Depression. It Sucks. And after dealing with a fresh batch myself and seeing some real horror stories, I kind of snapped (kinda). I made the impulsive decision to read 5 of the best books on the topic in 5 days and then write about my experiences and what fresh new things I have learned.
I also spoke to a number of folks who have had depression and some who were going through depression. All I can say that if I thought the last 9 weeks were tough. The last two were the toughest delving through this; with the "fog" hanging over heavily. AND HAVING SAID all of that, in my amateur research and desire for knowledge, I have come out of this with a strong gratitude; that my suffering is MILD compared to what some men and women have endured!
DISCLAIMER - the below is my view only and in the process of studying to become a better counsellor, I can only recommend that if you are reading these words and any of it resonates, see your GP and work with a professional. The dark ages of not dealing with depression are well and truly over. Mental health is fundamental.
There are two approaches to my recent activity or lets say two views. One was myself looking at myself as a mildly depressed individual and telling that story as best as I can. The second was looking at other depressed people and hearing the stories to the end that I may (and hopefully others) will be more helpful, less harmful and certainly not judgemental to any of our fellow beautiful humans.
Me, Myself and Depression.
Even now I have a sense of discomfort writing about my experience with depression. I wonder why that is. Shame? Embarrassment? I'm guessing like a lot of people, this is one of the hard subjects to confront and be open about. I mean it is one of those invisible issues to deal with right? Much better to have a broken leg or some visible problem so people can see, understand and be kind. As soon as it is not visible, it becomes almost taboo! Thank heavens we are tearing down those shabby silly barriers and dealing with things as a society, as a race and as a community.
The first thing my reading, meditation, interviews and research has told me is that; depression is not something you can easily label and describe. The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon, has some very very graphic tales about depression and how it affects different people. If you have a mild interest in this subject I strongly recommend you read this Tome. (And it is a tome, aptly named the Atlas of Depression). All I can say is depression comes in many different flavours and I am absolutely not comfortable in trying to label it. For example here are a bunch of flavours, categories, types if you will;
- Depression where one cannot get out of bed or function in typical human fashion
- Depression where one's mind is turned to thinking suicidal or self harm thoughts
- Depression where one's energy levels are "blue" constantly and it is hard to be positive
- Depression where one is tired and lethargic and "normal" activities feel draining
There are many many more "labels" or combinations of the above. All I can say is depression is more than feeling a little down or sad. It's an insidious state that affects people in different ways and ultimately we as fellow humans, must have compassion and care for folks who are dealing with "the fog".
IMPORTANTLY - i am no professor or expert on this stuff, but I can clearly see two distinctions; "wiring" problems and likely "non-wiring" problems. Its poor terminology I know but let me explain. There are those folk who have a chemical in-balance that needs to be treated with medication (wiring) and there are folks who suffer from it due to grief, trauma, abuse and other sustained mental injuries. Having read a lot in less than a week, all I can conclude is that there is no cure-all, there is no claim to drug free resolutions or any medicine that will fix this matter. So any judgement on someone taking medicine or not taking medicine should be hastily discarded. And with the greatest of love and respect to beautiful religious or spiritual people; my reading (and personal experience) has shown clearly that mental health issues may be helped by doctrine or discipline, but there are no "Hail Mary" moments as a general rule. (everyone is unique just like everyone else).
It seems very odd and strange to me in simplistic reflection that "someone" like me would have endure at least 4 batches of this mystical dark fog that leaves you bereft of spirit and dragging your heels. For me depression has always been linked to a common theme. This theme is death or the ending of something. The first time I was aware of something wrong it was in the teenage years and again early adulthood. I was brought low for a number of weeks with minimal explanation. But in hindsight it was the death of innocence and the beginning of responsibility, direction, purpose and meaning. I still remember those existential crisis moments. All of a sudden you were not told what to do, where to go, what rules should be obeyed and 1 leads to 2 and so on. You had to figure things out yourself!
