Friday, July 19, 2013

Abraham Lincoln had Depression

"I am now the most miserable man living.  If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth.”  - Abraham Lincoln

Lots of people struggle with, or have struggled with, depression in the past.  Even really famous people, even people you would have never thought, and even people who have gone on to achieve amazing feats have struggled with a mental illness.

For example, Abraham Lincoln, Jim Carrey, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Winston Churchill are all know to have struggled with depression.  Click here for a full list from Wikipedia.
No one likes to talk about depression.  No one likes to admit that they are taking an anti-depressant.  And I’ve never met a person who was not deathly afraid to even begin taking a pill such as an anti-depressant.  So, we don’t know the reality of the extent of this disease in our world today.  But, my guess is many people suffer with depression.

Still, despite the widespread epidemic, depression has a social stigma.  It’s a mental illness.  When people think “mental illness” they think about hospitals, the white van, strait jackets, and ruined lives.

It is true, and very sad, that many have suffered severe mental illness that merits them all the horrors listed above.  Some mental illnesses are life-long, and some are terminal.  We have not yet found a cure for mental illnesses like, schizophrenia and extreme bi-polar disorder.  Living with these illnesses takes constant vigilance, maintenance with medication, and medical monitoring for the patient to have a seemingly normal life.  It breaks my heart.

But depression is NOT one of those mental illnesses.  Depression can be temporary.  If treated correctly, you can be cured of your depression.  It’s like comparing the flu with HIV.  They are both viruses, right?  They both cause pain and suffering.  However, you are more likely to recover from the flu then from HIV.  HIV has no known cure yet.  Depression has a cure.  Comparatively, you are more likely to recover from depression than schizophrenia.

I am not trying to devalue the pain of depression.  I almost did not survive it myself.

Depression is terrible.

The worst part was that I felt like I deserved it - I deserved to suffer from depression.
A few years ago, I didn’t think I had any reason to get help for the anxiety, despair, and worthlessness I felt on a daily basis.  (This response is pretty common among depression patients.)  I didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy.  And, I couldn’t go to the doctor because, what would I say?  It is easier to pinpoint on your body what hurts to a doctor.  But, with depression, it was just an overall sense of “______”.  I still don’t know how to describe how it feels with just one word.  I couldn’t describe my depression or anxiety to anyone else close to me, let alone a stranger or a doctor.  So, because of these two reasons, I put off seeking help for my problems.

What does depression feel like?
Depression and Anxiety (two sides of the same coin) kind of feels like you’re walking down a long, dark, never ending, descending corridor, there’s no sunlight, no way back, and no way out.  You have 100 pounds of pressure on your shoulders pushing you in the opposite direction and weighing you down constantly.  It is too difficult to get out of bed in the morning because you know what you have to face.  Nothing eases your pain.  You used to cry multiple times a day but now you just feel numb to everything and have stopped caring.  You might have occasional bursts of energy but they are always accompanied by a lower low than before the high.  So you are either spending each moment searching for that next thing that will give you a high, or you are scared to feel anything at all because of what you might do (i.e. harm yourself).  It’s terrible.

I didn’t know that this condition wasn’t normal.  And I didn’t know that I didn’t have to live with it.

Guess what?  If you struggle with anxiety or depression or both, you don’t have to live with it either.  Making the first step toward getting help is the most difficult.  But it is the most important step.  As long as you never stop seeking help, you will make it.

Know that there is help available.  And there is HOPE.

Depression is not a terminal illness.  It can be if you don’t get the right kind of help.  It would be like dying from the flu – tragic because treatment is so common and widely accessible.
“If depression had no termination, then suicide would, indeed, be the only remedy. But one need not sound the false or inspirational note to stress the truth that depression is not the soul’s annihilation; men and women who have recovered from the disease—and they are countless—bear witness to what is probably its only saving grace: it is conquerable.” (By William Styron, “Darkness Visible”)
I've quoted that paragraph before.  You can find it here.
How do you know if you have depression?
According to the DSM-IV, a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, depression occurs when you have at least five of the following symptoms at the same time:
  • A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia (an inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
  • A sense of restlessness or being slowed down
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • (information taken from wedmd)
  • take this test to see if you have depression
The causes of depression are not yet nailed down.  It can be hereditary or genetic.  And it can also be the result of your circumstances.  If you are under extreme amounts of stress and anxiety over an extended period of time, you are more susceptible to getting depression.

How do you treat depression?

I call it “The Tripod”: Medication, Counseling, and Self-help methods (or healthy coping skills).  These three aspects of recovery are all necessary and required to achieve mental health again.  Just like a tripod, you can’t have only one, or even only two legs, because it will fall down.  All three legs of the tripod must be equally balanced.

Medication helps bring your emotions and feelings to a stable level.  Without doing this, you won’t be able to hear or absorb the information that will get you better.  Click here to read more about medication.

Counseling with a professional helps because they can guide you in the right direction.  They’ve seen it all before.  And they know what they are doing.  But be careful, no counseling is better than bad counseling.  So pick your mentor wisely.  Click here for more info on how to find a good counselor.

Self-help methods or healthy coping skills are the third leg of the tripod.  After taking medication and getting good counseling, you have to decide whether or not you want to get better.  If your medication is working and your counselor is helping, then this step shouldn’t be a problem.  You have to put in the time and the effort and the practice if you want to have a successful recovery.  Before I started taking medication, of course I wanted to get better.  I just didn’t know how.  It was not for lack of desire that kept me from getting better.  After taking the meds and taking to a professional, I was able to see more clearly.  I was able to make better decisions that would help me on the road to full recovery.  Click here to read more about self-help methods.

Keep in mind that everyone is different.  You cannot compare your recovery rate to anyone else’s.  Just because so and so recovered in two years doesn’t mean you will too.  It might take 10 years, and it might take 10 months.  But nonetheless, you WILL recover and have a wonderful life again!
Have a Nourishing Weekend!

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