People often ask what it’s like to suffer from depression. Imagine feeling weighed down, as though you’re wading through a thick fog. Sometimes it’s difficult to concentrate; it’s a struggle to get out of bed and often I’m tired. I have good days and I have bad days.
A few years ago I had a severe breakdown. My world suddenly fell apart and I felt like a complete failure. I had no control over the situation. I was terrified. I was lonely. The only thing I did know was that I needed help.
Depression is so much more than feeling sad. And it’s really not just a case of cheering up.
I started seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed a combination of psychotherapy and medication. During one of my sessions I asked her: "Why me?" She explained that depression is a chemical imbalance in one's brain and I just needed a little help from antidepressants to put that imbalance of serotonin right. Simple, isn’t it? I’m not crazy – no one with depression is!
Unfortunately this is something people don’t understand about depression. And I can understand why they ask: "Why can’t you just be happy? Doesn’t the medication help?" Yes, it may seem as though taking antidepressants every day will fix it completely, but it doesn’t. The reality is that depression is a chronic illness that you have to manage on an ongoing basis. Diabetics need medication to manage their blood sugar; I need medication to manage my serotonin.
Did you know? Antidepressants modify your brain chemistry. Although we often call antidepressants "happy pills", that's not really what they are. Antidepressants work to help you to feel like yourself again – they change your brain chemistry and help to stabilise your mood.
I have a 'Black Dog'
Although I’ve suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, it was only recently that I starting calling it my "Black Dog". Once I began to identify with my illness, my depression began to make sense.
Even though I’m on antidepressants, I still have days when I can’t get out of bed, when my Black Dog is misbehaving. There are days when I just suddenly find myself feeling flat, unhappy and, well, depressed. But I know that it’s okay to feel that way because it will pass and get better. It’s about taking control of your Black Dog and reassuring yourself that things will be okay – what I’m feeling now is horrible but it will pass and I’ll be back to my usual self.
Read: What are the symptoms of depression
Why the stigma?
People are scared of things they don’t understand. Add the word "mental" to illness and it becomes something they don’t want to talk about. Most illnesses are diagnosed with a test, but depression isn’t one of them. Depression is not a sign of weakness; it’s an often debilitating illness that needs to be treated.
Depression can be hard on those you love as well. They watch you struggle with the lows, and often feel helpless. Try to explain how you feel to them and let them feel as though they can help. Avoid isolating yourself because you risk pushing people away.
Tips for coping
1. Have routines. Simple things like getting up in the morning, eating breakfast and going to work are important. Plan meals for the week and even schedule time for exercise.
2. Find what makes you happy and do it often.
3. Make healthy choices – exercise and diet won’t fix depression but can affect your mindset and keep your body healthy.
4. Take your medication and talk to someone. It’s okay to admit when you’re not coping. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
5. Educate yourself. Try to understand your condition.
6. Don’t be hard on yourself. Know that there will be good and bad days.
Know the facts about depression this Mental Health Awareness Month