There isn’t a single definition of recovery, and many don’t like to use that word. They may talk instead about adapting to an illness that never goes away completely, about managing symptoms; about healing the whole person; or about gaining deeper insight as a result of the struggle with depression.
Whatever the words, living well is the hope, and the specifics are as varied as our individual lives. We’ve started a series of Recovery Stories to complement the posts, like those listed here, that explore the many ways people try to get life back from depression.
Notebook: Healing the Whole Person
In this post (one of several I think of as notebook entries) I’ve put together several ideas about healing that underlie the work of Michael Lerner and Rachel Naomi Remen. What sets them apart for me are their insights about the comprehensive process by which people not only learn to live with chronic illness but […]
Stories to Explain My Life with Depression
Stories can be an immediate and moving way to learn about someone because they evoke the feelings and experience that factual details never can. When told with honesty and sincerity, a story helps establish a bond of trust because the teller has been willing to open such personal insight to the listener. For me, certain […]
6 Dimensions of Psychological Well-Being
Recovery should aim at restoring psychological well-being as well as ending the symptoms of depression. Naturally, you get into treatment to stop the pain of those symptoms. It’s a huge achievement if the treatment works, and you can keep depression from ruining your life. But so many people relapse after initially getting better that full […]
Does Finding Purpose in Life Help You Overcome Depression?
Finding purpose in life that goes beyond your personal needs is often mentioned as a major step in overcoming depression. That’s a hard thing to imagine, though, when you’re in the middle of a severe relapse, and survival is the only goal in sight. Yet, one of the hallmarks of depression is loss of motivation […]
Recovery Is More Than Remission of Symptoms
A lot of people think of recovery from depression as an unending process of managing the symptoms. But I have always hoped that recovery is more than remission of symptoms. Before imagining full recovery, however, there’s the enormous task of getting the most crippling effects of depression under control. I don’t mean ending them altogether, […]
Recovery: What’s Wrong with this Word?
I’m not sure what it is about the word, “recovery,” but for a lot of people it’s a turn-off. I confess I’ve often felt that way too. Perhaps it’s because I’ve known so much more about the journey through Hell than I could ever know about Paradise. After years in the lower world, with only […]
Declaring Independence from Depression
Here’s one part of a post from a couple of years ago, written a few months before I knew I’d really gotten past depression. Stephany at Soulful Sepulcher had suggested that I try assuming this: I have recovered. That really got me thinking and actually proved to be a turning point. I started imagining what […]
What Comes After Recovery from Depression?
In response to a recent post, Clinically Clueless commented that, for her, recovery was a process, not a destination. She needed to keep aware of it, like those recovering from addiction, in order to catch the signs of relapse. I’ve thought of recovery in a similar way, certainly not a state you arrive at and […]
I thank GOD for medicine. It probably doesn’t work for everyone but that’s okay. It is working for me. I would be crying all day without it. I am a sensitive person but I also get frustrated then depressed. I don’t like it when people treat me badly and have a hard time with rejection but my medicine makes me free. I can live. I can see my psychiatrist and know how to manage things better. Just talking to my psychiatrist makes it better. I had ADHD for year but taking meds has made it better. I still have to take my time and think about a project before I start it but that is probably normal instead of just jumping into something. Blessings to all. May you know that GOD loves you, He has a plan. We are not weird and it is wonderful to seek help. Love you all
I would like to share my experience with readers. I have been on anti-depressants for many years having had to deal with many let-downs, a large heart-break and an overweight of anxiety for changes in life, work and guilt in my heart – which it now proves I should NOT have had as my two children from my first marriage and wonderful people and are raising admirable families. After being prescribed Prozac which was a disaster I was put onto Lustral which was for me a wonderful assistance in dealing with my inner problems and tensions. I took it for some 18 years!! Suddenly it was off the market with no prior warning from our chemist or from my doctor. I was told to take a locally manufactured sedative also based on Setraline called Serenada. Well there was NO serenade for me. I had the most unpleasant side symptoms which I shall not enumerate. So I stopped taking any anti-depressant and this abrupt cessation put me through a month of misery. Nobody from my medicine suppliers or doctor prescriber told me that the stopping and taking of different drugs MUST be gradual. So I just stopped taking anything – from angst! BUT I have to say that I conquered it. No anti-depressants and I am NOT suffering from all my past symptoms. My golf is back on form, I am not dropping things, I do NOT need new eye-glasses. I am with my good sense of humor and up to dealing with all everyday and more problems around me. Just wanted to share this experience with other long-sufferers.