Death of Innocence. Or now I can accurately say; Birth of Purpose. But for me it was of a case of saying who cares. I am insignificant. What is this God thing anyway? Why the hell should I try - for a mortgage, a "normal life", a car, a pension and then to die as a withered human being, unable to contain my waste or live (and die) as a dignified human being. Talk about depressing!
And that is a very interesting point that David Burns makes in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. We can talk ourselves into deeper and deeper depression. I liken it to spiralling down (and conversely) spiralling up when the opposite is applied.
It was interesting because this cloud was lifted by the eventual movement of time and the mind shifted to a life of achievements. Doing stuff. Getting Married. Chasing Goals. Building Wealth. And all of the doing things. But funnily enough because I didn't (probably better to say I couldn't, if I am more realistic) settle this issue of meaning, it compounded more than a decade later.
Depression Cloud Event #2 was the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse charged down at me with great gusto and all hell broke loose. After successfully creating, helping create and acquiring 3 companies, plus the house, the car, the children, the cash (etc etc) I had crash landed at the end of the rainbow and as Joseph Campbell puts it "middle age is climbing a ladder up a wall and getting to the top only to realise it is the wrong wall." (at 33 i was claiming mid life; hopefully I was wrong)
And at the end of the rainbow there is no gold. Only Fool's Gold, that you hold in your hands and watch melt; as your tears come raining down in the midst of the cloud.
All that was built evaporated in front of me as I lost it all. Or rather in truth; left it all.
From that point on for the next two years, I didn't live at all. I survived. Suicidal thoughts were real and present. Lack of sleep. Drugs and alcohol. I was alive but absent. Dark and terrible times. And when I write this my heart goes out to my family and friends who stuck around to deal with the irrational and self destructive person. The truth was I went through a Death and a Birth. It was an awakening for me, or rather an awakening of me. And I would do it all again (if I could save the harm and hurt on others). And this is the interesting part. How can you look back and see a horror of a time and not regret it. Because death becomes birth. (Symbolically the same reasons mothers have a second child...)
So an insight for me is this. IN MY CASE, depression stopped me in my tracks and made me think, raise my consciousness, craft out a new way, find meaning and burst forth with joy to become a better father, friend, community member, spirit, brother, counsellor, businessman and all the other hats that are worn.
Before light, there is dark.
Perhaps some of us need to be crushed to pieces so that all is left is diamonds?
Depression Events 3 and 4 (four is the current cloud floating around at the moment) are linked. And the link is simply this. Heart break. Again the theme of grief and death are on the scenes again. All those who have suffered depression through the loss of a loved one (partner or otherwise) has my empathy, sympathy and great love. It is horrible!!
In the first instance, as I was crafting a new life going forward and beginning to awaken, I failed my girlfriend of two years (I was a very complex and challenging person - worse than I am now) and she moved on. Of course the first serious relationship after a marriage is filled with baggage and after the fog lifted, I became very very grateful for all that she did for me and the lessons I learnt.
That depression was shocking, swift and difficult to deal with. Again sleep went out the door, appetite plummeted and all of a sudden the old escape routes appeared and were taken. However the beauty of wisdom (acting on knowledge) that comes with time, as an awakened and conscious person; you become very aware of your behaviour and swiftly stop. You start suffering legitimately for the loss and the depression is slowly lifted as you go through the grieving process mindfully and with acceptance.
The current bout is being dealt with very differently. I am grieving a loving and ultimately lost relationship. Which happens in life. I love Scott Pecks' book A Road Less Travelled. He talks about 4 tools that are very very very powerful in dealing with depression and these big life challenges.
- Delaying of Gratification
- Acceptance of Responsibility
- Commitment to Truth
I wont go into the detail but suffice to say these line up very close to my strengthened value set and how I have handled things much better in this situation. It hasn't stopped the cloud hanging over me and I am lucky to get 5 hours sleep most nights, my appetite has disappeared and I feel moments of sheer grief and sadness. However the following has applied to me and I do feel a sense of joy amongst the grief - it reads something like this -
1. Instead of applying the usual escapisms, I have spent time being alone, sad and have pushed myself to do good things; more training, more reading, more helping etc. RESULT - the grief and pain is digested quicker and the fog doesn't seem so deep and dark.
