Depression, also known by some as the silent killer. And for good reasons.
Little did I know I was going to find out firsthand why this disease was called this way. Because early on in my life, before the age of 16, everything was perfect. I did well in school, had loving parents and in general, a loving family. I had a lot of friends at school and excelled in sports.
Things were easy back then. The only ounce of responsibility I had back then was making sure I passed school. And what if I didn’t listen in school and got detention as a result? Well, he’s still a young kid who’s figuring out life. Got into a fight? Well he’s still a young boy who doesn’t always thinks before he acts.
But around the age of sweet 16, things started taking a turn for the worse.
My Experience With Depression
Around the age of 16 my world started changing rapidly.
I was not feeling as happy and optimistic anymore. At first, I thought it was just a phase everyone my age went through and that it would pass as quickly as it came. But it didn’t. I had a very hard time adjusting to my rapidly changing environment and handling the pressure that I felt was being put on me. Everyone was busy figuring out or, already knew what they were going to study when they were about to go to college the next year. I however did not. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I had absolutely no direction in my life. I was a loose cannon. An unguided projectile.
Add in the fact that around that age, responsibility started to come around. And I was still an immature and wild man at heart. I was too busy partying, drinking and even frequently getting into fights. It was not like I was a violent man, but I think the anxiety, negative emotions, the overall feeling of helplessness and kind of an overall sense of feeling lost in this world got me to the point of getting into physical confrontations with other people. The fights were a reflection of my poor mental state.
Then I turned 18. My parents told me it was time to start taking responsibility for my choices and actions because this time “it was for real”. The decisions I was about to make regarding what I was going to study were going to dictate my entire future. Yet, I still had entirely no idea what I was going to study in college. I decided to study nutrition and dietetic. Not because I necessarily had a desire to become a dietician, but rather, because some people I knew well from my home town were going to study this course and I figured since I was always interested in physical exercise and health, this might align well with that same line of thought.
Newsflash, it didn’t.
I quit school 2 months in. Turns out choosing what course to study based on your friends rather than what you want to become in life is not the smartest idea. Who would’ve thought, right? Most people thought I was a failure. That I couldn’t do it. Either because I couldn’t study and commit to something or because I was plainly not smart enough. Some people straight up told me, while with some other people I could see it in their eyes and how they struggled to phrase their words when talking to me. Yet, in my mind, I knew that I could do it. I knew I was smart and dedicated enough to get a degree.
So, the following year, I decided to go to school again. This time I was going to study occupational performance. Long story short, I managed to get my degree without having to redo any years and with virtually no trouble. However, school was still hellish for me. I dreaded the school environment. I missed my close friends from high school with whom I had a very close bond with. And my classmates in college were .. well different in personality than me. I never was suited to just staying still and sitting on a stool in for hours.
When I graduated from college and got a job as an occupational therapist in a physical rehabilitation center, things got a bit better. I took responsibility, I did my work as good as I could. I was motivated and helped people relearn lost skills and improve their overall quality of life.
During this time, I figured out how I could measure the state of my depression. If my depression worsened, I started feeling the need to drink. I think because it was a way for me to self-medicate. Trying to regulate my hormones. But after years of working diligently, my thoughts turned darker, more negative and more nihilistic again. I slept less and my general sleep quality was poor. I started withdrawing more and more from friends and family, often not replying to calls or text messages in the process.
I kept on plowing away at work until I couldn’t anymore. I was someone idealistic, who above all else wanted fairness and justice in the workplace, but also in the world. Of course, that’s not always attainable. What I didn’t realize is that this excess sense of responsibility, perfectionism and anxiety was eating away at my mental health. And at this point, I was already head deep into my depression without fully realizing it.
One day, I woke up and told my parents I couldn’t do this anymore. I was barely sleeping and when I did, it was for about 3 hours. I would randomly wake up and start crying just because I felt so bad and was so fatigued. I had nothing left in the tank and I had absolutely no desire to do anything anymore. So, I took a step back and stayed home from work. I needed to take some time off in order to focus on myself. To get myself in order again.
During that time, I often stayed in bed. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to get up in order to eat or shower. There were times where this kind of behavior went on for days. I didn’t want to live like this anymore. This was hell on earth. Constantly being in mental pain, surrounded by dark and negative thoughts.