I have read some very informative articles on this website, currently my sister has opened up to me and talking about the depression she has had for 5 years of which i never knew. Telling me of the sadness and darkness she has felt for so long. I am looking for more information and came upon this great website. thanks, christopher
I’d like to tell you my story I’m 52 and have suffered depression for 40 years it started when I was 12 years old my parents divorced and he treated her so badly and one time they argued when my sister came home drunk and my dad knocked my mums teeth out because of it and we all saw him doing it couldn’t stop him and our parents have us expect us to be like them copy them get married have kids be able to talk as easily as them and they brought up my 3 brothers and 2 sisters to do those things but not me and because of it I’ve been constantly gotten at for not wanting to copy and be like them making me wish I didn’t have to be here for every second minute hour day week month year of it and even my own brothers and sisters treat me exactly the same as everyone else and I’ve been abandoned and am completely on my own psychiatrists and ones like them don’t help expect us to change and be like others copying and doing the same things I’ve harmed myself before and a few weeks ago when I tried to get the crisis team to come to me was told I can’t have them unless I harm myself again or try to commit suicide I feel like I’m being forced to be here against my own will its like slavery were in a prison a zoo there’s no hope no future no nothing just having to continue on being gotten at
It has been a while since you posted. I hope that you have had some help. I have had some experience with a Crisis Team and unfortunately it is only when we threaten to hurt ourselves that we get the help we need. I hope that you have someone in your life that you can confide in and rely on right now, it is so hard to carry the burden of sadness and trauma alone. Take care, Nancy S x
Dear Kathleen, I pray you are still here. I had a similar experience. My childhood was horrible. My brother and sister have basically abandoned me too. My mother just passed. It was better then but after that happened it all fell apart. Then I went through a horrible depression for about a week or more. I was a battered in my mind by my mothers thoughts, Christian so called thoughts and who I was now. BUT I went to my psychiatrist and GOT UP. You don’t have to been like them. Plus if it suits you, God loves you. I also had voices telling me to commit suicide but I didn’t do it. You are beautiful. It might not be the change that someone else expects but GOD can help you and you can do it. Peace and love from you Sis. I hope you are still there and can reply. I want to be with you to help you.
Thank you all for your writing and comments. Reading this has helped me. Thanks
Mary Ryan says
I stumbled on this website searching for a book I recently read and really got alot out of.
I live with anxiety and depression and have been on and off for the past 4 years. It has been such a huge chunk of my life and I’ve thrown all my resources into really understanding the why’s and how’s – to give me the tools to navigate through the rough times.
I find reading other people’s stories so inspiring. Often it’s a case of “heyyyy I’m not alone in my boat”. Sometimes it’s more “if they can get through that, I can get through this”. Nomatter the reason. Reading other people’s stories for me is reassuring, makes me feel connected, and also inspires me to share my story.
I have a blog “the beauty within it” that describes a lot of my stories, and how it has unfolded over the years.
In particular, I’d love to share my most important story. The story of my red toolbox. I shared this story on my blog to celebrate my 100th blog post. After coming off Effexor, back then, I have since had a relapse and had to go back on it for a few months. The 2 steps forward 1 step back metaphore for me is so true.
I hope you find some sort of comfort in my story, to know you’re not alone in your boat.
It is fitting that my 100th post (this post) is about my red toolbox, and coming off the wonderdrug, Effexor. I originally started writing on this blog to somehow get out some of the tangled mess in my head – and, as it turns out, writing has really worked wonders on me. Writing has become an outlet that I miss now if I don’t do it for a while, much like yoga or ice cream.
