Can I Overcome Depression?

While most people can enjoy pleasant afternoons, I live in constant fear of the approaching storms.

Since I’ve began writing about my experiences, I’ve had many people ask me questions about it. The one question I get asked the most is this: How do you get over depression?

The truth is simply this—I don’t know.

Depression isn’t some sort of puzzle, where if you put the pieces in the correct order, you’ll be cured. It is a serious illness, one that changes the fundamental basics of who you are as a person. Trying to be the person you were beforehand is futile, and attempting to do so will just lead to frustration. You can’t go back to being who you were before depression, because, like any major experience in life, you can’t just erase it from your memory. It’s always going to be there. What you have to do is learn how to manage it.

Winston Churchill famously referred to depression as his “Black Dog”, but personally, I’m not a fan of this metaphor. I prefer to compare it to a sunny day. Whereas most people can relax and enjoy the sunshine, my focus is on the dark raincloud looming on the horizon. Most people can accept that it might rain in the future, but the thought of the raincloud is terrifying to me. Sometimes it’s far away; other times it fills the sky to the point where a storm seems inevitable.

The key to living with depression is not to avoid the storm, but learning how to manage it. The rain will come, you can’t control that. What you can do is influence your reaction to it. Medication, therapy, family and friends can be the overcoat you wrap around yourself until the rain eases off, and you feel you can go without it.

Developing an understanding of what works for you isn’t easy. It has been two years since my most severe depressive episode, and I’m still learning now. Some days, my anxiety almost overwhelms me. There are still days when I’m drenched in sweat when I get to work, because of what seems like an irrational fear.  There are still times when I get overwhelmed, when I feel like the weight of the world is too much. Those are the days where having a support network is crucial. That is why talking is so important.

The hardest part of it all is the fear. Every day, I have to deal with the fear of the depression coming back stronger, more severe and more damaging than ever. It isn’t easy, not by any means. Every time my energy levels are low, I worry it is because of depression, not because I’m tired. Normal nervousness doesn’t exist for me anymore, because suffering from panic attacks has left me hyper-sensitive to nerves. At work, when I have a bad day, it’s not because it was a stressful situation, it’s because I can’t cope with my job anymore. If my girlfriend is quiet or moody, it’s not that she’s having a bad day, it’s that she’s realised how f**ked-up I truly am, and she wants to run a million miles from me. My every emotion is magnified; every change I feel in my body is over-analysed.

My depression still impacts on me every day, in every aspect of my life. People say “I’m so glad you got through it”, but I haven’t. It may not be as severe as it was two years ago, but it’s always there. It’s been there since I was a child. It’s all I know, but I’m learning to manage it.

On the occasions I stopped taking my medication, the depression and anxiety came flooding back. Every now and then, I’ll have a week or so where I really struggle; where I’m on the verge of tears all the time, for no reason, and where everything seems so pointless. I had a week in August where I got so anxious I had to take time off work, even with my medication. This last fortnight, I’ve fluttered between tearfulness and full-on apathy, which isn’t ideal when I’ve just started a degree and the first assignment is due next week. In three weeks, I’ve done exactly one hour and 15 minutes of studying, because of apathy.

In many ways, apathy can be the hardest part of depression. When you are having extreme emotions, suicidal thoughts and suchlike, part of you can still grasp that they are extreme, and as such, unusual emotions. The subtlety of apathy is much more difficult to overcome. It’s not so dramatic an emotion that you are aware something is wrong; it’s just a loss of interest, a feeling that things aren’t worth doing. Things get put off until tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes.

I’ve said this before, but it can’t be said enough: Depression isn’t a mood. It isn’t something you “snap out of.” It’s a very dangerous illness, one that changes the very core of who you are. It’s like the ocean; sometimes the tide is out, far in the distance. Other times it’s lapping at your feet, teasing you with its wetness, yet almost comforting. But if you aren’t careful, the tide can come rushing in, enveloping you completely. It sucks you under, you can’t breathe. The shore seems so far away, you feel like you could never reach it. Some give up, and let the water take them down, some try their best, but run out of energy before the lifeboat arrives.

Me? I’m swimming for my life. I hope to reach the shore. Sometimes the tide goes out, and I’m closer to the beach. Then the tide comes in, and it seems as far away as ever. All I can do is keep swimming, keep fighting. That’s all anybody can do.

If your lifeboat comes along, please get on it. It may come as medication, or as a loved one. It could be anything, everybody is different. But please keep swimming.

The ocean is vast, but there are millions of us in it. We can keep each other afloat. We are never alone.

Photo credit: Flickr / mattcameasarat

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About Andrew Lawes

My name is Andrew Lawes, and I am afflicted with a condition definable only as the Lawes Disorder. A disorder so powerful it nearly killed me. I have made many mistakes in my life, I have hurt many people, and the fight for redemption begins now. It'll continue for the rest of my life, and I'm writing about it every step of the way. I hope you choose to support me. Find me online: LawesDisorder.com Facebook.com/LawesDisorder Twitter.com/LawesDisorder

Comments

  1. Andrew,
    I realize every case is different, but do keep swimming. There is hope! My wife has been off her meds successfully for over a year now and it was worth the struggle through. To see what worked for her, check out my discussion at http://ratedgromance.com/2011/10/23/at-depressions-end/ . I hope to hear about your own cocktail of success in the future.
    Hang in there!
    Gregory

  2. I don’t even care that this is an article on a “men’s” website, this description of living with depression is absolutely bang on in my books.

