By Dan Briggs
I’ve had depression for 20 plus years now. Sometimes I feel it’s been so long that I can’t really remember what it feels like not to have depression. I have a beautiful, loving wife and an amazing son. I’ve got a job, a nice house, a dog and a cat. I have a nice life. So why am I still living with depression?
Why do I suffer with depression? Where did it come from? Did I ask for it? Will I always have it? I assume (you know what they say about assumption) anyone who suffers with depression will have asked these questions over and over again, probably while in a snotty, crying heap under the quilt in the foetal position.
I’ve come to realise that there isn’t one single thing that has caused me to have depression. It has just been an accumulation of many things. Depression has helped shape the person I have become. It is something that I and my family have to live with. They don’t have to of course, but I’m glad they choose to.
The biggest issue with depression, in my experience, is that you just don’t know when it’s going to raise its head. It feels as though I am only ever a moment away from taking to my bed and shutting the world out. It feels like no matter how happy, positive or on an even keel I am, there is always a little voice saying, “It won’t last, I’m still here waiting for a gap and then I’ll be back”. (You thought of Arnie then, didn’t you?)
Another huge problem is differentiating between ordinary, natural feelings and stresses that come from everyday living and working life, and those irrational feelings that come from having a mental illness. It doesn’t help that people use mental illness as a stick to beat you with (but that’s a blog for another day).
Over time and with hard work and effort in understanding yourself and your feelings, it can become possible to understand the rational and the irrational. It’s not a foolproof plan by far and like any long-term illness I still have good days and bad days, but mostly I just have days. Days where I get fed up, angry, happy, stressed, sad, upset and laugh my cap off at silly things. Some people may refer to them as ‘normal’ days.
Living with depression
There are several ways you can help train your brain and develop understanding of yourself. But be warned. It’s not easy. It takes hard work, effort and time, but the rewards that come from it are priceless. Counselling (or talking therapy, as a doctor might call it) has been instrumental on my journey of self-development, and I would recommend Person Centred Counselling to everyone. Mindfulness and its benefits is something that is as likely to be recommended as medication now. Mindfulness for Dummies is a great place to start.
Exercise is fantastic for mental health, and it doesn’t have to be a ten mile run. A ten minute brisk walk can do wonders for mental wellbeing. Meditation (which is something I have only very recently started doing) has some great benefits. There is something quite novel and refreshing about sitting quietly for ten minutes in a world normally filled with noise and chaos. There are also apps like Headspace and Buddhify which offer good guided meditation.
Then there is just talking. Peer support groups are brilliant. To sit with people who know how you feel in a confidential and relaxed environment and talk about everything and anything is quite refreshing, and the benefits can be instant.
I have worked very hard over many years trying to understand depression and how it affects me. I have tried things that have worked and things that have not. I’ve yoyo-d between being committed and positive about things to laying in bed thinking ‘What’s the point?’ But the more I learn and the harder I work, the stronger I become.
I might always have depression, but as time goes by I learn new and improved ways to deal with it, and I’ve accepted it now and that has been a huge step forward. I am becoming better at spotting the signs. Those closest to me can see it coming in my change in mood, the irritability, the lack of enthusiasm and the short fuse. Now instead of ignoring them I encourage people to tell me. Do I listen? Not always, but I’m getting better.
Peace, love & laughter Dan x
Reproduced with permission, originally published here