One day, when I managed to get out of bed and me and my parents were eating dinner, I saw what I was doing to my mother and father. They were silent, didn’t talk much anymore, looked tired and sad. That’s when I decided. That’s it, no more. It was my guilt and feeling of sadness for what I had done which fueled me to do something about my depression.
Up until now, I was in general only living for myself. Not participating and valuing what my parents, family and other people around me did for me. So, something needed to be done. I needed to turn my life around. And with my life, my mentality.
I started going to a psychologist, taking antidepressants and working on my weak points which were the very things I was afraid of. I started setting goals for myself. And even when I had zero desire to do anything, or even no desire to come out of bed I still did. I made sure I did something useful every day.
After a couple of months my life became manageable again. Sometimes, I even started to look forward to things again. I talked more, was less irritable and as a result, my life and that of those around me improved as well.
How Depression Changed Me
Even though the depression was tough on me, and there were times where I didn’t know if I was going to make it, it brought a lot of positive changes with itself as well.
I became more mature, more resilient, learned to put things in perspective a lot more and I learned to take the necessary responsibility in all aspects of life. But the two biggest aspects that changed in my life were my so-called intellectual arrogance and the way I viewed life.
Before, I thought of myself as a fairly intelligent fellow. The problem with this however was that I only valued the intelligence aspect in myself and others. I viewed all the other important aspects in life like social contact for example as ‘inferior’. I guess I viewed it as a cheap way out for people trying to compensate for their lack of intelligence. Of course, this is not true and everyone has their strong points.
Before, I viewed life in a negative, nihilistic, cynical and overall pessimistic way. What I failed to realize is that you only see what you focus on. And if you only focus on the negatives in life, you’re not going to be able to see the beauty that life has to offer, no matter how small the beauty might be at times. Now, I actively take the time to search for the good and beautiful things that are happening in life.
What Helped Me Get My Depression Under Control
What allowed me to get my depression under control even though I hit rock bottom for a while was the fact that I took the time to build up good micro routines.
I’m not going to list all of them, but if you are interested in a complete list of what I think are the most important things you should do in order to beat depression then click here. The ones I feel are the most important micro routines are the following:
- Set goals for yourself.
I had no desire to do anything in life anymore. I had no goals.
If your depression is this severe, then I would advise you to set goals which you think you would mind the least to do and/or to set goals which you found important in the past. Before your depression took place.
- Take responsibility.
Take responsibility for everything that is happening and going on in your life right now. For both the good and the bad things.
It’s easy to blame all the things that are going wrong on other people and on how wretched, unfair the world is. But it won’t do you any good. There’s nothing positive to be gained from this kind of victim mentality.
If you take responsibility and learn to take care of yourself then you will feel like you have some sort of control over your life again.
Letting your parents arrange everything in your life and make all the necessary phone calls for you might be satisfying and rewarding for you in the short term but it won’t do you any good in the long term since you know you have reached an age where you should be doing this yourself. And if you don’t, chances are you’re going to start feeling useless.
So, taking these kinds of responsibility and having a sense of control over your life is effectively the antidote to the suffering in life.
- Seek help.
We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how much we would like to.
There are times where you might need help to beat your depression. Because depression is often too complex of a mental disease to beat on your own.
Seek professional help. But equally as important is to seek help and support from your family and close friends. You would be amazed how much being understood and supported can carry you through the dark days. Being supported and understood will also help to improve your mood.
Mental health and physical health go hand in hand.
Exercising releases endorphins which are our ‘happiness’ hormone. This in turn will make us feel better. So exercising effectively regulates our dopamine-serotonin system.
Try to find a physical hobby you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, weightlifting or rock climbing. The most important thing is to exercise in order to take your mind off the stressful things in life.
- Take antidepressants if you have suicidal thoughts.
No matter what arguments you can possibly have against using antidepressants, these all become invalid if you’re dead.
This might seem cruel but it’s true. And it’s the easiest way for me to explain to people that depending on the severity of the depression, you might need antidepressants in order to beat or make the depression more manageable. If you have suicidal thoughts, take antidepressants.
Antidepressants have shown to be effective at regulating our serotonin-dopamine system. This serotonin-dopamine system is basically out of whack when we are depressed.
I’m not saying that antidepressants are the cure for depression, because they are not. But it will help to make the often times crippling symptoms of depression more manageable and it will help to regulate the neurochemistry in your brain which will in turn aid you to beat the depression.
