Depression is the black sheep of all diseases. So common, yet hardly anyone wants to talk about it. According to the American Psychiatric Association: “Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.”
Depression is something that shows up differently for everyone. Some feel lonely and alone while others can have bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. Lilly would lose energy, become irritated, feel hopeless, sleep a lot, and cry for weeks on end for no particular reason. She was not able to do simple tasks like brushing her teeth and combing her hair.
Google ’how to overcome depression’ and the following tips come up:
Reach out and stay connected
Do things that make you feel good
Get a dose of sunlight
Challenge negative thinking
Seems so logical and simple. If only the mind were that easy to convince. How are you supposed to reach out and stay connected when all you want to do is crawl in a dark space and disappear. How do you do things that make you feel good when you don’t know what feels good and you don’t have the energy to get out of bed. How do you get moving and eat healthy when you’re lethargic and can’t stand the sight or thought of food.
Sunlight - Really? Any light hurts the eyes and all you want to do is draw the blinds. No amount of gratitude thinking or keeping a gratitude journal can change how you feel. And finally - Get therapy. Going to therapy is a task in itself. Having to discuss feelings when you can’t pinpoint feelings is tiring. All you want to do is curl up and cry.
In the depths of depression, Lilly’s self-harming would increase. Self-harming would let her feel something. The physical act of self-harming gave her something other than the depression and loneliness to focus on.
Getting through depression is a process. There is no quick fix. Medication takes 4-6 weeks to kick in. Finding the right medication is another battle. What may be good for one may not be good for the other. Lilly had to change medications several times due to suicide ideation. We finally found a doctor who suggested we do a mouth swab test to see what medications would work well with her body. Believe me - there’s no magic pill.
Even when you do everything you’re “supposed” to do, symptoms of depression can stick around. Part of the experience of depression is that it feels like it will go on forever, and when you are doing the work and not seeing any changes, it can feel hopeless and not worth the effort.
“Lilly - try harder, be more positive, all you have to do is get out of bed, are you taking your medication, be grateful, try praying, drinking protein smoothies will help, let’s go for a walk”. She would just roll her eyes, pull the covers over her head, and whisper - “You just don’t understand”. How could I? It’s very hard to understand and empathize with your loved one until you experience it yourself.
I’m experiencing depression for the first time in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed and anxious but never depressed. I read the lists of ‘how to overcome depression’ and I roll my eyes. Nothing is helping. All the advice I would give Lilly is of no use to me. I’m grateful for my family’s patience and support but I’ve realized that no one can help me get through this but myself. Depression is indeed a process, and the only thing I can do is take one positive step at a time.