I want to thank “Rachel” for speaking frankly. Although she asked to remain anonymous, her insight has been invaluable to me.
Can you tell me how your depression began?
I have felt the effects of depression since I was a small child. I know now that this is an indication of a biological – chemical – imbalance that contributes to my symptoms. Over time, I’ve suffered some trauma that has exacerbated the problem.
What symptoms do you exhibit?
Of course part of depression is a crushing sadness with no reason or cause. But it certainly doesn’t stop there. I also loose interest in everything. I doubt my abilities, relationships and future. There is no energy to do the things I need to do. I oversleep or can’t sleep at all. There are also physical aspects: body pain and fatigue similar to the flu, headaches and digestive issues. Sometimes, there are sharp or throbbing pains in my stomach or chest. It’s so much more than being sad.
How do you cope?
In the past, I simply suffered and used what few coping skills I had. I take medication and attend therapy now. But it’s still a struggle. I work full-time. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get out of bed and dressed. But somehow I make it. My husband is also very supportive, picking up the slack when necessary and loving me through the tough times.
What difference do you see with your medication?
It helps to level me out, to clear my head so that I can work on my life skills with my therapist. It’s not a magic “happy pill.”
I know that it can be difficult to find the right combination of therapy and medication. What was your experience?
I’ve seen counselors since childhood and have only now found one that fits my needs. She’s number nineteen. Still, I don’t discount the experiences I’ve had with others. At the very least, they’ve taught me what I don’t want and need.
Before I found a medication that worked for me, I had mixed results, including one very bad experience. I reacted to an anti-depressant in a terrible way. I became delusional and increasingly suicidal. Fortunately, I did find a med that works without unacceptable side effects.
Does your current medication have side effects?
Of course. I think that every medication has side effects. Finding the right one for me meant finding one that worked well to alleviate my depression without side effects that I couldn’t live with. Also, many side effects dwindle as you continue to take the medication.
How does your therapy work?
Therapy is a way to work through things. A counselor doesn’t fix things, she helps you fix them yourself. Or learn to live with them, which can be even more powerful. You have to be fully invested in the process. It isn’t easy, and if you aren’t committed, it won’t help.
Do you still feel depressed, even with the medication and counseling?
Yes. I think a lot of people assume that treatment makes you “all better,” but it doesn’t. There are hard times that last hours, days, even weeks.
You mentioned suicidal thoughts. Can you tell us about your experiences?
I’ve been suicidal many, many times. I’ve attempted six times over my lifetime. Being suicidal is living in a completely different world. All there is is emotion. Thoughts aren’t clear. I wasn’t able to be rational because of the depth of the depression I was feeling.
What do you suggest I do if a loved one is depressed or suicidal?
The best thing you can do is listen and be there for them. They can seem like a downer, and may try to avoid friends and family because they don’t want to “waste their time” or hurt them by being bad company. But isolation only makes it worse. Because I lost interest in many things, my husband reached out to me by staying with me during passive activities: watching movies, going on drives and walks, even just sitting or lying down. It let me know that he was there and that he accepted me and my condition. Urge him to get help for his depression, but don’t push too hard. Ultimately, it’s something he has to choose for himself.
A suicidal person needs more help than you can give. He needs to be monitored and given assistance that only a therapist or counselor can give. You shouldn’t put the burden of keeping him safe on your shoulders alone. That being said, you can continue to give support like I’ve described. Spend a lot of time with him so that he’s not alone. If the person lives in your home, consider removing or locking up items that could easily be seen as tools for suicide: medications, sharp objects, cleaners, etc. But don’t do this in secret. Explain to the person that you feel he may be suicidal at times and you’re doing it for your own peace of mind.
Keep a suicide hotline number by the telephones, on the fridge and in other places. If you find yourself talking with the person and he reveals that he is suicidal, continue to talk with him. But consider calling the hotline yourself and putting them on speakerphone or handing the phone to him. Involving someone who’s been trained is infinitely better than trying to help on your own.
Have the phone numbers of local supports ready. If he shows clear intent, is about to or has attempted, call the ER and get medical attention immediately.
What do you wish people knew about depression?
That a person with depression is not “crazy” or dangerous. So many people will turn tail and run if they find out that their friend or boy/girlfriend has depression. People who are depressed have the capacity to love, build families, have careers and live extraordinary lives. They simply have a medical condition that needs to be addressed, and sometimes personal issues to work through. (Who doesn’t?) Most of all, treatments like medication and therapy should not be a stigma. A person who is working to manage diabetes or epilepsy should be accepted… so should a person who is working to manage depression. It’s not something that they should be ashamed of. Treatment is a sign of strength.