We often hear the words "battle" and "fight" when referring to Mental Health and in particular Depression. Whilst these terms are apt in some instances, the truth for many of us is that Depression is part of our daily lives. It comes to work with us, it even comes on holiday's (isn't that thoughtful?) and it stays at home with us. Sometimes it evens brings its old friend Anxiety along for the ride. But today we are going to talk about Depression and the things I have found helpful to try my best to keep symptoms at bay.
The image I specifically chose for this is the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Something so beautiful and iconic can also look quite dark and ominous when a storm is rolling in.
Depression affects around 6% of Australians every year. While the person may recover quickly with the right treatment for others it is not so straightforward. Something many people don't know is that there are several forms of Depression and each of them are unique in their own way. Some people have a genetic predisposition to depression, which can then be triggered by a stressful situation in life.
Depression can also:
Be a reaction to a distressing situation like loss or stress (reactive depression). Some women experience depression following the birth of a child (post-natal depression).
Be part of an illness like Borderline Personality Disorder which I have, in which the person experiences extreme moods – very intense changes in mood often leading to feeling depressed.
It can sometimes occur without any obvious trigger – sometimes the person may be affected so much that they experience the symptoms of psychosis and are unable to distinguish what is real.
Depression also affects children and teenagers – this can show itself in different ways to depression in adults, and they are best helped by a doctor who is a specialist in this area.
So with all this and the individuality that comes with Depression, what can you do to navigate it and live the life we all deserve, full of hope, joy and happiness?
I have tried what feels like every single thing possible over the years and have certainly learned an awful lot. In particular, the stigma that still exists not only from the general public and workplaces but also at times by the very people we seek help from.
Here though, is what I consider to be the most important first steps in the road to wellness.
1. Seeking Help - More often than not, this is the most crucial thing you can do if you or a loved one are experiencing a depressive period. Unfortunately, many people will think they can do it alone, or simply don't know the resources out there to access. I cannot stress enough that seeking help, talking to someone, anyone will be the first step in your recovery.
2. Be honest and upfront with your healthcare professional - Let us be frank, someone cannot help you if you only tell them half the story. Let me give you an example. My first time in therapy was CBT Therapy ( Cognitive Behavioural Therapy ). The therapist I was seeing was super lovely and I didn't want her to feel like she wasn't doing a good job, so I would basically lie and say I was feeling much better. Sounds crazy right? I was so worried about her, that I didn't even think about myself and the negative impact it would have on my recovery. I learnt very quickly that to get what I needed out of this I needed to be honest and upfront with my therapist. I also learned that it is perfectly ok to see one therapist and not connect with them. I am in charge of my recovery and I needed to be 100% comfortable to be able to really engage properly with my treating Doctor's.
3. Be forceful if you need to be - With Mental Health being so rampant in the community many GP's are not fully equipped to deal with Depression which seems crazy. Don't get me wrong, the majority are amazing, but I have also sat in front of many Doctor's who had zero ideas of what they were doing. When I was 21 I went to the Doctors for the first time when I experienced a significant breakdown. I was so confused, I had no idea about Depression or any other Mental Health Illness and put my whole faith in this Doctor. He prescribed me some Anti-Depressants and off I went out the door thinking this pill will magically fix things. No therapy, no plan, just tablets.
Once again, you are in charge of your own recovery, so if your instincts are telling you that the Doctor you are seeing is simply having a stab in the dark at what to do, then find another one. To put it in context if you went to a Doctor for a physical injury you would expect it to be dealt with accordingly and if the Doctor didn't know what to do, you would find another one that did. The same is true for Mental Health and unfortunately, we as a community still have a long way to go with this.
4. Remember the way you are feeling is not your fault - The insidious nature of depression is the removal of any positive thought processes. Things seem shrouded in darkness and at its worst, the barrage of negativity is overwhelming. Trying to remember that this is not your fault seems impossible, but if you tell yourself enough times it does start to sink in. I have always said in regards to my own health, knowledge is power. If I understand why something is happening intellectually, it won't make it go away but I will feel less at the mercy of the emotion.
5. Social Media Blackout - I always go on a bit of a social media blackout when I am feeling low. In the past, I have indulged way too much at looking at Facebook and Instagram and focusing all my thoughts on the fact that every single person around me was just having a super fun time and I was missing out. At a more healthy time, we know logically that this isn't the case. Of course, what goes on Facebook and Instagram is going to be people's best side. I have done it myself, shared a joke or LOL'd at something when I was actually feeling like hell. So my advice, give it a miss for a day or two, Social Media won't shut down in the meantime.
In my opinion, there is no way of simply "fixing" depression like you would a broken arm. Most people recover and proceed on to have a happy and fulfilling life. For those of us that are in a sense "stuck with it" the most you can ask of yourself is to do your best. At times that means accepting that today is a bad day but tomorrow can be better.
I don't try to follow people's lists of 30 self-care tips. You have to find small things that work for YOU. I have looked at more posts than I can count that take away the power and seriousness of depressive symptoms by whipping up a list of things that 90% of people simply cannot and don't want to achieve when they are feeling depressed. While the intention is good, it just puts extra pressure on you to do things that you just can't muster up the energy to do.
Depression is a solo journey and everyone is different. We all come from varied backgrounds and locations around the world and resources in major cities like Sydney are quite simply not available in areas further away. Or you may be reading from a country where Mental Health is something people still don't talk about which is even more distressing.
This is why the journey is yours. Bring as many people as you can for support along with you, but never forget that in the lowest moments what works for one person may not work for another.
The clear message I want to send to you is kind to yourself. Be as kind as you possibly can and remember there is always someone who shares your pain. The less you judge yourself for the way that you feel, the more empowered you become to do something about it.