Posts Tagged ‘depression help’

Is this depression or am I just sad?

Depression is a sneaky little bitch. Pardon my language, but that is the best phrase I can think of to describe it. When you are depressed, the narrative that depression plays in your head is so convincing that you are the reason for all of your problems that the lines between reality and the depression become completely blurred.  The depression can’t figure out if you feel this way because of depression or are you just sad?  To make matters worse, the longer that the depression narrative plays, the worse the depressive episode gets and the harder it is to get out of.

Sometimes the way you are feeling it is not because of depression, sometimes life just kind of sucks and you are sad. But how do you determine if life or depression is to blame? If it isn’t just life and it is depression, the sooner you can identify it, the less time it can steal from you. The only way to learn if what you are feeling is a result of depression is to become keenly aware of your personal symptoms.

Symptoms of depression can be unique to each person but generally fall into the same categories.

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
  • Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
  • Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
  • Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
  • Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.

Many of the symptoms described can be attributed to normal lows of life, but the severity and length of the symptoms is what indicates that someone is suffering from depression versus general sadness. If someone is feeling a combination of the symptoms listed above for 2-3 weeks or longer, it is recommended to seek medical consultation as it can be an indication of depression.  For someone who suffers from reoccurring depression, becoming familiar with your indicative symptoms can help identify and prevent an episode of depression before it becomes too serious. Unfortunately, it takes suffering through a few episodes of depression to learn your personal symptoms or signs.  See what I mean about depression being a sneaky little bitch? You have to suffer through it a few times before you can really learn to fight back.

I recently made a change in my medication to finally wean myself off an old drug, Effexor (the story of the actual withdrawal process is one I will share another time) and this change in medication has led me to that crossroad of thinking “is this depression or am I just sad?” After a week or two of “this is just life and I am sad” I took an inventory of my symptoms and realized this wasn’t life, this was that sneaky bitch (depression) rearing her ugly head again.

The first symptom that I notice is a lack of concentration. Knocking out projects at work becomes tedious and I can’t seem to get anything done.  This symptom doesn’t raise many red flags, because who doesn’t have a hard time concentrating from time to time? Next I notice that I have an extreme loss of interest in doing anything social. I bail out of every social event with any excuse I can think of just so I can spend my time in solitary confinement on my couch. This past weekend I stayed on my couch, weeping at the drop of a hat and feeling an extreme sense of loneliness. My head was telling me this was all my fault.  I wasn’t worthy of having people love me which was why I was so lonely. Realistically, I know this is not true, but depression is so convincing that I believe it to be true and the message becomes so convincing that it causes me to ignore the huge red flag that my depression was coming back.

For some reason, it is the change to my morning routine that finally caught my attention and made me start realizing that the depression was back. When I am depressed getting out of bed in the morning is a monumental feat. This isn’t your typical lazy mornings, this is feelings of immense exhaustion and hopelessness of the morning.  Now when this first starts happening I beat myself up for being so damn lazy. I think “you are 30 years old, grow up and get out of bed on time”. My whole day starts off on a negative thought and it tends to go downhill from there. The self-loathing narrative churns in my head all day and by the time I get home at night I am so exhausted from trying to fight back against the depression script running in my head that I have no energy to take care of normal activities like cooking dinner, doing laundry or cleaning the house. The exhaustion then leads to heading off to bed where I toss and turn all night and start the entire cycle over the next morning. Today I noticed that I was going on day 8 of the cycle and it was this fact that finally let me see that red flag flying and realized that the depression was coming back.

My first thought was how angry I was to be depressed now.  At this time of year, when you just want to have a warm and happy time celebrating with friends and family, I don’t want depression to ruin it. And let’s be honest, that idyllic happy time with family that we all wish for is usually a mess of uncomfortable situations and never lives up to the dream that a Publix holiday commercial portrays (if you don’t know what I am referring to, YouTube one of their commercials and I guarantee you will cry).  Adding depression to an already stressful time of the year is just dreadful and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep right through the holidays.

So what did I do? I called my Mother. Having a Mom who also suffers from depression means that she truly understands what I am going through and just having someone say “I understand how you feel” makes all the difference in the world. My next call was to my doctor so we can re-examine my medication and find the next solution. Then I came back here.  Sharing my experiences and my thoughts allows me to accept myself and there is something about putting my reality out into the world that feels like a relief.  I am grateful for those of you who listen, even more grateful for those of you who reach out with your words of encouragement and I hope that sharing my experience can help someone hear that “I understand how you feel”. 

