Depression is an odd thing, an invisible illness that people are only slowly beginning to accept. This makes it hard for depression survivors to get the help they need, which is mostly to be accepted for who they are and not castigated for having a mental health problem, they are so much more, they can be artists, doctors, writers, lawyers, mothers, fathers. They can be anyone and anything. Depression in its various forms affects 1 in 3 people worldwide. Does that figure surprise you? Well, it shouldn’t really. One of the main things people with depression do is they hide their illness because they are ashamed of it, wrongly so but still it is not something we like to shout from the rooftops so the likelihood is you know someone with depression but you are just not ‘seeing’ the depression. Most of us put on a mask to face the world or we don’t face the world at all so we’re not seen. It’s not just that you can’t see the illness itself, its that you can’t see who has it because we try to blend in, to not draw attention to ourselves. But this is changing.
Gone are the days when people with depression were simply told to pull themselves together or were handed Valium by their General Practitioner. Gone are the days when most of us hid ourselves away. Organisations are springing up that want to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health problems. Celebrities are making their voices heard and talking about their own experiences of depression. Only recently Stephen Fry was seen to admit that he has attempted suicide again. He is bi-polar, which means he can be extremely high or extremely low and medication helps to keep him somewhere in the middle. Sadly medication is not the great cure-all. Most medications have side effects and most of them don’t try to fix the problem, they just make it so we can stumble through life like a zombie.
Denise Welch was on Loose Women recently talking about her depression and she explained it better than I have heard anyone explain it. It is not that we are sad, we’re not happy either, we are lacking in both. To add to that I would say we see no point in life if we cannot feel sadness or joy, to be forever pretending to be the clown when we feel nothing. Imagine being like that for just a moment. Imagine watching your first born’s first steps and feeling nothing, imagine walking down the altar to marry a man you think you love but right now you don’t remember how that even feels let alone actually feel it, imagine your beloved pet dies and you think you should be ripped apart by it and WANT to be ripped apart by it, but you aren’t, you feel nothing. This is what depression survivors have been through and will go through several times in their lives. Take it a step further, imagine that every few weeks or months you lose your dominant hand, you don’t know when it will come back and you have to struggle through without it until it decides to come back and work for you again. Imagine one of your feet decides to take a vacation, gives you no notice it is going away and does not leave a message to tell you when it is coming back. Now you can begin to imagine how it is for depression survivors. We have a bit wrong with our brain that decides every now and then to turn off our emotions, to leave us feeling empty.
But it is more than that. Now imagine your hand has gone on holiday with no warning. People can still see your hand but for you it is not there, you can’t do anything with it, you can’t do your job, you can’t do the housework, you can’t cook or wash yourself properly. The bit of you that is missing for you is essential to living as a human in a human society. You can’t function so you back away from society and isolate yourself, you feel confused that people can’t see you have no hand, you can’t believe that these people laughing at you and scolding you cannot see that you have no hand. You feel ashamed by their comments of you just being lazy or stupid. What if your eyes went on holiday and left glass eyes in their place. You would be blind but people would not see your disability. Now you’re beginning to understand. It is nothing that we can do anything about, it arrives with no warning and leaves again with no warning. There are no big warning signs flashing in front of us to tell us our emotions are about to take a time out. Some people get signals like migraine sufferers but not all of us do. Some of us can begin to recognise the situations that will lead us to depression but even if we can see it coming there is nothing we can do to stop it. Not without help. Medication can keep it at bay but having been on several I can honestly say that working through it on your own may be better, seeking counselling may be a better option. I’ve had Cognitive Behaviour Therapy but sadly during a bout of depression even though I can see the cycle I cannot break it, it is only helpful once you come out of the depression, only when you are moving out of the depression can you actually begin to take control and apply it. Medication, or at least those I have had, Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors mostly but I’ve also had Valium briefly, only mask the problem, they don’t really fix the problem. I have come to accept that I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. But medication for depression feels to me the same as hormone replacement therapy. It doesn’t fix the problem, it only fixes the symptoms, you will be on hormone therapy for the rest of your life because that’s the way it is, that’s how our bodies, females anyway, work. We have the hormones then we hit menopause and we don’t have them any more, at least in the amount we had as youthful teenagers just past the nightmare of puberty. It is the same with clinical depression. I don’t have the ability to use serotonin properly. I either don’t make enough of it to cope with my body’s demand for it or the receptors are so addicted and starved of it that as soon as my body makes it it is taken up, swallowed whole and the buzz lasts until the serotonin is used up. There is nothing that can change that right now. And I have that on a daily basis, some days more than others, some days I feel normal or better than normal.
