Clinically Depressed? You can get well. I did.

September 4th, 2016

sky very pink and blue

“In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come- not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying- or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity- but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes. And this results in a striking experience- one which I have called, borrowing military terminology, the situation of the walking wounded. For in virtually any other serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devistation would by lying flat in bed, possibly sedated and hooked up to the tubes and wires of life-support systems, but at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting. His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained. However, the sufferer from depression has no such option and therefore finds himself, like a walking casualty of war, thrust into the most intolerable social and family situations. There he must, despite the anguish devouring his brain, present a face approximating the one that is associated with ordinary events and companionship. He must try to utter small talk, and be responsive to questions, and knowingly nod and frown and, God help him, even smile. But it is a fierce trial attempting to speak a few simple words.” 

William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

As I write this, I am in a major episode of clinical depression, caused by a medication prescribed by a doctor for a condition that it turns out, I do not have. It was an error. But it’s an error that has cost me a month of my life and taken me through unspeakable pain.

I am still in the fight, not quite out, but hoping that, as I do fight this, I can help someone else.  Stringing words together gracefully is harder now, but string them together I will. And in the end, for any of you, there will be hope.

First, the darker side.  When many hear the term depression, they may think about a person who is in grief, who suffers a chronic illness, someone who may be sad over a loss.  And indeed, some of those people will, under those circumstances, understandably,  be depressed or have entered into an episode of major depression.  But for others, either biologically prone to this illness or put into it by a situation like a surgery, childbirth or simply, like me, prone to it, but being fine one day, and terrible the next just being prescribed the wrong drug.

This is  a depression not only in the mind, but a depression that lives in the delicate chemistry that makes up our complicated human bodies. It’s real, it’s not imagined, and it’s serious.

First, here’s just a wiki version of what this is:

A major depressive episode is a period characterized by the symptoms of  Major Depressive Disorder: primarily depressed mood for 2 weeks or more, and a loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, accompanied by other symptoms such as feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, anxiety, worthlessness, guilt and/or irritability, changes in appetite, problems concentrating, remembering details or making decisions, and thoughts of or attempts at suicide. Insomnia or hypersomnia, aches, pains, or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may also be present. 

Treatments for a major depressive episode include exercise, Pyschotherapy, nutritional supplements, and anti depressants, although in more serious cases, hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment may be required. There are many theories as to how depression occurs. One interpretation is that neurotransmitters in the brain are out of balance, and this results in feelings of worthlessness and despair. Magnetic resonance imaging shows that brains of people who have depression look different than the brains of people not exhibiting signs of depression.

So, essentially, you can have this without actually going through a major life change or loss. It may just happen.  Situational depression is common for those experiencing pain and loss.  For me, this depressive episode was not situational. It just happened.  Most areas of my life are going actually brilliantly and prior to this hitting me like a ton of bricks, I was actually in high spirits.  For the first time in many years, everything seems to be coming together.  I have an extraordinary  and supportive marriage, my son is happily engaged in study and also happily engaged to a beautiful and wonderful young women.  My finances are stable, my family of origin is supportive, and my work life includes a number of great projects, the first being a violence prevention film close to my heart that will debut on Netflix this month.

But I’m trying to crawl out of a hole that’s now in it’s second month.  Here’s what I’m doing and what I’ve learned over the years that can help, while you wait for either the right anti depressant, or for time to take it’s course, and the depression lifts.