  3. Andrew,
    This is the second time I’ve read your writing on depression and felt like someone actually understands. I love that you used the ocean/swimming imagery. I have long said that trying to get people to understand my symptoms feels to me like being out in the water while they are on shore and they think I’m waving so they wave back and this goes on and on and for some reason I can’t get anyone to understand that I’m not waving, I’m drowning.

    The apathy gets me too, especially this time of year. Funnily I just yesterday wrote a post about a medication change that made that problem so much worse (http://www.redheadbedhead.com/the-time-celexa-ate-my-brain/) Thank you for letting me know that there is at least one person out there who gets why I have never “gotten over” this, why it still ebbs and flows and why honoring that isn’t being pessimistic or “giving in” any more than a diabetic is by taking their insulin.

  4. Your descriptions of depression are spot-on, and familiar. I suffer from bipolar 2 disorder, and always live in fear of depressive recurrences, even though my medication controls things for the most part. I’m so sorry that you haven’t found a medication combination that works reliably and consistently for you.

  5. Thanks for explaining this….it elucidates a lot of puzzling behavior around me…

  6. Andrew , my heart goes out to you. I also suffered from severe depression and anxiety since childhood. It took many years of therapy to get to the point where I can say “I’m not depressed today” even though I still have a lot of issues that I’m still working on. It is possible to get beat depression but it’s not easy. Really deep therapy is what worked for me. Good luck in your journey

  7. I have suffered from depression and its buddy, anxiety since I was kid. I often wonder if I will ever be cured. It has been like a shadow stalking me for a long. It has been a roller coaster for me. It keeps me from relationships and probably has cost me friendships.

    Since I started blogging about my journey, I do not feel so alone.

  8. Andrew,
    Your articles are so on point I wouldn’t even change a word. It truly is absolutely spot on. Thanks for helping me realise that I’m not alone.

  9. Yeh…that old chestnut. Depression is life threatening…but not just in the typical way people think. Prior to diagnosis several years ago (bipolar) I was seventeen and had had a ridiculously good summer….too good. It all changed within 2 weeks. Paranoia set in..I began to feel physically and mentally slow. Then the point of no return. Walked into the kitchen saw a steak knife on the counter and in a terrified moment wondered who it was that I had killed and where I had hidden their chopped up remains. Psychosis…or rather psychotic depression. Psychosis is the last pit stop before the total hell/brink of death of catatonia, it can happen both ends of the spectrum..mania and depression. Manic psychosis is without doubt the nicer option-proclaiming your jesus performing 150% on zero sleep..but also the more dangerous as you are not physically impaired and are able to act on these psychotic delusions. Psychotic depression as is my experience, both before and after a month long bout of catatonia actually less painful because I only remember being conscious for maybe 15min the whole month in intensive care…anyway I digress. Depression+insanity (and I am talking believing I’m a mass genocide instigator and the cliche evil voices in your head talking to you 24/7 amongst other things…) =something that rips something out of your heart forever. Depression makes you understand the invaluable role perspective (or sanity) plays in a life. I’m almost 22 now..and yes I have had several other depressive episodes although thankfully not with psychosis…there is no doubt in my mind that there will be more..despite every medical avenue being explored and applied. My experience is incredibly rare and extreme even within the scope the ‘average’ person with bipolar. I guess maybe you realise when an illness like that hits from nowhere…and you look back and none of your friends came to the hospital (even though you missed a year of school) because they…well you tell me. I guess psych wards are scary but never more so than when you’re a patient in one. Stigma, I am an expert liar in certain areas of my life because of my genetically inherited chronic illness, to keep my job/uni/social standing society demands it of me. And despite the fact that I go through hell and back at least once most years what bothers me most is not the perverse level of suffering. Its this indisputable reality: I know that were I to end in hospital again, as before with a tube down my stomach, my brain short circuiting and an extremely high likely hood that if none of the drugs, ECT work, I will die…and I will die alone. My family would be there, but I doubt a single friend no matter how genuine would dare set foot in the hospital when told the nature of the illness. If I had to go that way and I could I would choose cancer…because then even the most remote acquaintances would flock to my bedside. I would find solace in the acceptance and compassion of humanity…rather than perish at the hands of its medieval judgement. Most importantly I would not die lonely, as an outcast, or be remembered as that ‘crazy girl’…that ‘yeh she had issues’ girl..that ‘so whys she in hospital? she probably tried to top herself or something’ or worst of all be labelled as ‘troubled’.
    Great article Andrew-I look forward to reading more about your views/analysis on mental health as you are a writer with real understanding and experience, rare.
    Very refreshing, thank you.

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