Thursday, February 7, 2013

What Does my Depression Look Like?

It looks very much like this commercial, and I thank Bell for doing such a great job depicting what "depression looks like" in both their PSA's.

Many believe people with depression are weak, not able to handle it, they need to be stronger. If I could choose to be stronger while in the throws of a depressive episode, I absolutely would! If you look at this woman's face, you will see not only sadness but guilt and shame for not being able to do what so many do everyday unless they're medically ill, contagious. She wishes she could be stronger too. The fact is, however, it's impossible for her to go to work, like the other 500,000 Canadians that are absent each day due to mental illness, because she may cry without cause, she will not be able to focus, concentrate, or make decisions due to lethargy and fatigue, and the anticipation of the stress she will experience at work creates such anxiety in her that she is terrified she might be taken away in an ambulance if things become too much, and they will become too much. Stress is the number one aggravator of depression or any mental illness. Again, I can't know for sure this is what the character is experiencing, but it looks very familiar, because it's what I experience.

I am still recovering from my last depressive episode which began in approximately October 2011.  I say approximately, because I didn't know it was happening, most don't, they just begin to slowly slip into a darkness, a hopelessness that leaves them asking "why bother living?" I say October, because it was around that time that colleagues and friends began to comment on my behaviour, my mood. They would say "you don't smile as much anymore", "you seem sad", or ask "are you ok?" I would reassure them that I was just under a lot of stress and when this or that was finished, I would feel better. When this or that was finished, I didn't feel better and then another "this or that" would come along, and I would attribute my change in mood to that. Yes, I was denying my own signs of depression, because I too carry the stigma of mental illness. I didn't want to appear weak, and I felt terribly guilty for not being able to perform my duties as well as I should, so I would forge on pretending everything would get better. The very fact that I forced myself to continue without respite only made my depression worse. As if I had a "bug", continuing to work only sustains the illness when in fact you should be going home to recover, right? A bug, however, can be seen in sniffles, coughing, palor, no one can see I'm ill, so I really shouldn't be staying home.

Finally, after five months of forcing myself to do all the things I normally do, I had a collapse, a crisis. I was walking down the hall of my workplace, and I began to cry. People walked by and looked at me curiously , but I couldn't stop. I walked straight to my supervisor's office and sat there crying for another hour until I was finally able to drive myself home, and that was my last day of work, April 16th, 2012, I haven't been back to work since. With everything my GP tried, my depression continued to worsen. It takes a while to find the right medication for each individual with depression, what works for one person does not necessarily work for another, in fact, it can make things worse. I was anorexic (the medical term for no appetite) and losing weight fast, I lived on "Ensure". At my lowest I was down to 104 lbs. I went to see my psychiatrist, and he asked me "what do you need me to do?". My response was "put me in the hospital, because I'm afraid of what I will do to myself if you don't". He couldn't do that, because the hospital would only admit me if I actually attempted suicide, another shortcoming of the health care system in dealing with mentally ill patients. I said "I can do that" at which time we created my "safety plan". I was obviously not taking care of myself, I hadn't showered in four days, I wore the same clothes to bed that I wore during the day which were now quite soiled, I would sleep at least five hours a day as well as at night, and the simplest task was overwhelming and created intense anxiety. Most people who suffer from depression also experience anxiety to some degree, mine is particularly bad. Even going to his office that day, the traffic and possibility of an accident terrified me when any other day, I would be fine. I went to Walmart to get a few groceries and as soon as I walked into the store, I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, just like you see in the movies when the character is hearing and seeing everything in an amplified way. I was able to pick up a few things and stood in line for about five minutes but couldn't take it anymore. I broke down sobbing, leaving my 13 year old daughter with my debit card to pay for the things we needed, and I rushed out of the store. You can imagine how she must have felt. This continued on for another couple of months till we found a medication that began to work, but my body had been so physically weakened that it took another month to regain at least a modicum of strength. The simplest activities exhausted me, and I still had to nap every day for a couple of hours.

Although I was beginning to feel the effects of the medication, I could not return to my previous life of work or even daily domestic responsibilities, I was still recovering and this was now ten months after people had begun to comment on my behaviour. I told my doctor "I can't go back there again" meaning to the depths of depression I had just experienced, "because I may not make it out next time". At that point, my doctor feared for my safety and agreed silently as he made a referral to a mental health hospital where I was admitted for two months in the "mood disorders program". Depression, especially if it is a bipolar depression which they think I might have, gets worse as we age, so hospitalization was a must to help me better manage my illness.

So that's what depression looks like. It looks like an illness that can have a profound physiologically effect caused by a serious imbalance or malfunctioning of neurotransmitters, and this creates an uncontrollable mood imbalance, but because most people can't see that mood imbalance, we're very good at hiding it, we have to be, it's perceived as being "weak", "lazy", "over-reacting" or being "hypersensitive" which apparently is only a state of mind that can be controlled. Not so. That's the view from here.

Support Bell's Let's Talk Feb.12
Read my post about the campaign and how you can support someone you love who has mental illness  

My next blog will address the lack of resources for the mentally ill especially for children.


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