounds) and you have a kid who can easily grasp new concepts and not only hates homework (staying on task was a problem) but finds it pointless (I knew the material - homework was repetitive, boring and hard to stay focused on anyway).
The episodic nature of Major Depression is one of the real problems "normal" people have with understanding it as a disorder/disease. You'll hear people say "pull yourself out of it" or "we all feel a little blue now and then". And, in fact, it can go away, for months or even years at a time. During those times it is even possible to feel "normal". In fact, for some people depression is a one-time thing or very short term thing or is something they deal with for a short period during their teens and then again in mid-life. But, not for me. For me, and for MANY others, Depression is a long term chronic issue. It WILL return.
In my early and mid-twenties I continued to be undiagnosed and I continued to careen from depressive episode to depressive episode interspersed with periods of relative stability. There were just enough of those "stable" periods for me to continue to believe I was "OK" when the real truth was that I had a hard time holding a job, and school was completely off my radar. In effect I wasted an entire decade learning to deal with my depression. I call it my "lost decade".
At age 28, due in large part to the ending of a major romantic relationship (major for me, for her, no so much) my depression came to a head. When that relationship crashed I nearly did the thing a lot of people with depression think about all the time (and many actually do): commit suicide. I never really got close but I sure thought about it, a lot. It was perhaps the single darkest period of my life. Over that two year period I lost friends, jobs, a place to live, and nearly took my own life; it was rough. But, I made it through, and all this STILL without medication.
In my early thirties I got a job with enough benefits that I could really take a look at getting treatment. I began to hear more about Major Depression and its symptoms and realize how much they matched what I had been dealing with. Plus my mom got diagnosed and got onto medication and I saw the incredible changes it made for her. I got on my first medication at about age 32. But again, the episodic nature of the disorder can lead you to make foolish decisions - like going off your medication. Plus not all anti-depressants are created equal nor do they work the same for every individual. Suffice to say after three or four years struggling with medications with rough side effects and a couple of years when I didn't take meds (or tried to self medicate with herbs), I am now on a medication that works for me.
But what prompted this post is that I got lazy last weekend and missed two days of my medication. The particular SNRI I am taking takes a while to build up in your body, but stop taking it and in VERY little time (read two days for me) you will notice the lack. I have been back on them since Monday but have spent the last week feeling flighty and disconnected, tired, and having sleep issues (three days of the last 4 I have gone to sleep at 7pm and slept until 7am) and "not myself".
So, my word to the wise? Take a depression screening. If it says you have or are at risk of having depression TAKE ACTION!!! You do NOT have to live that way! It may take time and a combination of drugs and therapy but you CAN get back to even.
Also, if you are on ANY SSRI or SNRI drugs DO NOT STOP TAKING THEM even for a short period, even (especially) if you're feeling "better". Consult with your health care provider before you make ANY change to your medications. And, most of all, listen to your body.
And last but certainly NOT least, advocate for more programs and an increase in health care funding for mental health in your area. There is no reason for ANYONE to have to suffer with this disorder. or worse to take their own life because they cannot see a way out of the darkness.
I have learned to have no shame about this - it is who I am. And maybe, by talking about it, I can help someone else to avoid their own "lost decade". Have you struggled with Major Depression? Bi-Polar disorder? Panic attacks or Anxiety? If so, would you consider sharing your story? Perhaps you can help someone else to slay their version of the "Green Meanies".
The Talking Stick is yours...