When I look over some of my earlier posts I recall (with a sense of gratefulness, being somewhat detached from it now) the lost feeling I felt so acutely for a time, and this intense fear that I would be in a horribly dark and lonely place forever…and never quite be ‘me’ again, or that I’d never be the same. Well…I’m not the same, but in a good way, somehow stronger now. More accepting of myself. More content. Happier. It was a dark time there for a while.
A couple of years back I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (a technical way of labelling having loads and loads of panic attacks). At first therapy was enough to treat it but eventually it came to a point, I like to refer to it as my ‘spiritual crisis/emergency’, where I needed a little something extra to get me over that ‘Everest’. So I went on Effexor. At first, going on drugs frightened me, beyond any words I could ever write here to express just how much…it terrified me.
But, here I am, just over 1 year on after starting it, and I took my last Effexor (hopefully ever) 2 days ago. No more. It’s finished. I’m moving on. (Just to be super clear I weaned myself carefully off of it with my docs direction.)
It’s a horrible drug in many ways. It kills things that shouldn’t be killed, and it makes you get fat fat fat. Horrible. I don’t want to say it saved my life, but I feel I do need to acknowledge it’s wonder somehow. I went on it 2 Christmases ago, and took it for the shortest possible time recommended for the long term benefits (12 months).
All I needed was a little a shaft of light to open up for me so I could exit my cave of horrible anxious darkness, and Effexor did that for me. It let me rejoin the world so I could rebuild my life. It didn’t fix me. It allowed me the energy and the inclination to do everything necessary to fix myself. And that’s just what I’ve done. I feel quite proud of how far I’ve come, the journey (sorry, such a vomitous word) I’ve been on, and the things I’ve learnt along the way. It makes me tear up a bit.
For a time I was unable to eat, sleep, or even manage a smile, for days at a time (and at it’s worse, even longer than that). On a bad day books, magazines, even television were all out of the question. It was just empty emotional pain coupled with acute fear that it would somehow get worse.
I would “wake up” after not sleeping or sleeping restlessly at some point during the night and my body felt as though it weighed 3 tonns. So heavy I could barely move. At first I thought that’s was because I actually couldn’t manage moving my body, but after listening to a podcast by someone who’d been through something similar (and I’m sorry but I can’t remember who, there were so many podcasts at one point), learnt that in fact despite feeling horrible I had to remind myself that I did in fact have control of my arms and legs and I could command that they move. So that’s what I did.
It sounds incredible now, but even deciding what to wear in the mornings was too much. Usually the acuteness of whatever it was I was feeling would abate somewhat during the afternoon, at least enough that I could distract myself with television and download podcasts to listen to. So each evening, once I was feeling okay, I would lay out my clothes in preparation for the morning, and prepare for the next wave of acute anxiety. I tried not to expect it in case it was self-sabotague, but prepare the basics just in case.
As soon as it was light enough in the morning I would command my arms and legs to move, get up, put on the clothes I had put out for myself, grab my iPhone and headphones and walk. I would walk and walk and walk and walk. Every cell in my body would scream “noooooooo you can’t do it”, but I walked anyway. I would walk to the beach, and sit and watch the water for a while, and then walk some more. There’s nothing like watching the ocean when you need perspective.
I would try and smile back at the strangers running with their dogs who would wave and say “good morning”. Sometimes I could manage it without wanting to yell at them, desparing of my own jealousy at their normality. It seems almost funny now.
I listened to this amazing audiobook by Paul Vincent, “50 Things You Can Do Today To Beat Depression” (listen to it here on YouTube). The first thing I remember him saying was, “there is no one thing will cure your depression”. I was so angry, until I realised what he meant. You have to do lots of things to feel better. His theory is to spread the load a bit…that there are 50 things will each make you feel 2% better. So combined, you’ll feel 100% better if you find and manage to do those 50 things.