2. Instead of coming up with rational stories and spinning things to BLAME others and especially the loved one (BLAME = B LAME), I have accepted my faults, flaws and failings. By accepting responsibility, there is a glaring and obvious obligation to apologise and be a better person. RESULT - Instead of convincing yourself and maybe others, of your innocence, you respectfully don't create a mess and screw up mostly good memories and times, learn your lesson, heal and learn quicker.
3. This is an easy one that helps lift the fog quicker and lightens the load. Truth is to be sought out. Now there is a lot of psychology and philosophy about "truth" but in the end, deep down, you know the truth. Its not always easy to get there but if you are committed you will find it. And truth ultimately never hurts, it heals. RESULT - It may be bittersweet but when you are committed to honesty and truthfulness even in times of failure, you will see things how they are NOT how you want things to be seen or HOW OTHERS want things to be seen. This is where the Happiness Trap by Craig Russ is so powerful. Mindfulness and ACT allows you to see like you have never seen before.
4. And as with all things in life balance needs to come on the scene. One of the most balanced things you can do in the state of depression is aware you are depressed and go with it rather than fighting it. Accept the winter time that has come and seek out the answers and direction to come through it in the best shape possible with the least amount of collateral damage to others. In this state I have tried to balance the lack of sleep off with exercise, the lack of appetite with nourishing snacks and smoothies and the negative thoughts with meditation and mindfulness. Of course professional counselling is brilliant. Sometimes we need someone to tell us what we "know" and call us out on our spiralling downwards into self pity and spin. RESULT - Depression is crap but if we are aware of the leaning in one direction (lets call it the sustained pull of negativity) we can then balance it out by doing and acting in a positive manner. So weirdly enough being positive in a state of negativity.
These are four excellent tools at our disposal that apply to all challenging events. I would add some practical tips that have worked for me in the fog -
- Get Help. Professional Help.
- Try to recognise it as "Winter" and go through it. Don't fight it as long as you are doing #1
- Try to exercise even if it is just a walk or light exercise. 20 minutes is known to stimulate the brain in a very positive way.
- Meditate and be mindful. Observe your thoughts and feelings and call them out as just thoughts or feelings rather than "truths". Our minds can lead us all over the place!
- Remind yourself daily, of everything that you are grateful for. Write them down.
- Ask yourself what you are learning or have learnt. How can you use this to be better.
- Get Help. Professional Help.
- Remember you are not an island. You are connected to your community and your fellow humans. You are not the only person in this dismal wasteland. (I have sat on the 42nd floor with my legs over the balcony, ready to jump. Thats a pretty horrifying admission.) You are not alone. You can get through this.
- Read. It may feel challenging. But when you read accounts from others, you will understand that you will survive and thrive again.
- Cry. Yes Cry. Whenever it happens. Let those tears out.
- Get to the Bottom of It. At the bottom of this vine that is choking your tree of life (brilliant analogy by Andrew Solomon), there is one or maybe more roots of the "beginning". What is ultimately driving this. There might be a superficial and obvious reason. Someone. Something. But many times there are multiple, multiple unsolved questions and issues; that the vine feeds on to keep choking away.
- Remember sadness is legitimate. Its normal to grieve.
- When you are not Crying; Laugh. Laughter is a great medicine as they say.
- Draw on your own experience. Remember when you were a child or teenager or young adult. There were horrible challenges then BUT you made it through.
- Turn To Art. Whether it be writing, drawing, photography or something else. Turn to art. And you will find your emotions take motion.
- Get Help. Get Professional Help.
Read the Mindful Way Through Depression this is very powerful and practical.
Dealing with Depression in Others.