How I Recognize if My Depression is Getting Worse
There are a couple of clear signs for me personally which indicate that my depression is taking a turn for the worse. Keep in mind that these symptoms may vary from individual to individual. What might be symptoms for me that my depression is getting worse might not be the same symptoms for you.
- My desire to do anything decreases.
Hobbies I enjoy like weightlifting and running suddenly mean very little to me. But it’s not only about hobbies. Even things like getting out of bed, showering myself suddenly become very hard to do because I have zero motivation and energy to do so.
- My thoughts get darker and more negative.
It also becomes increasingly harder to see the positive things in life or the positive in people. I tend to get more negative, nihilistic, cynical and overall, more pessimistic.
I tend to start overthinking when things are going bad, which is basically what depression is. Feeling bad.
The problem is that there are countless of possible negative scenario’s that can happen in life. And continuously focusing on the negatives will over time lead to you not being able to see the positive in others and life in general anymore.
All these negative thoughts and general pattern of overthinking leads to my increased levels of anxiety.
This anxiety can be about the smallest things in life which might seem insignificant to other people who are not suffering from a mental disease. Things like calling or even visiting my friends might freak me out and lead to me ruminating about it.
Negative thoughts keep running through my head. There’s no ‘off’ button to my brain anymore. This means that I can’t get any rest during the day and am not able to sleep at night.
Because my thoughts get darker and I start overthinking and ruminating more combined with a decrease in sleep quality, I start to get a lot more irritable. You could describe this as being in a ‘foul mood’ all the time.
The smallest thing might piss me off. Even if the person in question didn’t even say or do anything wrong.
- Increased desire to self-medicate.
I have more desire to drink alcohol, also during the week.
I guess this is because drinking alcohol, or consuming any drugs for that matter is addictive and will release dopamine which is our ‘happiness hormone’. This will in turn make us feel better instantly.
- My sleep quality decreases.
My overall sleep quality gets worse.
This is due to overthinking and ruminating all the time.
My increased levels of anxiety and stress are also big factors for not being able to catch much sleep. And if I do, I can’t sleep through.
What Depression Was Trying To Tell Me
In the end, depression is still a terrible thing to suffer from.
But I see pain, whether it’s physical or mental as a way of our body trying to tell us something. Pain sort of acts as a regulating mechanism which tells us that something is off, not right. And that it should be taken care of. Depression is a form of mental pain and suffering. So, in a way, you could see depression as positive, albeit only a slightly positive thing because it’s your body letting you know that something is not right and that you should undertake action to fix it.
I think that in my specific case, my depression was trying to tell me that I was doing some things wrong in my life. Like being arrogant, feeling superior, not taking the necessary responsibility for my age and not setting the appropriate goals.
Depression is a terrible disease which often goes unnoticed due to people not recognizing the signs or because the depressed person doesn’t show signs of depression in public. Depressed people often try to maintain a positive image that everything is just fine. Either because they don’t want to complain or because they are afraid that some people will not understand what they are going through.
It is a very complex mental illness to treat because depression can have a lot of possible symptoms that go hand in hand with each other. Meaning that all symptoms facilitate each other which leads to a viscous circle of negative thoughts and sucking all the energy and lust for life out of you.
It also doesn’t help that there’s still a stigma out there about mental illness. A physical limitation is often visible while a mental illness can be mostly, or even totally invisible. It’s for sure more abstract than a physical illness which we can see with our very own eyes. There are still people out there who see people with a mental illness as individuals who just need to ‘toughen up’.
Depression is also often misdiagnosed and the symptoms can be different for every individual. Learning to recognize the symptoms for yourself, but also in others can help you better understand depression and the people who are suffering from it. This means that this increased level of knowledge will leave you better equipped to aid people with depression.
For me personally, I see my depression as following. Do I think I’m cured? No. Do I think I will ever be totally depression free? Maybe. But what I do know for sure is that it is at least manageable and liveable at the moment. I look forward to what the future has in store for me. Which is a lot more than I anticipated at first.
I would give the following advice to people suffering from depression: Don’t give up and seek help. Seek support and help from your family and close friends but also make sure to get professional help. Set goals, take the necessary responsibility and work hard to reach your goals. Setting goals gives your life meaning and is an antidote against all the suffering that goes on in a person’s life.
And remember, in order to value life, we need to take the good with the bad.
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