This is the first article in a series called the Depro Diaries.
The Blanket of Silence.
Depression is a word so often feared, best not spoken about. Being “depro” is just not okay. It conjures up dreaded images of pills and helplessness and being unable to function and failure and fear and often suicide. One must “buck up,” or “pull yourself together,” or “just get over it.” If only it were that simple. Depression is one of the loneliest illnesses in the world.
“Depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people affected. Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Especially when long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Suicide results in an estimated 1 million deaths every year.” ~ WHO 2012
Depression is about so much more than just being sad.
Do I fear depression? I used to. I hated it. Railed against being labelled as a “depressive.” I fought it. Dread would have to be the strongest emotion I felt regarding depression though.
My journey with Depression.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression six years after giving birth to my twin girls. A long untreated post natal depression which eventually turned into a deep depression.
I coped during those first six years by stumbling through each day in a sleep deprived haze and a stoic belief that “everything will get better one day.”
Sobbing in the bathroom with a towel stuffed into my mouth so that I didn’t wake the babies was a regular occurrence.
Lying in bed wishing I could finally just sleep. Sleep and never wake up again.
After being diagnosed and prescribed anti depressant medication, things lifted slightly. I began going for regular counseling as I’d always believed that medication alone would not cure me.
Yet, with my children getting bigger and more independent, it was often easier for me to lie in bed and sleep more. There would be periods of such blackness that getting out of bed would be my biggest achievement of the day. Everything else seemed easy after that battle.
Through all of this, I worked, ran the home and functioned on one level. Yet, inside it always felt as if every moment was a struggle. There was simply no joy in my life anymore.
Learning a new narrative.
A few years ago I deepened my journey into self by completing a number of counseling courses. I’ve somehow been gifted with a huge sense of empathy for people and counseling seemed a natural path for me to take. I think because of being a sensitive individual, prone to depression, it helped me to identify so much more with people’s issues. What was even more amazing is how these skills played such a valuable role in my own struggle.
I learned how to engage with depression by giving it a personality, a name, a color, shape, texture, etc.
I began a dialogue with depression. Finding out where it came from, how it first manifested in my life. I found out what strengthens depression. In my case it’s often tiredness, empathizing without boundaries, fear, Seasonal Afffective Disorder (SAD), burnout and doubt. These are the allies of depression and they help it to get bigger and to take over more and more of my life.
Here’s an example:
Depression sneaks in through a small window I inadvertently left open. He makes his way to the front door and unlatches it. Exhaustion, Fear, SAD, Stress, Doubt and a horde of his friends pour in and begin preparing for a prolonged party.
I stand in the doorway of the kitchen watching them trash the place. Loud music, food everywhere, clouds of cigarette smoke and hot sweaty bodies pushed together chatting and laughing. A spontaneous food fight breaks out and I watch as the party becomes more and more raucous.
I have no power here, no authority. I turn around and trudge up the stairs like a dejected toddler being sent to bed. Blankie trailing in one hand, lifeless Teddy clutched in another. I climb under the covers and pull them over my head in a bid to block out the noise.
Depression slips upstairs and climbs into the bed with me, sinking, spreading, covering me with the weight of mountains and darkness and something I can’t identify… something more primal. I lie pinned under the covers of my desolation and sadness.
I then explored what depression was afraid of. What makes it smaller and less significant? For me depression’s enemies are rest, exercise, yoga, meditation, therapy, meaningful conversations, medication and boundaries.
In engaging in these narratives and patiently digging away at the layers of my soul, I’ve learned much about myself over the years.
6 Things Depression Has Taught Me.
1. I’m a Survivor
I’ve learned that the darkest hour truly is before dawn. If I can hold on through the darkest part, I will make it. I’ve come through many depressive episodes and each one has taught me something new about myself.
2. I need to stop and listen
I’ve learned and grown the most mentally and spiritually when depressed. It’s almost as if being depressed catapults me into a desert and I’m forced to sit there and listen.
This knowledge now helps me tremendously when I feel myself falling. I can now say that depression and I have become uneasy bedmates and I can greet it by saying, “Hello old friend, what have you come to teach me this time?” I find that I usually emerge with a new and deeper understanding of myself.
3. I’m Highly Sensitive.
I have loads of compassion and a very sensitive soul. Dr Elaine Aaron sheds light on this in her fascinating book, The Highly Sensitive Person.
Unfortunately, this often means over empathizing which in turn can lead to burnout. Too often I’ve plunged into people’s stories in an attempt to rescue them. Apart from nearly drowning, this usually didn’t help them much at all. Yes, the person being rescued would be most appreciative, but I’d more often than not end up taking on their burdens and falling into depression from these external circumstances.
4. I must take care of myself first.
As a result of being highly sensitive, I’ve learned that I have to take care of myself and avoid over-empathizing. I need to avoid the media and sensationalism. I simply cannot rescue all of the animals or children in the world. I now know that I need to work with people by using boundaries. I don’t get drawn in because I’m not God and I can’t rescue anybody, only myself.
5. I believe in a higher power.
My belief system has enable me to get through many dark patches. I’ll often get to the point of such despair, rock bottom, in fact, where I can only whimper, “God help me. What now?”
Little things like the hugs of my children or the beauty of a tree or the kindness of a friend help me to realize that God is, in fact, everywhere. In those darkest of times, God is in me, with me, holding me. I am never truly alone in my despair even though I may not realize it.
6. I deem Yoga to be my drug of choice.
Practicing yoga has healed me in so many ways. It’s not a miracle cure, but it’s exercise which is essential when depressed and it pushes me beyond myself in the most beautiful way.
We’ve come a long way, Depression and I.
We’ve still got a way to go.
For those suffering with depression, you have my sympathy and admiration. It’s a silent, often taboo illness. May you find peace and light and rest on your journey. You are not alone.
Read more about this journey in Part Two of the Depro Diaries next week. (Link coming soon!)
Dawn Meysel hails from South Africa. Wife, Mother of Twins, lover of books, her bed, her family, her two Zen Masters (her cats) and chocolate. She’s astounded by love and grace, appalled at hatred and injustice. Intrepid seeker of Truth, student of the soul and spirituality, counselor, friend. She’s a novice student of yoga, a vegetarian, animal rights activist and non flakey in the nicest way! She lives by two mottos, “This too shall pass” and “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.”
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Ed: Brianna Bemel