Months before I was diagnosed with cancer, I suffered through moderate depression. Living in the Upper Midwest, I often self-treated for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the late, gray months of winter, but this episode came early in the fall and it came hard.
DISCLAIMER about depression: There are many different types and causes. More importantly, there are tons of resources available regarding symptoms and treatment, tests to self-diagnose, and articles/tips on how to manage it. I will not pretend to be a resource nor will I provide medical advice. This is my personal experience. Everyone’s situation is unique. If you believe you suffer from any form of depression, please consult your doctor.
I am a fixer. I do not back away from problems and as a result am an avid seeker of solutions. When people confide their troubles, I want to help make it better. I am no different when it comes to myself. So when I realized what I had, I took action. First, I told a few people close to me and while most were supportive, some were unsure how to deal with it. Much like cancer, people become frightened when someone they love is “sick.” As if they might catch it, too. Or perhaps they are just someone who is afraid they will do or say something wrong.
I had this: I confided in someone important, and they essentially avoided me. No appreciation of my honesty, no acknowledgment of how difficult it was to open up. The sad part is I told them in order to improve our relationship. It had been a bit off because of my actions due to the depression, and I hoped to explain and clear the air. Even in my low state, I wanted to make them feel better. As you might expect, their lack of support was not a good reaction to someone who is already at the wobbly edge of a precipice. It made me feel insignificant, unloved, and a bit ridiculous. I knew what I was going though and yet this person made me question myself even more – as if I was making an excuse for my abnormal behavior. As if it was all in my already mixed-up head. As if I could just get over it. I tell you this because even if others do not recognize the pain, your feelings and needs are real – they matter.
And despite those who tried to tell me it was nothing and would soon pass, I knew better. I knew me. I did not want to linger there. And this – whatever it was – was not right. It was not the person I wanted to be. It was not me.
I was sad more than happy and overly emotional to the point of crying daily. I was impatient, lethargic, and extremely self-critical. I was uninterested in anything or anyone. I was anti-social and fearful. I was without purpose or direction.
I believed no one knew I was lost and even worse, that I would never be found.
My college minor was Psychology so I recognized my plight and knew there were options. With my time, budget, and minor symptoms, I chose basic therapy. (ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: Be wary and do your research, especially if considering online therapy: this is a hotbed for scams and unqualified people who claim to be experts. Seek advice from a trusted medical professional before you do anything). My referral came from my own doctor and over the course of our sessions, the therapist gave me in-depth questions to answer and projects to complete. And when it was all done, I came to realize why I was depressed. Turns out it was more mental than biological, and I was able to determine the cause was my reaction and negative thoughts to something that happened earlier in the year. Looking back, I knew this was the reason but while lost in depression, it becomes difficult to find a way out.
Seeking help provided much-needed guidance, a map for me to work through the messiness and discover ways to improve my thoughts and reactions.
That was over five years ago, and I have not suffered from that type of depression since. Even better, we now live in a warmer climate so I no longer get SAD. Yes, I have been down. Yes, I have been sad and melancholy too many times to count. Heck, I even battled cancer. But thanks to the lessons from therapy, I know to dig deeper and prevent myself from falling too hard. I have not only learned to release the negativity, I have chosen to do it. I am unafraid to seek help when I need it. I try not to belittle my feelings – they are not insignificant or ridiculous, they are real. I no longer blame others, but I also do not blame myself. I have compassion for me.
Often we believe life just happens to us, as if we have no control. And although there is much we cannot foresee or prevent, how we approach this life is a choice. Our reactions are up to us. When there is loss or frustration or hurt or rejection, feel the loss, frustration, hurt, or rejection. But as you work through it do not allow yourself to retreat to the point of no return. Make the effort to move forward and eventually past it. Depression is a part of life for many, but it does not have to be the everyday. More importantly, depression is not a weakness and you are never, ever alone! You do not have to do this by yourself. There are people who will understand. And while finding help is easy, working through the problems might be hard … but I promise, it is so worth it.
Rise above the storm, and you will find the sunshine. — Mario Fernandez
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~Inspired ME, Joyful BE