What NOT to Say to Someone With Depression

what not to say to someone with depression

Recent events, like Robin Williams’ death, have helped propel mental health into mainstream media. It is exciting to see society embracing the conversation and helping to remove the stigma associated with mental health.

As I have gone “public” with my own struggle with depression I have experienced many reactions that have made me feel better and some that made me feel worse. Most people have never discussed mental health issues, let alone directly with someone who is suffering from depression. I know that at the heart of every reaction has always been well intentions and concern for my well being, but there is room for improve me in the delivery of those well intentions.

Discussing mental health is a learning process and I wanted to share some reactions that I would not recommend you say to someone who is suffering from depression.

What NOT to say to Someone with Depression: 

You should just go for a run. Have you tried yoga? 

Exercise? Oh my goodness! Why didn’t I think of that! Man, I could have skipped the three medical professionals that I am working with and are tailoring a treatment plan for me and just gone out for a quick jog to cure my depression!

Is exercise great for all aspects of physical and mental well being? Absolutely. Is yoga relaxing and a great way to relieve stress? Yes. But when you are clinically depressed doing yoga 24/7 will not cure you.

What is making you so sad?

When asked this question I answer very simply: the chemicals in my brain.

If someone had cancer would you ask them what made their cancer? Depression is not caused by the things in your life that are making you sad, it’s caused by the chemical make up of your brain. When someone is depressed, they are sick and need to find a treatment that is going to help their sickness.

You just need to try think positive.

We are trying. Every time a negative thought runs through our mind, we try to fight it with a positive one, but when you are depressed you feel like you are fighting a losing battle. The negative thoughts are recycling through your head so quickly that you can’t keep up with a positive rebuttal.

What do you have to be depressed about? There are people out there with worse problems than yours. 

Trust me, we know. I have run an inventory of how my depression stacks up against all the problems in the world and it only makes me feel worse that I can’t suck it up and get over it. The problem is that it isn’t my problems that are causing me to be depression, it is the chemicals in my brain and I can’t change them.

You are so strong, you will be fine. 

Strong is the last thing that you feel when you are depressed. You feel worthless. You feel weak. You feel defeated. You feel exhausted. You do not feel like Chris Hemsworth going into battle as Thor. They may be the strongest person you know, but telling someone how strong they are can only make them feel worse because they are not living up to that expectation.

You just need to get out of the house. 

Getting out of the house when you are depressed can seem insurmountable. Think about it this way, you know when you are on the couch and someone says “hey let’s go out”. You weigh if you have the energy and motivation to get up, dress up and show up. If you decide to get up and go out you get to your destination and are energized seeing your friends and have a great time.

When you are depressed, the getting up, getting dressed and showing up feels impossible, but the worst part is once you arrive, you have to mask how terrible you feel. The amount of energy it takes to fake that you are happy is exhausting and it only reminds you how badly you want to feel better.

Sometimes just the energy of convincing your friends that you don’t want to come out can be taxing. You mean well and think that because your friend is depressed they just need some encouragement, but this often only makes them feel worse and more likely to avoid you because you are pressuring them to do something that makes them uncomfortable.

Come out and drink with me, you’ll feel better.

Let’s look at this logically, alcohol is a depressant. You are suffering from depression. Why would you consume something that will alter your thoughts, feelings and actions in a negative way? Maybe you are lucky and don’t feel depressed when you are drinking, but I can guarantee the next day you will feel the withdrawals from the alcohol and feel worse than ever.

If you are taking medication to treat the depression, there can be terrible interactions with alcohol (I learned this the VERY hard way) and prevent the medications from working because alcohol blocks messages trying to get to the brain.

Do you really need medication? 

We shouldn’t have to justify what treatment works for us. You would never ask someone who is going through chemotherapy if they really needed it. You trust that they are under medical care and making the best decisions for their health, so please give anyone dealing with mental health the same respect.

What you SHOULD say to someone with Depression: 

  • You are not alone. I am here.
  • I will listen, whenever you feel like talking, I will always listen.
  • This is not your fault.
  • You are right, this sucks.
  • You are important to me and I value having you in my life.
  • You will not feel this way forever. We will find a way to help you feel better.
  • How are you feeling? (the key to this question is to stop talking and just listen after you ask)
  • What kind of thoughts are you having? (this can be a subtle way to ask if they are having suicidal thoughts)
  • I would love to spend time with you. Would you like any company today?
  • Is there anything that would help you feel a little better today?
  • Give them a hug. (Sometimes physical affection can be more powerful than talking)

No matter what you say, taking the time to show someone who is suffering from depression makes a world of difference. Your attention reminds them that they have value and gives them hope.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression there is always help available. Call 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) 24/7 or visit Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

How I Changed My Life

I can’t tell anyone how they can put change into motion in their lives, but I can share how I made it happen in mine.

