It is an overwhelming fact that depression rates are on the rise in most corners of the globe. Globally, millions of people are living with the misery of the so-called “cancer of mental health” on a daily basis. Some have had their symptoms alleviated by medication, some have sought therapy and there are many others who live with it without getting help. Some are not even aware that they are suffering and some choose not to recognise it, for whatever reason. There are those who have adapted their lives to the extent that they see their depression as a “part” of them, have no trouble talking about it. There are others who feel stigmatized and discriminated against and hide their illness and there are those who live in fear of the consequences of their depression hoping it will not take over their lives. I recently met someone who had been suffering on and off from depression for over thirty-five years. We talked about how this had left an imprint on his life, how it affects him and how he had tried to adapt in order to lead the best life possible. He cut a despondent, resigned figure who had seemingly given up. I asked him if I could write his story….he gladly agreed and here it is :
When did you first realise you were depressed?
I often wondered why my parents were always so miserable. Now I realise that they were depressed too. I guess it would be easy to say that I inherited my depression from them but I know it is not as simple as that. When I look back, it first hit me in my teens. I was an awkward teenager, never with the “in crowd” and consequently got bullied and pushed out. I didn’t dress or act like them which didn’t help. I preferred my own company. Now I realise that I was not doing things because of my depression. I never thought that anything was wrong until I made a mistake at work and started crying when my boss criticised me.
What happened then?
Well, my boss had some previous experience of depression and took me to the GP. I was distraught to have shown such vivid emotion in front of my employer. Luckily he understood, and guided me somewhat. I thought my world was about to end. Depression and mental illness had always been a taboo subject in my family due to my grandmother being “mad” and my parents often criticised and ridiculed others who suffered. My boss took me to the GP and he prescribed antidepressants.
Were you offered other treatment, such as therapy?
No and my parents would not have allowed it. In those days, that meant being “locked up” and that would have brought shame on the family.
What was your experience with medication?
I remember at first, the days full of “zombie-like” feelings, the impression that I was in another dimension but after a while I felt better and the side-effects waned. After that it was a case of remembering to take them. After a year, I decided not to take them anymore and gradually came off them. I don’t regret that at all. I know people who have been taking them for twenty years.
Would you consider yourself still depressed ?
Most definitely. Look, it comes and goes but I am still as miserable as I was as a teenager. I still avoid things that could potentially hurt me psychologically and have really stayed in my comfort zone all my life. I read an article once that stated that some people’s depression never goes away and they should just accept that and adapt their lives accordingly. I can believe that in my case but I am not sure you can accept it or adapt to it…or if you should.
Now the big question…How has being depressed impacted your life?
Well, I would say it’s the little things that have the biggest impact. Waking up in the morning with seemingly nothing to look forward to (or so I think), the difficult interaction with other people. The constant rumination about what other people think of me, regrets and my past. Makes daily life difficult. However, the worst thing is how I think about myself as a weakling, a fragile being who is knocked back by the smallest upset. How I can’t get out of that feeling and it gets worse before it gets better. I haven’t been able to stay in a relationship and that is one of my biggest regrets. I think the worst thing is that I feel society stigmatises depression to the extent that people with it are not seen as “normal”. The health insurance companies treat you like a monster when they hear the word and employers keep you at arm’s length.
How do you see your future?
(laughing) I have a great future behind me !! Look I am resigned to the fact that I will probably suffer from this forever. I know I don’t do much to change that but we are like an old married couple who are together because the alternative is not so rosy. I know that if I am better, new challenges will come and those would be difficult to handle.
What advice would you give to other sufferers?
Well, they probably need to do the opposite to me. I was (and still am) scared of getting better. What would this new world bring? I would have to face things that would scare me to death. I would strongly recommend anyone newly diagnosed to seek help as soon as possible. Join groups, get therapy, medication, anything that can lessen the Impact. To try to survive without help is doomed to fail.
It is not too late for you..why don’t you take your own advice?
This question was never answered. He quickly made his excuses and left. The path out of depression was seemingly too hard to contemplate. Can it really be the case that someone would accept their illness because the alternative is harder to contemplate? I guess this is an issue that people often forget. Getting well can be as difficult as getting sick, brings new challenges and a new world that calls for courage to live in. I didn’t get the chance to thank him for allowing me to talk to him. It must have been painful to go over some of the issues that had been a part of him for years. Who knows? Maybe someday…