We used depressed to mean far too many things. A depressed person might be moping, upset, feeling down in the dumps or, actually, well …. depressed. The “real thing” is more than simply feeling down in the dumps.
Have you ever been asked an icebreaker question? If you are a regular reader on my Facebook page, you have, because they are a great one to get to know someone and I ask them often. I ask silly things like “Did you have a beloved stuffed animal as a child?” or “What’s your #1 comfort food?” The question today is
What is one thing that the people here today don’t know about you?
I’ll go first, ok?
Here it is …. I have depression.
Long time readers, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.
Depression has been my bugaboo since early adulthood, arriving at random intervals in slow waves that, like high tide on the ocean, threaten to wash over me and carry me down to the deeps. Sometimes it has been bad enough, with anxiety thrown in, that I have been barely able to cope with life, but most of the time it’s “merely” chronic, mild depression.
My father’s mother suffered from this too, all her life.
My normal state is to be energetic and active. I dislike inactivity and boredom.
Childbirth has never slowed me down more than a day or two, brain surgery knocked me back for about a month (five hours after the surgery ended I was trying to get out of bed), and I was starting to my housework again a week and a half after hysterectomy.
Yea. Me so tough. Except when I’m not.
Of course, my normal self is perfectly suited to living off-grid in the woods because I am always pushing myself to do more. Over and over again, readers (and my mother!) have asked, “How do you get all this done? Do you ever slow down?”
Sometimes I slow down, and sometimes I crash so hard that I have difficulty getting up again. It creeps up slowly, each excuse for not getting something done seeming reasonable at the time.
I just don’t feel good.
I’m too busy.
Oh. My …. where did the past two hours go while I stared at that spider?
If only depression stopped you from doing the things you already dislike.
Instead it robs your joy of the things you love.
My garden has sat lonely and neglected this year, and yet one of the first things I learned when we moved here was that I love to garden. If only I had realized years ago how much I loved to play in the dirt and grow food.
When depression rears its ugly head, not only do I neglect my garden, but I struggle to write, doubting my every word and deleting a million more words than I ever publish.
Depression means feeling as though you have those X-ray aprons hanging on your shoulders, front and back, pulling you down to the ground whenever you try to move. Physical activity is so difficult when depression hits.
Depression means looking at someone you love with all your heart and wishing they’d just leave.
Depression, for me, is a miserable roller coaster ride between misery and indifference, with a precious few bright moments that make the darkness seem just that much darker.
If you have an hour, watch this amazing video by BBC, The Truth About Depression. It struck me that doctors have found two things about the brains of those with depression:
The hippocampus, responsible for the processing of emotions and memories, is about 10% smaller in people who have depression, but it may grow with successful treatment for depression (but possibly only for PTSD, not for major depression), They do not know if the hippocampus is smaller, causing depression, or if depression shrinks the hippocampus. Either way, successful treatment can increase its size.
Studies of brain waves show that the depressed brain overreacts to negative stimuli, so that bad things are exaggerated and good things are minimized.
Really, it is not your imagination – your brain is acting weird. It’s rough to realize that your brain is acting against your best interests, but knowing is your first step to gaining control over it.
Let’s look at a few facts about depression.
Almost 12% of Canadians will experience a major depression at least once in their lives, with about 2.6% having bipolar depression.
More than half of people who have one major depression will have a re-occurrence.
Depression is very, very common and very, very treatable.
If you are struggling with major depression, please see a doctor. There are now many ways to treat it.
For minor depression, it may be possible to deal with it without medical care.
Do NOT hide
It is so tempting, when depression hits, to hide away and avoid people. Don’t do it. Certainly let supportive friends and family know what you are dealing with, but do avoid not them. Continue with social engagements.
One of the main problems with our modern society is that, unlike most of history, we spend a lot of time alone. When we are alone, we “ruminate” – that is, we mull over and think about things. Unfortunately, the human mind being what it is, that often leads to depression.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to distract your mind temporarily, and helping other people is known to help us feel better about ourselves.
It is so tempting, when depression hits, to hide away and avoid people. Don’t do it.
Engage with other people, especially positive people. Keep the thoughts in your brain from heading too far down the negative track.
Depression changes the way our brains work, causing us to overreact to negative stimuli and lose our sense of perspective. Once you recognize that this is happening, you have a tool with which to challenge the negative thinking. No lies – this is difficult. But even with medication to ease the symptoms, it is necessary to challenge the negative thinking caused by depression.
A notebook can help reprogram these thoughts, if you can get the energy to write them down. Otherwise, consider asking someone you trust (like a spouse) to keep track of your negative statements and behavior so that you can discuss them when your mood improves slightly.
When we are depressed, everything seems to be black and white. A fight in a relationship means that the person hates us, a mistake means that we are a total failure. We slap on angry labels – about ourselves and others – and hold to rigid rules that are sure to be broken.
Under normal circumstances, we recognize this as unreasonable, but depression changes the way our brains work and process this information.
If the same thoughts happen frequently, find a way to remind yourself to stop this line of thinking. Put notes where you can see them. Personally, I love whiteboards.
Do you like country music? There are a few songs that I pull out when I’m depressed. Get Rhythm by Johnny Cash and Better Get To Livin’ by Dolly Parton are two great ones, but you might prefer uplifting gospel music or another genre. Of course, the effect of good, upbeat music doesn’t last forever, just like getting out and around people but it helps, especially if you dance.
One bit of advice that I learned the hard way is to be very careful about the music that you feed your brain. Years ago, when I had an undiagnosed brain tumour, I would listen to cacophonic alternative music that had negative or slightly crazy lyrics. Music and lyrics matched the weirdness that I felt inside my head. The problem, though, was that it only reinforced the bad thoughts and feelings.
Commit to feeding your brain only positive words and uplifting music! What we feed our brains matters a lot.
Did you know that ten minutes of physical movement can improve your mood for up to two hours? Keep moving! However, that doesn’t mean that you should overdo it. No one feels good when they overwork themselves, and the negative thinking of depression means that pushing yourself too much can backfire. Aim for at least thirty minutes three times a week.
Watch Your Health
Which came first – the poor health or the depression? Whichever it is, doctors all agree that improving your health can improve your mood.
Get enough sleep – but not too much – and try to get on a proper sleep schedule. Eight hours is usually the optimum amount. Turn off electronics and television an hour or more before bedtime. Get to bed at the same time each night. Don’t have caffeine or alcohol in the evenings.
Pet a cat or dog. 🙂 Puppies and kittens are even better, as are babies of all varieties. (Okay, don’t pet a baby human, but you get the idea.)
Get outside in the sunshine for at least fifteen minutes every day. More is better! Old Order Mennonite and Amish have very little problems with depression – one factor may well be that they are physically active and spend a great deal of time outdoors.
Don’t skip meals, even when you have no appetite, and try to get enough complex carbs. Eat fatty fish, too, one or two servings a week, to get the omega-3 fatty acids. And don’t forget the super foods like bananas, brown rice and spinach that help to lift your mood and calm anxiety.
A good multivitamin containing B-complex vitamins and chromium can help.
Make A List
What always boosts your mood, even for a little while? Spending time in the garden (even if you need to get pushed out the door), playing with your pets, re-reading a favourite old book, listening to great music …
Make a list and keep it where you can refer to it when necessary. When depression hits, work through your list systematically and aim to do one thing from your list daily.
See a Doctor
If self-help does not improve your mood, or if it becomes worse, see a doctor. If you are having persistent or strong and irresistible thoughts of self-harm or suicide, then please seek immediate help. Depression, from mild to serious, is treatable, and your life is precious.