It gave me an idea. See, I’m such a visual person. I need to see things to understand them. I started think about what made me feel better about life in general. Family. Friendship. Love. Doing things. Anythings. I started small (*laughs*). But then a wave of anxiety would come and wipe everything away like water wiping away words in the sand. I needed some really bright paint on some sturdy rocks, so that the words would appear again once the water had subsided. I needed constant reminders of the 50 things that made me feel better. If I even had 50 things.
If only there was some way I could store visual representations without having to read so that at the height of my anxiety I could literally hold physical reminders of the happier version of myself, to just hold them, my tools to happiness, and wait for the anxiety/fear/terror to abate.
I needed a toolbox. Specifically a red one, as red is my favourite colour. I needed to fill it with my 50 things…my 50 tools. My therapist was so excited about the idea, that he (literally then and there as soon as I furtively mentioned the idea) got up, went to the next room, got his own red toolbox (which happened to be vintage, another favourite of mine) and emptied it out right there on the floor – and insisted I take the toolbox and start putting my idea into motion that very day.
So that’s what I did.
It was actually a lot of fun thinking of how to physically represent all the things that needed to go in there.
My drugs went in there, obviously. Effexor and Alprax (like Xanax). Okay. 2 things, 48 to go. My headphones went in there. 3. A book that my Mum would read to me that was also very helpful (Ross Greenwood’s, “In the unlikely event of an emergency”). Massages were a huge help. Massage oil! 4, 5. My family, friends and boyfriend all needed to go in there…that’s a tricky one, aside from photos (too easy)…so in went some string! 6. Writing, too easy, a pencil and a writing book. 7. Bev Aisbett’s, “Living with ‘IT'” (a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book). My doctor’s business card. My therapist’s business card. 8, 9, 10. A mini shoe, to represent my walking. 11. A sea shell, from the ocean. 12. Quickly, the toolbox started to fill with everything that I found helpful, and I found myself looking for new things to add to it.
My red toolbox always sat open, in a place that was easily accessible. So that any time the anxiety came on, I could rummage around my toolbox to find something helpful. I had so, so many massages during the worst of it. Massages are so great, for me it is impossible to feel anything but relaxed in one, and they often calmed me to the point of happy.
And love. Love was the real clincher. All types of love too, I’m not only talking about my darling sweetheart man (whose love is undoubtedly incredible), my friends, and my family (I’m lucky to have such wonderful people around me). I’m also talking about kindness from strangers, and courage from people who have shared their own stories, self love, and love for particular hobbies, places, or activities. Just love, generally.
And so now I feel like I’m nearing the finish line. My last Effexor capsule 2 days ago and I’ve been anxiety free for almost a year now. I have a few reminders, that keep me humble, but nothing unhandleable. I feel sturdy now. Ready for the next chapter. Grateful, and content.
Most importantly, I still have my toolbox, literally brimming with tools that help me in life. It sits (still in a prominant position in my room) closed for now. At times I open it and have a rummage, but I no longer need to go to it very often.
What a fantastic way to celebrate my 100th post.
Love the idea of the red toolbox. Trying to fill it in at the moment (making a list) and it’s a good distraction from the isolation I’m feeling at the moment.
Thank you for sharing. x
Absolutely love your red toolbox, and the way you write as well. So vivid and inspiring, I hope you continue to thrive and are still writing. Nancy S x
what was at the root of your anxiety and depression? Had something happened or just biological? Just wondering. I take meds and it helps me a lot.
I stumbled onto this website purely by chance and I’m so glad that I did! I’m so inspired and comforted by all that I see here, but this post absolutely wowed me…surely the darkness of these sad times we go through must be followed by equal if not greater joy 🙂 I will read on! Thanks so much for starting this site and thanks to the person who posted their story…so brave!