When I was depressed my relationships with friends and family, my financial obligations, and my health had completely fallen to the wayside. Depression steals any energy that you have, so there is no energy left to take care of yourself and your life. I put what little energy I could into doing my best at work, so everything else outside of that fell to pieces.

I would come home from work and would be so exhausted and anxious to do anything. It would take hours to relax and release the tension from acting like I was fine all day, while trying to ignore the constant soundtrack in my head repeating how worthless I was. Once I was able to relax, all I wanted to do was sleep, then I would toss and turn all night and once the alarm went off in the morning, it would take an act of God to pull myself out of bed. I was lucky if I made it to work on time. I was even more lucky if I had time to get a shower and even more lucky if I had the time to walk my dog. I would then go through the motions at work, doing my best to cover up my depression and still trying to perform so I can advance in my career. The only way I could survive was to just keep repeating this same cycle, until the morning when I finally broke.

I realized that I was never going to be able to fix what was wrong until I stopped the cycle and took care of myself.  I drove home (after crying in my office’s parking lot) and was desperate to figure out what to do next. There is no how to guide on putting your life back together when you are depressed.The first step is to call a professional, but while you are waiting for that appointment, what are you supposed to do?

I was so overwhelmed that the only thing I could think of was to write it all down. I just started writing and every worry that had been plaguing me, everything that I was currently failing at and wanted to improve spilled out and filled the pages.

Here is what I wrote down that day…

IMG_1398

(Yes, I happened to have massive sticky poster board on hand.)

I am a little nervous showing this list to the world, but it feels good to be completely authentic about my experience. At the time it was every one of my deepest and darkest concerns that were plaguing me and I was embarrassed of them. Showing that I had goals like “Shower Daily” and “Become Financially Literate” aren’t easy skeletons to let out of the closet.

But the one that made me feel the most insecure was “Find someone to share experiences with – Stop being lonely”. Fact is that I am single and feel lonely sometimes, but I knew there was no way I was going to meet someone while I was depressed. If I didn’t like myself, how could I expect anyone to like me?

As I reviewed the list, I realized that I wasn’t desperate to just treat my depression, but I that I needed to change my life.

The first step I took was to get back to basics and to give myself something that I could accomplish. For the first couple days my goals were to do three things and three things only.

  1. Sleep
  2. Eat Well
  3. Exercise

These might sound so simple to you, but it was the first step to reset my life and stop the cycle that I was in. I knew there was no way that I could tackle everything on my list at once, but knowing that I had written them down allowed me to let them go and take them step by step, starting with step one.

There was one more thing that I had to take care during those first few days, I needed to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. Sounds simple, but my old psychiatrist had a 10 week waiting list and I didn’t have 10 weeks to give up of my life. So I took to the phone book and started dialing and finally found a doctor that would see me in 2 weeks. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

While I waited to see my psychiatrist, I took baby steps and gave myself one new goal that I could achieve per day. Once I started achieving one goal, it empowered me to tackle another and by the time my appointment with my psychiatrist arrived, I was starting to feel like I was in control of my life again. The depression was still there, but without the pressures of work and keeping up the appearance that everything was just dandy, I was able to keep going.

My psychiatrist started me on new medication immediately and I started to see a change within 5-7 days. The better I felt, the more I wanted to tackle and I am happy to say that here is what my list looks like today…

IMG_2412

 

I was able to make some major changes in my life, including finding a new job and finding a medicine to treat the depression. I don’t know if it was timing or if it was my life re-boot that put the changes into motion or some combination of the two, but I couldn’t be more grateful.

Just because there is a check by the task doesn’t mean I am done with it. Many of the tasks on my list are ones that I will work at every single day, like “Be a good daughter” and “be nice to myself”. These aren’t one time tasks, but habits that you have to work at every day.

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I still have the list posted in my family room. It stays front and center (right next to the TV so I really can’t ignore it) and I am constantly reminded of where I have been, where I want to be and how I am going to get there.

If you want to make a change in your life, maybe you should try starting with a list. You never know what can happen until you give yourself a place to start.