So how am I overcoming my depression if there is nothing I can do about it? Well, I have a friend who is a life coach and he came to see me one day after a few years absence from my life and he was shocked to see the state I was in. I wasn’t able to leave the house, wouldn’t answer the phone or the door, had been to doctors, been on medication, had the CBT and been thrown off incapacity benefit. The doctor I had seen for my review was one working for the benefits office, had become so far behind in her appointments that I was waiting almost 2 hours, getting more and more anxious about being out of the house and in a strange environment, I was in pain too as I had a bout of sciatica. When I finally saw her I was so agitated I appeared to be quite hyper, she marked me no points for mental health meaning she thought my mind was fit and healthy and marked me just a few points for the sciatica. So I was out of work and without any income. I still refuse to claim benefits because I find the whole process humiliating and that won’t help me overcome depression it will make it worse, so I am avoiding that experience for the sake of my sanity. I’d lost my mother recently, lost my job, I was in a mess and having been kicked off incapacity felt worthless, felt like a fraud, felt like the dregs of society. My friend came to see me several times and talked about his coaching experiences until I eventually opened up and talked to him and jumped at the chance to be coached.
So I am overcoming depression because I found good quality help and not just someone fobbing me off with drugs and half-assed therapies. Not saying CBT doesn’t work, after all my coach has basically been holding my hand through his own form of CBT, but that is the key, I had and have someone who can be my guide. Someone who can perform interventions on me when they can see me sliding back down the ladder into the abyss of depression. Someone who can step in and break the cycle and then show me how to break the cycle. I can switch my emotions on and I can switch them off, I can feel happy, I can feel sad. He doesn’t just try to cheer me up, he helps me to embrace sadness too. Happiness and sadness are what makes us appreciate human life and we can’t appreciate either without the other. CBT doesn’t do that, it just tries to get you to stop thinking of yourself as worthless, tries to stop you being negative, but that also stops us from wanting to be sad, and crying and ranting are as necessary as climbing the highest building and shouting at the top of your lungs how happy you are.
Coaching goes beyond CBT and drug therapy. It makes you examine each and every part of your life, shows you precisely the areas of your life you need to work on to be happy and teaches you how to embrace sadness so you can work through it, appreciate it and then look for happiness. It shows you the worth of living and shows you what you have to be grateful for and how to use that gratitude to increase your overall happiness, it changes the way you look at life, approach life, and live life. It shows us how to count our blessings even if we do not believe in a deity who bestows them. It shows us how expressing gratitude spreads happiness around, spreads support and understanding. I am grateful to have had the experience I have had in my life, I am grateful to be a depression survivor, I am grateful to my friend, Jon, for being my coach and giving me the helping hand I needed, I am grateful to him for showing me how to empower myself and arm myself in my battle against depression. Because of him I am more like me, because of him I see my past experiences as the the key points that have built my personality over the years for better or for worse. Because of him I can identify the areas of my life I want to change and those I need to change. I’ve made a start. I am Jon’s PA, I am a friend to several, I help others, I write blogs and stories. The coaching Jon gave me he did as a favour to a friend in need. I am paying it forward now by giving you a taste of my experiences, for thanking those who have helped me on the uphill battle by walking with me or by being a support to climb up on and by doing the best I can as a PA for Jon. And that is what it is all about, making the best of yourself and doing your best for others.