Ok let me say this first up. I feel I have been a failure to others in depression. Perhaps I have helped some and failed others. The point is part of this research and development has been recognising my inadequacies in helping others through something I have gone through quite deeply. Maybe in sharing and being open about this, I can do more help than harm.
And while I am at it. I can say that after reading these tomes of wisdom and through my experience, I feel I have a lot more to learn. And again the best bet is professional help. I can't repeat that often enough.
In order to write about others and how perhaps we can help, not only did I read on these matters, I went and spoke to a number of people about their depression episodes and their views on things.
There is general agreement that there are two types as mentioned above. Those with genetical, medical or chronic depression that need medical help to stabilise the systems. When folks need pills, that is ok. Some require them permanently to get by. Others for a period of time to get through the hump. Either way just like any other illness, it can be treated and "life goes on". There is no stigma or judgement to be had here. I take supplements to deal with vitamin deficiencies from time to time. Just like cold and flu tablets and other meds when things crop up. There is no difference.
Whether meds are involved or not our fellow humans need compassion and care. If you know or suspect someone has depression (My findings from interviews and reading) the following may be helpful -
- Always recommend professional help
- Autonomous support is required
- Do not try and "resolve or fix" them
- Sometimes its best to not try and understand (especially if the person doesnt understand)
- Apply love and compassion
- Remember depression is often an endurance race not a sprint
- For chronic depression and people who are at risk, round the clock support is required
- Understand self harm is the person transferring from emotional pain to real pain as it is easier to deal with
- Always recommend professional help
- Remember depression often requires support not resolutions
- Read up and get knowledgeable
- Be aware of services like Life Line and Beyond Blue
Some of things folks have told me, are as follows, that may be helpful -
- "I just needed time and to know that someone was nearby"
- "I had to change my medicine from time to time as it stopped working"
- "I treated my family badly whilst I was depressed and I am ashamed of that"
- "I couldn't stop drinking"
- "I need to be on anti depressants"
- "I did have suicidal thoughts from time to time"
- "There's no point or purpose"
- "I don't know what I should be doing"
- "I acted out in strange behaviours that even I was repulsed at"
- "I couldn't get out of bed in the morning"
- "Nothing tasted good anymore"
Most people who have suffered depression always valued and built closer relationships with friends and family who did NOT -
- Judge them
- Give up on them
- Try and resolve things
- Smothered them
- Take offence
It's hard being friends or family with someone with depression. I know it from both sides. All we can do is apply love, compassion and stand watch, whilst that thick black fog hangs around. It is hard when we love someone and when desperately want to help or heal them. But we cannot control the external. We can control the internal. (That is the challenge and not always won)
These are the haunting words that I hear from time to time from the Birds of Tokyo. "Anchor"
I never thought to hold you
I never thought that you might need an anchor
I never thought I'd lose you
I never thought that you might need an anchor
I hope that in the future; I can be a better Night Watchman. Whilst my fellow human is in pain and suffering from the deadly dark depression. I hope they can look up, and through tears, see another kind passive face, standing there ready to help; with compassion and love.
** PLEASE ** If you are suffering from depression or other mental health issues, please reach out for professional help. You can start by seeing your GP or if it is an emergency; call emergency services. Life Line is a beautiful service ready for you. The number is 13 11 14 in Australia. Remember you are worth it. No matter how bad things are; there is always a way forward.
** THANK YOU ** To those kind folk who shared their experiences, thoughts, fears and stories with me. Its with love for all we can make this world a better place. And its a beautiful thought to know the NightWatch is everywhere.
** APOLOGIES ** To all who feel I have missed anything or not made succinct points.
The Books Read (All recommended)
- The Happiness Trap by Dr Craig Russ
- The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
- The Mindful Way through Depression by Authors Williams, Teasdale, Segal & Kabat-Zinn
- The Road Less Traveled by Dr Scott Peck
- Feeling Good - The New Mood Therapy By David D Burns