  1. Treat the depression. Talk to your doctor, a psychiatrist, or therapist.  If necessary, and it usually is, try an anti depressant. It can be maddening to find the right one, but eventually you’ll land on relief.  If not, do the research.  There are new methods available where a doctor can match your body chemistry to a drug that may be better for you.  If you can’t get this treatment in your home town, find somewhere close that can offer that to you.
  2. Read up on everything, when you can concentrate, and that may be hard.  If not, have family members or friends research anything that may be of benefit.
  3. If you are feeling suicidal, you need immediate help.  Don’t keep that to yourself.  Reach out.
  4. While you are in the difficult process of waiting for the fog to lift, you may choose a number of options to get through it.  Some people literally try to sleep through it. I get that. I walk through it the best I can, while knowing that life as usual has altered.
  5. If you can, move your body. I swim twice a week, and walk three times a week.  There are days when I force myself, but research shows that exercise can alter your brain chemistry and in a good way.
  6. Spend time in nature and get natural sunlight every day, when and where possible.
  7. Talk to friends, family, and a therapist.  It can help to just express yourself and have someone telling you they love you and know you’ll get well.  For those friends who feel a party or social event might help, set them straight.  At least for me, my time is best spent one on one.  Large groups can make it worse for me.  Even three to four people together can be stressful because maybe for the first time in your life, you don’t care what they are saying.  When you find family or friends who don’t understand what you are feeling, perhaps share the opening quote above. It’s the darkest, toughest, but best quote I’ve ever read on depression by acclaimed author William Styron.You won’t always feel this way, the pain will end, but until you dig out, that’s how it can look.
  8. Try to do the smallest things that seem normal. Just a trip to the grocery store, doing a few simple emails, cleaning the house.  For some, it’s impossible or seems impossible. But give something a try daily.
  9. Don’t drink.  I enjoy a glass of wine or so while I’m cooking or when out to dinner.  When this episode hit, I do what I’ve done the other two times I’ve experienced this.  I just don’t do it. If you choose, and things are stable, and you do it very moderately, there could be time for that when recovery happens and when stability comes back into your life. That depends on each person,their illness, and their history.
  10. Try something creative.  You may enjoy a bit of art, making a new garden space, re arranging a room.  I try to keep busy. It makes the days go by quicker, and believe me, when you are in this, you want the day to fly by.  If you can’t though, don’t beat yourself up.  You didn’t create this illness.
  11. Nutrition.  As I’ve experienced before and many do, the appetite can be gone.  I stopped cooking. I love to cook normally and I’m a “live to eat” kind of person.  First, eat what you can get down, even if it’s forcing yourself.  Later, do some reading on foods that can help lift the mood.
  12. Know that your gut bacteria can be related to mood.  In this case, in this episode, I was given a strong antibiotic for a condition it turns out I don’t have. It was a guess on the doctors part. But in the best scenarios, anti biotics can destroy not only the bad stuff, but the good as well.  You might need a strong prescription strength probiotic if you have to go on antibiotics for any reason. Know that there’s a link with these.
  13. I went a bit beyond my medical community here in Iowa. If you can’t find the right treatment close by, go elsewhere if at all possible. I was fortunate enough to find a doctor elsewhere who actually knew how to treat this rare but known complication of antibiotics.
  14. Remember, it’s hard to describe this to someone who has never had it.  The strongest quote I ever found on the depths of this is above, from author William Styron. It’s dark but brilliant. Have others read that so they just might get a glimpse of how the darkest parts can look to the person suffering.
  15. Know that it WILL lift.  There are treatment resistant depressions, but there are other methods that can be used that go beyond traditional antidepressants.  Look into Ketamine and TMS treatment..
  16. You may notice that after a period of terrible psychic pain, you may awaken to more clarity, a better day.  Take that as a sign that you are getting better, even if the days go a bit up and down.

You aren’t alone.  At one time, in any day, in this country, approximately 20% of us can be experiencing a mental illness.  You aren’t a bad person, you didn’t make this happen to you, and that fact that you’re alive and still moving forward is a testament to your strength.

The picture above is one I took a year or so ago. It’s just beginning to be night sky, the light still visible, the blue peeking through, but the pink, as glorious as it is, signals the approaching darkness. That’s the beginning of an episode.

For times of recovery, I choose to look at brighter themes, more clear cut, not perfect, but hopeful like an early spring.  I return to Styron, who ended “Sophie’s Choice” this way.  He said and I end with this,  “This was not judgment day – only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.”

For you…to the morning and the light…



July 2 (2)

Update 2019.  The depression did lift in October 2016 due to ketamine treatments.  It was short lived and I had to return to treatments in late November.  The additional treatments helped and by the end of December 2016, I was depression free..  The light came back on.  Please don’t give up. You are a precious soul and you can get well.



9 Comments on “Clinically Depressed? You can get well. I did.”

  1. Rick Mullin said at 7:56 am on September 4th, 2016:

    Thanks for writing this – helps me understand a little. I have seen a couple of cousins go thru depression and this puts a few of the pieces together for me in my mind.

    You write that you like to cook – I harvested a LOT of organic garlic from our little garden at 37th & Cheyenne. Let me know if you want a few bulbs!


  2. Darla Axtell said at 9:23 am on September 4th, 2016:

    Thank you for sharing,great insight and helpful.

  3. Patrick Ross said at 10:25 am on September 4th, 2016:

    Please hang in there, this world is a better place because you’re in it

  4. cindy said at 12:53 am on September 5th, 2016:

    Thanks, Pat! What a sweet thing to say. 🙂

  5. cindy said at 12:53 am on September 5th, 2016:

    Thank you, Darla!

  6. cindy said at 12:53 am on September 5th, 2016:

    Thanks, Rick. Still not cooking yet, but I’ll get there!

  7. cindy said at 12:53 am on September 5th, 2016:

    Thanks, Rick. Still not cooking yet, but I’ll get there!

  8. Robin Shapiro said at 12:08 pm on September 5th, 2016:

    Glad you’re moving through this! Sorry you had to! I hope you have a new doctor!

  9. cindy said at 2:03 am on September 6th, 2016:

    Thanks, Robin. I’ve found someone who understands the situation and I’m getting good treatment. 🙂

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