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Depression 101

Anybody who has ever had a real Migraine knows that it is not just a severe headache, it’s a different pain with a different cause.  Likewise, anybody who has experienced real Depression knows that it is not just feeling miserable!

 The problem is that the words “migraine” and “depression” are often misused in daily conversation.  How many times has someone said to you something along the lines of “I’m so depressed, my team lost again!”  or “Those screaming kids gave me such a migraine!”

Disclaimer:  I’m not a doctor or psychologist.  If you suspect that you or a loved one might actually be suffering from Clinical Depression, please make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.

That said, I am a survivor of Clinical and Post-Partum Depression. 

Why a “survivor”?  Simply because I didn’t commit suicide!  Undiagnosed depression (especially in teens) often leads to the tragic and unnecessary death of the sufferer.    There are very many websites and books detailing the statistics, list of symptoms and all the “facts” about Depression, so I won’t reproduce them here. What follows is my story, in the hopes that it will help shed some light into the dark abyss that is depression.

I’m in a deep muddy pit.  I see the scratch marks down the sheer, brown, muddy walls from where I’ve frantically tried to claw my way up towards the light, only to continually slip further and further down into the murky depths.  I’m exhausted from the effort and tears slip down my face unheeded.  Days and nights pass.  The only relief is sleep.  I want it to end … but I don’t have the energy to get out of bed and get the pills.  I am literally stuck.  I cry and I sleep.  My boyfriend (now my husband!) would coax me to eat and drink, but I could hardly muster up the will to swallow what he placed in my mouth.  There’s no sense of time in the pit of depression.  It all swirls together.  Eventually the love of my life acknowledged that he was out of his depth and called in the reinforcements – my maternal grandparents!

My grandfather was a doctor in Italy.  As soon as he was apprised of my situation he sent my boyfriend money to buy me a ticket back to Italy.  He then packed a suitcase for me and handed me over to a hostess for the flight to Italy a couple of days later.  I was 19 years old and spent the entire flight crying into the soft fur of my favourite teddy bear.  I guess people must have thought I was a “special needs” person!  I honestly couldn’t have cared less about anything!  It took 3 months of “tough love”, medication and therapy before I was well enough to return to South Africa.  That was my first (and most severe) depressive episode.

Fast forward 5 years and I’m happily expecting my first child.  With the rose-tinted glasses of the first-time mom, I had drawn up a birth plan detailing my “natural” birth without medical intervention.  Best laid plans, right!? After a failed induction (10 days past due date) I ended up with an emergency c-section due to foetal distress.  After my son was delivered I started hemorraging so severely that (at one stage) my gynae actually contemplated giving me a hysterectomy!  Luckily they eventually managed to get my bleeding under control, but I’d lost so much blood that they kept me in post op under constant BP monitoring (and undergoing blood transfusions) for around 12 hours.  In that time my son was not returned to me.  When I finally got the chance to nurse my child for the first time they’d already fed him with a bottle so breastfeeding was also problematic. 

Ok, so now I was a complete wreck.  Despite having been a Super Sitter and having studied child development and psychology, I had no idea how to deal with my son.  Add to that colic, projectile vomiting and well-meaning (contradictory!) advice from everyone and I didn’t trust myself to be alone with my child!!  I was seriously  afraid that I’d either shake or otherwise injure my infant!  Those thoughts absolutely terrified me!  Luckily I was supported by my husband and grandparents (again) and, after a couple of months on medication, I finally got to enjoy being a mom!

Depression has revisited me from time to time since then.  I even spent a month in a psychiatric hospital a couple of years ago. I have now accepted the fact that I need to stay on meds for the rest of my life.

Depression is an illness which can be controlled by taking the correct medicine at the correct dosage.  Anti-depressants are not “happy pills” and are not addictive (even though you can only stop them under medical supervision).  What the world needs to understand is that there is no shame in seeking treatment for a mental illness and it is no more the patient’s “fault” than having any other kind of illness!

Have you or any of your loved ones had to deal with mental illness? What did you find to be helpful in dealing with it? 

4 Responses to Depression 101

  • Karyn says:

    I have had several people around me be diagnosed with depression over the past 5 – 10 yaers. Some were able to take their medication just for the short-term and others will be on it for their lives. There’s a wonderful ad campaign led by ex-All Black, John Kirwan, here and it’s raised a lot of awareness around male depression – suck-it-up, get-on-with-it, Kiwi soticism just doesn’t work, when all said and done. They’ve followed it up with another campaign looking at how people can support those with depression. Awareness is certainly a good beginning, IMHO.

    • phoenix says:

      I couldn’t agree more! The whole point that I’m trying to make is that Clinical Depression is NOT something you can “suck-up & get over with”. When I was depressed I already laid a HUGE amount of guilt on myself. The LAST thing I needed to hear was that I should just “stop feeling sorry for myself”! My GP really helped me by saying that I was no more responsible for my Depression than a Diabetic was for their pancreas not working properly! :)

  • Linda says:

    Have you or any of your loved ones had to deal with mental illness? What did you find to be helpful in dealing with it?


    Well, I could leave it at that, and it would be such a complete answer.

    I’m a product of extreme mental illness. It surrounded me at every turn in my childhood.

    I’m primary support for my very mentally ill mother even today.

    I struggle personally with PTSD, depression, anxiety.

    My husband’s family has OCD and bipolar around and about.

    Our kids, with that kind of genetic double whammy down both sides — no surprise, seem to have some anxiety issues, and our son was mildly OCD when he was younger.

    How do I deal with it?

    Not very well sometimes. Well, I did get into therapy a couple years ago, and regret it wasn’t decades earlier. “If I had known then what I know now…….” and all that.

    But I admit, it’s a struggle. Some days more than others.

    Some months more than others.

    Some events more than others.

    Holidays being what they are, family time — I always struggle this month.

    I’m ready for it to not be December any more.

    What’s helpful? Family (of the good kind — meaning my husband, my kids, etc.) Friends, I’m blessed with some really good ones. Therapy. Little things like keeping a gratitude-photo-journal. Keeping up with my own journal. Writing.

    • phoenix says:

      Dear Linda,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I SO hear you … this time of year is particularly difficult for many of us. Very recently I commented on a blog that I found this sharing by blogging and commenting, even more helpful than therapy! A fellow blogger replied that “connection is therapy”, and I have to agree. Thanks to the Internet I have found that I’m not as “odd” as I thought I was. It’s like the revelation when the “ugly duckling” realized he was really a swan! :)

      I think a lot of my issues with low self-esteem etc are not only due to my dysfunctional family, but also to the fact that (until very recently) I never felt I really “belonged” anywhere!

      Yes, I’m blessed to have an extremely patient husband who stood by me through the sickness and health as well as richer and poorer (well … more poorer, to be honest), as well as 2 kids I’m enormously proud of, but there’s nothing in the world like receiving validation from someone who TRULY understands, because they too have had to battle the same demons! Welcome to the club!

      I’m sending you love, because I believe we’re all connected on some level, as well as the strength you need to get through the trying times.

      With all my very best wishes for a 2013 that’s WAY better than 2012 was! Phoenix xoxo

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