Light at the end of the tunnel
During the last ten years or so, whenever the emotional roller coaster of my life has hit a trough, I often turned to the internet for relief. Reading what others have gone through has helped me realize that I have comparatively little to complain about. Feeling to be part of a larger community of depression sufferers was often enough to take the edge off the pain and I agree with John Folk-Williams ( http://www.storiedmind.com/living-well ) that “a lot of healing takes place when people who have lived with depression tell their stories to each other”. It is in this spirit that I share with you the history of my depression and how I have tried to cope.
My father and his influence on my early childhood
Most people were impressed by my father when they first met him. He was handsome, flamboyant, charming. Highly ambitious he pursued his professional goals energetically and with persistence. I knew my father mainly as someone who liked to taunt and torment people verbally and sometimes physically.
I was around 4 years old when my parents divorced. My first distinct childhood memory is my father’s question “What will you say when they ask who you want to stay with?”. I think I sensed the terrible dilemma that I faced and I knew what I was expected to say.
Nevertheless, it was my mother who was given legal custody after the divorce but this did not prevent my father from “hijacking” me, probably more out of a desire for revenge on my mother than love for me. My mother lacked the strength to fight a legal battle and contact with her during my pre-teens was sporadic and usually clandestine.
Some time after the divorce, I was “parked” for almost a year with a large and warm traditional farming family. My fondest and most vivid early childhood memories stem from this period. I do not remember the circumstances but a few weeks into first grade I was taken out of the village school and somehow found myself back in the city with my father. I am still haunted by dark memories of the time that followed.
There was a period when dad and I lived in a sub-let room where I spent long and lonely afternoons and evenings waiting for him to bring something to eat and for company. He was often late. He would sometimes take me along to work and let me wait in the car for hours on end. He was not habitually violent but enough to make me fear him. I do remember receiving a severe beating when I once dared, against dad’s explicit instructions, to join my mother on a visit to grandma. Dad had a mean streak, he liked to tease especially the meek and defenseless women he had affairs with and often encouraged me to join him. Sometimes he was outright weird. One time I had to wait outside in the stairwell while there was something mysterious going on inside. Afterwards dad showed me something wrapped in a handkerchief explaining that this would have been my little brother and then proceeded to flush the embryo down the toilet. To this day, I have no explanation for why he did this.
It was during the time when I stayed with my father that I started to develop a fantasy about a warm and cozy little house in a snow-covered forest at Christmas time. As I peek in through a window, I see a happy family gathered around the table. But, as hard as I wished, I never became part of that family. I withdrew into myself and because nobody ever came to draw me out, I stayed there more or less for the entire duration of my pre-teens. The staircase of the apartment building where we lived had windows facing a back yard. I remember standing on a second storey window sill looking down wondering whether I should make a step forward in order to be with the angels that in those days I believed in.
As I was becoming too much of a liability, my father eventually dumped me with his grandmother (my great-grandmother) who was in her 80ies and lived with her sixty some year old spinster daughter. They were both good souls and tried their best but just couldn’t cope with me. Fast approaching the teens, I had become rather unruly and it was decided to put me in a catholic boarding school.
On Sunday mornings and evenings we had to attend two compulsory church services. During the week there were rosaries and prayer vigils. Otherwise the place was run like a boot camp. On returning from school, I regularly found my bed upturned, a highly public humiliation for bed-wetting in a dormitory shared with over twenty other “inmates”. For minor infractions of the rules, we had to kneel on the steps of the prefect’s dais or were subjected to other corporal punishment. I don’t remember having a single friend. At the tender age of ten I felt totally abandoned. With deteriorating grades, my perception of self-worth, not very high to begin with, dived to near zero during the one year I had to endure at this school.
My father – by then realizing that I was no PhD material – must have lost what little interest he may have had in me, because from age eleven onward I was finally allowed to stay with my mother. With hardly any alimony payments, times were tough financially for her. I continued to bed-wet through age thirteen and with the onset of puberty must have been rather difficult to deal with. In retrospect, I realize that the move marked the beginning of a slow healing process but through the end of my twenties and beyond, my habitual reaction to real or imagined adversity continued to be withdrawal into myself.
