I have suffered from depression since I was a teenager. I am now 61. I did not know I “had” depression until I had a breakdown when I was 50 and was admitted to a psychiatric clinic. Even then, I remonstrated with the consultant psychiatrist. How could I, a man who had been orphaned at 16, and who had made his way in the world on his own since then, have a mental illness?
I had, without a family, become a solicitor, and a Judge. I’d also married and had three lovely children and a 5 bedroomed house in Caversham, Reading. I was the epitome of a self-made man. Not bad for someone who’d spent his early years in a Barnardo’s orphanage.
I told all this to the psychiatrist in a very objective way. He was clearly concerned, I could see it in his face. He asked me if I knew of “cognitive alienation”. I didn’t, but after he explained what it was to me, I knew I had it. Then he encouraged me to examine my mind to see if I could accept that I had depression. I suppose I was in denial. Eventually I did accept his diagnosis. I was admitted immediately and slept for 3 days.
Since then I’ve reflected that I had for years just got through things using sheer will power. I had goals, and I achieved them using determination and blood sweat and tears. But I did not enjoy life. I did not enjoy anything apart from listening to classical music and reading English literature. Everything else was a grind, and as I got older, the grind got harder and demanded more and more of my energy – until eventually my mind just shut down.
Anyway, so much has happened since then. I take medication every day: paroxetine 30 mg, which I find wonderful. I don’t like the way people call such things “happy pills”. They do not make you happy. Many depressives, I am told, have insufficient serotonin in their brains, in a similar way to diabetics having insufficient insulin. SSRI‘s such as paroxetine, correct, or go some way to correcting the dearth of serotonin. So what’s the problem? I don’t feel even in the slightest ashamed that I might have to take medication for the rest of my life. It enables me to be me, and to function more normally than I otherwise would. I think it’s wonderful, and that I’m really fortunate to live in an age when chemical therapy for the mind is available.
But the medication is only a part of what I use to cope. I had psychoanalysis, and CBT. I’m a great believer in the latter. As a lawyer it appeals to my “left brain” thinking. More importantly, it works for me. I used to be a pessimist. Now I accept situations for what they are. I look at the facts of a situation. Example: I used to drive into a car park and think “I bet I can’t find any spaces, and even if I do they will be too awkward to get into”. Now I think “I am sure that there will be a space there, even if it is one that challenges my driving ability!” This works across so many situations. E.g. “I have to go to this party/networking event, it will be boring and no-one will like me.” This becomes: “I choose to go to this social gathering and look forward to meeting people who are interesting and could perhaps become friends/acquaintances/business connections.”
Anyway, enough of the “background”! Here is how I cope with my depression. I hope that, if you are a sufferer, you might pick up a tip or two:
- Meditation – yoga or T’ai Chi?
- Cook for yourself, or at any rate, eat good home cooked food. Cooking is such fun. Eating what you’ve cooked even better!
- Exercise. Do whatever you enjoy. For me it is walking. Really gets the endorphins going.
- Avoid getting tired. That is a real killer. I mean mentally tired more than physically. Limit your time on the computer. It sucks the vitality out of your mind.
- Rest if you are tired. I often have a nap in the afternoon.
- Socialise. My friends are my best “counsellors”.
- Avoid loneliness. not always easy as I know from personal experience. But there are so many clubs/societies who need people like us. It might even be a “depressives anonymous” group. Great! You will meet people traveling the same path and support each other.
- Volunteer. From first hand experience (I have no stats to back this up) depressives are usually above average intelligent and sensitive people. You will make a huge difference to other people who are less fortunate and form wonderful relationships that will enrich your life.
- Figure out what you really enjoy doing and do it! For me it is listening to beautiful music and keeping up with current affairs, and cooking. For you it might be completely different.
- Love and nurture yourself e.g. by treating yourself to a lie in, a barbecue with friends, museum trips, shopping. Whatever! Just do it.
- Avoid alcohol. Sure, it is an easy way to dull the pain, but it is a depressive and buggers up relationships.
- Never give up. We all have down days, but they pass. So do the good days! But that is all part of the thing called “Life”.
Take it easy. As a sufferer for most of my life I know that depression can be controlled, and that we can all enjoy this wonderful world and some truly inspiring people. If you feel like giving up, go to bed. Please don’t do anything silly. Trust me, you are loved.