Apparently December is the time when suicide rates are at their highest, so I would like to start the festive season off with this cheery post on depression.
I have been affected by depressive episodes for most of my life and they can last anything from a few weeks to – in one case – almost two years. Being in my thirties now I have enough experience with my inner demons to anticipate when they will pay me a visit and while I cannot in any way, shape or form stop them entirely, there are ways I can take to make my episodes more bearable and, most importantly, shorter. Most of what I am about to write is something I have learned in CBT, which, at one point, pretty much saved my life.
One thing I have never done is be on medication. From what I have heard from others who have, medication can take the edge off the worst, but it also takes the edge off the best, and that is a sacrifice I am not willing to make. And from what I have learned, I would have to stay on medication all my life, which would mean never being able to experience the joys to their full effect. But when I am well, I love life and everything it entails. And currently, I am well. But here is what has helped me get through the worst before:
1. Know why you experience depression
If nothing else, CBT has taught me an important lesson: That whatever is happening to me during the bad times has little to do with me and everything to do with my brain structure. Depression and anxiety are closely linked, and anxiety is often caused by an imbalance between the amygdala and the hippocampus, in other words the panic-centre of the brain (which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response) and the calming-centre. From what I have learned, this can be caused in early infancy through a lack of attachment to the mother. I have been a very sickly baby and needed long periods in hospital, which have likely caused my brain structure to mis-develop. Add to that being born on the wrong side of a parent with NPD and you have a perfect storm.
To me, this is a calming thought. There is nothing I can do, but knowing that my brain malfunctions at times allows me to see what is happening more rationally and apply the coping mechanisms I have learned.
2. Know your triggers
For me, depression is both cyclical and hormonal. I am prone to PND and SAD. PND can be avoided, of course, and knowing this has certainly been a factor in deciding a limit on the number of children I will ever have in my life. SAD, thankfully, is relatively easy to combat: sunlight, light in general, fresh air, warmth – they all help in keeping it all at bay.
Then, there are other triggers. Exposure to certain people, certain situations, certain thoughts and behaviours. I won’t go into too much detail here, but I have compiled a mental list of what makes me feel worse and aim to reduce those factors as much as humanly possible.
3. The 5-senses technique
It’s a technique mainly aimed at coping with panic attacks, but it works well in combatting depressive episodes in general. The 5 senses to concentrate on are smell, taste, touch, sound and sight. The aim is to find one or more of those senses and create something positive around them: listening to a song you love, smelling something you love, distracting or calming yourself through soothing touch, seeing something beautiful or tasting amazing food. But when I talked to my health visitor, she suggested extending this technique to cope with depressive episodes in general. The 5 senses don’t have to be stimulated simultaneousy or even all the time, but the more you do that you like, the better you will feel. It’s common sense, but so easy to forget when you are feeling particularly down. And it’s your own Patronus in a box 🙂
In any way possible, out is better than in. When you internalise how you feel – especially when those feelings are negative ones, it is easy to feel lonley and unsupported. But no one can support you when they do not know what is going on. And I, for one, am exceptionally good at masking my feelings when I feel the need to (i.e., almost always). Find a friend. And if you don’t feel like you can talk to friends, talk to acquaintances. You’d be surprised just how low your inhibitions can be when you barely know a person. And if you cannot conceive talking to real-life people, go online. There are hundreds or fora out there on any kind of topic, and most have some sort of support section. The beauty of online conversations is anonymity. And if you really cannot muster up the courage to do even that, keep a diary. At least then, no one can tell you you’re unreasonable 🙂
5. Know it’s just a phase
This is the hardest one when you are in the midst of a depressive episode. But just knowing that it is, indeed, just that – an episode – is strangely comforting. The fact is, you will, eventually, get through it all, even if you can’t see past the shadows right now. It may take some time and professional intervention, but it will get better. Hold on to that tought and see how it puts things into perspective. To paraphrase a Japanese saying, the clouds are just temporarily obstructing the sun, which shines behind them, eternally.
For anyone who needs it and the professionally offended, please see the disclaimer below:
*Disclaimer: I am not a psychiatrist or in any way qualified to give advice on this topic, other than through personal experience. This is a personal experience post and will in no way replace professional support.