The last one in the chain of my father’s girlfriends that I remember was a good-hearted woman who had picked him from the gutter after he had served jail for fraudulent bankruptcy. She spent her entire savings paying off his debts and together they worked incredibly hard to pick themselves up. Hoping that dad had indeed changed his ways, I did respond to their initiative to rekindle the relationship. For some time it looked good, but as soon as the new business took off, my father reverted to his “sugar daddy” habits, spending lavishly on cars, nights on the town and mistresses, while running his now pregnant wife into debt, and subjecting her to severe verbal and physical abuse. We learned about this from a desperate letter she sent to my mother. Soon after, she killed herself by taking rat poison.
I last saw my father at the funeral. This was nearly fifty years ago. He is long dead now, but I still experience times when I feel small, inadequate and apprehensive in the presence of real or imagined authority.
The Teens and onward
Although unaware of it, I was mainly motivated by the deep desire to belong. In my mid-teens I fell in with a gang of rockers because they let me tog along. It felt great to be noticed, never mind the reasons. If one could not gain respect through achievement, then recognition for obnoxious behavior was an acceptable substitute. Hanging out with these tough guys somehow seemed worth the trouble I faced when coming home late.
These were trying times for my mother. She was at the end of her rope when, to her great relief, I was rescued from sliding further into the rocker scene by a group of roving proselytizing Baptists. Soon after having “found Jesus”, I met my first love at a church youth camp and a beautiful romance ensued.
Finally, finally I had taken the long yearned for place at the table in the cozy house of my childhood dream.
It lasted for about half a year. Then my true love fell for an older suitor. After some initial anguish most youngsters will soon get on with their lives but it was a lot harder for me to accept. The perceived abandonment pushed me into an abyss of utter despair. My slightly recovered self-esteem and confidence had been dealt a mortal blow. I was seriously suicidal but somehow I managed to survive.
School was a constant battle to achieve passing grades and to avoid expulsion due to discipline problems. After graduating from High School, the Wanderlust of youth kicked in, intensified by the urge to escape my present life and circumstances. I left home to join the air force. Having served four years and after some extended travel in Europe, I left my home country at age 24 for good, returning only for holidays and between jobs.
I soon learned that the escape was merely temporary. My old self was following wherever I went, but moving about and keeping my mind occupied helped to keep the demons of the past at bay. By my mid-sixties I had lived and worked in ten countries and done short term work in a few more. While my nomadic lifestyle was modestly effective in reducing my negative outlook on life, my basic mind-set stayed more or less the same into my early thirties. My latent insecurity and the occasional mires of sadness, the wallowing in self-pity and hopelessness were just part of who I was, to be suffered as others suffer from recurring migraine. It never occurred to me that there was anything I could do to change it.
It was not before I had turned forty that I recognized my emotional troughs as depression and I began reading self-help literature. The book “Healing the Child within” by Charles L. Whitfield, helped me understand how my past has influenced my present. I was still far from doing anything about it until, one time the depression hit so hard that I thought I would go crazy.
I had returned from an overseas assignment with persistent diarrhea. We, (wife, newly born daughter, and myself) were cooped up in my mothers apartment for over a year, surviving on odd jobs and the dole. My diarrhea was (mis)diagnosed as Colitis ulcerosa, an incurable chronic disease of the large intestine. My whole future seemed in tatters.
Among the techniques described in the self-help literature, “meditation” seemed to me the most plausible because it aimed at something that I was already pretty good at doing, namely focusing inward. Whereas my normal withdrawal was invariably associated with emotional suffering, meditation offered a near instant escape from the torment by reaching refuge in a state of deep relaxation. I found the secret was not to give in to some 10 to 30 minutes of aches and itches before this happens. Meditation and physical exercise helped me cope in this difficult period and during subsequent bouts with depression.
My affliction with Colitis ulcerosa eventually turned out to be treatable amoebic dysentery, which was cured within a week. A job offer materialized soon after. The future looked bright again.
