This post was originally published on August 12, 2014- shortly after the tragic passing of Robin Williams. I had used that time and opportunity to share my own personal story as this post as initially part of a series to introduce myself to my readers.
Do you know someone who has major depression? Or maybe you are the one with major depression? Whatever the case may be, I invite you in today to talk about major depression. Mental health issues still face so much stigma and judgement despite increased media coverage. But that’s just it… it may increased coverage but until you experience it firsthand; you may still be prone to judging or misunderstanding someone with a mental illness. And since you’re at this blog right now, you’ve met someone with a mental illness. I’ll get into my story briefly, and I am humbled to share with you my story of learning to live with major depression.
While it may seem like it, I’m not trying to capitalize on the tragic passing of Robin Williams. He was an amazing comedian, gifted actor, and will always remain one of my favorites. My particular favorite role of his was Genie, from Aladdin. I think that underlying circumstances surrounding his death are just as tragic, and that is what I chose to focus on for this post. He admitted to having issues with alcohol in the past, and also with manic (or bipolar) depression. And can you imagine that? Someone who brought such great joy and smiles to so many, battling an unseen mental health issue.
I want to try and be as honest and open as I possibly can on this blog without edging into the realm of too much information. That all being said, I want to talk about my own issues with mental health.
Dealing with Major Depression In My Teens
I was initially diagnosed with clinical depression (now known as major depression or unipolar depression) when I was 14.
My psychiatrist prescribed Prozac and I also went to therapy every week. I suppose, looking back on it now, I can trace the roots of my depression. My paternal grandfather passed away when I was 8. I was very close to him and, as my therapist later told me, that childhood trauma lingered untouched. My parents separated when I was 10. I was given the choice to stay with my dad and all of my family in California, or move with my mom to Washington D.C. I chose to move with my mom, flying back to California for Christmas and Summer vacation.
That also had a great deal to do with my depression.
I stayed on medication until I was 15 and stopped taking it due to pregnancy. I didn’t take it afterwards though I probably should have given everything that was going on in my life at the time. Having a premature baby is an adventure within itself and something that I’ll really get into another time.
Still, I’m sure that this life event also had a great impact on my mental health.
My relationship with my son’s father was also tumultuous at times. Yes, I realize that we were teenagers but I went through quite a bit. I don’t wish to speak badly of people who aren’t around to defend themselves so I won’t go into great detail. However, I can say that my self image and self esteem suffered greatly while we were together.
I went on Celexa shortly after my middle child was diagnosed with Autism. I also started therapy again, finding that to be more beneficial than just taking a pill.
My Road to Living with Major Depression
But, it was around two years after her diagnosis that I stopped taking my medication and stopped seeing my therapist. I had an epiphany, of sorts, that I didn’t want to be dependent on a pill or a therapist.
I wanted to be in control of my mental health and I wanted to call the shots.
I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t take medication or see a therapist, I’m just relating what worked for me. And for me it was a mind over matter sort of issue. I read books, I started to mediate, and I prayed. I wasn’t going to church at that time, but I still would take the time to pray daily. I also started to keep a journal to write down whatever feelings I was dealing with that day. So, in a sense, I had another therapist. I was also smoking, and was smoking on and off for about eight years.
But, after I found I was pregnant again, I stopped smoking and haven’t touched another cigarette since.
It’s been ten years (as of 2016) since I stopped taking medication for my depression.
There have been a few rough patches but for the most part, I’ve managed to hold it together. I’ve started to attend church again, I have a few hobbies outside of blogging, and I also find that blogging has been fairly therapeutic. Even if I’m not blogging about mental health in particular, just being able to connect with others in some form or another, has helped.
Finding a support network of fellow individuals who’s lives are affected by autism has also helped. And of course, I can’t discount that I have a very supportive and loving relationship. I have a better sense of self esteem than I’ve had in years and my self-image is finally where it should be. I do fully realize that I could relapse at any moment, if I’m not careful, so I’m trying to do what I can to safeguard against it.
I think having that awareness has also helped me keep my depression in check. I’m also not naive enough to believe that I’m cured. It’s still there, I know it’s still there. But I have won the war to this point.
Having a support network and people to talk to, whether it be in person or online, has done wonders for me.I’m an introvert by nature and I dislike crowded places. Socializing is not always a fun experience for me and I prefer my own small circle of friends. That’s not to say that I’m anti-social, just that I prefer to stay away from those situations when I can. I’ll socialize and I can be a social butterfly after I feel comfortable. But, I admit, afterwards I need some time alone to recharge.
The church that I’m currently attending is a small one with a very close knit congregation. And that’s what I was hoping to find.
I think, in our lives, we’ve all known someone with a mental health issue. Whether that’s a family member, close friend, co-worker, or maybe even yourself.
Mental health issues don’t discriminate.
They touch everyone, in some way or another. And when they’re left untreated, it can get ugly. Seek help and don’t be afraid to admit that you need help. Talk about your mental health issues because you never know if you could help someone else in the process.
The Symptoms of Major Depression
You may be suffering from major depression if some of the many symptoms last for at least two weeks. Some of these symptoms include thoughts of death or suicide, sleeping too much (or not enough), lethargy, difficulty concentrating, appetite fluctuations and withdrawal from life. You may have feelings of extreme anger, become discouraged, guilty or even delusional.
Antidepressants are often used to fight symptoms of major depression, but more often than not, the medication should be used in conjunction with psychotherapy sessions rather than alone. Keep in mind that antidepressants used to treat young adults sometimes trigger suicidal thoughts and behavior, so they should be used with extreme caution and under the supervision of a health care provider.
If psychotic symptoms are part of your bout with major depression, lithium and thyroid supplements might be prescribed to further promote the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. If symptoms of major depression, especially thoughts of suicide, aren’t relieved by any of these methods, a physician might suggest ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy).
This type of treatment uses electric current to cause a seizure and relieve scattered thoughts.
Doctors may also recommend a less harsh form of treatment than ECT, called TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). This method alters brain function, but with fewer side effects than ECT. Light therapy has also been used effectively to combat symptoms of major depression. Winter months that offer a small amount of sunlight are especially difficult for major depression patients and light therapy can help them regain normal sleeping habits, lessening that symptom of major depression.
Sufferers of major depression symptoms should keep in mind that a healthy lifestyle also helps them feel better and improves their thought processes. Alcohol and drugs should be avoided as should fatty foods. Eating healthy, balanced meals and exercising on a daily basis can also go a long way in relieving symptoms of major depression.
Alternative methods of treating symptoms of major depression include herbal remedies, acupuncture and meditation techniques. Be sure and tell your physician if you’re using any type of natural or alternative methods for treating your major depression as some of these methods might have harmful side effects if used with prescription antidepressants.
No one knows exactly what causes major depression, but one theory is that chemical imbalances in the brain could trigger symptoms. Hereditary, traumatic or sad events in one’s life could also be causes of major depression.
The good news is that major depression can usually be treated with a good outcome. There’s no reason to suffer from these recurring episodes, so research your options and get some relief. Find a treatment option, or options, that work for you.
Overcoming major depression is possible- I should know. Yes, there are definitely times that I can feel it lurking and I know that I could relapse. But I’m also trying to maintain a more positive outlook and focus on what’s going good in my life.