*Republished from my LinkedIn account.
I was first diagnosed with depression at 15 but I didn’t start treating it until I was 32. So I lived 17 years of hell: low moods, anger, insomnia, over eating, compulsive behaviours, crying, shouting, ruined relationships, guilt, emotional unavailability, almost permanent anxiety and so on and so forth. I am talking about it at length in my book Emotionally Unavailable, which will be out sometime this year.
In Romania the stigma is still strong and back in my days it was even stronger. There was no awareness regarding mental health back then. Timid steps are being made nowadays, fortunately.
The point is I didn’t know what was wrong with me for a long time so I simply assumed that this was who I was. When I started to think I might have a condition I tried to speak to people around me, just to be dismissed: “It’s all in your head, get your shit together!”
When insomnia got so bad that I felt my life was at risk, I went to a psychiatrist. She put me on Cipralex and in about three weeks I started taking my life back.
Some people may get better after a six months treatment or one year treatment. These are usually the cases of mild depression or mild anxiety without depression. It was not my case. I have childhood trauma that still needs to be addressed as for my depression, well…let’s just say I felt suicidal many times in my life.
I have started medication in 2013 and I managed to keep it to a minimum dose most of the times so far. After moving to London I went through DIT therapy which was amazing and very helpful (I am waiting for another round of sessions as we speak), I changed my lifestyle to fit my personality and my needs better (for example I don’t waste time with people I don’t like and I don’t do things just because a higher entity like the society for instance, says I have to), I exercise more and I make sure I enjoy what I do for a living. Living in London helps a lot because NHS is very helpful and the opportunities to find things to do that comply with my preferences are close to infinite.
But, despite all this, depression is still there. I feel it lurking and no, it’s not in my head. I know the signs by now. I am aware enough to be able to make the difference between me feeling well and me feeling unwell.
I gave up hoping I will ever be completely cured. It was just frustrating. Instead, I created a plan to cope with it and keep it at bay. I never want to fall in its depths again. To be honest, I don’t think I will be able to survive it this time. So here is how I live with my depression, my undesired pet that wants to come inside while I insist it should stay outside.
1. I control my sleep.
Any sleep disorder (difficulties to fall asleep or to stay asleep or to sleep to much) are a sign of anxiety which can be a depression trigger. I, for one, either don’t sleep or sleep too much when I am not well. Now that my sleep pattern has ben regulated, I don’t take it for granted. I don’t let myself sleep less than seven hours and more than nine. I set my alarm every evening for the next morning, even if it’s the weekend. As a freelancer I don’t have the same schedule every day and I like to go to sleep early any way, but I usually try to be up by 8 and out of the bed by 8:30.
I identified what relaxes me and puts me in the sleepy mood: a hot bath, candle light, hot tea, a book, an episode of a nature documentary like Planet Earth, for instance. There are days when I am so tensed that I need all of them to wind down, there are days when I am fine without any of them. Just pay attention to your needs and do what works for you.
Alcohol, drugs, even pot don’t go well with depression and antidepressants. While you might have the impression you get relaxed for the moment, a few hours later you might experience a bad sleep if any, headache and other distressing symptoms. It is called a hangover and while the healthy individuals get past it and move on with their lives, it works different on depressed people. In my case, it puts me on a low mood and I can’t force myself out of it through a different activity because I don’t have the necessary energy. This results in all sorts of negative feelings like guilt, worthlessness, shame etc. Throughout depression one will experience these feelings on many occasions, it’s simply not paying off to experience them for the sake of one too many drinks or a joint. I, for example, have learned that I am fine if I drink socially, a drink, no more than two. I used to enjoy smoking pot a few years ago but I have decided it’s not worth it anymore. Know yourself and set your own limits. But be true to yourself, don’t lie to yourself for the sake of maintaining a habit that is not healthy for you.
I have a TO DO list that is only getting longer. I am a procrastinator to the core but I don’t own it, meaning it makes me feel so guilty I feel like slapping myself at times. This list helps me keep track of what I need to do to have my life in order, in terms of work, writing and other things like buy dry shampoo, return the black coat to Zara, renew your passport, make dentist appointment etc etc. For a sense of achievement that helps me go through the day I try to do a tiny bit in achieving one of these goals like at least researching something (for instance, how to renew my passport or where is the nearest Zara store). When setting a goal, breaking it into few parts and achieving them one at a time is extremely helping when dealing with depression.
5. I keep a journal.
I tried several types of journals: daily facts, counting blessings, to name a couple. None of them helped. I am now keeping a not so demanding journal. Basically, when I notice a thought is recurring and it keeps spinning into my mind changing shapes and content too fast, I write it down. And then it stops haunting me. It may be because I give it a definite shape or because once it’s out in the open the perspective changes. I wouldn’t know how to explain it. It was an organic need for me, considering my passio
n for writing. I cope with the help of words. It is important to find out what helps you cope and do exactly just that. Once you start paying more attention to yourself and your needs, ideas will keep popping, I vouch for that.
6. I allow myself to be sad, to grief, to be upset.
The so called happy pills, aka the antidepressants, don’t make you happy but they give the ability to be happy. Life has ups and downs and our mood reflects these ups and downs. Of course that if I drop my phone in the loo because I am an idiot I will be mad. When you have untreated depression you blow the event out of proportion and if you are healthy you will be upset then you will move on because it’s just a phone. If you are being treated for depression the event might impact on you in several ways. For example, when this happened to me few weeks ago I was down for four-five days. I felt guilty, stupid, not worthy of an expensive phone. I let myself dive into misery and it escalated. Three days later I was snapping at people and I was on the verge of tears. I spent my time on my own, too upset to see anyone or talk to anyone. Then it occurred to me that I might be relapsing. And from here on things got “unpretty”. You see, one feeling leads to another and feelings lead to behaviours. It’s the circle that you must break when you become aware of it, or it will spin your brains out. So I awoke the force and step by step I went back to my life and my routine (see above) and forgave myself for being an idiot. It was not as easy as it sounds, though. It took me about a week to get back on track.
To be continued when procrastination allows 🙂