Three breaks and how they helped
The first substantial change in my outlook on life happened when – in my late twenties – I met my wife. Orphaned early on in life she had grown up as the Cinderella in a large family of distant relatives. We both badly needed emotional security and a place to belong and this is what we have now provided each other for nearly 40 years. The wedding marked the beginning of the second phase in my healing process. With each year that the relationship lasted, I regained some belief in the existence of unconditional love and commitment.
The second break came when I secured admission and a full scholarship to a top university in my field of studies. I was already in my late thirties when I graduated with an MSc degree, but as I had acquired considerable prior practical experience, this was no disadvantage for my career. Convinced that I have to earn my keep, I was prepared to work hard – perhaps the sole positive aspect of my father’s legacy.
Outperforming the youngsters, whom before I would have secretly envied for their upbringing in wealthy and intact families, worked wonders for my self-esteem. I gained a professional reputation through my technical publications and my work in many challenging and interesting assignments. I was lucky in that I did not have to market and sell myself in job-interviews. While I rose to the challenge in every job I held, I remained uneasy in meetings and face to face interactions, afraid of being uncovered as a fraud, and I had a tendency to clam up or become inarticulate in front of perceived authority.
The third break came with the birth of our daughter who has been a source of joy and pride ever since. Endowed with a quick mind and a solid set of values she has done very well in her studies. Now that she is carving out her own niche in life, our relationship is based on mutual love and respect for one another. During this third phase of my healing process I gained confidence in my abilities as a care giver. Moreover, throughout my daughter’s childhood, we were the happy family in the cozy house of my childhood dream.
Where am I now?
My last truly debilitating bout with depression happened about ten years ago during a difficult period between jobs. I felt unable to keep up the front of being the strong head of the family. Sobbing uncontrollably in front of my flabbergasted wife, I experienced a complete and utter breakdown and sought medical help for the first time in my life. The mere act of consulting a doctor brought immediate relief. He prescribed Zoloft. It was the first time I had taken anti-depressants and it had no effect whatsoever. Rigorous exercise and renewed attempts at meditation helped me over the hump. The worst of this depression episode was over in a month or so, by which time I had also stopped taking the Zoloft. Nothing even resembling the intensity of this experience has happened since but short duration and comparatively mild depression attacks recurred off and on.
Considering the breaks I have had and in the absence of any truly severe calamities, one should think I ought to be rid of my depression by now, but it still happens that trivial triggers set off regrets over things from the past, lead to negative self comparisons, or anxieties over the future. The thoughts then generate intensely physical sensations, a kind of painful longing emanating from the lower chest, converging to become stinging throbs in the tip of my nose, and eventually an irresistible welling up of tears.
When I am around people the habitual (and rational) reaction is to suppress the emotions but what I really want to do is to hide in a dark and quiet place and lick my wounds. This is totally involuntary, awful while it lasts, but fortunately limited in time. Experience tells me that suppression only intensifies the urge to let myself dissolve in self-pity while I sub-consciously despise myself for lack of control. What a conundrum!
Some time ago, I began to realize that I am not totally at the mercy of this seemingly irresistible urge to dwell on niggling memories, bash myself with denigrating self-comparisons, and create anxieties arising from deeply pessimistic views of my situation. I argued with myself: While I can’t do anything about these uninvited thoughts I need not, will not accept them as true. They don’t prepare me for fight or flight. On the contrary, they make me feel miserable and drain my strength. Sending negative thoughts away, again and again and again seemed a rather tiring and futile intellectual exercise, but for some time now, I have been noticing that I can often catch the triggering thought and nip the depression attack in the bud. The looming cloud then seems to lift almost immediately and effortlessly, leaving me to feel, not necessarily elated, but alright and somewhat empowered by the small victory.
I think there has been an overall improvement in my ability to influence my mood. To verify this perception I have been keeping a diary for a year by now. The top category of my daily mood barometer is defined as a severe depressed state for much of the day that does not respond to coping techniques. So far, such episodes have lasted between one and four days at intervals of 2-4 months. My mood barometer also has the category “neutral” and the two sub-categories “neutral to positive” and “mainly neutral with fleeting depressive thoughts”. While I have rated about three quarter of all days on record as “neutral”, well over half of these are still affected by depressive thoughts. I’ll need at least another two years of uninterrupted records to tell whether I am really winning. At the moment, I feel that I am still inside the tunnel but I see light at the end of it.
Conclusions I have drawn with the benefit of hindsight
At this stage I venture to generalize based on personal experience. But beware that my conclusions are best described as gut feelings based on a sample size of one.
It is with good reason that depressed people feel that fate has treated them unfairly. I also thought that the world really owed me something for the botched up childhood. However, just waiting for retribution to happen is not a very promising strategy. Clearly, the breaks I have had in my life were crucial for the healing process. Had I not left home and tried my luck elsewhere, the breaks would not have materialized in the way they did. Therefore, “Leave the nest, do something!”
Some self-help literature says that you can achieve anything if you are really determined. There were times when I was inclined to believe this but I just don’t seen determined enough. Yes, had I been more persistent with meditation and exercise, perhaps I would be further down the road to recovery. On the other hand, it seems to me that especially depression sufferers can’t be very good at something that assumes superiority of mind over matter. Working very hard at overcoming depression by itself can’t be a promising strategy either. Nevertheless, meditation and exercise brought near immediate relief at the time. Therefore, “Meditation and exercise are effective, accessible and affordable forms of self-treatment.
A greater awareness of my condition and professional help early on may have spared me much anguish. As it is, I have found even an unguided, unstructured and ad hoc cognitive approach to be effective in dealing with depression flares. On the downside, it took a long time to develop the ability and the effect seems as difficult to verify objectively as that of anti-depressant medication. However, it is probably necessary for redirecting the neural pathways in the brain and to unlearn the ingrained habitual thought patterns of decades. Therefore, “Keep telling your brain, your alter ego, your inner child (or whatever you want to call it), again and again and again that you don’t accept its depression inducing messages.”
My fellow sufferers, for most of us, fighting depression is a work in progress aimed at escaping the darkness of the tunnel behind us while striving to reach the light at its end. How do we know when we are there? Perhaps when we no longer dread the darkness that may still be ahead, and accept the one we know is inevitable.
John Folk-Williams says
Hello, Peter – I’m kind of tongue-tied at the moment – stunned at the power of this story and at your willingness to tell it here in such detail. Reading it is a healing experience for me. Even though each life is so different and unique, I recognize a great deal in the impact, the undercurrents of depression as well as the overt crises. I’m so glad to hear about the “breaks” you describe and the revival of your spirit. I think you do understate your role in this a bit – one of the strong themes running through your story is your own resilience and ability to adapt to so much emotional hardship.
Thank you so much for opening your life to us in this way!
I’ll send you a note soon – I’d like to give this a more prominent space here.
Wow. I have been quietly following your blog and website for a while John, thinking at times about commenting. I will eventually. But Peter, this posting you’ve written, this very personal, articulate, compassionate and honest story is stunning and I just had to write right now and say thank you. Warm regards. Carly
Your story was a hard one to read, my heart breaks for that lonely little boy looking for family and security. So lovely to see that you found your wife and created your own family and security. I feel heartened by the way you describe not giving in to the negative and false thoughts that depression attacks its sufferers with. You so deserve the security that you have with your family after such a valiant fight.
OH God bless you dear one! What horrible abuse. I had my share too. Blessings dear one. I pray the LORD is good to you always. I did not read the whole thing because I have a job interview today. WHOOPEE! AMEN I so know about the voices. I don’t listen to them. I tell them to shut up. Despite the fact they say GOD speaks in voices….not the voices I hear. You know the ones that say commit suicide. Since I went to the psych. yesterday feeling much better. I truly thought that being saved by GOD would fix it all but it does not. However, I love GOD and it is a work in progress for the better. If you are still there, you can write to me anytime. Most people probably don’t want to go there but I can. We were formed in HIS likeness and in HIS likeness we shall live======free and loved and beautiful